Guest blog: Cancer – What it means in the Workplace

This guest blog is written by my good friend Suzan St Maur, who is an online business journalist and multi-published nonfiction author. She is also Chair of the Milton Keynes Cancer Patient Partnership, and lectures on cancer survivorship. She has had cancer twice.


Did you know that right now there are more than 700,000 people of working age in the UK who are living with cancer? And did you know that more than 100,000 working-age people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year?

For any employee a diagnosis of cancer comes as a huge shock with an accompanying sense of isolation and despair. Many employers these days are very sympathetic and support the cancer patient well, but equally I have heard stories of a less than supportive attitude – especially, sadly, among some major corporates with rigidly defined and rather bureaucratic, inflexible HR policies.

Cancer is a word which has spooked many of our governmental organizations and authorities, along with larger companies. Why? Because it doesn’t fit comfortably into any conventional pigeon holes as far as employment is concerned.

• Is it a disability if it doesn’t affect the person’s physical or mental capabilities?

• Is it a temporary disease with the possibility of becoming terminal?

• Is it a chronic disease like diabetes or MS – but with the possibility in many cases of a cure?

• Can staff continue working during some or all of their treatment?

• If not, will they come back to work when their treatment is done?

Some good advice for employers

Fortunately the UK cancer charity Macmillan has produced a very comprehensive free pack that covers the best ways for employers to handle cancer for employees with a cancer diagnosis, and for working carers of cancer patients. Here are a couple of brief excerpts:

“At Macmillan, we know that employers play a pivotal role in supporting people with cancer and their carers. We also know that a good relationship between an employer and an employee is more likely to lead to a successful return-to-work. This is particularly important because less than 40 percent of people are advised by health professionals about the impact cancer and its treatment may have on their ability to work.”

“Supporting employees who are diagnosed with cancer makes business sense for employers. By making reasonable adjustments, employers can retain their employees and allow them to perform to their potential.”

What the Macmillan pack contains:

• Managing Cancer In The Workplace: an employer’s guide to supporting staff affected by cancer (100 page book)

• Work And Cancer: a guide for people living with cancer (100 page book)

• Work It Out: essential questions to ask about work and cancer (booklet)

• Work And Cancer: top 10 tips for line managers

• Working While Caring For Someone With Cancer (60 page book)

• …plus a poster for promotion of cancer awareness, and various other leaflets.

How to get your pack

As I mentioned this pack, entitled “The Essential Work And Cancer Toolkit,” is available to employers free of charge from the Macmillan website, here:

For employers, it really is worthwhile to acquire a copy of this “toolkit” in its neat green A5 size box as a reference tool. Let us hope you won’t need to use it but if you do, the information will be very useful. For employees and anyone either diagnosed or suspected of having cancer, the Macmillan site offers a great deal of very helpful advice on a wide variety of cancer-related topics. Go


My sincere thanks to Suze for making us aware of such a valuable resource for employers.

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4 thoughts on “Guest blog: Cancer – What it means in the Workplace

  1. Back in the 1990s I came into a large government agency as a subcontractor to help a good friend who had cancer. Sadly, she didn’t make it. But if she were here, I think she’d confirm that employees need support in order to cope with the fatigue, anxiety, and absences due to cancer treatment. The agency did take good care of my friend by bringing in someone to share her workload, but not all employees are so fortunate.


    1. One of the problems associated with placing cancer within HR circles is that cancer’s status is changing. In the current National Health Service shakeup in the UK rolling out from April 1st, 2013, cancer is now officially being included in a group of “long-term diseases,” along with diabetes, MS, cardiovascular problems, etc. This is a new departure for cancer and all of us involved have somewhat mixed feelings about the potential outcome for cancer patients in the workplace.

      While these changes are going on not only in the UK but also in other countries, it’s difficult for employers to compile a firm policy on how to handle employees with cancer. And needless to say some employers are taking advantage of cancer’s vague status to be less than generous with cancer-stricken staff.

      Sorry to see your friend didn’t make it. She must have been a very brave lady.


  2. That pack sounds like a tremendous resource, but rather a lot of reading. Do you know whether there is a video/podcast version as well? Audio and visual seem to be the way a lot of communication is going these days.


    1. There are quite a few Macmillan Cancer Support videos on YouTube – – but as far as I know they haven’t produced the employment pack as a DVD or download yet.

      The reason for that may be cost of production and regular updating. It could well be cheaper to produce hard copy / downloadable text supported by more general YouTube clips.

      And unlike some charities we come across, Macmillan are extremely strict about spending in the most cost-effective ways which are not necessarily the most up to date technologically.

      Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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