Working with Cancer

Today Macmillan published a press release showing that four in ten people (37%) who return to work after cancer treatment say they experience some kind of discrimination from their employer or colleagues – compared to just under a quarter (23%) in 2010.

For my sins I did an interview with Sky News about this – my first time on the telly, and I spent more time in make-up than being interviewed.

In my humble opinion that well-worn phrase ‘it’s the economy stupid’ is a major reason for this (but not a valid excuse).

I think there are 3 key messages:

  • Employers really need to improve their knowledge and understanding of cancer – if they thought more before they acted they might just do the right thing rather than the convenient thing (for them).  Simple, relatively low cost changes in working practices can make all the difference in enabling employees affected by cancer to return to work.  One interesting fact: a recent survey by Macmillan showed that fewer than half of line managers even know that cancer is a disability and could face crippling legal action if they fail to make reasonable adjustments to help an employee return to work.
  • The government needs to encourage the provision or provide specialist return to work services – coaching, counselling, physiotherapy etc. The new Health and Work Assessment Advisory Service being set up in 2014 may help here.
  • This is all about employers treating their people with dignity and respect – too often these values are discussed but not demonstrated in practice.

Have a great weekend!



Barbara Wilson

BARBARA WILSON, founder of Working with Cancer, is a senior HR professional with almost 40 years’ experience. Her previous roles were Group Head of Strategic HR at Catlin Group Ltd, Deputy Head of HR at Schroders Investment Management, and prior to that Chief of Staff to the Group HR Director at Barclays. Before joining Barclays she was a senior management consultant at Price Waterhouse. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, Barbara set up a group called ‘Working with Cancer’. The group was the first to develop guidelines on work and cancer for HR professionals, line managers, employees and carers. From 2008 to 2010 she chaired a major part of the NHS/Macmillan 5-year Cancer Survivorship strategy, developing ‘work and cancer’ support tools for employees, employers and clinicians. She continues to work as a volunteer with Macmillan Cancer Support and speaks about ‘work and cancer’ at various conferences and events. Barbara trained as a coach at Ashridge Management College and has a history degree from Cambridge University. She is married with two sons and lives in Surrey.

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