Only 1 in 3 Cancer Sufferers Satisfied with Employer Support

Just a third of workers who have had cancer feel satisfied that their employer made ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their job to help them manage their long-term health condition, new research has revealed.

The Opinium Research study, undertaken for back-to-work rehabilitation specialist Working To Wellbeing, found that only 36% of respondents were satisfied with the adjustments made. 

Female respondents were even less impressed, with only 33% satisfied with the support provided, compared to 39% for their male counterparts. Older workers were even more dissatisfied. The polling reveals that 25% of those aged 55 or over were not happy with the adjustments made to accommodate their needs. 

Working To Wellbeing’s Window to the Workplace research has also found that only 29% of those polled have been satisfied with the physical modifications that their employer has offered them. 

Drilling down, just 42% have been satisfied with the flexible working offered while only 28% have been satisfied with the coaching support offered, the study finds. 

In terms of redesigning the individual’s job to help them manage their cancer, only 34% have been satisfied with the efforts made. In this instance, male employers are more dissatisfied than their female counterparts – 37% compared to 31%, respectively.

Opinium Research conducted the UK study for Working To Wellbeing between 8-12 September 2023 and received responses from 112 individuals who have/have had cancer in the workplace. They also received responses from 566 line managers. 

When Opinium Research canvassed the views of line managers who are responsible for explaining what rights a person with a long-term health condition, including cancer, has at work under the Equality Act 2010, less than a quarter of those polled (23%) said they would proactively explain these rights. 

As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) notes, the Equality Act 2010 considers a progressive condition, such as cancer, as a disability even if an individual is able to carry out normal day-to-day activities and that person is protected as soon as they receive a diagnosis. 


This means UK employers have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability. What’s more, these adjustments must be considered with a specific individual and their specific role in mind, says the back-to-work rehabilitation specialist. 

However, its study reveals a disparity between what line managers understand reasonable adjustments to mean and what support is offered.

For example, although almost three-in-four (72%) of line managers say they understand what reasonable adjustments in the workplace mean, only 47% feel they would be able to offer and support the individual concerned. Line managers aged under 35 years of age are even less able to do this (40%), the study reveals. 

The charity Macmillan, which provides services for people living with cancer at every stage of their experience, estimates that currently 3 million people in the UK live with cancer. It also estimates there are 890,000 people of working age that live with cancer. 

In IOSH magazine’s ‘The Perils of Perception’ article, global market and opinion research specialist Ipsos, noted that cancer is the biggest cause of death in the UK but its scale is underestimated. Its 2020 research finds that although the average guess is that 19% of people die from cancer each year, the real figure is 30%. UK think-tank Policy Exchange has undertaken research to get a better sense of the wider impact on the economy when cancer survivors cannot return to paid work. It estimates the loss in productivity was £5.3 billion in 2010.

However, this figure is expected to rise as an increasing number of people receive a cancer diagnosis over the coming years.

‘The growing incidence of cancer in the workforce is a risk that employers cannot afford to ignore; or they will no doubt be faced with reduced productivity, low retention, poor morale and increased costs,’ says Dr Julie Denning, managing director, chartered health psychologist at Working To Wellbeing and chair of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association. 

‘As well as making business-sense to take the front-foot, employers have a legal obligation via the Equality Act 2010 to support employees with disabilities, including those diagnosed with cancer, ensuring reasonable adjustments are made for them at work.’ 
Denning explains that Working To Wellbeing supports line managers to implement return-to work plans and also helps them to make reasonable adjustments for employees. 

‘Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most difficult situations that anyone has to face, causing both physical and mental health symptoms,’ she continues. 

‘More than three-in-four of people we work with in our Cancer Work Support Service successfully sustained or returned to work. We believe that good work is an important part of the recovery pathway and is an outcome that we work towards.’

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