Helping your people with a comfortable transition

Cancer is always a matter of huge concern and now delays to treatment and screening, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, mean cancer is once again hitting the headlines…

We talked about cancer at length in our recent Viewpoint and looked at just how important a topic this is for multinationals. To help give you more information, Dr Andrea Reis (pictured right), Medical Manager at Further Group1  (one of our wellness partners) shares her perspective on how multinationals can support their people returning to work after cancer.

Cancer is an overwhelming condition. The positive news is that cancer survival rates are progressively increasing, and many types of cancer conditions are now being viewed as chronic diseases rather than end-of-life sentences.

During the diagnosis and treatment phase, the focus is generally on the main objective of ‘being cured’, and often, not as much consideration is given to the post treatment life plan.. However, palliative treatment, which aims to improve quality of life and relieve symptoms for many years, sometimes decades, rather than curing the disease, is becoming more commonplace. 

Working during treatment is also becoming more of a possibility - of course depending on the treatment plan, stage of the cancer, the overall health situation of your employee and the type of work they do. The support of the healthcare provider is crucial in advising employees on the side effects of treatment and the impact they may have on their ability to work, as well as other specific requirements. Continuing to work may allow your employee to maintain some semblance of normality, even motivation, while going through a very challenging time. It can, however, be very demanding physically and emotionally, so always ensure to keep the lines of communication open with your employee.  

At whatever stage your employee is at, be it under treatment, in remission, cancer free or receiving palliative treatment, returning to work can be a very daunting prospect. Although they may be returning to familiar surroundings and people, and a role that they know and understand, they may still be worried about how they will cope with all aspects of their life (physical, mental, financial, and social). Therefore, a range of support measures are essential to support the ‘return to work journey’ and make it as worry-free as possible.  

First thing’s first…

The first thing to do is ensure that your employee talks with the doctor or nurse practitioner responsible for their treatment, or the general medical practitioner (GP) who has supported them during both diagnosis and treatment. They should ask if returning to work is a good decision considering their current medical status and needs, and request information on the possible long-term side effects of treatment, as well as a future management plan.

It’s also important to discuss the impacts of the physical and psychological demands of their job and seek advice regarding the best diet and lifestyle choices, managing symptoms and pain, and effective self-care practices that can improve their quality of life and support their daily work routine. Including wellness support, such as meditation, physical exercises, and massages in any return-to-work plan can positively impact the employee’s mental health.

So, what can employers do to support the return to work?

Once the doctors’ approval is received, talk to your employee to discuss their situation before their return. This is a very important step for any employer. It can be done in-person or over the phone by the employees’ manager/supervisor or the HR manager, and all potential issues and challenges should be addressed.

Consider what options are available. Is it feasible that the employee can return to work full time? Can you facilitate a more flexible approach (for example, part time hours, job sharing, hybrid working or a home office)? What changes are required to the workplace to adapt to your employee’s new needs? Once these factors have been considered, there are several ways that you can ease the transition for your employee. 

Manage expectations 

Review and discuss their job role and responsibilities and highlight areas, such as deadlines and targets, which may be stressful for them. 

Some minor changes to the work routine, such as taking small breaks throughout the day, the use of calendars and alarms to remember important meetings and tasks, and doing only lighter duties initially, can help your employee to deal with some of the common symptoms experienced by those who have had cancer.

Assess accessibility

Another point to take into consideration if they are physically returning to the office, particularly if mobility has been impacted by treatment, is to discuss transport availability and access to the building and facilities. This will reduce the possibility of meeting unexpected obstacles which can cause additional undue stress.

The best outcome is that you and your employee can work together to find mutually suitable arrangements that meet both their work output requirements, and their personal concerns and needs.  

Set clear boundaries

Talking about the cancer journey may not be easy for your employee or their colleagues and although most people are sympathetic and emotionally supportive, there may be situations where your employee may feel uncomfortable.

A cancer diagnosis can also make people feel isolated, so find a way to talk to them about how they would like to manage interactions with their colleagues. Ask them to be clear about their boundaries. Plan how they wish talk about their cancer and ensure their line is manager aware of those wishes. Allow the employee the opportunity to inform their colleagues when they are not comfortable answering questions or receiving support, and always remember that the choice is theirs, it is their story, but it’s best to be prepared to avoid uncomfortable situations.

Ensure your employee is aware of any available employee assistance and mental health programmes that can help support them during this transition.   

Anticipate potential financial concerns for your employee

Cancer treatment can sometimes have a significant monetary impact and it’s important to remind your employee to review their financial situation and become familiar with financial support and entitlements.

Checking credit and mortgage agreements for flexibility on payments during and after treatment can help avoid unexpected financial pressures, as returning to work on shorter hours or reduced working days can result in a drop in income. It’s important that your employee knows their rights as a cancer patient. Consulting a professional financial adviser may help them understand what financial options are available and how to approach them. It’s also worth reminding them about any financial wellness programmes you offer as part of your employee benefits packages.

Communicate openly and often

Manage expectations when returning to work as it can be more physically and emotionally demanding for your employee than you both might think. It’s essential that you and your employee are realistic and honest about their capabilities, and how long it will take them to get back to normal.

Scheduling regular meetings, giving and receiving feedback, will help to tackle any issues that might arise. Some treatments may result in permanent changes so be sure that both you and your employee adjust your expectations and routine for their new circumstances.

Some people cannot cope physically or emotionally with returning to work after cancer treatment. It’s a personal choice, but the most important thing is to be honest and support your employee to make the best decisions for them. Providing access to support that offers advice on all available options is invaluable for your employee.

Thanks for sharing, Dr Reis!

If you want to know more about what you can do for employees returning to work after cancer treatment, contact your MAXIS GBN representative and find out how you can partner with Further to support your people2

1   FURTHER Underwriting International S.L., a company incorporated under the laws of Spain, with its registered office at Paseo de Recoletos, 12 4ª planta – 28001, Madrid, Spain. C.I.F. number B-83644484 
2  MAXIS GBN may receive fees, commissions and/or other remuneration from third parties in connection with the services we carry out for you.