How to address cancer in the workplace

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Coping with cancer is a hard task for anyone to take on but HR managers can make that difficult journey a little easier for their employees, says one expert – they can even help with prevention and early detection.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, over 190,000 new cases of cancer and more than 75,000 deaths from the disease occur in the country every year. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for 30 per cent of all fatalities.

Dr Pixie McKenna, clinical adviser of general medical services at Check4Cancer, says HR professionals are reassuringly positive about providing support to staff:
  • Ninety-five per cent of HR professionals polled said they were in favour of universal cancer checks provided by employers, with annual checking for all staff.
  • Sixty-three percent of HR professionals are actively planning to introduce cancer awareness programmes and/or early detection initiatives in their organisation.

But it’s not just about introducing cancer checks, says McKenna – “It’s about developing a complete anti-cancer strategy.”

Professor Gordon Wishart, a leading expert in the treatment of breast cancer, refers to the disease as an "epidemic" and in his new report Wishart proposes a five-point plan for HR professionals to follow.
  1. Have ready-made processes. Don't wait for cancer cases to become a people or management issue before devising a policy. 
  2. Help with early detection. 
  3. Build in flexibility. Employees living with cancer need to know they have the support of their organisation. 
  4. Keep a focus on wellbeing. All health and wellbeing activities are important for avoiding cancer, and helping with recovery. 
  5. Be patient with returners. People who survive cancer often return to their everyday lives with a wholly different perspective.
Wishart’s full report – Cancer in the workplace: what does it mean for HR? – can be found here.

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