Many cancer patients and survivors are both willing and able to return to work following treatment and employers are key stakeholders in the return to work process. The latter are in a position to provide good working conditions and ensure the employee’s wellbeing.

First of all, there needs to be a plan for the return to work. Employers need to have early contact with the employees planning to return to work and also organise the necessary training for the staff (especially supervisors), in order to prepare all involved. In this way, the return to work supports the returning employee, without putting co-workers and supervisors at a disadvantage.

It is important to provide a workplace that shows a strong commitment to health and safety. Everyone in the workplace should demonstrate this work ethic. The company has to take into account both the psychosocial and the physical side of the illness and its effects.

Psychosocial Support

The prospect of a return to work for cancer patients might bring along with it lack of confidence, low self-esteem, and fear of inadequacy (European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 2018). Therefore employers are to show emotional support, that is, showing interest, concern, and understanding for the person returning to work. Showing appreciation is also a very important factor as it makes the employee feel they are wanted back.

Physical Support

It is important for employers to offer the opportunity for modified work hours, modified work tasks, or a modified workplace. In this way, the employees can return as early as possible to the workplace and in a way that is feasible, as the work is suitable to their needs and abilities.

Research has shown that a good social climate and support at work, not only helps the employees with cancer feel more engaged in their work (Nitkin et al., 2011), but also makes them feel less impaired in their work ability (Taskila & Lindbohm, 2007). Therefore, it is important for employers and employees to work together to make the return to work successful.

Ann Julene Hili is a Career Guidance Practitioner with Willingness. She specializes in working with teens and young adults who are in their educational and career transitions. She can be contacted on call us on 79291817.  


Nitkin, Patricia, Maureen Parkinson, Izabela Z Schultz. Cancer and work – A Canadian perspective. Canadian Association of Psychological Oncology. 2011.

Rehabilitation and return to work after cancer – instruments and practices. European Risk Observatory Report. European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2018. ISSN: 1831-9343.

Taskila, T. and Lindbohm, M., 2007. Factors affecting cancer survivors’ employment and work ability. Acta Oncologica, 46(4), pp.446-451.