This week I would like to focus on the importance of work in our lives. Employment has become a massive subject now, with the impact that Covid is having on the world economy. For most of us the work place looks very different now. Many working from home and rarely seeing colleagues other than during a video call. Some having lost their jobs are attempting a job search which can be a very demeaning process. Issues that many people with cancer will recognise.
Barbara Wilson and her team specialise in helping employers and employees deal with the many hurdles associated with work and cancer. But like many other cancer services demand has decreased as more people stay at home. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean the issue has gone away, far from it! In the below piece, Barbara tells us more.
Silly question? Yes of course it is, but well (she wrote tongue in cheek) I think that must be the case because we are getting far fewer referrals than before lockdown. Why is that? I think there are several reasons many of which we are all too aware. As Macmillan reported in October, far fewer people are being diagnosed and treated for cancer.
‘We are deeply worried about these many thousands of people who have cancer but have not yet been diagnosed because they are too frightened or too worried to visit their GP; because they are waiting too long for investigative tests; or because they haven’t received an invitation to routine screening. We also know there are many people waiting anxiously for their first treatment to start, as well as those who already have a cancer diagnosis and are in need of crucial follow up scans, tests and treatments.’
And as CRUK reported in October last year:
‘Between March and September 2020, >350,000 fewer people than usual had a referral for ‘fast-track’ investigations in the UK, largely owing to fewer people seeking primary care advice but also to primary care services being reluctant to make hospital referrals during the height of the pandemic. These figures are steadily improving, but remain lower than before this period. With such a drop, the NHS will need to manage and expedite referrals for individuals with suspected cancers above pre-pandemic figures, while still managing COVID-19 through winter-related pressures.’
But I also think that there is something else going on and maybe you can help me and my team understand this better? You see, normally HR professionals, line managers and health professionals alert us to the fact that employees need support but right now, with most people working at home, people with a cancer diagnosis seem to somehow be ‘below the radar’.
- They don’t have to change their commute into work to avoid the rush hour.
- They don’t need to overtly ask for rest breaks during the working day or leave the office for medical appointments.
- They might not need to overtly ask for flexible hours
- They are not seen to struggle with systems and processes that changed during their absence or with remembering ‘stuff’ that before their cancer they had no problem remembering;
- They are not seen to need a different desk or software or desk fan, or toilet arrangements to help cope with the side effects of treatment.
So, is it a question of ‘out of sight out of mind’?
Now look, in many ways’ lockdown has been helpful to people with a cancer diagnosis: there is no commute, you can (in most cases) take a break without feeling guilty, you can often manage your time and your work more easily. But it also depends on your job and your boss. Some people are having their work rigorously scheduled, video calls may be taking place back-to-back, and some bosses are very heavy handed in checking up on what their employees are doing each day. In these circumstances, when there may also be redundancies and job losses taking place, do you say you need more time to recover and ask to work fewer hours per week? I don’t think so, even with the Equality Act in place to protect you.
Video calls don’t help. We all know that even people with a terminal prognosis can look well – and anyway, who wants to look bad on a video call? So, people make the effort to look good, and then their colleagues think they must be fine, and even that their colleague is ‘milking it’ a bit when they say that they feel tired and unwell. So, if you are in HR or a line manager please ask yourself, are you providing enough support to your employees who have a cancer diagnosis. And if you ask the question and someone says ‘I’m fine’, then please ask again to be sure that is really the case.
And what about those who are out of work or self-employed, looking for support to return to work? We are offering three free coaching sessions for anyone who contacts us in February who does not have an employer to pay for them. Please contact us if you’d like some support or know someone who would benefit from it. And at the very least, why not download our Career Coaching Workbook from the website.
This blog is now long enough. To reiterate, if you are interested in our service: if you have cancer or know someone who does, or is a carer or a colleague and wants some support to manage work, return to work or find a new job, then please get in touch. We have more testimonials than you have time to read. Go to our website, have a look at what we do, the people we work with, the information and Guides we provide, the events we run.
Maybe I’m wrong – has Covid cured Cancer? No, I really don’t think so!
I would like to thank Barbara for taking time to share her expert views with us. You can contact her through her site or @WorkWithCancer @BarbaraEAWilson