Work After Cancer: How to Help Employees Transition Back to the Workplace

Employers have asked, “How can I help an employee who is returning to work after fighting cancer?”  Most employers know that serious medical conditions and the workplace can make for a dangerous mix but still want to do whatever they can to support their employees during this difficult time.

american cancern society

The American Cancer Society reports that most employees with cancer will return to the workplace during or after their treatment. An article in the New York Times provide some excellent advice on successfully transitioning back to the workplace:  Some suggestions include:

  1. Employees should ease back to work. They might just not be physically able to return full time.  Return to work should be seen as a “process” rather than a “day.” 
  2. Communication is key. Open communication will enable a supervisor to hold back less critical assignments while an employee’s strength returns.
  3. Keep Co-Workers Involved.  Many co-workers will be concerned about an employee fighting cancer. Concern is good, distraction is not. The article suggests that employees consider using online services to update co-workers about treatment progress so that they are aware of appearance changes and have reasonable expectations about the situation.
  4. Shutdown Uncomfortable Conversations.  One of the most common complaints of cancer survivors is co-workers telling stories about relatives who have or had cancer.  While these employees mean no harm, their stories usually are the last thing a survivor wants to hear.  The article suggests that they tell employees that they are sorry about the relative but their situation is different and they feel good.

N.Y. Times article: Continuing to Heal After Returning to Work.

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