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Employers play a vital role in supporting employees with cancer, says Unum

6 November 2019

Leading employee benefits provider, Unum, hosted an event yesterday (5th November) to highlight how important it is for employers to provide the right support for employees impacted by cancer throughout their journey from diagnosis through treatment to recovery and possible return to work.

Guest speakers included former BBC presenter, and current Classic FM host, Bill Turnbull. Bill talked openly about his ongoing battle with prostate cancer, after being diagnosed in 2017, and how it has affected him both personally and professionally.

It is an accepted fact that now one in two people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime1. In the context of an ageing work force, 125,000 of working age adults are diagnosed with cancer annually2, meaning that cancer is becoming an issue which will impact most businesses whatever the size.

In 2018 cancer was the top cause of long-term sickness absence claims paid by Unum.

Upon returning to work, Unum’s research found that 28% of workers with cancer, or who have had cancer, said they didn’t receive any support, or the support they did receive fell below their expectations when they were at work following their diagnosis.

84% agreed their loyalty towards employers could have been influenced by the amount of support they received, and 3 out of 4 workers worried about the cost of cancer and how their families would cope with loss of income if they had to give up work.

A panel of corporate wellbeing and cancer care specialists, moderated by Unum’s HR Director Liz Walker, discussed that the key issues affecting employees include dealing with the feeling of fear that comes after a cancer diagnosis; fear of losing their job and fear of not being able to support themselves. Employees can also struggle with the lasting physical effects of cancer treatment after returning to work, including fatigue, as well as lack of confidence from being out of the workplace for a period of time.

The panel also highlighted that what can affect employers and line managers the most is speaking about a cancer diagnosis with an employee. This can be a sensitive and challenging conversation and one which they have not always been trained for, which could mean they struggle to provide the support needed. 

Employers can help by ensuring that the right support is put in place to help the employee throughout their treatment and possible return to work. The panel agreed that one effective way of doing this is to ensure all guidelines and advice relating to cancer are available in one place, easily accessible to both employees and employers.   

Unum is enhancing the cancer support it offers through its Critical Illness cover, including the introduction of Unum’s ‘Cancer Pathway’, which provides consultation assistance to patients, helps with managing symptoms, a medical concierge, and psychological and post-treatment support.

Vocational Rehabilitation Consultants (VRCs) are also available to work closely with employers to put together a plan to help recovering employees return to work when they’re ready to do so.

Help@hand, Unum’s new app powered by Square Health, gives employees access to enhanced health support and is available with Unum’s Group Income Protection policies at no additional cost. Four key services are available to employees and their families through Help@hand: a remote GP service, a second opinion, mental health support and physiotherapy. The second opinion service can be particularly important after an initial cancer diagnosis to ensure an employee receives the most effective treatment, tailored to their unique needs. Help@hand provides access to specialist consultants who can offer either a face to face or video consultation.   

After the panel discussion, speakers and attendees networked with the Unum team as well as Unum’s support service providers and partners including reframe (formerly HSC), a UK provider of specialist cancer support, and Maggie’s, a charity that offers free emotional and practical help for people with cancer and their families.

Bill Turnbull says: “It’s been two years since my diagnosis and my life has changed forever. While I’ve had my ups and downs, it’s been the support of those around me who have helped me, and this extends beyond my family and friends to include my employer and colleagues at work. I think being able to go back to work is a huge part of being able to feel normal again. It’s vital that employers understand how important the support they provide to their employees with cancer is in helping them cope and live with this disease”.

Peter O’Donnell, CEO of Unum says: “As we live and work longer, the reality is that more and more of us will face a cancer diagnosis at some point in our working lives. Employers play an important role in supporting employees as they face the financial, emotional and professional obstacles a cancer diagnosis can bring. Unum’s enhanced critical Illness product and the unique Cancer Pathway provides quick and easy access for employers and employees to cancer support upon diagnosis, through treatment and recovery – whenever it is needed.”




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About Unum

Unum is a leading employee benefits provider offering financial protection through the workplace including: Income Protection, Life insurance, Critical Illness, and Dental cover.

Our Income Protection customers have access to medical and vocational rehabilitation expertise designed to help people stay in work and return to work following illness and injury. Unum LifeWorks, our Employee Assistance Programme, provides help and advice on a range of work/life issues.

Our Critical Illness customers can access our Cancer Support Service, providing personalised support for employees with a cancer diagnosis.

We are committed to workplace wellbeing for both employees and employers. We have a wide range of tools designed to help businesses create or enhance their employee wellbeing strategy, including our Mental Health Pathway and Wellbeing Calendar.

At the end of 2018, Unum protected 1.4 million people in the UK and paid claims of £314 million - representing in excess of £6 million a week in benefits to our customers - providing security and peace of mind to individuals and their families. 

Our parent company, Unum Group, is a provider of employee benefits products and services in the United States, including group and individual disability insurance. Premium income for Unum Group and its subsidiaries totalled $9.0bn in the year ended 31 December 2018, with reported revenues for the group totalling $11.6bn and total assets of $61.9bn.

A.M Best has given all rated Unum Group companies an Excellent rating for Financial Strength, with a stable outlook.

For more information please visit

Unum Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Unum Dental is a trading name of Unum Limited. Registered in England 983768.


1 Cancer Research UK, 1 in 2 people in the UK will get cancer, 2015

2 Macmillan Cancer Research, Macmillan: Work and Cancer, 2017