Managers avoid speaking to employees with cancer

Written by
Changeboard Team

25 Oct 2016

25 Oct 2016 • by Changeboard Team

A worrying number of managers avoid speaking to their employees with cancer about their illness.

New research by AXA PPP Healthcare has revealed that 21% of managers have never broached the subject with employees suffering from the disease. 

Polling 500 managers that manage or have managed someone with cancer, AXA found that 20% of respondents feel they don’t know how to talk about cancer. Some 21% admit they don’t feel comfortable speaking about any illness with employees.

Of those who have discussed the illness with workers, a fifth said they’re less comfortable talking about cancer than other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis.

The study also found that 17% of managers have told colleagues about an employee’s illness without discussing it with them first.

Evelyn Wallace, cancer care operations manger at AXA PP healthcare said: “Talking about cancer can be hard and the fear of upsetting the employee, despite having the best intentions, can put managers off broaching the topic. 

“Equally, it’s alarming that some managers are sharing details of the employees’ cancer with colleagues without first asking them what they want to share. Having a frank and honest conversation with the affected employee can help managers understand whether or how they want to talk about their cancer and how and what they want the rest of their team to be told.”

AXA also investigated how the behaviour of managers changes towards returning employees. Some 64% of respondents said their relationship didn’t change at all. Of those managers, 41% said this was because they were worried about the employee’s abilities and therefore decided to take pressure off of them. 

Wallace added: “It’s important for managers to understand that returning to work after cancer can be a very daunting experience. It can take time to recover from any serious illness and each person will want to handle things differently.

“It’s also likely that their recovery to a new normality will be a rollercoaster – psychologically, emotionally and physically. Therefore, managers should not expect a formulaic return to previous standards. Nor should they expect the same productivity levels straight away but should instead listen to what the employee needs and be flexible in the support they offer.”