Working with Cancer

I am often asked what is the most important factor in helping people return to work after cancer.

Clearly a lot depends on the diagnosis, the stage that the cancer is at, and the kind of work the individual does. An individual’s financial situation, and friends and family circumstances are also important, but in my view the individual’s immediate line manager plays a really critical part from the outset.

Their immediate reaction and their continuing willingness to listen, be flexible, be patient, and provide support can provide enormous comfort. When this isn’t the case it can cause deep stress for the individual and their family at an already stressful time.

There are 5 areas where line managers can make a real and lasting difference:

• Understanding the issues concerning work and cancer
• Understanding their responsibilities under the Equality Act
• Being supportive e.g. considering and making reasonable adjustments, communicating thoughtfully with the employee, team and third parties
• After treatment, planning and implementing a phased return to work
• Keeping the situation under review for at least 12 months to ensure the individual is getting the support they need.

Increasing evidence shows that returning to work after cancer aids recovery. I wonder how many line managers realise that they can play a major role in helping someone get through and over cancer by helping their employees recovering from cancer to continue to do their job.


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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