Research

Helping Cancer Patients in the Workforce

Saturday, November 15, 2014
ThinkAnthem
Summary and Key Findings: 

Cancer survivors can benefit from working during cancer treatment or returning to work after treatment. By staying in the workforce, they can:

  • Receive a regular paycheck
  • Continue their insurance coverage
  • Maintain a sense of normalcy
  • Enjoy the social support of colleagues
  • Have improved self-esteem and quality of life

Businesses benefit, too, by avoiding the costs of replacing an employee and realizing gains in morale and productivity. But employers need better education and resources for helping employees with cancer maintain employment or reenter the workforce. Recommendations for policymakers include:

  • Review the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Ensure that job re-training programs and grants include opportunities for people facing a career change as a result of surviving cancer
  • Offer opportunities for job training, re-training and educational grants for cancer survivors and others
  • Encourage federal and state personnel authorities to identify and adopt best practices in the support of employees facing cancer
  • Ensure that government personnel policies support cancer survivors
  • Share best practices and create a replicable model for the private sector

Cognizant of both the health benefits of work and the daily challenges that accompany cancer treatment, ThinkAnthem and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease teamed up to examine how a cancer diagnosis impacts employment and explore how policymakers can help businesses facilitate continued employment for cancer survivors. Here’s what they found.

Background

Advances in early detection and treatment of cancer have improved survival rates and reduced the physical burden of treatment, allowing cancer patients to work during the course of their treatment or return to work more quickly when treatment is complete. Despite these advances, employment-related challenges – such as discrimination in seeking work or being promoted – and physical challenges that impact a patient’s ability to do her job – such as fatigue, pain, depression or functional limitations – can arise from the moment of diagnosis and last throughout treatment, and possibly persist years into survivorship.

Benefits of Working during and after Cancer Treatment

Empowering patients to remain at work during cancer treatment, or to return to work as a survivor, is important both to the individual and to society at large. Benefits for the survivor extend beyond receiving a paycheck and having insurance coverage. Studies show that continued employment provides psychosocial benefits, including:

  • Maintaining a sense of normalcy
  • Enjoying the social support of colleagues
  • Boosting self-esteem and quality of life

Research also confirms that people with serious illnesses who have strong social networks enjoy better health outcomes.

Economic Impact

For society, keeping people with cancer working brings the economic benefits of productivity gains and income generation. Businesses that help an employee continue working avoid the costs of replacing that employee, including the time spent looking for and training a replacement. Those employers also see boosts in overall employee morale and productivity.

Employers Need Better Education and Resources

Despite the rapidly growing number of cancer survivors in the U.S. workforce, relatively few resources are available to help employers navigate the legal and human issues confronted when an employee has cancer. Research and education are needed to close the significant gap in identifying and sharing best practices for facilitating workplace transitions for cancer survivors. Policymakers, business leaders and both large and small employers have opportunities to support cancer survivors and reduce the employment challenges they face, but action is needed.

  • Review the Family and Medical Leave Act to identify opportunities to better meet the needs of people with cancer and their caregivers while balancing employers’ interests.
  • Ensure that job re-training programs and grants include opportunities for people facing a career change as a result of surviving cancer.
  • Include opportunities for job training, re-training and educational grants for cancer survivors and others.
  • Encourage the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and State personnel authorities to identify and adopt best practices in the support of employees facing cancer.
  • Ensure that OPM and State personnel policies support cancer survivors, including providing direct-line managers with the tools needed to address questions and issues that arise.
  • Share information among OPM and State personnel authorities on best practices in managing workplace transitions relating to cancer treatment and survivorship, and to set a replicable model for the private sector.

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