04 February 2019

Employers must help alleviate the stress of cancer, for individuals and those around them

With the theme of World Cancer Day (4 February 2019), this year being “I am, I will” – encouraging everyone to make a personal commitment to reduce the impact cancer has - Towergate Health & Protection urges employers, in particular, to stand up for the cause by vowing to reduce stress where possible.

Understand comorbidity

Comorbidity is a term used to describe the existence of one medical condition alongside another; for example, cancer (a physical condition) and depression (a mental health condition). These will need to be treated independently but also alongside one another by medical professionals. Employers must understand that cancer isn’t just a single diagnosis, it can often cause or exacerbate mental health issues. Therefore, employers need to be aware that there may be multiple issues that will need support and ensure it’s in place for employees when they need it the most.

Access to emotional support

Whether dealing with a cancer diagnosis personally, being unsure how to support a colleague sensitively, or being scared about what the future holds for a loved one – cancer emotionally impacts more than just one individual. There are multiple initiatives employers can offer to help reduce the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis. From providing mental health training to managers, giving them the confidence to address concerns and provide adequate support to a colleague, to offering an employee assistance programme (EAP) where confidential advice – and potentially counselling - can be accessed by employees and family members. Providing emotional care can enable an individual to focus on their health more effectively, whilst also giving colleagues or loved ones the tools needed to provide adequate support.

Physical health

Cancer treatment can be physically demanding – with people experiencing nausea through chemotherapy or recovering post-surgery, for example. Employees may tire more easily as a result of treatment, so employers may need to consider providing flexible working such as reduced hours or enabling employees to work from home where possible to foster greater rest periods. Under some health insurance policies, cancer care can be provided at home – such as chemotherapy. This can make treatment less stressful for the individual, as they don’t have to worry about travelling to a hospital and have their home comforts to hand.

The expat factor

It’s important to remember employees working abroad too. Whilst they may have access to the same supportive employers as their UK counterparts, the culture in which they work may be doing more damage than good. Those posted to Australia may enjoy a good work/life balance, for example, but this may not be the case for those that find themselves in the Far East. Efforts need to be made to encourage a healthy lifestyle targeted to a specific culture and country. Long working hours, unhealthy diets and stressful jobs can be common in some countries, and bad habits such as lack of exercise, drinking alcohol and smoking can follow. With four in ten cases of cancer being preventable,* it’s important that employers provide support, where possible, to encourage healthy living. Whether ensuring managers are aware of the business’s healthcare policies, organising nutrition talks, or introducing a smoking-cessation programme, it’s important that lifestyle is considered when supporting those overseas.

Sarah Dennis, Head of International comments: “Employers need to be mindful of their international workforce and the cultures they are working in, as some lifestyle factors have been proven to increase the risk of some cancers. Some employees overseas may be working in a culture where people ‘work to live’ and work/ life balance is favourable. Others may be in a high-octane environment, where resorting to alcohol, cigarettes and takeaways is an established coping mechanism for working long hours. It’s important therefore that the message to encourage a healthy lifestyle and provide support is consistent across the globe.”

The extra mile

Employers often talk about how to get “an extra 10%” from employees, to go the extra mile. When it comes to supporting an employee through cancer, the same notion must be applied in reverse. Health insurance policies are making changes all the time to support employees more effectively. Make-up tutorials at home, or support in finding a wig, may be included to help those who want to know how best to work with a change in their appearance to boost self-confidence. Access to specialist oncologist teams and second medical opinions can be available to an individual navigating cancer and can help alleviate stress that all options have been fully discussed with medical professionals.

Financial support

Another significant factor creating stress during cancer treatment is finances – how to continue to pay a mortgage and bills if employees can no longer work or hours must be reduced. From critical illness cover to income protection, there are varying levels of support available – paying out a lump sum or enabling employees to maintain their salary, should they be unable to work, for example. These insurances often come with lots of added-value support too, such as fast-track access to counselling and support from specialist oncology teams, providing robust support to the individual.

Brett Hill, distribution director, comments: “The word cancer is one that no-one wants to hear in their lifetime. But as World Cancer Day highlights, it is something that most people will come to experience in one way or another. As employers, we have a duty of care to our employees and this includes helping them through their experiences with cancer in any way we can. Providing insurance options, should the worst happen, and emotional and physical support are all crucial to coping with cancer. With so much of our lives spent at work, having a supportive employer is vital in managing cancer as best we can. It also sends a strong message about the business as an employer too, that staff are looked after regardless of what life throws at them.”

* https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer