This is a question to which there is no quick fix as it’s really about changing organisational attitudes and behaviour. Support from the top makes a big difference, and too often it is the case that this only really happens when those people have been affected personally. I think there are three major areas where HR can contribute a great deal to effecting change:
1. Making the case to the top team, appealing to their sense of enlightened self interest
2. Putting some basic policies and processes in place
3. Taking a number of practical, operational actions
Making the case
About 2 in every 100 employees are living with a cancer diagnosis so a Company with 1000 employees might have 20 or so employees in this situation – excluding carers, i.e. those who support a family member or close friend. These numbers are significant and growing. For individual employers not having an employee return to work leads to additional recruitment and training costs. Moreover, dealing sensitively and competently with such cases increases not only those employees’ morale and sense of loyalty but that of colleagues too.
Basic policies and processes
Here are 3 key steps HR can take:
In practice, HR has lots of options in terms of providing practical support. Here are a few suggestions:
HR can make a real contribution to helping people return to work after cancer – we hope this gives you food for thought!
Do you have a question about work and cancer? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is also available at www.macmillan.org.uk/work
First of all I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your husband and the issues you experienced with your HR department at what sounds like such a difficult time. I have to say that my blog assumed that departments would get these very basic things right, and I’m so sorry that in this instance it seems they did not at all.
Coping with the death of a loved one is in my personal opinion (and experience) the most difficult thing we as individuals ever have to face, and HR departments should be as capable of dealing well with these situations as with any other.
For those of you who are currently working in HR, you should be aware that Macmillan has produced a video to help employers manage bereavement and there is also the dedicated section on supporting bereavement in the workplace.
As to the statistic I quoted – that 2 in every 100 employees are living (and working) with a cancer diagnosis- it is correct based on work done by Macmillan and the Office for National Statistics, but Penelope, you are right in saying that as people survive cancer, get older and work longer, more and more will be living and working with cancer. In addition to this, there are over 500,000 carers trying to combine work whilst caring for someone with cancer so clearly there are many people affected by cancer in some way or another. It is all the more important therefore for employers, and HR departments in particular, to understand the issues around cancer and at the same time demonstrate some humanity and basic common sense.
On a more personal note, you may benefit from talking to someone who really understands what you’re going through. Macmillan has a team of experts who can answer any questions you have, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. You can call them free on 0808 808 00 00.
Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you.
We’re here to provide physical, financial and emotional support.
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