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Recrutiment & Employment Confederation

Supporting an employee diagnosed or caring for someone with cancer

Business advice

Guest blog by Howden

Supporting employees living with cancer has never been more important.

A new analysis estimates that at least 6270 additional deaths could occur in England over the next 12 months in patients with new cancer diagnoses—a 20% increase—as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

Macmillan states that there are almost 3 million people living with cancer in the UK and this figure is set to rise to 3.5 million by 2025 and 4 million by 2030.

The impact of cancer goes way beyond the physical aspects; a cancer diagnosis can lead to a wide range of emotions and in many cases depression and anxiety, not only for the patient but also for those caring.

Supporting employees with cancer

The effect of cancer on individuals varies, this will depend on the type of cancer, its severity, symptoms and treatment required, as well as how the employee copes emotionally, what else is going on in their lives and how well they are supported by family and friends.

As in life, cancer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so all the other worries – either everyday pressures, or those exacerbated by the cancer - such as financial, relationship or caring responsibilities can also add to the burden.

Adjustments can be made by the employer, the most obvious and important one being flexible working hours and recognising that there may be no predictable pattern.

Other adjustments may include things such as allowing more frequent breaks, rest space, suitable and convenient toilet facilities, provision for the storage of medication and agreeing temporary changes to the role or location.

It is clear that there cannot be a “one-size fits all” policy for dealing with employees with cancer, but rather a high-level approach allowing flexibility.

It’s important that there is an open, supportive and trusting relationship between the line manager and the employee to enable the employee to explain how they are feeling and what may be helpful to them.

Carers at work

Those caring for a family member with cancer often find themselves juggling work and increased family responsibilities, as well as holding down a job. For many, financial circumstances dictate the need to continue working.

It is important that the carer looks after their own health and wellbeing, it would be all too easy to become burnt-out with the burden of caring, family and work responsibilities.

According to Carers UK, 5 million people in the UK are juggling caring responsibilities with work, so it is in the interests of employers to ensure that they give good support to this population of employees.

Providing support for employees and carers

  • Many employers will offer employee benefits that will help employees in the event they become ill. For example, private medical insurance, group income protection, critical illness insurance private GP services and employee assistance programmes. Many of the services also extend to families, offering support for those with caring responsibilities.

  • Cancer treatment is very well catered for by the NHS and may also be covered by private medical insurance, but often the emotional impact is ignored.

  • Having good internal policies, flexibility and support can go a long way to support staff through what is often inevitably a very tough journey, but the addition of a good quality external support service working alongside the physical treatment can make a big difference.
  • External one-to-one practical advice and emotional support from a medical professional such as a nurse can be invaluable in helping employees through their illness and get them back on the road to physical and mental recovery as quickly as possible.

​​How we can help

If you would like to find out more about the employee benefit solutions available visit our dedicated REC webpage or email or call 0203 553 8340.


This is a guest blog contribution for the REC website. The views expressed by guest writers reflect the individual's personal opinions.