What HR departments can do to help staff members with cancer

How has your company helped employees battling cancer?

How has your company helped employees battling cancer?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, so it is important for employers to provide support for staff members who are diagnosed with this disease. In 2014, estimates show that more than 1.6 million Americans will find out that they have cancer, the American Cancer Society reports.

What makes cancer such a difficult situation is that many of these patients will have to decide if they want to work during treatment or take a medical leave of absence.  Regardless of the employee's decision, human resources will need to provide information on the staffer's situation via HR software. 

A survey from Macmillian, a cancer care and support charity, found that over 750,000 people in the United Kingdom work while they're battling cancer. This represents about one-third of the 2 million person with the disease. Unfortunately, because getting through treatment can take a toll on these workers, about 57 percent of cancer patients and survivors had to leave their previous position or change roles.

The problem with this is that employers often assume that workers want to make these hard decisions so they can commit more time taking care of themselves. According to Guardian contributor and former cancer patient Barbara Wilson, this is not the case. 

"Work contributes to financial independence, provides a sense of purpose, gives you identity and self-esteem, creates structure and order in our lives, is an important source of friendship and social interaction, and is a lifeline back to normality, wellbeing and recovery," she wrote.

Human resource staffers will need to coordinate with the employee and supervisor to identify alternative work options during this difficult time. These adjustments show that the company is truly supportive of the employee, as well as address productivity concerns in advance, instead of playing the blame game down the line. 

Research from Wake Forest University identified that there are many ways to change an employee's day-to-day tasks without forcing him or her to give up their position. Changes include flexible work options, taking on fewer responsibilities or working less hours per day or week.

"The most common work modification reported was a change in work schedule. Women either worked fewer days or fewer hours per day. These changes allowed the women to go to cancer treatments, and working less also helped with fatigue," the study's authors wrote on these arrangements.

Taking on this situation head-on shows that employees truly do have options. Many assume that they might be out of a job, but with a proactive human resources department and HR software, they'll be pleasantly surprised.