Cancer awareness conversation

Half of SME line managers have no training to support employees with cancer - Unum data reveals

  • Almost half (47%) of SME*  managers have not received any training to help support employees with cancer in the workplace
  • Nearly a third (30%) of SME managers are not knowledgeable about the support their business provides to employees with cancer
  • 55% of managers agree they should have given more support to their employees with cancer

According to research from Censuswide1, commissioned by Unum in May 2022, nearly half of SME managers have not received training to help support employees with cancer in the workplace. Meanwhile, 11% needed to source training themselves to support employees living and working with cancer rather than having the company provide it.

Nearly two-thirds (60%) of managers also confirmed they have or would find it hard to talk to employees about their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The top three areas managers said they didn’t know enough about to support employees with cancer were: how to make reasonable adjustments to support employee wellbeing; how to ensure effective communication with employees with cancer; and what the business’ legal responsibilities were towards the employee.

The research also revealed the three biggest challenges managers face when managing and supporting employees with cancer are:

  • Understanding and supporting the mental health impact on the employee
  • Lack of knowledge about cancer and its treatment or impact
  • Working out resources and services to signpost the employee to for support.

Previous research from Unum2 suggested 70% of employees with cancer said they could have returned to work sooner with greater support from their employer. Although it’s encouraging that the new findings suggest 90% of SMEs offer return to work support, just 21% said their business offered access to specialist cancer support.

With cancer being the most common claim under Unum’s Group Life Insurance, Unum recently partnered with cancer experts Reframe to launch Cancer Assist3 for Group Life Insurance policyholders. 

Of the surveyed line managers, 80% said they felt responsible for providing support to family members of employees living with cancer. The service therefore offers employees and their family4 access to trained client navigators that are available via phone, email or webchat at every stage of the cancer journey. Cancer Assist focuses on 5 pillars of wellbeing: physical, emotional, financial, social and professional.

Glenn Thompson, Chief Distribution Officer at Unum UK, said:

“Clearly, there’s room to do more to assist managers who are supporting employees with cancer.

“There’s a direct link between 70% of employees who said they could have returned to work sooner after cancer with greater support from their employer and the lack of return-to-work support such as access to cancer specialists, mental health and rehabilitation professionals. 

“It’s fantastic that medical advances mean mortality rates from cancer are falling. Life Insurance should therefore move towards providing support for those living with cancer — not just to the loved ones of people dying from it. That’s why, with Cancer Assist, Unum puts the life into Life Insurance.”

More information

*Small and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 250 employees as defined by

1 Research conducted by Censuswide between 18th – 23rd May 2022 amongst a nationally representative sample of 501 SME managers

2 Research conducted by Censuswide between 21st–25th April 2022 amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,003 UK adults

3 Cancer Assist is provided by Reframe. Access to the service is facilitated by Unum at no cost to the Unum customer. Unum is not the provider of the service but can withdraw or change the service at any time. The service is entirely separate from any insurance policy provided by Unum and is subject to the terms and conditions of the relevant third-party specialists. There is no additional cost or increase in premium as a result of Unum making this benefit available. This service is subject to a fair usage policy.

4 Employers and their partners have full access to Cancer Assist. Children can access Cancer Assist up to their 18th birthday with a parent or guardian, or directly up to their 24th birthday if in full-time education.

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