2023 has been another year of upheaval, change, and unrest due to the ongoing cost of living crisis, and conflicts around the world, says Keira Wallis.

The impact on individuals’ mental health has been obvious as we continue to see a steep rise in many people struggling to cope with the multitude of issues which impact our daily lives.

While the past year has seen some new challenges arise, one which has continued to cause issues for millions of people on a yearly basis, is cancer. The disease will directly impact one in two people, half of which will be of working age, a truly staggering statistic.

As we move into a new year, employee wellbeing will continue to be a top HR priority with two-thirds (66%) of UK workers citing that employee benefits are equal to or more important than their basic salary. So, with ever-increasing importance placed on an employee’s benefits package and a workforce who will have to deal with an increasing number of cancer diagnoses, what can employers do to ensure they’re offering the best support to their team.

Where are we now?

There is no doubt that the screening and early diagnosis of cancer has advanced tremendously over the past decade or so, and coupled with improvement in treatments, means that recovery rates are increasing, as is the amount of people living with the disease. Recent research from MacMillan estimates there are currently 3 million people living with cancer in the UK, with this figure rising to 3.5m in 2025, and 5.3m by 2040.

An increasing number of people living with cancer are of working age. So, with rising costs for the individual and an increased burden on the NHS, what role can employers take in supporting staff with cancer?   And how can this support be best tailored to the individual?

A personalised approach to cancer

Business leaders should never underestimate the impact that a cancer diagnosis can have on a workforce. With 1 in 2 being diagnosed with the disease, statistically the other half will be directly impacted as a result of someone immediately close to them getting cancer. Meaning they could potentially have to become a carer, take time off work, or become part of a support network for a loved one living with cancer.

This is why businesses need to constantly be reviewing, educating, and supporting their management teams and staff and offering practical assistance where possible – not just for when they are diagnosed, but also for the return to work.

At present, there is very little support for employees to help them remain in or return to work post cancer-treatment. The average time for a person to return to work fully is 18-months, a journey which is often stressful and emotionally draining.

Recent research from our partners Perci Health, who are leaders in offering expert care and support for people with cancer, indicated that 68 percent of UK employees said they have noticed a care gap around cancer recovery and rehabilitation. With a further 70 percent having noticed a gap around return-to-work support.

The research also showed that more than three in five (64%) employers have considered seeking or have sought external advice or guidance on how to effectively support employees with cancer. With numbers of cases of rising, seeing this proactive approach from business leaders to seek guidance and support is really encouraging.

Providers such as Perci Health are there to help businesses to create personalised plans which can support employees throughout their journey, not just immediately after diagnosis but at every step of the way back to full-time work and beyond.

By creating a business environment which supports not just those living with cancer, but also upskilling and training managers and members of staff can help establish what is known as a cancer-positive workplace.

Creating a cancer-positive culture

A cancer-positive environment can have a tremendous effect on a workforce, and the mindset of those team members directly affected – but as with many organisational challenges this isn’t an easy fix.

Creating this environment of cancer-positivity should be treated in the same way as the overall company culture. It takes time to develop, you need buy-in from your staff, and need to lay strong foundations for the environment to really take shape.

To succeed, businesses will need to create a system where employees across all areas and levels of the organisation are educated and supported at every step. From risk-reduction, through to diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship.


By Keira Wallis, Head of Clinical Operations at Healix.