As increasing numbers of people survive cancer, HR professionals need to be prepared to offer specific help and support


As Unum UK’s new HR director, I’m proud to be part of a company that has dedicated itself to providing financial protection to its customers for decades and this was recognised in this year’s VIB awards, where we won Best Group Risk Provider. We are committed to providing added value that makes a difference. Part of our future strategy is to move beyond group risk and become a broader employee benefits provider, as shown by last year’s acquisition of National Dental Plan, now rebranded as Unum Dental.

It reflects a sea-change in UK businesses. But this change brings challenges – in particular to line managers and HR staff, especially in the light of findings recently released by Cancer Research UK.

Huge advances in treatment mean more people are surviving cancer. In fact, survival rates have doubled since the mid-1970s. Half of those diagnosed with cancer in England and Wales in 2010/11 will survive for at least 10 years.

It also means that more people are able to stay at work either during treatment or will be looking to return once treatment has finished.

The benefits of doing so are huge. For an employee living with cancer, it brings a sense of normality, acts as a distraction and retains social ties. For an employer, the business continues to enjoy the contribution of experienced and expert people.

But for all those welcomed back to the workplace, many others are slipping through the net. According to our 2012 survey with Oxford Economics: Can Work, Will Work, around 63,000 people diagnosed with cancer want to work, but for whatever reason don’t feel able to.

That same research also projected around 4 million people in the UK will be living with cancer by 2030 – double the estimated 2 million in 2012. So it’s vital employers understand the problems people living with cancer face, and how best to support them.

At Unum, we recognise we need to help our customers in this area. In 2012 we launched our partnership with cancer charity, Maggie’s, which provide free practical, emotional and social support to those with cancer.

Over the past four years, we’ve worked together to devise a wide range of practical support tools to educate, inform and advise. These include commissioning research, producing online e-modules and webinars, and specifically for HR managers, developed free interactive workshops held at Maggie’s centres nationwide.

These are designed to give HR professionals a deeper understanding and what they can do to help their employees with cancer. It also gives them a chance to ask questions, talk about real-life cases and hear the experiences of their peers on what is often a sensitive or difficult subject.

More than 300 people have attended sessions and they are becoming increasingly popular. If you would like to attend a session, please check our website at for this year’s remaining dates.

To further support our customers, we’ve added a Cancer Support Service for our Group Critical Illness customers. In partnership with Harley Street Concierge Limited (HSC), the new service provides extra practical and emotional support for employees with a cancer diagnosis.

People with cancer can often be asked to make quick, yet important and difficult decisions in distressing circumstances, with little knowledge to go on. Unum’s Cancer Support Service caters for both NHS and private patients and is designed to:

  • Help employees better understand their cancer and the available options
  • Give fast-tracked access to leading cancer experts
  • Provide ongoing support, such as managing appointments and fast tracking results.

Cancer is the number one cause of our critical illness claims. Our Cancer Support Service expands the range of services we already offer clients.

Ensuring workers living with cancer have the best possible support and understanding helps the employee to continue at work – with all the inherent benefits that provides for both the staff member and their employer.

Cancer Research UK statistics (2010-11)

Oxford Economics: Can Work, Will Work, report commissioned by Maggie’s and Unum 2012

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