Just thirty per cent of employers offer support for serious illnesses, such as cancer, to help people stay in or return to work, according to new research conducted during January 2024 by GRiD, the industry body for the group risk sector. This is despite serious ill-health, such as cancer, being a concern for over one in ten (12%) employees of all ages, rising to 19% of over 55s.

In many cases, when an employee is diagnosed with cancer, they want to remain in work if they are physically and mentally able.. This is not only for financial reasons but also because of the emotional wellbeing that being in the workplace provides. Therefore, on a number of levels, it is important that employers provide the right support for staff should they be diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD, said: “When someone is diagnosed with cancer it can feel like the rug has been pulled from beneath their feet. When the time is right, being in work and all the positives that entails, such as providing stability, satisfaction, stimulation, and a sense of self-worth, are hugely important for the individual. Employers need to step up and ensure they are enabling people with cancer to remain in the workplace if they wish to do so.”

What does ‘good’ workplace support for cancer look like?

Cancer is the main reason employers claim for their staff across all group risk benefits (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness) according to GRiD’s claims data from 2016-2022 (most recent).

To provide comprehensive support, these and other employee benefits  may offer employees access to oncologists, second medical opinion services, virtual GPs, mental health support (such as talking therapies), support with changes in physical appearance, help in preparing for consultations and navigating the NHS, as well providing assistance when treatment and NHS support is over.

GRiD is keen to highlight that employee benefits can also support the employer in managing life-changing illnesses within the context of the workplace, learning how to communicate best with employees in this situation and developing a flexible pathway for helping staff remain in or return to work. This may include HR and legal helplines as well as help with mediation.

Katharine Moxham concluded: “It is inevitable that time off work will almost certainly be necessary for those staff who are diagnosed with a disease such as cancer but it is certainly not inevitable that these people will call time on their job altogether. Remaining in or returning to work is often a very positive experience when many other elements of an employee’s life are in flux. Employers need to go out of their way to ensure they are doing everything they can to facilitate this and help to close the Cancer Care Gap.”