September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month. According to Dr Lee, Consultant in Early Diagnosis at Royal Marsden Cancer Charity ‘The NHS calculated that 55,000 additional lives could be saved every year if cancer is diagnosed early.’
In this article we’ll go through:
- How to spot the signs of blood cancer
- How you can support employees
- How your employee benefits package can help provide support
Spot the signs
One of the key ways to ensure early detection of blood cancer is to know what signs to look out for.
For blood cancer specifically, some of the common symptoms include:
- Coughing or chest pain
- Fever or chills
- Frequent infections
- Itchy skin or rash
- Loss of appetite or nausea
- Night sweats
- Persistent weakness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Swollen, painful lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
Whilst these symptoms can be associated with different illnesses, presence of a few of these symptoms together can indicate blood cancer.
One of the easiest ways you can help to keep your employees aware and potentially safer is by making sure that they are aware of the signs.
Putting up posters on noticeboards or sending out employee emails every September with reminders of symptoms can be a great mental prompt for employees. This means they can catch any symptoms early and increase their chances of early diagnosis.
Whilst it is a tricky thing to manage, if you as a HR manager are informed of the signs then should an employee be showing them or mention a loved one and alarm bells ring, you can intervene.
Talking to employees individually
If you do believe that talking to an employee could support them, then knowing how to do it successfully and empathetically is key.
Take them into a private room, having either asked them to see you or sending an email setting up a more official meeting. It’s important to state that it isn’t a meeting where they’re in any trouble as this could add extra stress onto what could also be a stressful meeting.
Once you’re in the meeting room, make it as informal and comfortable as you can. Have a cup of tea or coffee together and start with asking how they’re doing. Once you’re both comfortable, start to bring up your concerns. Don’t be forceful of the idea that you think that blood cancer is their issue but encourage them to get themselves checked out by a doctor. If you are particularly concerned about it being blood cancer, then having resources at the ready will be useful to back up your concerns with information.
Give them time to process the information you’ve given them and the concerns you’ve voiced. Make sure that they’re okay and answer any questions or concerns that they may have.
Once you’ve finished speaking to them, they should feel like they are in control of the situation. If they want to know more and get further support, then let them know that you’ll do what you can to help. If they’d prefer to leave the conversation there, then respect that.
These conversations are hard and can be a lot to take in, so an employee may want to deal with further steps in private. Let them know you are there if they need further help in future and leave it there.
Approaching a diagnosis
If an employee does get diagnosed or their loved one does, then you can support them without having to ask them to focus too much on the illness.
Get a toolkit together of the support that you can offer them to make life that little easier. This will make the process work better and ensure that the employee gets the help needed. It can also help you in future if blood cancer or serious illness affects another employee.
Once the toolkit has been put together, send the employee an email just to check on them and let them know that there are tangible ways you can support them. Lay out clearly what they are entitled to and give them snapshot details if you can. Don’t give intense details unless they ask for them as too much information can just overwhelm them further.
There are different ways that you can offer your support throughout your employee’s experience, some more extensive than others but all useful in their own ways.
The most likely support that they will need is going to be emotional. All of the medical support will be in hand and its important to make sure that the employee isn’t going to be bombarded with unwarranted advice.
Just give them the space to vent when needed. This can be done by operating an open-door policy or being available for video calls, giving the employee reassurance that you are there if they need it.
In terms of how to keep a handle on how the news is received within the workplace, allow the employee to lead again. If they want someone to know then they will tell them. Even if it’s the employee that has been diagnosed, allow them to disclose to people when they’re ready. They are likely to have members of the team that they will feel more comfortable talking to. Let them naturally tell people how and what they want to.
There are also great employee benefits that can help support an employee through a diagnosis, which we’ll discuss in more detail further on.
Mental health support
The diagnosis of an illness like blood cancer, whether for the employee or their loved one, will be life-changing.
However, there is a lot you can do to support an employee throughout and help to lighten the load.
Checking in on the employee and how they are doing regularly can help because it shows that they have a place to go to talk. It doesn’t have to be in a formal meeting, just asking how they are can be a huge help. Especially if they want to ask for support but don’t feel comfortable broaching the topic.
Accepting that they will have bad days is important too. It will make them feel as if they can be honest. One of the hardest parts of struggling mentally is feeling like you have to hide it. So, expecting that these employees will have bad days takes off some of the pressure.
Giving employees tips and resources to help maintain good mental health can be a huge support. There are many websites, online resources, and exercises available for free that they could find useful. As well as support and reminders to eat, drink etc.
Letting your employee know what’s available can help them make use of tools to support them. This kind of support will be of huge value at a difficult time for the employee and they will appreciate you helping them access it.
Although emotional support for the employee will be necessary, knowing their entitlement for tangible support will be important too. This will help them deal with appointments, bad days and emergencies.
Having a conversation with them about time off and making sure you agree on a plan of action will make things clear for all. If the employee has a designated line manager or team that they work with, involving them in these discussions or letting them know the agreed actions will help too.
Putting their mind at ease by going through their time off allowance and letting them know that your support is there will massively help the situation and ease their added stress. This gives the employee more freedom to take care of what they need to.
If the employee is the one that gets the diagnosis, then they are likely to need support within. Depending on the employee’s situation, they may still work in person full time, or they may need to adjust their working hours or work from home more than usual. Within the workplace they may need to find ways to be more comfortable, particularly if they struggle with pain.
If you can, give them private space options so that if they have days where they’re struggling or are emotional so they can take a moment away from everyone. This can be outside spaces or a room they can go into for a quick break.
Despite the hard work that charities are doing, the 5-year survival rate for blood cancer is 70% albeit improving all the time. As a HR manager or people manager, you have the opportunity to make sure that the situation is dealt with, with care and compassion.
If an employee loses someone, then allowing them time to deal with their loss and everything that comes with that will be a huge help. It gives them chance to take care of themselves and their families without the added stress of work.
When that employee comes back to the workplace, there is plenty that can be done to make sure that the transition is as smooth as it possibly can be.
Giving the employee the option of a phased return can be useful as they work gradually back up to their previous shifts and workload. This helps the employee get some normality back into their lives without completely overwhelming them. It can be particularly useful if the employee is looking after others affected by the loss.
The reactions of you and their colleagues will make a huge difference to how the employee transitioning goes. It’s important to make them feel supported but to not overwhelm them too. We’ve said it before but letting them lead with what they’re comfortable with can put them in control. Encouraging colleagues to offer condolences can break the awkwardness too and let the employee know that people care.
Everyone will grieve differently and need different support. Allowing the employee’s individual needs to guide the way will help to ensure that they feel truly supported and in some sort of control.
If the bereavement comes from the loss of a colleague, then this adds new challenges. Figuring out how to tell the rest of the business about the passing away of a colleague and how to provide support to grieving employees is a key consideration. It will help to give time for colleagues to grieve and take note of the impact of the person.
As part of the support that you can offer your employees, the employee benefits that they have available can help to provide support in many different areas of dealing with an illness like blood cancer.
For medical support, access to Health Assessments can make diagnosing and maintaining their health easier because they can get specific assessments done without hassle. Private Medical Insurance can also help because it opens up their options for treatment without waiting for NHS appointments.
The Health Cash Plan is a great tool because it allows your employees to pay for their or their loved one’s care in an affordable way.
In terms of preventative care, setting up a healthy living library on your benefits platform and including a blood cancer section can help employees inform themselves of the risks and what to look out for. This could help an employee get an early diagnosis and increase their chances of treating it successfully.
Emotionally, offering an Employee Assistance Programme gives your employees access to confidential mental health support and they can even get set up for regular therapy sessions, making the support sustainable.
As part of your discounts or monetary based benefits, you can offer discounts to resources like Headspace that will aid your employees in looking after their wellbeing.
If you want to find out more about how your employee benefits package can support employees dealing with blood cancer, either themselves or in a loved ones, then checkout our employee benefits schemes pages for more information.