Lack of Cancer Support for Employees can Lead to Talent Exodus for UK Employers

  • 7 in 10 cancer patients do not believe their employer is fully prepared to support employees with cancer
  • 73% said workplace adjustments were not made upon their return to work
  • 69% did not receive advice and support from HR during their cancer journey
  • The findings come from Reframe Cancer’s The Employee Experience report: Living and working with cancer

Insight from Reframe Cancer, the leading provider of specialist cancer support services, has revealed how the lack of employer support for their employees with cancer can be hugely detrimental to UK businesses and lead to a talent exodus.

Effective employer support and assistance can play a critical role in supporting employees diagnosed with cancer. However, Reframe Cancer’s research amongst 500 UK employees with cancer* as part of The Employee Experience report: Living and working with cancer reveals that for employees, it isn’t always forthcoming.

The insight shows that 66% of employees did not believe that their employer was quick to respond and offer support when informed about their cancer diagnosis, whilst 67% also said they did not agree that their employer showed concern and interest throughout their cancer journey. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising therefore that more than 7 in 10 (71%) did not believe that their employer was fully prepared to support an employee battling cancer.


Good distraction or stressed out?

Whilst some (33%) employees believe work is a ‘good distraction’ for them during their cancer battle, 67% do not agree this is the case. Working with cancer can be complex, and almost a quarter of employees with cancer (22%) say they feel stressed whilst working with cancer. Employees in supervisory and middle management roles feel the highest levels of stress (25%) compared to just 12% of those holding more junior, entry level positions.

It is also worth employers noting that overall, 70% of employees with cancer say the emotional impact of cancer makes it difficult to keep working, 70% also say the physical symptoms such as fatigue and nausea make it a challenge, whilst 69% say the cognitive symptoms of cancer, such as brain fog, hinder their ability to work.


Lack of support contributes to talent loss

The Equality Act is an important piece of legislation which classifies cancer as a disability. This legal protection does not end when treatment finishes. It’s essential that the employer is working within the Act to provide reasonable workplace adjustment for a returning worker.  For workers with cancer, the Act provides some important rights, such as the ability to negotiate reasonable changes to their work or workplace – if they need time off work for treatment and recovery or flexible working hours, for example. The Act also provides employees with legal protection if they feel they’re being treated unfairly because of their illness. Despite this, the insight from Reframe Cancer reveals 73% of employees with cancer said that workplace adjustments were not made upon their return to work. This was most evident for women with 54% saying this was the case. The understanding of the Act amongst employees further presents confusion with 1 in 5 (20%) saying they are not aware and do not understand their rights.

Those who were not aware of the Equality Act 2010 stated that work was an added stress during their cancer journey (28%), were less likely to feel supported and more likely to feel that their employer could do more.

It is clear that lack of employer support also contributes to talent loss, with 11% of employees saying that they plan to leave their employer because of lack of support during their cancer journey. Where colleagues also avoided discussing their cancer with them (16%), 17% want to move jobs because of the lack of support at work. Employers should consider these statistics, given recent insight has indicated that the cost of replacing an employee can cost £4,800 or more, whilst pre departure costs due to decreased productivity can cost a business £2,538** or more. Added to this picture, 69% of employees astonishingly say they did not believe they received advice and support from HR throughout their cancer journey.


Supported employees becoming advocates

Cancer can have a life-changing and profound impact on employees. It’s important to understand that with the right level of workplace wellbeing and support, workers can cope better with their health battles and return to work with more loyalty and resilience, greater compassion, and empathy. The findings indicate that overall, 72% say they are a changed person following their cancer experience, whilst 57% say they are now a changed employee. Six in ten (59%) say they have a better appreciation of life having experienced working with cancer.


Mark Stephenson, CEO at Reframe Cancer commented:There’s a positive shift with employers recognising the importance of cancer support, both legally and ethically. However, the gap between awareness and action remains concerning. Our research shows 70% of employees feel their employers wouldn’t fully support them, and 73% say workplace adjustments aren’t made. Considering most adjustments are minor, this suggests a knowledge gap rather than a lack of care. Simple changes can make all the difference to someone returning to work which can really drive workplace advocacy.”


Roy McLoughlin, Director at Cavendish Ware commented: “When employees are dealing with a critical illness such as cancer, they want to know more than ever that their employer is fully behind them and offering the best support possible, be it emotional and practical. With the right workplace policies in place, employers can help make an employee’s cancer journey a little less stressful and more comfortable. Hopefully more employers will take this on board and relook at their policies if needed.”


*Research undertaken by OnePoll amongst 500 UK adults who are employed with cancer or have finished their cancer treatment. Field data from 4th – 13th December 2023.  Findings utilised in Reframe Cancer’s The Employee Experience report: Living and working with cancer.

**Data taken from the Mercer Marsh benefits report, June 2024. Figures based on an employee earning £22,000 a year.


About Reframe Cancer

Reframe Cancer is a leading provider of specialist cancer support services. We offer a range of services to support people affected by cancer, including specialist nursing support, emotional and wellbeing support, and practical support.


About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4482 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is a professional writer and the owner of Need to See IT Publishing. However, Lisa is also passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing, being a qualified Vibrational Therapist. Lisa also has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.