Changing the conversation about work and cancer

The Critical Role of Line Managers

Picture of a representative line manager
Line Managers play a critical role in helping cancer survivors return to work

I am often asked what is the most important factor in helping people return to work after cancer.

Clearly a lot depends on the diagnosis, the stage that the cancer is at, and the kind of work the individual does. An individual’s financial situation, and friends and family circumstances are also important, but in my view the individual’s immediate line manager plays a really critical part from the outset.

Their immediate reaction and their continuing willingness to listen, be flexible, be patient, and provide support can provide enormous comfort. When this isn’t the case it can cause deep stress for the individual and their family at an already stressful time.

There are 5 areas where line managers can make a real and lasting difference:

• Understanding the issues concerning work and cancer
• Understanding their responsibilities under the Equality Act
• Being supportive e.g. considering and making reasonable adjustments, communicating thoughtfully with the employee, team and third parties
• After treatment, planning and implementing a phased return to work
• Keeping the situation under review for at least 12 months to ensure the individual is getting the support they need.

Increasing evidence shows that returning to work after cancer aids recovery. I wonder how many line managers realise that they can play a major role in helping someone get through and over cancer by helping their employees recovering from cancer to continue to do their job.