Supporting Cancer Caregivers in the Workplace

Last Updated: 

December 1, 2023

In 2016, Macmillan Cancer Support estimated that nearly 1.5 million people in the UK were providing informal care, with each dedicating approximately 17.5 hours per week to a family member, friend, or colleague with cancer. However, the role of a cancer caregiver is not without its challenges. Many cancer caregivers face mental and physical health issues and increasing financial burden as a direct result of being a cancer caregiver, but still find their employers, social circle and society demonstrate a lack of recognition of their carer status. Over 50% of cancer caregivers receive no support, despite two in three expressing a desire for more assistance.

If you have an employee who is caring for someone with cancer, you might be wondering what you can do to support them. In this article, we explore various ways you can support cancer caregivers, both in and out of the workplace, and explain the significant difference these actions can make to your employees.

Key Takeaways on Supporting Cancer Caregivers

  • Recognising the Challenges of Cancer Caregivers: Acknowledge the physical, emotional, and financial burdens faced by cancer caregivers. Over 50% receive no support, highlighting a critical need for recognition and assistance.
  • Providing Emotional Support: Offer a compassionate ear and understand their challenges. Educate yourself about the specific cancer diagnosis to better empathise and support the caregiver.
  • Demonstrating Empathy: Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of another. When communicating with caregiving employees, listen actively and be sensitive to their non-verbal cues, offering sincere emotional support.
  • Offering Practical Assistance: Help with daily tasks like meal preparation, household chores, and childcare to alleviate the caregiver's burden. Practical support can significantly reduce their stress and workload.
  • Small Acts of Kindness Matter: Simple gestures such as sending cards, care packages, or even bringing lunch can significantly impact a caregiver's well-being and make them feel appreciated and seen.
  • Signposting Professional Support: More than half of caregivers experience stress and depression. Providing information on available support services and facilitating access to professional counselling can be invaluable.
  • Organising Respite Care: Arranging for professional respite care gives caregivers essential personal time, helping to prevent burnout and social isolation, and allowing them to recharge and focus on self-care.
  • Impact of Employer Support: Employer support can play a crucial role in helping caregivers balance their job responsibilities and caregiving duties, enhancing their overall well-being and ability to provide care.
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Provide emotional support

One of the most significant ways to assist cancer caregivers is by being there emotionally. Listening to their concerns, providing a compassionate ear when needed, and acknowledging their feelings and the challenges they face can make a world of difference. By offering emotional support, you can help alleviate the isolation that many caregivers feel. Additionally, if you're close to your employee and/or the person they are caring for, consider educating yourself about their specific cancer diagnosis and treatments involved. This knowledge can enable you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what they're facing, and therefore, also means you can provide better emotional support for them.

Show your employees empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It is a crucial component of providing sincere emotional support for cancer caregivers because it helps foster an interpersonal connection. However, demonstrating empathy is a skill that requires sensitivity. When talking to your employee, it’s important to monitor their body language and non-verbal cues as well as listen to what they are saying. While it's essential to be honest about your feelings in response, refrain from sharing your own or others' experiences with cancer, as this can unintentionally cause additional worry or make the caregiver feel misunderstood, even if well-intentioned.

Offer hands-on help

Cancer caregivers often take on a multitude of tasks when supporting an individual with cancer, including administering medications, assisting with personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and life administration. However, they also still have their own responsibilities to uphold. This can leave them feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Offering to help them with practical tasks and errands, such as food, meal preparation, household chores, and childcare can significantly reduce their workload.

 Carry out small acts of kindness

Cancer caregivers often put their own needs on hold as they focus on caring for someone else. That’s why small acts of kindness can go a long way in making caregivers feel seen and appreciated. Gestures such as sending cards and putting together care packages can convey your support. Even simple actions like bringing them lunch or leaving them a treat on their desk can have a significant impact on their well-being.

Signpost to professional support

Caring for someone with cancer can take a toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of caregivers. More than half of cancer caregivers experience stress and more than a quarter experience depression but don’t know where to seek assistance for themselves. Providing employees with information and resources, as well as access to cancer support can help them when they need it most. Facilitate access to professional help, such as a counsellor, so that your employees can have a safe, confidential space to talk about feelings and develop strategies for dealing with the challenges they face.

Organise respite care

Many cancer caregivers experience social isolation, exhaustion, and burnout, with 62% of cancer caregivers stating their carer status affects their social life. Organising respite care can provide your employees with much-needed time to focus on other things, safe in the knowledge that their loved one is in the company of a qualified professional. Even a few hours of relief can allow them to catch up on rest, engage in self-care, or do activities they enjoy. Whether it's going to the cinema to see a film or attending a fitness class, these breaks can make a world of difference.

In summary, cancer caregivers play a vital role in the lives of individuals with cancer, and their support is invaluable. As they navigate the physical, emotional, and financial challenges that come with their role, friends, family members, and employers need to offer assistance and understanding. By providing emotional support, demonstrating empathy, assisting with practical tasks, arranging respite care, and encouraging them to seek professional help, you can make a positive impact. A little support can go a long way in helping cancer caregivers maintain their wellbeing, and find a balance between their employment, day-to-day responsibilities, and providing care to someone with cancer. 

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