C for cancer hand shape

The complete guide to supporting employees with cancer

As of February 1st, 2021, the coronavirus pandemic had claimed the lives of more than 105,000 people in the UK1. But the terrible toll of COVID-19 goes beyond contracting the virus itself. So how has COVID impacted what Macmillan calls “The Forgotten ‘C’?” – cancer care, diagnoses and treatment? And how can Unum support employees with cancer?

The impact of COVID-19

According to Macmillan, 50,000 people are now missing a cancer diagnosis because they are either worried about visiting their GP, are waiting too long for testing, or haven’t received an invitation to routine screening. Others are still waiting for their treatment to start2.

More than 650,000 people with cancer in the UK (22%) have also had their cancer treatment or care disrupted as a result of the pandemic. A figure that Macmillan says includes around 150,000 people who have had their treatment delayed, rescheduled or cancelled. Over half of these were worried that delays to their treatment could affect their chance of survival3. Yet the charity estimates that even with significant extra resource (above pre-pandemic levels), it is estimated that clearing the backlog in cancer diagnosis will take 20 months4.

A further 90,000 of people living with cancer hadn’t had their care disrupted, but believed their symptoms had worsened or returned. However, they hadn’t spoken to their GP because they were either scared of catching the virus or didn’t want to add to the pressures on the NHS5.

In all, around 900,000 people of working age are living with cancer, a figure estimated to reach 1,150,000 by 20306. But 28% of employees had either no support or very little from their employer7.

With the added impact of the pandemic, it’s clear that employers and employees need additional support, both physically and mentally.

How Unum can help?

Our ‘Cancer in the workplace’ study from August 2019 showed that working can give cancer patients a sense of normality, helps to take their mind off their diagnosis and provides a valuable social connection.

We want to ensure employees with cancer, who are able to and want to work, can work. So we’ve developed a comprehensive and complementary range of support tools. While some are only available to businesses with a Unum policy, others are open to everyone.

Support tools from Unum

Cancer Pathway

No one cancer diagnosis is the same. Symptoms, treatments, prognoses and how we react and cope are unique to the individual, so one size doesn’t fit all.

Our Cancer Pathway provides quick and easy access to support at diagnosis, through treatment, after treatment and end of life – whenever it is needed.

Employers can access the pathway by emailing pathway@unum.co.uk or by getting in touch with their existing Unum claims or Vocational Rehabilitation Consultant. One of our trained health professionals will make contact within 48 hours to assess both the employer’s and employee’s needs and create an appropriate ‘pathway’ using our available services.

Learn more about the Cancer Pathway:

Critical Illness customers

Group Income Protection customers

On Course workshops - HR and line manager training

More than half (59%) of line managers had no, or very little, knowledge about their employee’s condition8.

As part of our On Course suite, the ‘Cancer in the workplace’ workshop has been developed with Maggie’s cancer charity. Aimed at line managers and HR teams, the workshop provides a better understanding of the likely effects of cancer and its treatments, leading to greater confidence in discussing the needs of affected employees.

Cancer is more than just a physical illness, of course. It can also have a huge impact on people, emotionally and mentally. Our two-part On Course ‘Stress management and mental health’ workshop takes in both prevention and intervention. Together, they focus on the awareness and the importance of prevention, stress awareness and management, and good mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Our workshops are available to employers via webinar, so are accessible to everyone regardless of where they’re working.

Find out about our On Course workshops

Online e-modules

Designed for those who can’t attend a workshop or webinar, our CPD-accredited, interactive e-modules are based on our On Course workshops and are open to everyone.

Including cancer and mental health, the e-modules allow employers and employees to pick and choose the sections they want, and access the information whenever it’s needed. The ‘on demand’ training and guidance also includes access to practical tools and videos.

Discover the e-module suite


Even before the pandemic, our Achieving Work/Health Balance research found that 62% of people said their health deteriorated as a result of missing general GP appointments9. But with a significant drop in the number of people visiting their GP for fear of either contracting the virus or because they don’t want to add to the burden on the NHS, virtual healthcare services are proving invaluable.

Our Help@hand support offers eligible employees quick and simple access to five wellbeing services through a single app, including a UK-based remote GP, mental health support and medical second opinions. Help@hand is also open to an employee’s partner – with some services available to their children as well (up to their 18th birthday or 24th birthday if in full-time education).

Learn more about Help@hand

LifeWorks (individual log-in and password needed)

An Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), such as Unum’s LifeWorks through Morneau Shepell provides a wealth of information and much-needed support for everyone, including managers.

For employees, LifeWorks’ services includes the CareNow programme – offering eight interactive digital modules to support employees, such as ‘Coping’ – providing practical skills to navigate difficult situations and feelings, as well as build up positive coping strategies. Other modules look at stress, anxiety, depression and grief.

The modules are based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles and gives employees control to access instant support – anytime, anywhere.

LifeWorks also offers the Total Wellbeing Index (TWI) – offering individuals personal mental, physical, financial and social assessments, followed with tools and resources to support them with any areas that they need to focus on. TWI also allows businesses to gain information on their overall wellbeing and how they can better support employees to build resiliency.

There’s also access to a wealth of articles and resources, including supporting a colleague working through cancer, understanding breast cancer, and supporting relatives and friends with cancer, plus many more.

Find out more


Through our long-standing partnership with Maggie’s cancer charity, we can provide information and advice for HR professionals and line managers on cancer support. Employers can contact our rehab helpline on 01306 646001 (9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday) or email pathway@unum.co.uk to learn more about how our partnership can help.

Maggie’s also provides direct practical, emotional and social support for anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, including family members. While the pandemic may prevent Maggie’s from seeing people face-to-face at their Centres, they are supporting visitors by telephone, email and video call. See Maggie’s Cancer Support page and visit the online community.


When someone is first diagnosed with cancer, it can be frightening, confusing – and life-changing. We’ve partnered with cancer experts, Reframe, to help employees understand their situation so that they can make the decisions that suit them best.

As well as a dedicated case manager throughout, Reframe provides employees with a personal cancer care review with a cancer nurse specialist, and an option for a second opinion with a consultant to review the diagnosis and treatment plan.

Reframe’s support services

Return to work support

When the time is right, our in-house team of health professionals can work with businesses to support an employee to return to work.

As well as an initial telephone conversation to discuss both the employer’s and employee’s needs, we can create a practical return to work plan and make recommendations, such as flexible hours, working from home and workplace adjustments, to ensure an employee can return to their role safely.

See more about how we can help an employee return to work

Financial support

The effects of cancer can be far-reaching – physically and mentally, but also financially.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of workers worried about the cost of cancer, such as travel and higher bills, and how their families would cope with loss of income if they had to give up work10.

Employee benefits like Critical Illness cover or Income Protection can provide a vital safety net for people diagnosed with cancer. For example, Unum’s Critical Illness policy provides a tax-free lump sum if the employee suffers a listed critical illness and survives for 14 day after diagnosis, while Income Protection can pay a percentage of the employee’s salary if they are off work for an agreed length of time. In fact, almost 25% of Unum’s Group Income Protection claims were for cancer during 201911.


Finally, communication is king. The ‘Cancer in the workplace’ study found 40% of workers were unfamiliar with the resources their employer provided for cancer sufferers before they were diagnosed. Yet 52% of employees thought they could’ve returned to work sooner if they’d received better support from their employers12.

Businesses must ensure they use every tool at their disposal to help employees with cancer return to, or stay in, the workplace as long as they’re able to or want to.

Ensuring employees are fully aware of the support available to them, both internally and externally, can help them during their cancer journey, keep valuable expertise within the business, and show employees their health and wellbeing is paramount.

*Please note that access to some of the services mentioned in this article depend on your Unum policy.

To find out more, get in touch with us at pathway@unum.co.uk.

7 Unum’s Cancer in the workplace study – August 2019
8 Unum’s Cancer in the workplace study – August 2019
9 Achieving Work/Health Balance – based on a UK representative sample of 2,031 full-time (30 hours+) adult workers aged 18+, between 28th October and 8th November 2019
10 Unum’s Cancer in the workplace study – August 2019
11 For Unum GIP claims admitted between 1st January 2019 and 31st December 2019, 24.8% were for Cancer, 16.5% were for mental health and 10.6% for musculoskeletal conditions
12 Unum’s Cancer in the workplace study – August 2019

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