How cancer support programmes can have a positive Return on Investment

Happy business colleagues

Teams that support each other through difficult times, such as when a colleague is diagnosed with cancer, tend to work better together, enhancing overall performance


Creating a supportive environment for employees returning to work after cancer is vital

In 2015, there were an estimated 890,000 people of working age living with cancer in the UK.

By 2030 that figure is set to increase to 1,150,000 (1)

Feedback from 55% of participants who took part in Cancer Support UK’s Cancer Coach programme said they felt they needed more support when returning to the workplace. Cancer Coach was developed specifically by Cancer Support UK to support people who have completed their physical treatment,.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a step change in organisations’ focus on employee health and wellbeing. Since then, the proportion reporting they have a stand-alone wellbeing strategy has continued to creep up (2023: 53%; 2021: 50%) (3)

Yet 34% of companies still do not have any wellbeing strategy (3) and research conducted with cancer patients following their treatment revealed one in ten planned to leave their job as soon as they were well enough, because of the poor support they received during their cancer journey. (2)

Investments of any kind in business are usually made with an ROI – or Return on Investment, in mind.

ROI measures the difference between how much you invest in a project and how much money you save from it and is usually expressed as a percentage.

VOI – Value on Investment – considers the broader value beyond financial gains.

While ROI focuses on cost savings, VOI encompasses factors like employee happiness, satisfaction, and overall work culture.

Creating a supportive environment for employees will deliver positive results in both VOI and ROI.

A report by Deloitte suggests that organisations with strong support systems see up to 50% higher retention rates compared to those without. (8)

Losing an experienced employee due to cancer-related issues can be costly and disruptive to a business due to additional recruitment and training costs.

How workplace cancer support programmes can make all the difference

Support programmes can ease staffing pressures by making it easier for employees to remain in work during treatment or facilitating their gradual return to work.

Studies from organisations like Google, which offer comprehensive health and wellness programmes including cancer support, claim to have higher employee engagement and loyalty levels, and an enhancement in their employer brand. (8)

It’s also a case of staying within the law as cancer counts as a ‘disability’ within the Equality Act, and it is your obligation as an employer to comply with both health and safety regulations and anti-discrimination laws.

Before investing in any programmes consider direct costs, such as:

  • expenses for developing and delivering workplace cancer support training programmes
  • hiring expert trainers
  • purchasing training materials
  • indirect costs, such as the time employees spend away from their regular duties to participate in training.

It’s important to allocate a dedicated budget for both the set up and the ongoing support and expansion of these programmes, to ensure your programmes stay relevant.

While there may be an initial investment, the long-term benefits can far outweigh the costs.

How to measure the effectiveness of your wellbeing programmes

Determining the effectiveness of your wellbeing initiatives and measuring their impact on employee health, satisfaction, and productivity will be challenging without robust measurement and analytical frameworks.

A fifth of companies currently do not have accurate data to drive wellbeing decisions. (4)

But taking a data-informed approach can support strategic decision making, enable a tailored strategy that addresses diverse needs and help you measure the ROI of that strategy. (4).

A variety of tools are available to help companies measure programme outcomes and produce valuable data.

Business metrics can, for example, record the frequency and duration of absences related to cancer before and after the introduction of support.

Employee performance metrics can be used to track productivity before and after implementing programmes.

Additionally, assessing the level of presenteeism, or the productivity loss when employees are not fully functional at work due to health issues, can provide a clearer picture of its impact.

  • And analysing the reasons for employee departures through exit interviews provides insight on retention decisions.
  • Support articles published on a company intranet/social media channels, can also produce informative metrics regarding employee views and shares.
  • Staff surveys can produce valuable data on your cancer support programmes.
  • Qualitative feedback from surveys can include employees’ expectations, experiences, ongoing engagement levels, and opinions on what can be done better, and give a deeper understanding of a programme’s efficacy in meeting their needs.
  • Engagement surveys can be used to measure improvements in morale and job satisfaction among employees pre and post wellbeing programme implementation.
  • They can also be helpful in analysing the impact on team dynamics and productivity.
  • Pulse surveys – sent out monthly or quarterly – can be used to assess the numbers of staff accessing your programmes, whether that be one-to-one support, calls to a helpline, or visits to Occupational Health, and will help you in comparing your results year on year.

Ensure your cancer support programmes evolve to meet employee needs

By being prepared to adapt your cancer support programmes you can also ensure you continue to meet the evolving needs of employees.

You can do this by periodically assessing their efficacy and making necessary adjustments.

  • Training refreshers can also keep knowledge up-to-date and relevant.
  • By sharing the results of their evaluations with relevant stakeholders, including employees, employers can increase transparency and accountability.
  • This can also help identify any additional initiatives that may be necessary.
  • All data on the usage of your services should feature in inclusion and diversity reports, as well as your annual report.
  • Benchmarking and comparing your own metrics with industry standards may also validate the effectiveness of your programmes, give added credence, and give your business an opportunity to shine.
  • Regular communication is key to keeping your cancer support programmes relevant, visible, and effective.
  • Have a communications plan – it doesn’t have to be a grand strategy, but it does need to identify how, what, when and to whom you will communicate. (7)
  • Internal case studies can be used in newsletters or on intranets to document internal success stories and illustrate the positive impact of the programmes – stories have the ability to connect people to your cancer support programme, to bring the ideas and data to life in a compelling way and can be just as powerful as figures. (9)
  • Put flyers about your programmes in staff rooms and on noticeboards and send out an email to all staff providing regular updates on the work of your wellbeing ambassadors or committee.
  • For change to stick, you need to generate enthusiasm. Create this by regularly sharing the benefits of your programmes, as well as enforcing the need for change.
  • You could ask your CEO to be quoted in your monthly newsletter talking about your cancer support programme, affirming the company’s commitment to it and to the longstanding wellbeing of staff and invite employees to ask questions or give feedback. (7)
  • Informal interviews and quizzes can also gauge programme user satisfaction and this face-to-face feedback can promote communication, strengthen culture, and further affirm your company’s ongoing commitment to employee wellbeing.

An employee’s cancer diagnosis can impact their colleagues, too

Understanding that cancer has an impact on all your employees and promoting solidarity and cohesion amongst them is key to your support programme’s success.

Employees may hear about a colleague’s diagnosis and question their own health – “it could happen to me, too,” or it may trigger reminders of a past cancer experience. (7)

The news of another person’s cancer diagnosis may also cause concern about taking on extra work – An employee takes off an average of 15 weeks during their cancer journey. (2)

All these things can have potentially damaging effects on team cohesion and morale, which can equate to significant productivity loss.

Creating shared buy-in for cancer support across the organisation will counteract some of these potential losses and build sustainability.

Senior leaders have the influence to transform the wellbeing culture as well as good practice in organisations, so engaging their active support for any programme is critical. (6)

Human Resources can nominate a cross-section of staff members to assume roles specifically focused on employee wellbeing and support.

Teams that support each other through difficult times tend to work better together, enhancing overall performance.

Allow time to embed a culture of cancer support in your organisation

Of course, making cancer support a part of your company’s culture will not happen overnight. Cultural and organisational transformation is a gradual process.

But from valuing training investments, to analysing the impact on productivity and ensuring sustainability, each step is crucial in fostering a supportive workplace culture and will ensure that the long-term benefits of implementing cancer support programmes in your organisation significantly outweigh the initial investment.

Cancer is increasing among people of working age and the strain on the NHS has never been higher. But 85 per cent of people who were working when they were diagnosed with cancer maintained it was important for them to continue work (1) and it is vital that companies implement programmes to facilitate this.

By prioritising the wellbeing of employees with cancer, organisations can achieve a positive ROI and VOI, demonstrating that compassion and business success go hand in hand.


(1) Macmillan Rich Picture

(2) Reframe

(3) CIPD

(4) PiB Wellbeing survey 2024

(5) Accenture

(6) Rachel Suff, Snr Policy Maker CIPD

(7) Cancer Support UK


(9) Macmillan Cancer Support