Are you discriminating against cancer suffers?

Are you discriminating against cancer suffers?

A recent poll by YouGov, commissioned by Macmillan of 1,500 people found that 87% of cancer suffers want to continue to work. The main motivation for staying in work is the need to maintain a sense of normality and keep up self-esteem. Unfortunately, 9% claimed that their bosses were unable to give them the support they needed and 4% said they lost their job as a result. Macmillan found that 1 in 5 people returning to work faced discrimination as a result of their diagnosis.

Are you giving your employees the support they need to return to work after a cancer diagnosis?

In the UK more than 100,000 working age people are diagnosed with cancer every year, 890,000 members of the British workforce are living (and working) with cancer.  These figures are predicted to increase to 1,150,000 by 2030. The chances are extremely high that your organisation will have to tackle this challenge sooner or later.

Workplace discrimination

According to the Macmillan research, well over half of those diagnosed with cancer while in work had to give up their job or change role as a result, which is probably not surprising as 60% say their hours didn’t change following their diagnosis. All of which shows a woeful lack of understanding and empathy on behalf of many organisations and line managers when it comes to supporting cancer sufferers.

This is a growing issue and employers have a legal duty of care to their employees. Organisations are faced with a challenge to shake up their approach to long-term conditions, such as cancer. They need to learn to make necessary adjustments to support employees who wish to continue working and contributing.  This is not simply for the benefit of staff, but also the businesses as a whole.

Don’t just ignore it

Almost half of the people who were working at the time of receiving their cancer diagnosis claim their employers did not discuss issues such as flexible working, workplace adaptations or sick pay options with them.

There is no legal requirement for an employee to divulge a cancer diagnosis.  Fostering a culture of openness and support will help encourage employees to share this information and allow you to prepare and accommodate.

When discussing the diagnosis with an employee, consider the following issues:

  • Likely time off
  • Potential impact on their return to work
  • How the illness may affect their ability to do their job – physically, emotionally and time constraints
  • What adjustments may be required –physical adjustments, working hours etc
  • Alternative options – change of job role etc.
  • Any health and safety implications


18% of people claim that their employer (and colleagues) did not understand their changed needs when they returned to work.  Macmillan found that 86% of line managers had not received any training on how to support employees with long-term conditions.

Line managers can play an essential role in facilitating cancer sufferers who wish to continue to work while receiving treatment. They are also crucial in aiding the return to work after sickness absence. Managers need adequate training to have the confidence to support their employees through this period. They will generally be the first port of call for the initial disclosure and any ongoing concerns. Their knowledge of the day to day routines and the role of the employee will be invaluable when it comes to ensuring the organisation is meeting the employee’s needs.

Providing an up to date policy (such as this sample from Macmillan) on the business’s approach to cancer is a great first step. The policy document should ideally be supplemented with in-house or off-site training on cancer in the workplace.

It is also well worth taking advantage of the various annual cancer awareness days to educate the entire organisation on the extent and limitations of the support offered in the workplace. There are many resources available both online and off to support events, activities and workshops on the topic.

Know the law

Employees are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010. Employers cannot discriminate against someone at any stage from recruitment through training and promotion to remuneration.

A person with cancer is disabled in law, protecting them against discrimination. This protection continues after they’ve had the ‘all clear’ from a doctor, to prevent discrimination on the grounds of their past health issues.

Employers are expected to make reasonable adjustments to the working environment to enable someone with long-term conditions, such as cancer to continue working if they wish to do so.


The word ‘reasonable’ is vague, but a company needs to consider factors such as financial cost, practicability, benefit to employee and organisational disruption.

Reasonable adjustments may include things such as:

  • Physically changing the workplace – depends on specific physical needs
  • Implementing a phased return to work for those who are returning from long-term sick leave or have had a significant health change
  • Offering flexible working hours
  • Providing training and re-training opportunities
  • Considering alternative job roles within the organisation



The research shows that the vast majority of cancer suffers want to continue to work as much as possible. It’s in the interest of most organisations to do whatever they can to support and facilitate this. The evidence shows that employees who feel their wellbeing is valued are more productive workers.

It is far less costly to retain existing employees, even accounting for reasonable adjustments, than it is to recruit new ones. According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) it costs around £6,000 to recruit senior managers and directors, and £2,000 for other employees.

The caring reputation of an organisation is well worth considering. It often factors into the decision process of employees choosing who to work for. So in a time when long-term conditions are increasingly the norm, being able to offer a comprehensive, caring approach to cancer sufferers is one way to set your organisation ahead of the rest.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then it’s time to get moving

Are you sitting comfortably? Then it’s time to get moving

Our understanding of the health and fitness needs of individuals is growing. The evidence is clear that activity is key to a person’s wellbeing, both emotionally and physically. Yet in many workplaces around the country, we still spend an average of eight hours a day sitting at our desks.

Sales of wearable fitness trackers have increased, year on year, to a massive $22 billion in 2017 (up from just $4 billion in 2014), but despite this seeming obsession with counting our steps, our activity hasn’t increased and we’re sitting as much as ever.

Take a seat

A recent study, carried out by office equipment firm Fellowes, found that eight out of ten office workers spend around 67 days a year sitting.

The health implications of sitting for too long, too often have been understood for quite some time. Back in 2014 we wrote about the dangers of excessive sitting. Research carried out in 2013 found that a sedentary lifestyle can account for 5.9% of all-cause premature mortality. In some cases, it is argued to be as bad for our health as smoking.

Given the amount of time we spend in the workplace, businesses have a large part to play in helping their employees stay healthy by being active. According to the Fellowes study, 64% of office workers felt that their sedentary working environment negatively impacted their health. Almost half (45%) don’t think that their employer cares about their health and wellbeing.

The good news is that there are lots of options for employers.

Are you sitting comfortably

A recent study carried out by Loughborough University and the University of Leicester trialled height-adjustable workstations. This simple concept encouraged workers to stand for at least some of the day. The Stand More at Work (SMArT Work) programme found that this can improve productivity and reduce anxiety, fatigue and back pain. Participants sat for an average of 83 minutes less each day and reported several positive side effects.

Dr Charlotte Edwardson, associate professor at the University of Leicester, said: “Those who received the SMArT Work programme reported improvements in their work performance, work dedication and engagement, quality of life and reduced levels of sickness presenteeism, feelings of fatigue and musculoskeletal issues, such as lower back pain.”

Other pieces of office equipment such as foot and wrist rests, back supports, proper seating, appropriate desk layout and adequate lighting can all make a significant difference to an individual’s office health.

Yet, no matter how comfortable your desk is, one of the most important factors in workplace health and wellbeing is activity. The Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, Public Health England and Sport England have joined forces recently to launch The Moving Medicine toolkit. The toolkit is designed to help health professionals offer advice and support to patients about how activity can help them better manage or recover from their conditions.

 Active recovery

Going forward, medical professionals will be able to prescribe exercise for the treatment of a wide range of physical and mental health issues.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said “There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that patients with all kinds of conditions – from depression to diabetes – would benefit from more exercise, yet understandably those suffering with chronic illness are more likely to be inactive.”

This demonstrates how seriously the government is taking this matter, and employers have a key role to play and a huge amount to gain from supporting healthier workplaces.

Keep moving

Here are a few suggestions on how to achieve this.

1. Move the tea and coffee point up or down stairs from the main office area
2. Hold standing, or better still, walking meetings
3. Encourage people to stand when they are making phone calls
4. Offer lunch break classes – yoga, Pilates, stretch – anything that isn’t too sweaty if you can’t provide shower facilities
5. Form a company running club – provide motivation and safety in numbers in the dark evenings
6. Suggest employees set a 30 or 60 minute timer to get up and stretch their legs
7. It might seem a bit 1980’s but stability balls instead of chairs are a great idea even if you just use them for 10 – 15 minutes a day – great for your core!
8. Set up a company-wide league board for all those fitness trackers – who does the most steps? Gets the most sleep? Drinks the most water?
9. Encourage people to get out and walk after lunch
10. Instead of sending an email to a colleague in the same building, pop round and say hi.

Team work

Office workers spend between four and nine hours sitting at their desks every working day. That is a strong habit to break. However, forward thinking, progressive workplaces can help to change these outdated routines for the better.

Individuals can struggle to make real, lasting change, but with encouragement, support, team spirit, reminders and triggers in the workplace, the whole business can work towards a healthier, happier lifestyle. Employers have a significant role to play in improving the health of the nation, and in so doing, improving the productivity, loyalty and wellbeing of their staff.

Tackling Domestic Abuse in the Workplace

Tackling Domestic Abuse in the Workplace

Each week two women are killed by their partner as a culmination of domestic abuse.

The ONS estimates that 1.9 million people, between the ages of 16-59, experienced domestic abuse in 2017. The majority (1.2 million) of those were women.  One in four women and one in six men are likely to be affected by domestic abuse in their lifetime.

Chances are that one or more of your employees is experiencing, has experienced or will experience domestic violence.

The term ‘domestic abuse’ belies the far-reaching impact of this issue on all areas of society. One of them being the workplace. According to UNESCO, a third of all domestic violence incidents occur in the workplace.

The Equality and Human Rights commission says than an estimated 59% of domestic abuse sufferers are persistently late for work. A fifth of employed women take time off work due to violence in the home and 2% subsequently lose their jobs. (Source)

The TUC, in 2013, carried out a survey of 3,423 people who had experienced domestic abuse or violence or knew someone who had. 

They asked how domestic violence affected absenteeism. Over 71% cited physical injury or restraint and almost 68% said their partner had threatened them to not attend. Other tactics cited included hiding or stealing keys or transportation money, withholding personal documents or refusal to care for children.

The cost to individuals is staggering, but the cost to business and the wider economy is estimated at 1.9 billion a year. That figure does not include reduced productivity because of late attendance, distracted and distressed individuals. The true financial price is significantly higher.

According to research carried out by the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence most employers want to support employees experiencing domestic abuse. Organisations around the UK, and beyond, are already incorporating domestic violence into health and wellbeing policies.

New Zealand have recently introduced 10 days of paid leave to help individuals escape domestic abuse and settle themselves safely. Domestic abuse charities have called on the UK Government to introduce something similar here.

How can your organisation work to tackle domestic abuse and support those experiencing it from within the workplace?

Empowerment not Rescue

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with a domestic abuse case. Support organisations are quick to stress, however, that OH and HR teams should not feel that it is their job to save or rescue employees. Instead the focus should be on encouraging people to speak out and helping to empower them to seek advice and support from professional organisations. In some cases this empowerment can begin simply by being heard in the workplace.

 Creating a domestic abuse policy

This is the first step to demonstrating that the business takes the issue seriously.  Some create a stand-alone policy on domestic abuse while others incorporate it into a wider policy on violence and bullying in the workplace.

Whichever option you choose, a clear policy will not only provide guidance for line managers, HR and OH teams to follow. It will ensure consistency and clarity and give employees experiencing domestic abuse confidence that they can speak out and seek support. This is invaluable as for many in this situation the workplace can be a safe space, away from their abuser.

Women’s Aid suggest structuring a domestic violence workplace policy around five areas.

  1. Statement of intent
  2. Safety and Security
  3. Confidentiality
  4. Access to support
  5. Implementation

We would also advise including a definition of abuse, with emphasis on everyone’s right to a life free from that abuse, in any form.


Educating staff on the signs and triggers of domestic violence can be invaluable. For example, violence commonly escalates when women try to leave their partner, during pregnancy and in the weeks and months after giving birth. There is also a marked increase during seasonal holidays or key sporting events.

Employees experiencing domestic abuse can often find themselves in touch with HR for all the wrong reasons. Lateness, unexplained absences, unreliability and inability to perform their duties can all be signs of domestic abuse, and failure to recognise the reasons behind the behaviour can be catastrophic.

Encouraging positive, proactive relationships between line-managers and employees you can spot the signs of domestic abuse before it reaches crisis point. Changes in personality, or dress or out of character behaviour alongside lateness or frequent absence can be signal that something is amiss.

It is crucial that employees tasked with managing these issues receive robust training. There needs to be a clear process from concern, through disclosure, to seeking external support.

Safe working

Creating a safe working environment is about more than simply writing a policy and training a few employees. The entire organisation needs to be educated in ways they can help to keep the workplace safe for everyone.

Anonymity and the right to protection within the workplace is essential. Staff should be discouraged from giving out other people’s email addresses or mobile numbers without permission.  Caller ID and the option to be removed from company directories are simple actions that can make a big difference.

Organisation-wide training will empower employed to recognise abusive behaviour and report it to a properly trained member of staff. Too often abuse goes unchecked because those who see it worry that it is ‘none of their business’. However, in their 2013 report, the TUC found that over 90% of the respondents believed that the situation had caused conflict and tension with co-workers and 25% said that their co-workers had been threatened or harmed.  A staggering 81.2% had received abusive phone calls or email messages at work, 47.3% had a partner turn up at their workplace and 43.6% were stalked outside their workplace.

Domestic abuse does not stay in the home.

Supportive workplaces

Businesses have a key role in tackling domestic abuse. The abuse crosses into all areas of people’s lives. It costs money and, in some cases, lives.

By implementing a well-considered policy and providing a clear process and ongoing support an organisation can make the world of difference to those experiencing domestic abuse.

There are many resources, advice and support available for organisations and individuals wanting more information. The three listed below are good starting points.

Women’s Aid

National Domestic Violence Helpline

Refuge UK

Challenging the fourth industrial revolution with ‘Good’ Work

Challenging the fourth industrial revolution with ‘Good’ Work

The world’s foremost economists believe that we are entering the fourth industrial revolution.  Rising technologies could fundamentally change the way we work and live. Could employee wellbeing be the key to ensuring that the UK not only keeps up but continues to maintain its position as a world leader?

At this year’s Health and Safety Executive Lecture in April, Dr Richard Heron, Chief Medical Officer at BP and former president of the Society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine, spoke about “Safe, healthy and productive work in the fourth industrial revolution.”


The first industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries saw the advent of steam power. This was followed at the turn of the century by the second industrial revolution.  The introduction of Henry Ford’s assembly lines brought about by electricity changed the face of factories forever and gave us mass production.  The third industrial revolution occurred in the 1980’s along with the personal computer and the internet which changed our lives enormously.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2016 founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab, claimed that we are in the throws of the fourth industrial revolution.

“The changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril.” – Klaus Schwab, Davos, 2016

He is, of course, referring to the fundamental changes brought about by our ever-expanding technological world.  “It is characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.” World Economic Forum Book Review.

Valued Workforce

In his speech in April this year, Dr Richard Heron puts the case for a greater emphasis on employee wellbeing across the workforce. He argues that to remain competitive during the forth industrial revolution, organisations will need to fully utilise all their resources, and employees are key to productivity.

There is an increasingly clear link between employee wellbeing and productivity. With an aging population and uncertain times ahead we have many challenges facing us. We also already have a considerable range of skills and tools at our disposal to get the best out of our workforce.

Changing Workplace

These concepts are interesting of course, but it’s important to look at how it translates for businesses in the real world on a day-to-day basis. Organisations are genuinely in a powerful position to influence our societal health and wellbeing in tangible ways.  These are some of the ways employers can begin to make these much-needed changes to the workplace.

  • Start before employees enter the building – New starter health questionnaires enable organisations to prepare for any special needs and spot any causes for potential concern early. This is not about vetting employees, this is about demonstrating genuine care for their wellbeing from day one. By having a genuine understanding of the starting situation of an employee, management can effectively monitor or forestall any health or safety issues throughout the employees time with the company.
  • Offer healthier options – There are a wide variety of ways in which an organisation can help present employees with healthier options and life choices. Considering how to encourage healthy eating, promoting work-life balance, facilitating exercise, carrying out health checks and risk assessments, to name but a few.
  • Know who to turn to – Nobody expects every organisation to have all the answers. Small businesses can find occupational health a daunting topic. Large businesses can find it overly complicated. As we move through the fourth industrial revolution, it is likely that issues of health and wellbeing will only get more challenging. Even more so, as it is predicted that we will see an increase in small and micro businesses alongside self-employed sole traders. The key is knowing who to turn to. Whether that’s a dedicated in-house occupational health specialist and external agency or an advice hotline.

“Good” Work

In April, Dr Richard Heron stressed the importance of offering “good” work. He says that people need to see work as the way to achieve good health. At the moment too many see it as a barrier to a happy, healthy existence. That must change, he argues.

Dr Heron suggests that we ask ourselves, ‘what do workers want in order to thrive at work?” he believes the answers are clear.

  • Control over work
  • Autonomy
  • Clarity of what’s expected
  • Clear accountabilities
  • Variety in what we do
  • Positive relationships with managers
  • A safe and pleasant working environment
  • Belief in fair pay
  • Supportive supervision
  • A sense of purpose
  • Good work-life balance

During his talk he challenged, “Can we align the goals of employers and workers?” and answers with a resounding “Yes.” Employers can indeed ensure the commitment and loyalty of their staff. They simply need to work on ways of providing a caring, respectful, flexible working environment that is both fulfilling and financially rewarding. A fair exchange.

Global Shifts

This is not simply about individual employers, this is about bringing a societal, in fact global, shift in the way we view work and the workforce.

For all the theories, just as with the previous three, we don’t know what this industrial revolution may bring. However, if we approach it in the right way it provides us with a perfect opportunity to reassess where we are and how we want to proceed.

“Technology is not an exogenous force over which we have no control. We are not constrained by a binary choice between “accept and live with it” and “reject and live without it”. Instead, take dramatic technological change as an invitation to reflect about who we are and how we see the world. The more we think about how to harness the technology revolution, the more we will examine ourselves and the underlying social models that these technologies embody and enable, and the more we will have an opportunity to shape the revolution in a manner that improves the state of the world.”  ― Klaus Schwab, The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Ageism and Work

Ageism and Work

In under two years over a third of UK workers will be over 50 years old. Based on current plans, they will still be 18 years away from receiving their state pension. Our population is ageing and our working lives are lengthening. This is not a revelation, but it is likely to mean a rise in work-related ageism.

Ageing positively

A recent report published by the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) in partnership with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation found a rise in ageist attitudes. The report cites a number of studies that found the way we perceive ageing can have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing.  In one study those who viewed getting older positively lived, on an average 7.5 years longer than those who worried about ageing. In another, attitudes to ageing could impact on likelihood of developing dementia or the speed of recovery after cardiovascular problems.

In the context of these studies, it is worrying that three quarters of the 2000 people surveyed by the RSPH perceive ageing negatively. They expected physical decline to stop them from doing the things they enjoy and believed serious health issues to be an unavoidable part of growing older.

The RSPH argue that these negative attitudes present a real problem for our ageing society. They shape negative ideas about older people and their capability while also threatening our ability to maintain health and wellbeing as we age. Not good news with an ageing population on our hands.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the RSPH said

“With more people reaching older age than ever before, it is crucial to act now to promote positive integration across the generations.”

Ageism in the workplace

A study of over 55’s carried out by Capita Resourcing found 94 per cent of businesses believed that older workers could help bridge skill gaps. Despite this only 23 per cent claimed to be actively recruiting people over the age of 50.

Many over 50’s in work, feel that their age is limiting their career paths. Of the 1,000 people surveyed 17 per cent of those over 50 felt that they had missed out on promotion due to their age and just under a third said they felt side-lined in the workplace.

As the workforce ages and more older workers compete with younger for the same jobs, some argue that ageism, at both ends of the spectrum, is likely to increase.

Age discrimination is illegal under the 2010 Equality Act. An individual cannot be treated differently due to their age. However, it can be very difficult to prove implicit or subconscious bias.

Chris Brooks, Senior Policy Manager at Age UK, said

“Quite often if [people] feel [they’ve] been discriminated against [they] won’t know why – its really difficult for everybody to challenge it…There is a stigma still attached to running these claims… We speak to lots of older people who feel they’ve been discriminated against at work because of their age.”


One of the places that ageism can be seen clearly at work is during the recruitment process. Unconscious and conscious bias against older applicants is commonplace.  Many older people said they were seen as being ‘ too stuck in their ways’ never making it off the starting block.

“..with eyes focused on technology and innovation, few businesses have older workers on their agenda, leading to a huge missed opportunity.” Says Chris Merrick, Director at Capita Resourcing.

Business in the Community (BITC) couldn’t agree more. They state that UK GDP could be boosted by 5% if the employment rate of 50-64 year olds matched that of 35-49 year olds. That’s an injection of around £88 billion into the British economy.

They argue that older workers are an essential resource for businesses across the UK. In 2016, the BITC was tasked by the Government to work with employers to increase the number of workers aged 50-69 by 12% by 2022. This equates to around one million older people across the UK.

Older people are an invaluable source of experience and their more settled stage of life makes for highly focussed, committed and motivated employees. The BITC believes that organisations would  do well to welcome and support them.

Small changes, big returns

It’s not just about making a more welcoming place for older workers. There are compelling examples of small changes to support ageing employees benefitting the entire workforce, overall productively and, essentially, the bottom line.

One commonly cited example is BMW, who recognised the changing physical needs of older, experienced workers. Rather than risk losing these valuable staff members, they implemented seating and better lighting on the production lines and more comfortable rest rooms. In exchange they received a massive boost to productivity, not just that of the older workers, but the younger workers too who also benefitted from the changes.

While there are some age-specific issues to be borne in mind, most considerations required to support an ageing workforce will benefit all age-groups. A well-resourced and thought out health and wellbeing plan is really all that’s necessary.

Good health policies, mental health support, career development plans and flexible working options can make an organisation an attractive choice to the best employees whatever their age.

A diverse workforce has been demonstrated, time and again, to be the basis of many successful businesses the world over.

What is clear is that if we can do away with our negative view of ageing, we will be able to see our ageing workforce not as a challenge to be overcome, but as an opportunity to be harnessed.