Next week is Cervical Screening Awareness Week. It makes sense now to be preparing the groundwork for any targeted fundraising or health promotion activities you are running in your organisation to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening. The week can also be a useful springboard to communicate wider employee health and wellbeing messages around cancer and support pre- and post-diagnosis and return to work.
Employee health and wellbeing – don’t let your employees ignore cancer screening invitations
Next week, 10-16 June, is Cervical Screening Awareness Week, run by the cancer charity Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust. While it is but one of a number of cancer awareness events that happen throughout the year (notably October’s “Wear it Pink” Breast Cancer Awareness Month) it is a calendar marker that is nevertheless a great opportunity for employers to reflect on how you are supporting employees with or post-cancer, especially gender specific cancers. There is a lot you can do as an organisation to get involved directly in Cervical Screening Awareness Week itself. This includes fundraising, health promotion and awareness-raising events and simply advertising and promoting the fact the week is happening and how people or teams can get involved.
Wider cancer conversations
But it is also an opportunity to kickstart conversations around cancer more widely. This can include how you’re doing as an organisation in terms of supporting employees who have had a cancer diagnosis, who are going through treatment or who are looking to return to work post-treatment.
Return to work post-cancer is something that, with improving diagnosis, treatment and survival rates, is happily becoming much more commonplace these days. Nevertheless, it can pose challenges for managers and organisations in terms of needing to adjust or accommodate an individual’s duties, role or attendance while they are getting back on their feet.
For example, it can be helpful to look at whether your managers have appropriate training in how to handle the “difficult” and often challenging conversations that may arise sympathetically and positively. This may include revisiting whether their training around listening skills and emotional intelligence is all that it could be – and these of course are useful general management skills to have.
It is important also not to overlook the mental as well as physical side of cancer. Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) may be a useful weapon in the employer armoury here, both in terms of giving employees a “safe” and confidential space to talk about their concerns and fears but also for managers to gain valuable best practice advice.
‘Too busy’ to go for screening
On top of this, the fact Cervical Screening Awareness Week is about a gender specific cancer is an opportunity to revisit how you are supporting women and men specifically in the workplace.
Are your female employees, for example, being encouraged to take up invitations from their GP practice for cervical screening checks – or is a long-hours “always on” workplace culture actually having a negative impact.
Research in this area last year suggested almost a quarter (24%) of women said they had missed a health check because they were “too busy” at work to attend. To that end, during Cervical Screening Awareness Week workplaces can sign up to the charity’s Time to Test campaign to ensure female employees have the time off they need to attend cervical screening.
Similarly, are you doing enough male-specific health promotion activities targeted at your male employees, especially around “embarrassing” conditions such as, for example, testicular or prostate cancer?
Expert cancer and occupational health support
Finally, as Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer, emphasises, don’t be afraid to seek out and ask about expert help, whether it be simply occupational health or, in the case of cancer, a service such as the well-regarded Macmillan at Work programme set up by Macmillan Cancer Support. This provides information, guidance and training and can come on-site to your workplace if need be.
“With an ageing working population, the chances are that most managers will at some point find themselves managing someone who is going through the shock and trauma of a cancer diagnosis and treatment and/or the challenge of returning to work post-treatment,” says Lucy.
“In fact, Macmillan estimates that one in three people living with cancer in the UK are of working age. Yet, while almost one in four line managers have managed someone with cancer in a current or previous role, more than eight out of 10 admit to having never received training on supporting people with such long-term conditions.
“This highlights the value of engaging with and promoting fundraising and awareness-raising initiatives such as Cervical Screening Awareness Week. But it also shows the wider value of reflecting on whether your managers have the right tools, resources and training to manage the often challenging employee health and wellbeing needs associated with cancer and return to work,” she adds.