Government plans put increased pressure on employers to support employees with cancer

Article date: 13 June 2011

New research1 from Aviva UK Health shows that employers are still finding facilitating the timely return to work of absent employees challenging – particularly when it comes to supporting employees with complex conditions such as cancer.

New plans announced under the Government’s welfare reform bill will see thousands of cancer patients no longer being eligible to receive Employment and Support Allowance after a year if a spouse or partner is working. This is likely to encourage many to return to work before they are ready, making the employer’s role even harder.   

One in five (19%) employers questioned in the study have experience of staff living with cancer. Although an overwhelming 61% of employers say their primary concern when an employee presents them with a serious condition is the health and wellbeing of the employee, the study also reveals that business priorities remain a concern:

  • 23% of employers were anxious about the pressure this absence would put on other employee’s workloads
  • 15% worry about the effect it would have on morale
  • One in 10 (11%) worry about finding the money to support the employee/or to ensure the business is unaffected
  • 11% were concerned about getting the employee back to work.

With survival rates improving all the time, many employees are eager to return to the normality of the office. Although just 5% of employers say that rehabilitation is not an option, nearly one in five (17%) admit that they would find it difficult to manage both the needs of the business and the needs of their employee when faced with this situation. 14% say they would be anxious about finding a way to deal with the employee without upsetting them. 

Interestingly, nearly a quarter (22%) of employers who have supported staff through serious illness say that the experience prompted them to reviewed their HR policy to ensure that they know how to deal with future cases. This demonstrates the need for regular reviews to ensure companies are able to effectively support employees living with complex conditions such as cancer.

Dr Doug Wright, head of clinical development at Aviva UK Health says: “When faced with a serious illness, helping people to continue to lead as normal a life as possible makes a real difference to them. Having this link back to their usual life and activities not only helps with their physical but also their mental wellbeing. Thankfully medical advances mean that many people are now living with cancer and with the right physical and psychological support, are able to continue to work.

“Our research highlights that while employers genuinely care about their employees, they often don’t have the right HR policies, employee benefits and advice in place to help them back into the workplace.  The good news is that there is a wealth of specialist occupational health and rehabilitation support available to help them do this. For example, at Aviva we help our customers back to work by drawing upon our specialist clinical knowledge, occupational health support and insurances such as group income protection and private medical insurance.”

Duleep Allirajah, policy manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, adds: “There are people with cancer who have the skills and experience to benefit their employer and so it makes sense to help them return to work by making the necessary changes to their workload or environment. Many adjustments, such as flexible working hours or allowing an employee to work from home, are easy to make and cost very little. We encourage employers to visit our website and take advantage of the wide range of resources we've produced to help them support people with cancer at work.”


If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact: 

Melissa Loughran
Aviva Press Office +44 (0)1904 452791 
Mobile +44 (0)7800 691947


1 All statistics are from a nationwide survey of 1,000 British adult employees and 688 employers, carried out for Aviva by market researchers OnePoll. The opinion poll was hosted online at between the 8 and 14 March 2011 and was available to its registered members.

Notes to editors:

Aviva is the world’s sixth largest* insurance group. We provide more than 53 million customers with insurance, savings and investment products with total worldwide sales in 2010 of £47.1 billion**.

We are the UK’s largest insurer with 19 million customers and one in three households has a relationship with us. Our combination of life, health and general insurance, together with motoring services from RAC, is unique in its scale and breadth in the UK market.  Customers can choose to buy our products through intermediaries, our corporate partners or from Aviva direct and we have become the partner of choice for many of the UK’s biggest organisations. 

We are ranked as one of the UK’s top ten most valuable brands and Aviva plc are in the top 10% of socially responsible companies globally in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. In 2010 we invested £4.3m into our communities in the UK, which included 1,500 Aviva volunteers giving 24,000 hours for good causes. In addition, our employees gave £600,000 through fundraising and donating. Read our corporate responsibility report at

Aviva is working in partnership with Railway Children through the Aviva Street to School programme to get children living or working on UK streets back into everyday life. Find out more at

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* based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009.

** at 31 December 2010.


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