I’m often asked what might be top tips for employers who are doing their best to manage somebody who’s had a diagnosis of cancer. In many respects, they’re very similar to those that I would offer to employees. First of all, it’s really important to talk to the
employee about their circumstances. They may not want to talk to you, they may be very emotional or upset, I think it’s very important to sit down quietly and ask them how they are and how you can help them, and also get their permission to let other people know, particularly HR, as necessary, what their situation is. As you will probably be aware, under the law, you cannot divulge somebody’s diagnosis of cancer to anyone else without their permission. It’s important to keep those channels of communication open as much as you can and sometimes employers say, ‘well, what should I say or what should I do?’ There are three little words to use, which are:
how are you? If you know the person’s not well and they say the classic British response, ‘I’m fine’, then ask again, ‘come on, how are you?’ See if you can persuade them to tell you how they are and what further support they may need from you. Communication is key. The second thing I’d say, is making sure you’re aware of that person’s cancer diagnosis and find out for yourself what you can from websites – the good ones, Lymphoma Association and others like Macmillan – about that form of cancer and what a standard diagnosis or that person’s diagnosis will mean in practice. I think another thing is to expect the unexpected. Your employee may be fine one moment and be less well the other. Recovering from cancer is not a straightforward progression, with each week after treatment being better than the last week. It’s a bit of a roller coaster for everybody. It’s important to be flexible in your planning and your thinking as to how that person is going to recover. It takes time. Very often, what you might think might take only six to eight weeks, is going to take well over a year for that person to recover. So be patient, be flexible, keep talking.