Changing the conversation about work and cancer

Anxiety and returning to work

Genevie Isaacson

As some of you will know, 15 to 21 May was mental health week and it made me think about the queries we often receive from those with cancer and cancer carers about returning to work. Many of the queries are from employees regarding their rights when returning to work and inevitably the conversation will pivot to the mental and physical toll it takes in order to make a successful return.

The mental aspect of returning to work after a period of absence while attending treatment can be fraught with anxiety and become debilitating. Not knowing how people will react to your return and whether you can adequately perform your work duties can be all consuming.

So what is anxiety and how should an employer deal with it?

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.” The manifestation of anxiety can be mental as well as physical. That feeling of being hot, nauseous, sweating, moving continuously with unease, and trouble relaxing,  to name but a few problems.

As an employer the return to work of an employee from long term illness is prescribed in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and Equalities Act 2010. Most companies and organisations will also have their own policies and procedures which they will follow but these should acknowledge, and be in line with, the legislation.

The best approach is to offer a return to work meeting where the practical aspects of the employee’s return are discussed along with their reasonable adjustments.

This is all good and well ticking off the legal requirements but what of the psychological impact of returning to work.

As an employer it is good practice to follow the guidelines below. These are only suggestions and should be tailored appropriately to your organisation and the employee.

So often we talk about flexibility in company policies when an employee returns to work but communication between the parties is just as important if not vital, to a successful return to work.

The impact of cancer is far reaching but by being open and empathetic to your employee not only with regards to their physical needs but also their mental well being, a successful reintegration of the employee can be achieved.