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Silent C – why cancer is still such a hard conversation

The study highlights the impact on workplace dynamics, including prolonged absences and feelings of isolation. Despite the increasing prevalence of cancer in the workforce, employers are falling short in providing adequate support, leaving many employees to battle their illness alone.

According to the latest research, more than a quarter of UK employees battling cancer say they feel unable to talk about their illness at work, leading to many taking prolonged absences and even considering resignation.

The research* among 500 UK adults who have worked with the cancer, found that 28 per cent avoid talking about their illness with colleagues.

Men especially find it a tough conversation, as almost half (49 per cent) said they don’t feel comfortable talking openly about cancer with their peers. And 60 per cent of employees aged over 55 agree.

But they are not alone in struggling to talk about cancer in the workplace, as 16 per cent of employees say they’ve experienced their colleagues ‘actively avoiding’ the topic with them.

As a result, 45 per cent believe their colleagues consider them to be a burden during their time trying to juggle work responsibilities with cancer and 35 per cent said they felt isolated.

What’s more, a direct link was made between employees who feel that they’ve become a burden with those who take extended periods of sick leave – with the average employee taking a 15-week absence.

It’s estimated that there are currently 900,000 people in the UK who have cancer that are working age (16 to 64 years old) (1).

Yet, despite the rising rate of people working with cancer, the study revealed that employers are ill prepared to cope as 77 per cent of workers consider the current levels of support offered fall seriously short of meeting their needs.

Mark Stephenson, CEO of Reframe Cancer said: “Cancer is a topic most people tiptoe around. But this lack of openness and support is leading to many employees feeling they are battling it alone.

“During our research we were saddened to hear that many people are taking longer periods of absence from work and even considering resigning because of their negative workplace experiences.

“But the experience of working with cancer doesn’t need to be negative. Our research found that when employees feel supported by their employer and their peers, they are more likely to consider work to be a good distraction and they feel less pressure to return to work before they are well enough.

“What’s more, workers can come out of the other side of their health battle with more loyalty and resilience, greater compassion and empathy. They can become greater advocates.”

The study – findings of which are included in The Employee Experience Report: Living and Working with Cancer* –  also found that as few as 27 per cent share their pre-diagnose concerns with their employer and a little over half (55 per cent) tell their managers at the point of diagnosis.

Mark added: “The increase of cancer diagnoses among people of working age, combined with longer NHS waiting times and high private healthcare premiums making it inaccessible to many more people, have placed employers at a critical crossroads. It’s prompting them to reconsider the depth and effectiveness of the cancer support offered within their employee benefits and policies.”



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