More than a quarter of UK employees battling cancer say they feel unable to talk about their illness at work, leading to many taking prolonged absences and even considering resignation.

The research, which was commissioned by Reframe among 500 UK adults who have worked with the cancer, found that 28 per cent avoid talking about their illness with colleagues.

And they are not alone in struggling to talk about cancer in the workplace, as 16 per cent of employees say they’ve experienced their colleagues ‘actively avoiding’ the topic with them.

As a result, 45 per cent believe their colleagues consider them to be a burden during their time trying to juggle work responsibilities with cancer and 35 per cent said they felt isolated.

What’s more, a direct link was made between employees who feel that they’ve become a burden with those who take extended periods of sick leave – with the average employee taking a 15-week absence.

It’s estimated that there are currently 900,000 people in the UK who have cancer that are working age (16 to 64 years old) (1).

Yet, despite the rising rate of people working with cancer, the study revealed that employers are ill prepared to cope as 77 per cent of workers consider the current levels of support offered fall seriously short of meeting their needs.

Mark Stephenson, CEO of Reframe Cancer said: “Cancer is a topic most people tiptoe around. But this lack of openness and support is leading to many employees feeling they are battling it alone.

“During our research we were saddened to hear that many people are taking longer periods of absence from work and even considering resigning because of their negative workplace experiences.

“But the experience of working with cancer doesn’t need to be negative. Our research found that when employees feel supported by their employer and their peers, they are more likely to consider work to be a good distraction and they feel less pressure to return to work before they are well enough.

“What’s more, workers can come out of the other side of their health battle with more loyalty and resilience, greater compassion and empathy. They can become greater advocates.”

Mark added: “The increase of cancer diagnoses among people of working age, combined with longer NHS waiting times and high private healthcare premiums making it inaccessible to many more people, have placed employers at a critical crossroads. It’s prompting them to reconsider the depth and effectiveness of the cancer support offered within their employee benefits and policies.”

Reframe Cancer works closely with UK businesses to help deliver leading cancer support for employees.

Its cancer nurse specialists are on hand to help businesses meet their legal responsibilities, navigate cancer sensitively and deliver comprehensive patient care to enhance employee wellbeing packages at an affordable cost.