Only four in 10 (43%) UK employees who have, or have had, cancer in the workplace have been satisfied with their return-to-work programme set out by their employer, finds Working To Wellbeing’s Window to the Workplace research1. Satisfaction with their phased return-to-work programme falls even lower among older employees – to a third (32%) aged 55+ compared to almost two-thirds (63%) of those aged under 35.

Furthermore, just 40% of employees who have, or have had, cancer were satisfied with the level of personalisation of their return-to-work programme, dropping again among older workers – to just 25% of those aged over 55.

On the flipside, 70% of line managers told Working To Wellbeing in its study that they would be able to confidently offer and support colleagues with a long-term health condition such as cancer, with a phased return to work programme. Confidence in their ability is higher among younger workers (74% of under 35s vs 64% of line managers aged 55+).


Dr Julie Denning, managing director, chartered health psychologist at Working To Wellbeing and Chair of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association said:Thankfully, due to earlier diagnoses and developments in treatments, cancer survival rates are rising and more people with cancer are heading back into the workplace. It’s crucial that employers understand how to prepare for both a phased, and personalised, return-to-work programme. Following a cancer diagnosis or treatment, an individual will often have to navigate changes in both their physical and mental health including fatigue, chronic pain, mobility issues as well as falls in confidence and mood.

 “Supporting colleagues with cancer in the workplace is not ‘just the right thing to do’ it is also a legal obligation. The 2010 Equality Act2 considers a progressive condition, including cancer, as a disability. Employers have a responsibility to make reasonable adjustments as part of a return-to-work programme to accommodate their needs with a specific individual and their specific role in mind.” 


Macmillan3 estimates there are currently 890,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK. As the number of people of working age surviving cancer is expected to rise, this will see employers called upon more often to provide support to those transitioning back into work after treatment.

 The back-to-work rehabilitation specialist found that over half (58%) of line managers think that it’s HR’s responsibility to manage a return-to-work programme for someone with cancer (23% “strongly agree”) and this rises among men (61% vs. 55% of women) and under 35s (63% vs. 53% of over 55s).

Furthermore, less than one in three (30%) of workers who have/had cancer in the workplace have been satisfied with the career advice they’ve been offered by their employer and this falls among women (25% vs 35% of men) and older workers (just 13% of over 55s vs 64% of under 35s).

Denning concluded: “It’s important first and foremost that both employees and their line managers are aware of the rights of people with cancer and then consider what a successful and sustainable return-to-work programme can look like and build from there. In our decade-long experience as a back-to-work rehabilitation specialist, we’ve found that many people with cancer want and need to be in work. But sadly, our study shows that just four in ten of people with cancer felt satisfied with their return-to-work programme, falling to three in ten among older workers, with just a similar number feeling content about the level of personalisation they received too.

 “At Working To Wellbeing we focus on physical, cognitive, psychological and emotional components of illness, providing health coaching support with a strong vocational focus to help people restore their day-to-day functioning and quality of life and return-to-work when ready, and support line managers to implement return-to-work plans. More than three in four of people we work with in our Cancer Work Support Service successfully sustained or returned to work. We believe that good work is an important part of the recovery pathway and is an outcome that we work towards.” 

Working with employers, insurers and individuals since 2012, Working To Wellbeing’s Cancer Support Service is a clinically-led and evidence-based work support service, designed to enable individuals to self-manage their symptoms, remain in or return to work when ready.  Following a full biopsychosocial assessment with one of its specialist HCPC registered health coaches to best understand what the individual needs to help them to self-manage their symptoms and return to work, they are provided with a detailed report from one of its clinicians with recommendations for the support they believe will best support them to return to work when ready.

The Working To Wellbeing specialist will work with the individual over a period of time to coach them in such things as sleep, pain, anxiety and fatigue management so that they can start to make changes to their life that will help them to start to recover and to manage their symptoms both in their personal and work lives.

For more information on Working To Wellbeing’s Cancer Support Service or its Line Manager Assistance Programme, visit or contact 0330 0552903.