A significant number of UK employees who have battled cancer are voicing their dissatisfaction with employer communication during their illness.

According to Working To Wellbeing’s Window to the Workplace research, more than one in five (21%) employees with cancer feel let down by their line manager or employer’s communication during their period of ill-health.

This concern is underscored by Macmillan’s estimate that 890,000 people of working age in the UK are living with cancer.

Among these employees, 25 percent reported feeling unheard and ignored by their line managers during their illness.

Despite these troubling figures, there is a silver lining: 82 percent of line managers recognise the importance of maintaining regular “check-in” times with colleagues suffering from long-term health conditions like cancer.

This shows a growing awareness among management of the need for consistent and supportive communication.

The importance of open communication

Dr. Julie Denning, managing director and chartered health psychologist at Working To Wellbeing, emphasised the importance of open communication. She noted, “Earlier diagnoses and developments in treatments mean that cancer survival rates are rising and more people with cancer are heading back into the workplace. But more often than not, there will be times when they need to take time away from work for medical appointments or a period of ill-health. Open communication is crucial; employees need to be heard and line managers need to have the skills and the tools in place to both listen and act with confidence.”

Denning also highlighted the legal obligations of employers under the 2010 Equality Act, which considers cancer a disability. “Supporting colleagues with cancer in the workplace isn’t ‘just the right thing to do’ it is also a legal obligation,” she added. “Our study found almost half (49%) of UK workers would be likely to stay working with an employer longer-term if they were offered vocational rehabilitation support to help them stay working or return to work when they were ready after a long-term health condition such as cancer.”

Upskilling Line Managers

The research also revealed that while 65 percent of line managers feel confident in discussing long-term illnesses like cancer with their colleagues, 20 percent remain unsure, and 12 percent lack confidence entirely. Furthermore, only 50 percent of line managers feel they have adequate resources and training to support a colleague with a long-term health condition, with this figure dropping to just 39 percent among those aged 55 and over.

The study found mixed levels of satisfaction among employees who have had cancer:

  • 43 percent were satisfied with phased return-to-work programs, dropping to 32 percent for those aged 55+.
  • Only 40 percent were satisfied with personalised return-to-work programs, with satisfaction falling to 25 percent among older employees.
  • Less than one-third (29%) were satisfied with physical workplace modifications, with this number plummeting to 11 percent for those over 55.
  • 36 percent were satisfied with mental health support, decreasing to 25 percent among older employees.
  • More than a quarter (28%) were content with the coaching provided, dropping to 11 percent for those over 55.
  • 42 percent were satisfied with flexible working arrangements, compared to 28 percent of older employees.
  • 36 percent were satisfied with reasonable job adjustments to manage their health.
  • Less than one-third (30%) were happy with the career advice offered, with women (25%) and those aged 55+ (13%) showing lower satisfaction compared to men (35%) and younger employees (64%).





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.