Managing Cancer at Work Tips for the Manager

Managing Cancer at Work Tips for the Manager

As a manager, what are you to do when one of your team members tells you that s/he has been diagnosed with cancer?

Here are four tips to help you both support your employee and model positive behavior for your team and within your company:

1. Be empathetic.
Keep in mind that the employee in front of you has just had his or her world turned upside down. Assure them that you will support them to the best of your ability and you’ll guide them to the resources that are available in your workplace. This will include human resources, the occupational health office, and—if available in your workplace—the cancer nurse navigator.

2. Be prepared.
Know your obligations as an employer, your employee’s rights, your company’s benefits. Know the right people to contact. Understand that your employee may have limited information and even when they do have a plan of care, that care plan may change. You need to be aware and prepared for that. Know what work accommodations need to be made and the key personnel in your organization to contact when you have questions.

3. Communicate.
It is vital that you maintain an open channel of conversation with your employee throughout their cancer journey. When they are offsite, even for brief periods of time, keep them abreast of any workplace changes. When they are ready to return to work, have an onboarding process in place, and make sure they and other members of your team and your company know it. Stay in active communication with your employee to monitor if the return to work was too soon or if s/he is having trouble adjusting.

Here are some recommendations of what not to say:
  • Don’t give advice
  • Don’t tell them “everything will be ok”
  • Don’t share stories about other cancer patients.
Do consider saying:
  • This must be difficult for you and your family
  • I am sorry you are going through this
  • You are a valuable member of the team
  • Let’s talk about ways to make your workload manageable
  • Let’s check in on a regular basis to see how you are doing.

4. Maintain privacy.
As an employer you have a right to know if there are issues that will interfere with the employee’s ability to work, but be cautious and remember that your employees have a right to privacy. They may or may not choose to disclose details about their illness to you. And they do not have to.

Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is taking care of those in your charge.-Simon Sinek

Cancer and Careers (2017). What to expect you’re your employee has cancer.
Retrieved from:

Managing Cancer at Work (2017). If your employee is diagnosed.
Retrieved from:

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