Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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.

 

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It Was Going So Well…Until…

picAs business owners and managers of people, we are responsible for the safety and security of our employees, enabling them to become as productive as possible. But no matter how much we think we are prepared to manage our workday in a safe environment, no organization is immune to a critical incident. How can you possibly prepare for the unpredictable, no matter how prepared we think we are for such a sudden disruption? And what if that critical incident involves one of your key personnel? How will this affect the management of your organization?

You may or may not know that help is available through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Student Assistance Program (SAP).

As the owner of a company focused on providing health solutions that empower organizations and their people, I have years of expertise dealing with employers in organizational crisis situations. Below I have outlined a few case studies that showcase the breadth and depth of crisis intervention available for organizations to demonstrate the value of implementing a plan to prepare for the unpredictable.

One such incident involved a fire truck, which was en route to an emergency during whiteout conditions when a car crashed into the fire engine. The driver of the car was taken to hospital. The EAP was contacted by the organization, who immediately assessed the incident and rapidly dispatched their trauma team to the site of the tragic accident. Telephone consultation with management was immediately provided. Onsite debriefing intervention was quickly provided for staff that were on the truck at the time of the incident and for others who were indirectly involved (such as the dispatch personnel). Onsite debriefing was given to the fire department staff as a group as well.

Recently, at a post-secondary educational institution, a student was found deceased in their dorm room by their roommate. This traumatic event was one where the school contacted the trauma response service through their SAP. An immediate consultation was provided to student leadership reps and onsite trauma interventions were arranged over a period of 3 days to support students and staff with group and individual debriefings. Counselling services were also extended to the family of the deceased as well.

Another crisis situation where an organization benefited from their EAP’s trauma response program occurred when an employee’s son (known to employees of the company) jumped off a bridge to his death. When the trauma service was contacted, immediate consultation and follow-up was provided to management and an onsite debriefing was given to staff as a group and individually to staff members. The Clinical Response Centre was available to all employees of the organization for ongoing 24/7 support and extensive counselling was additionally provided to the employee, the employee’s spouse, and employee’s daughter.

When crisis strikes your organization, rest assured that there is help. Make sure you are prepared with a plan that accesses specialized defusing/debriefing interventions to provide support through all stages of a traumatic event. It is almost like an insurance policy – you never know when you may need it.