Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Terry Fox Run: Supporting Your Workplace When a Co-Worker Has Cancer or Has Been Touched by Cancer in the Family.

people-2569234_960_720The annual Terry Fox Run on September 17th was not only an important event, but also a good reminder to talk about a very important issue – supporting your workplace when an employee or family member has cancer. Although the Terry Fox Run and other excellent cancer organizations continue to tirelessly raise money to battle this disease, we can all play our part, especially in the workplace.

The Canadian Cancer Society has released some daunting statistics in a new report. Almost one in every two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and one in four Canadians will die from the disease. In 2017, an estimated 206,200 Canadians will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. Our sad reality is that we will all be touched by cancer in some way. That’s why I thought it’s so important that we learn how to provide support in our workplaces, not only to an employee who has cancer or is touched by cancer in the family, but to the rest of the team as well.

Why is it so important to support the rest of your team if a co-worker has cancer or has been touched by cancer?

We’re often so focused on the employee who has been diagnosed with cancer that we may forget that it also has a huge impact on the employee’s family as well as having an effect on your entire organization; this can be particularly true for smaller businesses and within departments. Colleagues may experience fear, anxiety, guilt and disbelief. Watching a colleague and sometimes a friend struggle or be affected by a loved one who has a life-threatening disease can cause depression and feelings of helplessness. Very low morale can spread through an organization like wildfire.

How can we support our workplace when an employee or an employee’s loved one has cancer?

Coaching: Provide coaching to managers with a team who are affected by that colleague.

  • Provide information about cancer, prognosis, treatments, duration, side effects, etc. so they’ll know what to expect and how to prepare their teams (and answer questions)
  • Educate how to recognize signs of fear, anxiety, depression or feelings of helplessness

Support Groups: Establish support groups to provide peer support for those affected by a colleague with cancer. These support groups can meet in person and online to accommodate those working remotely or in other locations.

Encourage team members to show support: Doing positive things often inspires positive feelings.

  • Don’t avoid your colleague – it’s ok to ask them how they are
  • Treat your colleague normally, but don’t pretend they are not experiencing a life-altering event
  • Be available to listen
  • Stay in touch
  • Offer to do something practical like cook a meal
  • Try to be patient and understanding – your colleague may not always be in good humour

Discuss what resources are available:

  • EAP services
  • OnCallogic – a new service that provides organizations with mental health support for those affected by cancer through a series of specialized counselling sessions
  • Extended health care plans

The cancer diagnosis of one employee or that employee’s family member can have far-reaching effects on any organization, particularly on a small business or department. It’s important that, as an employer, you support your workplace when your employee or their loved one has cancer. Ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support program. If you don’t already have an EAP in place, I strongly encourage you to reach out to an EAP provider for assistance.

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Cancer in the Workplace: What can you do?

Over 204,440 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

This is an alarming statistic, one that we in the health care field together with employers need to address in order to support our workforce.

It’s safe to say cancer has a huge impact on all of us. This includes the families of those with a diagnosis, in addition to those directly affected. Unfortunately, people who have been diagnosed often feel uncomfortable disclosing their illness in the workplace, yet they desperately need our support.

Recently, my own company has had to deal with the impact of a cancer diagnosis in our office and being in the industry I’m in, we luckily had the tools and systems in place to address this. This is not the case for many organizations.

Although some employee assistance programs (EAPs) have introduced cancer support programs, we still have a long way to go to support this disease in the workplace.

As a business owner, HR manager, or supervisor, an employee is most likely to come to you with their cancer diagnosis to ask for support. I know how incredibly difficult this discussion can be, and to help you support a cancer diagnosis in the workplace, I have outlined a few tools below.

Be Prepared

A cancer diagnosis is often unexpected and inconvenient. Having a back-up long-term leave strategy in place can benefit the entire organization.

When an employee is dealing with an illness that interferes with their work, it can create tension in the office, especially if missed work impacts another employee. In the event of illness, a pre-determined strategy outlining the shift of responsibility among colleagues will allow an ill employee to feel more comfortable disclosing their diagnosis.

Have a Care Plan

There are details you need to know in order to set up a care plan that would be most beneficial to the employee. Your questions might include asking them if they know their treatment plan, if they will need to go on a work leave or long-term disability, and what accommodations you’ll need to make for them in the office. Your employee may not have all the details of their diagnosis yet, but asking the right questions will allow you to prepare an effective plan that will provide them the most support.

It’s also important to ask the employee how they would like to handle the situation in the workplace i.e. do they wish to disclose their diagnosis to other coworkers. Knowing who is aware of the situation will allow you to limit misinformation from circulating around the office and allow you to create a plan to deal with this situation.

Create a Safe Space

Dealing with cancer is both physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if someone is carrying on with his or her regular workload. One of the most important things you can do in your role is ensure the employee feels comfortable talking to you about their situation. Studies show that 40% of people impacted by cancer suffer from psychological distress. Ensure that you take the proper precautions to provide your employee with emotional support through this experience.

A cancer diagnosis impacts the entire workplace. Other employees might feel emotionally distressed by the news or may be experiencing a new, stressful workload as a result of another employee’s illness or absence. Encourage employees to reach out and talk to you about their feelings on the issue. By giving everyone an outlet for their pain, you allow them to release some of the stress brought on by this diagnosis.

 
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the workplace is incredibly difficult for all involved. Check in with The Canadian Cancer Society for helpful resources and ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support service, or a program for your workforce to help those newly diagnosed as well as their partners and family members.