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Over 1 in 3 expect no support from employer if diagnosed with cancer

  • New research finds 36% of employees think they would get no form of support from their employer if diagnosed with cancer – rising to 45% of those who have cancer or have suffered from cancer in the past.
  • One in five (21%) workers have no idea what support their employer offers
  • Only 31% expect to be granted flexible working if they had cancer, with even fewer anticipating adjusted workloads (16%) or protection benefits (10%)
  • Two in five (41%) say they would be uncomfortable discussing a cancer diagnosis with their employer or colleagues

More than a third of respondents (36%) believe they would get no kind of support from their employer if they were diagnosed with cancer, according to our new research. Shockingly, this figure rises to 45% of employees who have cancer, or have suffered from cancer in the past. Our new research reveals a harsh reality that employers are not doing enough to provide help for staff who develop a serious, long-term illness.

Cancer now affects one in two people during their lifetime, and incidence rates among those aged 25-49 have risen by 20% in the past 20 years. Despite the growing occurrence of cancer among working age people, a fifth of respondents have no idea if their employer would offer any support if they were diagnosed with the condition.

Less than a third of respondents think they would be granted flexible working and time off when needed if they had cancer, falling to just over a quarter of those who have experienced cancer before. People with cancer, the Big C, do not feel they can fit their work around the need for treatment, recuperation, or even just bad days. Just 25% think they would be given return-to-work support on recovery, and only around one in six anticipate access to occupational health services or adjusted workloads and performance targets. Only one in ten think their employer provides financial benefits such as critical illness cover.

Table 1: Limited expectations of employers’ support following a cancer diagnosis

Which of the following forms of support do you think your workplace would provide if you were diagnosed with cancer? People who believe employer offers it
Flexible working and time off when needed 31%
Return-to-work support on recovery 25%
Access to occupational health services 16%
Adjusted workloads/appraisals/performance targets 16%
Counselling and emotional support through the workplace 13%
Financial benefits, e.g. critical illness cover 10%
Second medical opinion services 6%
Assistance in the purchasing of private healthcare 4%
A Personal Nurse Service for practical and emotional support 4%
None of the above 36%
Don't know 21%


UK employees would be uncomfortable approaching their boss or colleagues about cancer
Our research also reveals two in five respondents would be uncomfortable talking to their employer and/or colleagues about a cancer diagnosis. Why do so many still see a cancer diagnosis as taboo, or worry about how the conversation could go? Cancer is common – 85% of our respondents had some experience of cancer in their life – yet when it comes to the world of work, respondents feel empathy and flexibility seem to be sorely lacking.

Over one in ten say they would be scared to tell their employer about a diagnosis in case it appeared they were no longer up to the job, while almost a fifth would feel uncomfortable asking for time off. A sizable minority of respondents would not be willing to tell their colleagues about a diagnosis, with 15% saying they would prefer to keep it to themselves. Slightly more would feel awkward discussing cancer with their employer. This is unfortunate, if understandable, because help and care begins with open and honest dialogue.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, comments:
“The fact that more than a third of people think they would get absolutely no support from their employer if diagnosed with cancer is extremely worrying. Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK and it is becoming more common among those of working age. The likelihood of having cancer increases with age and with an ageing workforce, 73% of whom have told us they cannot afford to retire, this is a problem that is going to get much worse.

“Cancer treatment can cause many to have to work reduced hours or stop working altogether. Sufferers should be able to make getting better their main priority without worrying about job security and financial stability.

“People who have personally experienced cancer are more sceptical about the support of their employer, which is particularly damning. While many employers might feel they are understanding and accommodating when it comes to cancer, it is clear that more needs to be done in terms of support.

“Benefits such as Group Critical Illness and Group Income Protection cover provide the best help employers can give to staff with cancer. Not only do they provide financial support at a time when household income can be stretched, they also come with a whole host of support services. While our critical illness product provides the practical and emotional support of nurses once a claim is made, both products provide clinical certainty through free access to second medical opinion services. Group Income Protection additionally has EmployeeCare (EAP) counselling and back-to-work rehabilitation so genuine support is being provided beyond the financial aspects of the benefit. Group risk products are incredibly high value for their cost for employers to provide and will mean the world to staff who experience a cancer diagnosis.

“It’s vital that employers with these benefits communicate them properly to staff so they know the depth and breadth of support that can be used.”

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Canada Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Canada Life International Limited and CLI Institutional Limited are Isle of Man registered companies authorised and regulated by the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority.

Canada Life International Assurance (Ireland) DAC is authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland.