Cancer is having a huge impact within the workplace and this will continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Although long-term absence (lasting over four weeks) only accounts for 5% of all absence episodes, it typically accounts for 30–40% of total working time lost. In 2013 it was estimated to cost the UK £4bn per annum. Cancer represents a significant cause of long-term absence for manual workers (29%) and among non-manual employees is the second most frequently reported cause of long-term absence. And with the number of cancer survivors expected to increase from 2.5 million to 4 million by 2030, being equipped to support staff affected by cancer will become even more important.
Line managers play a crucial role in helping employees return to work. They are often the first point of contact, are responsible for the employee’s day-to-day work experience, are key to the successful implementation of workplace adjustments and their conduct can influence the behaviour of others at work, which in itself can either cause or reduce workplace stress.
Providing support for a staff member during and after cancer treatment should not be difficult if an organisation:
Here are some more specific top tips for line managers and HR:
It is important to remember employees continue to face difficulties returning to work after cancer – a recent You Gov. survey commissioned by Macmillan showed that nearly 1 in 5 face some type of discrimination from their employer or colleagues. In addition, more than a third (35%) reported other negative experiences, such as feeling guilty for having to take time off for medical appointments or a loss of confidence in their ability to do their job.
You and your organisation can play a major role in changing this for the better, and in providing a working environment that will attract and retain talented and skilled employees.
Barbara Wilson is Founder of Working with Cancer. For more information, visit www.workingwithcancer.co.uk
 Data drawn from CIPD Report June 2010: manager support for return to work following long-term sickness absence and CBI Report 2013: Fit for purpose: absence and workplace health survey