A recent report sheds light on a troubling trend in the UK workforce: a significant number of employees battling cancer are keeping their struggles hidden at work.

According to the latest research commissioned by Reframe, a startling 28 percent of UK employees facing cancer feel unable to discuss their illness with colleagues, leading to prolonged absences and even contemplation of resignation.

The study, conducted among 500 UK adults who have worked while battling cancer, underscores the challenges individuals face in navigating their illness within the workplace.

Particularly concerning is the finding that nearly half of men (49 percent) and 60 percent of employees over 55 feel uncomfortable discussing cancer openly with their peers.

Also, 16 percent of respondents reported experiencing colleagues actively avoiding the topic of cancer with them. This reluctance to address the illness in the workplace has led to feelings of isolation and perceived burden among employees, with 45 percent believing their colleagues view them as such during their battle with cancer.

Extended periods of sick leave

Alarmingly, there is a direct correlation between feeling burdensome at work and taking extended periods of sick leave, with the average absence lasting 15 weeks.

Despite approximately 900,000 working-age individuals in the UK currently battling cancer, the study highlights a lack of preparedness among employers to support their employees effectively, with 77 percent of workers deeming current support levels inadequate.

Mark Stephenson, CEO of Reframe Cancer, expressed concern over the findings, noting that the silence surrounding cancer in the workplace often leaves employees feeling isolated and unsupported. He emphasised the importance of fostering an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their health challenges and receiving the necessary support to continue working.

The report also revealed significant gaps in communication between employees and their employers regarding cancer diagnoses and concerns. Only 27 percent of respondents shared their pre-diagnosis concerns with their employer, and just over half (55 percent) informed their managers at the time of diagnosis.

Stephenson urged employers to recognise the growing prevalence of cancer diagnoses among working-age individuals and revaluate the support provided to employees. He emphasised the need for comprehensive cancer support within employee benefits and policies to ensure the well-being of employees facing this challenging journey.

Reframe Cancer collaborates with UK businesses to deliver tailored cancer support for employees, offering services such as cancer nurse specialists to navigate the complexities of cancer sensitively and enhance employee well-being packages.

As the number of individuals balancing work and cancer treatment continues to rise, addressing the silence surrounding cancer in the workplace is crucial for fostering a supportive environment where employees feel valued and empowered to navigate their health challenges while continuing their careers.





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.