In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, it is imperative for employers to consider their role in both educating their staff about breast cancer and supporting those who may be diagnosed with the disease. Breast cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the UK, with one woman being diagnosed every 10 minutes. Surprisingly, more than a third of women in the UK do not routinely examine their breasts for potential signs of breast cancer.
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Supporting Employees Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
Although breast cancer is often viewed as a private matter, it exerts a considerable mental and physical toll on both those undergoing treatment and those around them, including in the workplace. Treatment frequently entails time off for surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and extended recovery periods, all of which can have adverse effects on individuals’ overall well-being and daily functioning. While these effects may be temporary for some, they can be long-term or even permanent for others.
In the event that an employee is diagnosed with breast cancer, it is vital for managers to be knowledgeable about how best to support them and be aware of any health promotion activities they can engage in to enhance breast cancer awareness. Establishing supportive policies and fostering an inclusive workplace culture is not just a matter of social responsibility and duty of care; it can also serve as an attractive proposition that enhances employee retention and productivity.
An excellent starting point is to encourage open, empathetic conversations and ensure that line managers are trained to sensitively address these matters or guide colleagues toward appropriate support. A breast cancer diagnosis and treatment can be emotionally challenging for employees, including those with a loved one diagnosed with the disease. Many people undergo a range of emotions during this period, which can be challenging to cope with.
Connecting employees with breast cancer support groups or counseling services can provide them with a safe space to share experiences, seek guidance, and find emotional support from individuals who have undergone similar journeys. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are a crucial component of any corporate well-being strategy, offering access to counseling services, mental health resources, and support networks.
Health Promotion Activities and Practical Support
Businesses and their occupational health teams can also participate in various health promotion activities, such as information campaigns during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the distribution of educational materials covering risk factors, symptoms, and prevention strategies. Likewise, organizing training sessions on breast health, self-examination techniques, and the importance of regular screenings should be considered. These activities and resources can help raise awareness about the disease, hopefully leading to timely medical attention.
It is important to emphasize that while these strategies can make a positive impact, they are just a starting point. Breast cancer awareness and support should be an ongoing effort and integrated into health benefit packages.
In terms of practical support, breast cancer treatments often necessitate frequent medical appointments, which can disrupt work schedules. Facilitating flexible working arrangements, such as reduced working hours, home-based work, and a phased return to work following treatment, can help alleviate the burden of an employee’s diagnosis, allowing them to manage the physical and emotional demands of their treatments while maintaining their productivity at work.
Employers should also strive to provide a comfortable working environment wherever possible. This can include offering ergonomic equipment or modifying workstations to accommodate employees’ needs. Access to private areas where employees can rest and recover should be considered, as the treatments for breast cancer can be extensive and demanding. Each employee’s specific needs should be taken into account.
Additionally, referral to occupational health services can provide further support to individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment and transitioning back to work, creating a safe environment for people to discuss their concerns, which they may not feel comfortable addressing with line managers or HR.
The Role of Employers in Early Detection of Breast Cancer
Regarding screening, the benefits of early breast cancer detection cannot be overstated. While 3.2 million women were invited for routine breast screening in England in 2021/22, only 2.1 million actually underwent the screening, leaving over one million women without this crucial examination. Early detection significantly improves survival rates, underlining the importance of prioritizing screenings.
Employers should educate employees about the significance of regular screenings, tests, and checks, and make them aware that screenings for breast cancer are available through the NHS for employees in specific age groups. If possible, organizations should consider offering screenings as part of their health benefits packages to supplement NHS screening programs.
Many corporate health screening programs include mammograms as part of breast screening for employees aged 40 and above, contributing significantly to increased breast cancer awareness. ToHealth, for instance, offers genetics tests for some clients, allowing earlier detection and prevention of breast cancer.
Employers play a pivotal role in promoting early detection and supporting employees diagnosed with breast cancer through a combination of nurturing work environments, education, access to information, and screening services. By integrating these efforts into their comprehensive health benefits packages, employers can minimize the impact of this unfortunately common disease on their workforce.
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