How to Support a Coworker or Employee Dealing With Cancer

Cancer can affect anyone at any time, and often crops up when you least expect it. Even if your health is in excellent condition and you follow the conventional advice of eating healthy and exercising, because cancer is simply the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, which can happen spontaneously. It’s an unfortunate reality that millions of people are currently struggling with—and if your team is big enough, eventually, you’ll be faced with one of your team members or employees struggling with the disease.

The best way to handle this is to give your employee all the support you have, but how can you support someone with this complex and multifaceted disease?

Why Support Is So Important

First, it’s important that you know why your support is so important in the first place. It’s highly beneficial, and not just for the employee in question:

  • Improving treatment. As Rush points out, a support system not only helps someone cope with the realities of living with the disease, but may actually improve a patient’s disposition enough to improve treatment.
  • Setting an example. As team leader, your other employees will look to you to set the example. If you demonstrate positive, supportive behavior, they’ll be more likely to follow suit, resulting in a chain reaction.
  • Improving morale. When a team member is struggling with an illness, the morale of the entire team can drop. Intervening with additional support helps remind the team that you’re all in this together, and can improve overall morale.
  • Logistical benefits. It shouldn’t be a surprise to you that cancer will interfere with anybody’s typical job responsibilities. Finding ways to support them will help you maintain control of your organization and better manage their responsibilities at the same time.

How to Offer Support

Those benefits seem nice, but how can you offer support? You can’t treat the disease yourself, so what can you do to make a meaningful improvement?

  1. Genuinely listen. One of the best ways to offer support is to simply listen to what your employee has to say. They may tell you about the processes they’ve been going through as a cathartic release, express what they’ve been feeling as a way to find sympathy, or tell you any fears or concerns they have. The more you listen, the more comfortable they’ll be—and the more you’ll learn about their situation.
  2. Don’t force anything. However, it’s also important to know that not everyone will want to talk about the disease or their experiences openly. If you try and force someone to open up, you could make them feel pressured and uncomfortable, so don’t force anything to happen. Instead, just keep the proverbial door open.
  3. Recommend resources. You may not know any off the top of your head, but with a little bit of research, you can probably recommend resources that your employee can turn to for any number of functions. You could recommend doctors, support groups, or even fun things to do to help take their mind off things. This saves them some research time, but more importantly demonstrates that you care about them.
  4. Rearrange responsibilities. Obviously, you’ll have to rearrange some of their work responsibilities, so take care and be considerate when doing so. Ask if they have any recommendations for delegation, but watch your timing and if possible, try to make the transition happen gradually.
  5. Offer flexibility. Your employee will likely have to take some time off, or work irregular hours while they’re struggling with the disease. Though it may be difficult, try to make accommodations here, and offer flexible working accommodations like work-from-home days and more flexible hours.
  6. Organize in-office events. You can also demonstrate your support by hosting in-office events. These may be focused on recognition or support, gathering your employees together to pitch in for donations or show emotional support for your teammates. They may also be focused on raising awareness, educating your workers about the disease in an effort to show more support as a group over time.

Most of these approaches are simple, and won’t demand much from you in terms of planning or execution. You may not be able to make a meaningful difference in the development or mitigation of the disease, but you can make a positive emotional impact and help your organization keep running smoothly in the process.