Research/studies Wellness

Most workers don’t know how to support colleagues who have cancer: survey

Photo: SDI Productions/iStockphoto

New York — Nearly 9 out of 10 workers say they’re concerned about their ability to support a colleague who has cancer or another serious illness, results of a recent survey show.

On behalf of Cancer and Careers – a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with cancer succeed in the workplace – researchers surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults who were employed full time. They asked questions on how prepared and empowered the respondents felt to assist a co-worker who was diagnosed with a serious health condition such as cancer, and if they believed management provided proper resources and guidance.

Results showed 88% of the workers weren’t sure they’d know how to support a co-worker dealing with a serious and/or chronic health condition. Although many workers are eager to help a colleague in need, many fear being intrusive rather than helpful. The most common concerns among the respondents were how much or what kind of emotional support to offer (69%), how much to ask about a colleague’s medical condition or status (59%), and what kind of work-related assistance to offer (51%). In addition, 59% said they lacked confidence in their organization’s leaders to support ailing employees.


“Leadership plays a crucial role in defining company culture and values,” Kathy M. Flora, a career coach at Cancer and Careers, said in a Nov. 20 press release. “When [the majority] of workers say that management could have done more to be supportive of their co-workers with serious medical conditions, whether that’s provide more workplace accommodations or creating more inclusion and engagement opportunities, it’s clear a significant shift is necessary at the top levels of organizations.”

Among Cancer and Careers’ tips for what to say to a co-worker with cancer is, “I don't know what to say or how to say it, but I do want you to know I am here for you.” Co-workers also can offer to take over a routine task, send a card, lighten a colleague’s workload, offer to take a walk together or help find useful resources.

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