Perspectives on returning to work after treatment for cancer


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Karen Luker and Ziv Amir
School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, UK

Abstract

The impact of cancer on people’s working lives is an important concern.  This paper highlights the perspectives of people affected by cancer, managers and occupational health physicians. Data were collected in three separate surveys 1.Postal survey of cancer patients registered in NW England between June 2002-December 2002 (N=267 50% response rate) and interviews (N=41). 2. On-line Survey with 370 managers and interviews (N=12). 3. Postal survey of members of the Society of Occupational Medicine (N=797 51% response rate). Data were analysed using SPSS and interview data and open ended questions were analyzed thematically.

Findings indicate that the relationship that people had with their line-manager and colleagues was influential in returning to work. One fifth of those who returned to work reported deterioration in work satisfaction. Most only received vague medical advice about their work capacity.

Managers concerns focused on their own lack of skills in managing the emotional aspects of dealing with people with cancer, and the tension of balancing the needs of the individual and the needs of the organisation. The majority of managers considered that more information and guidance was required if they were to facilitate adjustments for employees on return to work.

Occupational health physicians considered that line managers did not fully understand their role and often referred people to them too late in the recovery cycle to maximise effectiveness. Concern was expressed that cancer specialist also lacked insight into their role and the information required by employers in order to secure a good outcome for the person affected by cancer. Almost half the sample thought that they lacked the knowledge to address the issues of prognosis and functional outcomes in people with cancer.

The impact of cancer on people’s working lives is an important concern.  This paper highlights the perspectives of people affected by cancer, managers and occupational health physicians. Data were collected in three separate surveys 1.Postal survey of cancer patients registered in NW England between June 2002-December 2002 (N=267 50% response rate) and interviews (N=41). 2. On-line Survey with 370 managers and interviews (N=12). 3. Postal survey of members of the Society of Occupational Medicine (N=797 51% response rate). Data were analysed using SPSS and interview data and open ended questions were analyzed thematically.

Findings indicate that the relationship that people had with their line-manager and colleagues was influential in returning to work. One fifth of those who returned to work reported deterioration in work satisfaction. Most only received vague medical advice about their work capacity.

Managers concerns focused on their own lack of skills in managing the emotional aspects of dealing with people with cancer, and the tension of balancing the needs of the individual and the needs of the organisation. The majority of managers considered that more information and guidance was required if they were to facilitate adjustments for employees on return to work.

Occupational health physicians considered that line managers did not fully understand their role and often referred people to them too late in the recovery cycle to maximise effectiveness. Concern was expressed that cancer specialist also lacked insight into their role and the information required by employers in order to secure a good outcome for the person affected by cancer. Almost half the sample thought that they lacked the knowledge to address the issues of prognosis and functional outcomes in people with cancer.