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Thanks to cancer research and development, survival rates have dramatically improved over the years. But the daunting fact remains that by 2020 nearly one in two (47%) of us will contract the disease during our lifetime*. With such a high rate of people being diagnosed with cancer, it’s not a case of “if” an employer will be affected – but “when”.

Cancer doesn’t just impact the patient going through treatment, but wider groups including their family and friends, managers and colleagues at work too. The good news is that employers can do a lot to support all these stakeholders – more than they realise and often already within their capabilities.

The patient
Having cancer is likely to be one of the most traumatic experiences in your employee’s lifetime. Their emotional and physical wellbeing is compromised, as they navigate medical treatment, personal feelings, continued day-to-day financial responsibilities, and their work and homelife. Employers that offer employee benefits, such as private medical insurance (PMI), can be a lifeline here – providing everything from fast diagnoses to support from specialist oncologist teams, and accessing UK licensed drugs that aren’t currently obtainable on the NHS to rehabilitation treatments such as physiotherapy. Employee benefit packages take on a whole new meaning, during such challenging times.

The manager
A manager is likely to be the first person in the workplace to be told about their employee having cancer. They need to be able to react in an emotionally intelligent way, whilst having a clear grasp of all the tools at their disposal to support the individual employee and wider teams impacted. It’s a crucial phase in ensuring everyone feels supported during a very difficult time. Employers therefore need to ensure that their line managers understand the full suite of benefits available on offer to the affected employee, including full HR support about how to deal with such circumstances. Offering workshops to managers, about how to support teams with inevitable increased workloads for example, will help provide structure during a potentially chaotic and uncertain time.

The wider team, family and friends
It’s easy to think of cancer in terms of the patient and forget about how it affects those around them – including colleagues, family and friends. They will have their own emotional anxieties, about how the individual will respond to treatment for example, and may not know how to process these feelings or understand what they can do to help. Employers that offer employee benefits can really make a difference here. For instance, group risk products that come with added-value services such as fast-track access to counselling, access to specialist oncologist teams, and specialist nurse support; or private medical insurance or employee assistance programmes (EAPs), can all provide colleagues and loved ones with access to tailored and confidential advice and a sympathetic ear – helping to relieve pressures associated with supporting someone with cancer.

With the average person spending 47 years of their life at work**, employers play an important role in ensuring that employees remain supported through life’s trials and tribulations. And as cancer affects so many people, it’s important for employers to review whether they have comprehensive support in place and utilise their existing benefits packages to maximum effect.

* https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/cancer-statistics-factsheet_tcm9-260514.pdf

** https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/11975788/Britons-in-the-workplace-The-figures-that-lay-bare-the-life-of-an-average-British-employee.html

Brett Hill – Managing Director, The Health Insurance Group