June is cancer survivor month and therefore we wanted to shine a light on how to help employees and their families living with cancer. 

When someone is diagnosed with cancer this will bring significant changes to their lives and those that are supporting them. It’s important that we understand no one diagnosis has the same prognosis, treatment, how the individual reacts and copes will be different and it’s essential that companies and colleagues are able to assist and support fellow employees who may be going through this difficult time.

Support employees and their families living with cancer

Once someone is diagnosed with cancer, generally it will take them time to process this information themself and to then share this with their closest friends and family. It is one thing to announce this news to your family and friends, however, it is entirely different to share this information with your employer and or colleagues. Employees may have the added fear that sharing this sensitive information with an employer may expose them to potential job loss or discrimination linked to performance.

Consideration should also be made if an employee has a close family member who has been diagnosed with cancer. They will also go through changes and will need support and adjustments with their work environment as they go through this difficult process with their loved ones.


Cancer is classed into 5 main groups depending on the type of cell in which cancer starts.


This begins in blood-forming tissue for example bone marrow. It then causes abnormal blood cells to be produced which then enter the bloodstream. (e.g. Acute myeloid (or myelogenous) leukemia).

Brain and Spinal cord cancers

This is cancer that begins in the central nervous system. (e.g. Astrocytomas affecting the largest part of the brain).


This begins in the tissues lining or covering the internal organs and the skin. (e.g. Basal cell carcinoma).

Lymphoma and myeloma

This begins in cells that belong to the immune system. (e.g. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).


This begins in supportive or connective tissue for example fat, bone, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. (e.g. Fibrosarcoma (fibroblastic sarcoma) – Develops in fibrous tissue).

Generally, we are more accustomed to hearing cancer in the form of the body part it has affected or started in e.g breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc. 

Good practices to follow when supporting staff

1. Listen to understand, ask questions and be flexible

As every case and situation is different it is important to not make assumptions. Numerous studies show the majority of cancer patients will continue to work. This helps them keep their minds off their current situation and maintain their financial independence. If they do choose to continue working and are physically able to do so, they may require some adjustments to be made within their work environment. Some individuals may request to stay at home, this could be due to their physical capabilities and lowered immune system, particularly during treatment. 

Flexibility is key, especially when the employee or their family is undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and additional surgeries. When the employee feels ready to return to work, a comprehensive workplace support system is essential.

2. Train line managers and maintain HR support

How to support employees and their families living with Cancer


Adequate support should be provided by direct line managers along with HR to the individual and their family undergoing a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Managers should be trained on the relevant company protocols to follow, and a plan put in place to communicate the news and how the company will be supporting the individual and their family throughout the process. 

Open communication between HR, line managers, and the affected individual is key to ensuring the impact on the team is assessed and adjusted accordingly. Support will be required through different stages of the affected employee’s diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. A strategic approach may be required with multiple team members to best support them.

3. Encourage an open culture within your workplace

An open and honest office culture will help encourage employees to feel comfortable having these difficult conversations about their situation, how they are being affected and how it may currently impact their work. 

Try to keep communication lines open throughout the affected employee’s treatment and recovery and establish how employees would best like to communicate throughout the process.  

You may find that your employee may not wish to discuss all aspects in-depth, and you have to respect this. However, it is important to have a baseline understanding of the long-term prognosis, such as treatment plans and dealing with symptoms.

Good practices to follow when supporting staff

Employees who are diagnosed with cancer or have close family members or friends who are diagnosed with cancer will undoubtably require support, care and compassion.  Your support as a line manager or member of the HR team is a key aspect in relieving some of the pressure and answering questions employees may have. 

If you have a Corporate Wellness Manager they can also provide ongoing support to the staff member and point them in the right direction of resources and avenues to assist at different times throughout their journey. If you would like further assistance with the above please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Safe Hands and one of our Corporate Wellness Managers can help guide you and your organisation through this difficult time.

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