Returning To Work After Cancer Treatment

22nd October 2019

According to Macmillan, more than 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every single year. What’s more, there are currently over 700,000 people of working age living with a cancer diagnosis. These shocking statistics highlight just how many people are currently struggling with balancing their working life with cancer treatment.

Whilst employers’ initial thoughts are usually around how to support their employees during the time of their cancer treatment, there isn’t always as much planning that goes into the process of supporting employees in returning to work post-cancer treatment. After finishing their cancer treatment, a person is likely still going to be struggling and their ability to work may be compromised, meaning that will require greater workplace support and adjustments. Take a read of the below article to see how to best support employees returning to work after their cancer treatment.

Return To Work Plan

When an individual initially goes off work sick, it’s likely that an absence management plan was put in place as part of the workplace sickness management process. This would have been to help plan for this time off, and ensure that their return to work is as smooth as possible. At this stage, it can be difficult to know what someone’s capabilities will be when (and if) they return to work. However, following a person’s cancer treatment, a return to work plan should be devised between a manager and employer to help accommodate their position and prepare for their return.

This plan will help to devise the temporary, and long term adjustments that will be made in order to support an employee in their day to day role. Then upon returning to work, regular reviews should also be put in place to assess these adjustments, to ensure that they are appropriate and are supporting an individual as much as possible. Furthermore, the employee should also be encouraged to say if they feel further changes and support is needed to enable them to feel comfortable and perform at work.

Making Adjustments Within The Workplace

As part of a return to work plan, it’s important to discuss and agree on what adjustments will be made to make the return to work as smooth as possible. Research has repeatedly shown that going back to work after suffering from cancer can help people to regain a sense of purpose and normality, which can be greatly beneficial to their mental health, therefore making sure the return to work is done in the right way is key.

Some of these adjustments may include (but are not limited to):

  • A phased return to work, where an employee will gradually build up their hours as and when they feel able;
  • Reduced working hours, or a temporary adjustment of a full-time position to a part-time position;
  • Flexible working hours to work around medical appointments;
  • Adjusting an employee’s role and responsibilities, so that it is better suited to them and their current capabilities;
  • Additional rest time provided; and
  • Ensure that there is adequate access to the building/facilities for those using a wheelchair or crutches.

At this point, it can be beneficial to bring in an occupational health team to help to advise and implement the right workplace adjustments to best support the individual. You can find out more about sickness management here.

Social Interactions

The social interaction aspect of returning to work after being off with cancer can be daunting for individuals. Going through cancer can be extremely distressing, and an individual may not be ready to talk about this with their colleagues, especially with those who may not know why they have been off work for an extended period. As part of the return to work plan, it’s important to talk through this and discuss how to face these (in some cases) uncomfortable conversations. Remember that it’s okay to say to colleagues that you aren’t ready to talk about your treatment, or answer their questions at this time.

Open Door Culture

Cancer is both a highly sensitive and personal issue that affects people from both a mental and physical point of view. Creating an open-door culture that encourages people to talk about how they are feeling, and any difficulties they are facing when returning to work post-cancer treatment is really important. Not only does it help employees to feel more supported and happier during their time at work, but it will result in them performing more productively.

If you would like to read more on cancer in the workplace, or would like support from our team of occupational health experts on supporting employees in their return to work after cancer treatment get in touch today.

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