The 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.