Interview with Liz Egan Macmillan Working through Cancer Programme Lead

March 23, 2018

Please can you talk us through Macmillan at Work and your programme

Macmillan at Work (MAW) is an offer which has been specifically designed for line managers and HR professionals to help them support employees affected by cancer to stay in and/or return to work. MAW offers expertise in workplace training, guidance and resources. By joining Macmillan at Work here, employers can access a range of free resources including the Macmillan Essential Work and Cancer Toolkit, regular updates via e-newsletters and free e-learning modules. Employers can also book specialist work and cancer training sessions, which range from a one-hour ‘taster’ to our three-hour in-house workshop or, for larger organisations, our bespoke or Train the Trainer options. For more information, see

Evidence suggests that, for people who experience ill-health or disability, remaining in or returning to work can help to promote recovery and rehabilitation and lead to better health outcomes. Whilst not everyone with cancer will be able to or want to work after a cancer diagnosis, Macmillan research shows that 85% of people who were working when diagnosed felt it was important to return to work (1). People who have had a cancer diagnosis are, however, 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than the general population (2). In addition, 1 in 5 working carers say caring has affected their working lives (3). Macmillan set up the employer programme to address some of the barriers employees affected by cancer face, in staying in or returning to work.

What is your role in the charity?

I lead the Macmillan Working Through Cancer Programme which is set up to support people with cancer to stay in and/or return to work. This involves addressing both the work and health barriers people face in retaining their jobs during and after a cancer diagnosis including, amongst other challenges, a lack of support from their employers.

How does cancer affect workforces across the UK?

Over 750,000 people of working age are currently living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK. By 2030, the number of people with cancer who are working is estimated to rise to 1.7 million (4). In addition, around 700,000 carers of people with cancer are working either full or part-time (5). With more people being diagnosed early, better treatments and improved survival rates, more people are living longer and wanting to return to work after cancer. A recent survey for Macmillan found that 1 in 5 people with cancer were discriminated against at work because of their cancer (6). Many struggle with little or no coordinated support to remain in work following treatment.

How does your work support HR and employers?

With growing numbers of working age people being diagnosed with and surviving cancer, employers
need to consider and improve their responses. This should include building more proactive and supportive approaches, such as the development of clear company policies and improving the skills of line managers to manage long-term health conditions at work. For example, more could be done to increase understanding, amongst line managers, of the types of adjustments at work that could support an employee with cancer to stay in or return to work.

Ensuring employers understand the importance of an individual’s needs and what reasonable adjustments could be made can be a key factor in job retention. The MAW programme has been developed to raise awareness of this, and to equip line managers and HR professionals with the confidence and ability to support employees affected by cancer – in particular, in the following areas:

• Cancer treatment, its side effects and the impact on a person’s work.
• The Equality Act (and the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland).
• Talking about cancer.
• Supporting carers’ needs.
• Making workplace adjustments.
• Managing bereavement and end of life.

What impact are you having on the corporates you are providing the training to?

Over 7,000 employers from the private, public and voluntary sector have joined MAW since Macmillan launched the programme in July 2014. We’ve also trained over 4,000 Line Managers and HR Managers, primarily from large to medium sized organisations across the UK, on work and cancer.

A recent evaluation of the Macmillan at Work offer identified the following impacts:

• 79% of respondents felt very well or well equipped, in terms of return to work planning for employees affected by cancer
• 93% stated Macmillan at Work was important in achieving their levels of competency in relation to a range of knowledge and skills on work and cancer
• Greater reassurance for HR professionals and line managers on their approach to supporting employees affected by cancer
• Delivery of accurate and useful information to staff
• Helped to identify gaps in organisational policies
• HR and OH professionals worked more closely together to ensure more appropriate and timely referrals to OH
• Support to create in-house champions to support roll-out of good practice

What’s the most common piece of feedback you get from employers?

Employers tell us that MAW has led to their HR and line managers having a better understanding of the impact of cancer on individuals – including on those who are carers. This has helped managers develop confidence when supporting employees affected by cancer and other long-term conditions. And this in turn helps the organisation retain valued staff, so there are business benefits as well.

Below is some participant feedback from MAW training sessions:

‘I found the session really useful, it gave me a lot of ideas and what not/to ask. The thing I most took from the session was the experience and views of other managers. As a fairly new manager myself it was really useful to draw off others’ experiences and learn from them.’
‘Felt we had opened up the topic and left them more comfortable discussing it. The organising manager in each location have sent their thanks advising that they have spoken to managers attending the sessions and they have all confirmed that it was time well spent and they have taken something away from the sessions.’
‘Excellent feedback. All agreed that the session would be beneficial to all staff regardless of managerial status.’
‘I have already had some great feedback from the colleagues that attended the event and I know that after today, we all have a better awareness of the information and support that is available to us and our (teams). Thank you very much, it was great to work with you.’

Attendees at all Macmillan training sessions take away a copy of our Macmillan Essential Work and Cancer toolkit and employers who book one of our in-house or bespoke sessions also benefit from an organisational Action Plan, based on ideas generated by training participants from their organisation.

What really inspires you?

I’m really inspired by the level of interest shown by employers in the Macmillan at Work offer. When we started out, we never predicted that so many employers would join the Macmillan at Work programme. This gives me personally a lot of hope, that the stigma some people with cancer face in terms of both staying in and returning to work, will one day be a thing of the past. And that cancer will be accepted by employers as a condition that many people will live and work with for the rest of their lives, akin to many other health conditions. The support that employers can offer, by ensuring good line manager communication and the provision of reasonable adjustments, can make a world of difference in ensuring employees with cancer hold onto their jobs, vital to their long-term health and wellbeing.

Contact Jo Major to  find out how your organisation can better support employees affected by cancer.