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Working with Cancer

Silence isn't always golden

Silence isn’t always golden

One major issue that has been raised with us a number of times is how to get men to be more open about health issues and cancer specifically so that HR professionals and line managers can provide them with the support that they need.

This problem is not specific to cancer or to the UK.  Research seems to indicate that there are two main reasons why men don’t ask for support, which would apply both to men with cancer and men caring for others with cancer.

1)      They think admitting illness or association with illness makes them appear weak, and worry that a health problem may cause them to be passed over for a job or promotion.

2)      Boys are encouraged to be strong – it is pounded into boys’ psyches from an early age that they must be tough, invulnerable and shouldn’t express emotions or admit to needing help.

One major problem of course is getting men to actually confront their health issues let alone to be open about them, and there appear to be a variety of reasons for this. For example, research undertaken by Prostate Cancer UK shows that in the UK men are less confident about approaching their GP with possible cancer symptoms than in other ‘high- income countries’, and are less aware of the age-related risk of cancer.

There is also some evidence that married men are more inclined to confront health issues than unmarried men. Again, research by Prostate Cancer UK seems to support this, showing that ‘unmarried men have a higher risk of prostate cancer-specific mortality compared to married men of similar age, race, stage, and tumour grade’.

So, what can employers do to encourage men to ask for help?  Here are a few ideas about what they could do – and advising unattached male employees to get married is not one of them!

1)     Run Lunch & Learn sessions on a variety of health and wellbeing topics including cancer to raise awareness of health issues.  As part of this, and to encourage more openness, invite well known male speakers who have had cancer – sportsmen for example – to come and talk about their experience;

2)     Run work and cancer sessions specifically for men (but of course run sessions for women too); get senior male managers to attend these and to  encourage their male team members to come along too;

3)     Include work and cancer issues in supervisors’ and management training programmes

4)     Set up and advertise a cancer buddying programme with a good representation of male buddies, who are prepared to be open about their experience and to provide support.

If you have experience in dealing with this issue, and have had some success, I’d love to know more. This is a classic case of where sharing your experience could make a real difference and help save lives.

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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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