How to manage a workplace conversation about cancer

Workplace cancer support training courses which can be accessed remotely

Cancer Support UK has used its cancer expertise to create a series of workplace cancer support training courses, which can be accessed remotely by organisations

The impact that a cancer diagnosis can have on an individual’s mental health is significant, yet 85% of employees with a cancer diagnosis want to carry on working. This highlights a need for effective support strategies to be put in place by businesses to help colleagues living with cancer.

Knowing how to communicate productively yet sensitively with colleagues in your workplace who are affected by cancer is essential.

Through its successful Cancer Coach post treatment programme, Cancer Support UK has had regular conversations with people living beyond cancer. We’ve learnt there are many helpful things to say and do when someone is affected by cancer and we’ve used that insight to create a series of Workplace Cancer Support Training courses, which give individuals in organisations the confidence and skills to support colleagues facing cancer.

It’s important to understand what kind of language and what type of conversation is likely to encourage them to get across what they need to say, while feeling comfortable.

Here are some useful approaches to help you manage conversations about cancer. Remember there is no such thing as a perfect script – the main aim is to be aware of the pressures, which people affected by cancer face.

  • Find an appropriate place to talk i.e. not in a busy office environment.
    • Listen actively.
    • Avoid continually linking back to own experience.
    • Don’t always feel the need to fill the silence.
    • Follow their lead. If they bring up the topic, ask them if they’d like to talk about it more.
    • Make sure you are fully engaged with them when talking, put your phone on silent/ away etc.
    • Be mindful of your language, e.g. try not to describe someone as brave or an inspiration.
  • Example scenario 1:
    • You have been told a member of your team who you sit next to has recently been diagnosed with cancer. They will be returning to work shortly while they undergo further tests. What is the best way to support them?
    • Support option: The best option would be to take them for a coffee and ask them how they are feeling, and what you can do to help. and what sort of support they need. Don’t worry if you don’t know what to say, the worst thing you can say is nothing.
  • Example scenario 2:
    • A close colleague is returning to work after being absent for almost a year due to cancer treatment. You are all looking forward to their return and want to make them feel welcomed back. How would you approach this?
    • Support option: Tell them privately that you missed them and that you are glad they are back. Once someone has completed their cancer treatment, having a big celebration for them might seem like the natural thing to do. However, the period of post treatment can often be a time of anxiety and uncertainty and your colleague might feel very nervous about coming back to work. Having a big celebration would probably overwhelm them and make them feel uncomfortable.
    • If you don’t mention their return at all and ignore the fact they have been off, it might make them feel unsupported and uncared for. The best way to support would be to quietly mention to your colleague that you missed them, and that you are glad they are back. It might also be worth keeping an eye on them over the first few weeks back at work and check in with them every so often to see how they are feeling.

For further information about Cancer Support UK’s Workplace Cancer Support Training courses, please contact: Olivia Gray, Head of Learning and Development. Em: Tel: 07763630954.