Tackling the impact of cancer in the workplace


Cancer is a significant health issue that affects people of all ages. Over 100,000 UK working-age adults are diagnosed with cancer every year, creating major disruption for employees and employers alike. Cancer can impact people’s work lives, including their relationship with their teams, workplace wellbeing and even their career prospects.

Avoiding Stigma

Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of stigma attached to cancer in the workplace. This can range from colleagues feeling uncomfortable discussing the subject, to managers making assumptions about an employee’s ability to work based on their diagnosis. This stigma can lead to discrimination, isolation, and mental health issues for employees who are living with cancer. Luckily education and awareness can help break down any negative attitudes and create a more supportive environment.

Balancing cancer and a career

Cancer can have a significant impact on people of working age. Younger people who are diagnosed with cancer often have more years of life ahead of them, which means that they may face more challenges in the long-term, including the impact on their career and income. People with cancer may need to take time off work for medical appointments, treatments, or recovery. Cancer-related fatigue, pain, and other symptoms can also affect work performance and productivity. A study by Macmillan Cancer Support found that 38% of people with cancer in the UK experienced work-related issues, such as reduced hours, demotion, or job loss.

Increased risks for office workers

Recent research has shown that office workers may be at a higher risk of certain types of cancer than other workers. The sedentary nature of office work, combined with exposure to chemicals, indoor air pollution, and stress, can increase the risk of cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to indoor air pollution, including from chemicals in carpets, paints, and furniture, can increase the risk of lung
cancer. Furthermore, the lack of physical activity associated with office work can increase the risk of other types of cancer, such as breast, colon, and endometrial cancer.

How to support your team

Employers can implement several best practices to support employees with cancer. First and foremost, employers should provide flexible working arrangements, such as working from home or flexible hours, to accommodate medical appointments and treatments.

It’s also essential for employers to educate their workforce about cancer, including its impact and how to support colleagues with cancer. By creating an inclusive work environment and providing practical support, employers can help employees with cancer manage their diagnosis and treatment while maintaining their social connections and career prospects.

Early screening can save lives

Medical screening is also a critical tool employers can turn to when considering cancer risks. Early detection can result in more successful treatment outcomes, improving survivability, and minimising the impact on the lives and careers of those impacted. Beyond this, offering cancer screening can demonstrate a commitment to employee wellbeing, which can help with employee retention and recruitment.

Awareness is the first step

Being aware of the risk is the first step to getting your business better prepared to manage the impact of cancer. Sharing materials and creating opportunities for education and discussion are also vital to dispel misconceptions and reduce stigma. Beyond that, providing supportive policies and flexibility while considering preventive medical programmes will contribute to a healthier work environment equipped to navigate the challenges of cancer and other health issues.

About the author:

Lyz Swanton is a tech startup founder and the COO of Qured. Lyz is passionate about health and wellbeing, and building technology companies that can improve people’s lives. She’s previously founded and sold a workplace food benefits platform, worked in top tier management consulting and in international public health management, and holds an MBA from London Business School

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