Meet Sian, a Macmillan Work Support Advisor

'A day in the life of a work support advisor' written next to a photo of Sian smiling into the camera and holding a mug of tea.

Questions about work and cancer? Our Work Support Team are here to help. Today we are pleased to be continuing our ‘A day in the life of…’ series with Sian, who is one of our Work Support Advisors on the Macmillan Support Line. Now that webchat is available directly on the Community site, we wanted to bring you a few of the faces behind the support and help you get to know more about how our teams can support you. For more information on how to use Webchat, please click here

So here’s what Sian had to say when we asked her a few questions about her day, over to you Sian!

So firstly, what is a Work Support Adviser?

A Work Support Adviser works directly with people affected by cancer on the Macmillan Support Line – our job is to advise people about their rights at work. We predominantly hear from people who have a cancer diagnosis themselves, however, we speak to carers about their rights too. Worries about work can have a big impact on daily life and can have a knock-on effect into areas such as emotional wellbeing and finances so the more we can help the customer in this area, the better.

We are able to advise across a broad range of work issues from concerns about applying for jobs or wanting to ask for changes at work due to the impact of treatment to working with a terminal diagnosis and potential dismissals including redundancy. We’re also able to advise on the changes in the workplace that COVID-19 has caused. We hear from people who are under investigation, undergoing treatment as well as those who have lived with a cancer diagnosis for many years. Our aim is to facilitate the people who come to our service with the information and support they need to move their employment concern towards being resolved.

'Quite often people affected by cancer who contact the Work Support team are unaware of the rights and protection from discrimination that they have in the workplace thanks to Equality legislation.'

Quite often people affected by cancer who contact the Work Support team are unaware of the rights and protection from discrimination that they have in the workplace thanks to Equality legislation. It’s satisfying to help them to understand this especially if it means that they can then have meaningful conversations with employers about relevant support.

Some people call not sure of where to start as there are a lot of worries that they are shouldering alone until calling us. When this happens, we can refer to other teams on the Support Line to ensure that as many of these concerns are looked at.

What does a normal day look like for you?

My days look very different now to how they did a year ago. As we are working from home now instead of a short, 15-minute commute into the office I have an even shorter 30-second one from my kitchen to my spare room/office. As it’s dark by about 4pm I use the time before my shift starts to get out and about in the sunlight. I followed the NHS’ Couch to 5k running app during the first lockdown and have carried on since. I’m not fast but I find that the sense of achievement I have sets me up for the day. If I don’t run I go for a walk, listen to some music or organise the house a bit instead. I find that little activities like this give me a similar boost pre-work as seeing my colleagues used to.

 'As we are working from home now instead of a short, 15-minute commute into the office I have an even shorter 30-second one from my kitchen to my spare room.'

At the start of my workday, I say an online ‘hi’ to my team using Microsoft Teams. I then check my schedule to see if I am answering incoming calls, supporting people with webchat queries or responding to emails and questions asked in the 'Ask the Expertsection of the Online Community. I’ll then respond to these questions or await a call. Sometimes customers’ questions will require further research especially if they are COVID-related as the situation and therefore advice is ever-evolving. This isn’t a chore however as I do enjoy researching and am continuously surprised that there is always something new to learn. As a team we are great at sharing information and resources with each other. Every few weeks we have team meetings where we share good practice and talk through certain areas of advice to see how other advisers approach and advise on them.

‘Sometimes customers’ questions will require further research…this isn’t a chore however as I do enjoy researching and am continuously surprised that there is always something new to learn.’

There are little habits I have during my day at work. Some I’ve had for a while, such as putting hand cream on in between calls; I get through a lot! Others are more home-specific such as having a scented candle burning and hanging cards from family and friends in my office. I also have fairy lights which I switch on when it gets dark outside.

I find that being able to step away from the computer screen is important whilst working from home. I find that in any time between calls I physically turn my chair away from the screen or stand up and have a gaze out of the window as well as making sure that I leave the room on my breaks and lunches. In sunnier times I would sit in the garden but it’s currently sleeting so maybe not today!

'I find that being able to step away from the computer screen is important...in sunnier times I would sit in the garden but it’s currently sleeting so maybe not today!'

More recently, I have been involved in supporting newer members of our still quite small team. This can involve delivering training on certain aspects of our advice, such as discipline and grievance procedures, supporting newer members of staff to take calls, to be on hand to check through advice for more complex concerns and coaching. I really enjoy this aspect of my role because I enjoy seeing the rapid progress of the other advisers and it’s lovely to hear from the customers what an impact their support has had.     

'It's lovely to hear from the customers what an impact their support has had.'

I feel that’s important that the Support Line is able to adapt and improve depending on need. This has been reflected in the expansion of the Work Support team in the last few years especially given the changeability of work due to the pandemic. It’s crucial that we can provide the support as many people affected by cancer as possible. I was originally a Cancer Information and Support Adviser when I started working from Macmillan. It was great to be given the opportunity to change specialism through a development role.  

How can people contact you for support?

There are a number of ways to get in touch, depending on which method you feel most comfortable with. You can call us on 0808 808 00 00 and select options 1, then 2, then 3 when you are given the options. You can also email us by filling in this form, or use our online chat. We are here from Monday to Friday between 8am and 6pm. There is no such thing as a question that is too small or a silly question, we’re here to help and we’re very happy to so feel free to get in touch.

'There is no such thing as a question that is too small or a silly question, we’re here to help and we’re very happy to so feel free to get in touch.'

What do you like most about your job?

The people without a doubt. Both my colleagues and the people affected by cancer who we speak to on a daily basis.

The feeling of being part of a wider team on the Support Line is very strong and the physical distance of home-working doesn’t change that. Even if the only communication between me and a colleague is sending a picture message every couple of hours or so I know everyone’s nearby.

'The best calls for me are those when someone rings us quite convinced that they will have to leave their role due to the difficulties caused by their cancer diagnosis and by the end of the call realise, with relief, that this is not the case'

The callers we speak to are so interesting. Their situations are very varied; from the jobs and their cancer journey to the experience they are having at work and their outlook on life but they’re all fascinating to talk to.

The best calls for me are those when someone rings us quite convinced that they will have to leave their role due to the difficulties caused by their cancer diagnosis and by the end of the call realise, with relief, that this is not the case at all and that they can request changes that may really help. A work situation is almost always not as hopeless or impossible as they may have imagined.  

'A work situation is almost always not as hopeless or impossible as they may have imagined.'

Last but not least, what’s your coffee break drink of choice?!

No need to think about this one; Yorkshire Tea all the way! I am missing having brews made for me which was a definite perk of working in the office. My cat, Luther, is just not interested in making me cups of tea it seems.

'My cat, Luther, is just not interested in making me cups of tea it seems.'

I’ll usually have a coffee in the afternoon to perk me up and when restrictions allow might go out and get someone to make them for me again! I’ve got a sweet tooth and am trying not to overdo the snack s but it’s difficult!

If you would like to chat to our Work Support team, then why not get in touch via webchat by selecting ‘My rights at work’ from the drop down menu. As Sian said, 'There is no such thing as a question that is too small or a silly question' - so if you have concerns about work, don't hesitate to get in touch. We will be bringing you more faces from the Macmillan Support Line over the next few weeks, so do keep an eye out. 

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