Coping with cancer
in the workplace


With 50% of people in the UK likely to develop cancer at some point in their lives1, it’s an illness that affects more employees than ever before. And even though outcomes are improving all the time, there is a lot of pressure on employers to provide relevant help, support and advice.

The hardest part is often knowing where to begin. So to point you in the right direction, here are a few suggestions on how you can make a positive difference.

Making work adjustments for an employee affected by cancer

Although 50% of cancer patients now live for more than 10 years2, it’s still the illness that people often fear the most. So as well as the physical implications, it’s important to address the emotional impact that cancer can have on an employee. Chances are, it will alter their mood, concentration levels and relationships with colleagues, which are likely to need managing.

The side-effects of treatment can also affect employees in different ways. For example, some people might take hair loss in their stride, while others struggle to cope with their changing appearance. Either way, an individual may need space and time to come to terms with the different stages of their illness, and as an employer, you can support them by making work adjustments to help them cope.

You should also consider the influence that cancer has on friends, family and colleagues. People sometimes feel selfish for thinking of their own feelings or guilty for not being able to do more. While these emotions are perfectly natural, they can cause stress and anxiety, which often goes unnoticed.

Offer practical support

If you know that a member of your team has cancer or is caring for someone with cancer, their situation can change very quickly. So it’s good to be prepared. This might involve getting to know your responsibilities or even putting together an HR policy that outlines the various ways you can help.

While everyone’s needs are different, flexibility is one of the key areas you can show support. Cancer treatment can often go on for a significant amount of time. So as well as offering time off work, you might want to consider flexible working hours or giving employees the option of working from home, if they are able to work.

The smaller details matter too, such as being allowed to take extended breaks or having a mobile phone switched on and with them at all times. The specifics may change depending on the individual, but a little give and take is generally the best way to support your employees and your business.

Talking to your employees about cancer

Cancer used to be a taboo subject. In many cases, people were too scared to go to the doctor, let alone talk about it at work. But today, things are very different. Some employers even have support groups and specialist services in place to help people through the emotional and practical aspects of their condition.

Not only is talking to someone about their situation a good way to show you care, it’s often the only way to understand how you can help. Whether your employee is supporting a loved one or being treated for cancer themselves, an open and honest conversation can be a huge weight off their mind.

Finding the right words isn’t always easy, but saying nothing is often worse. Just try to avoid phrases that you can’t back up, such as ‘I know you’ll be fine’ or ‘You are so strong.’ While your intentions may be good, a better approach may be to ask the person how they’re feeling or tell them that you want to help them through the good and bad days.




Useful links:

If you want to find out more about how to support employees affected by cancer there is a wealth of material available online. Here are some links that might come in handy:



This article has been written in collaboration with Bupa, one of Elect’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future.