Whether or not you want to talk about cancer at the workplace depends on a few factors – what kind of cancer you have, what stage, whether or not your work life will be affected by your cancer diagnosis, and how best suits you to go about it.
Some people would prefer to keep their cancer diagnosis private (read about coping with your diagnosis), while others want to or need to share with colleagues. Whatever you decide, here’s what to think about and prepare for an on-flood of (sometimes inevitable) pity and awkwardness. Ready?
Tell your manager in the early days
You didn’t sign up for cancer, no one does, so worrying about performing at work should be the least of your burdens at the moment. If your workplace is healthy, supportive and reasonable you should be able to get the support needed when going through cancer treatment. Talk to your manager and workplace early on and ask a friend or family member to contact local unions to get the latest about protection agreements.
Besides that, who you decide to tell and when is up to you, except for telling your HR department or closest manager. You should tell them, regardless of if you need time off from your job. It informs your manager of the added stress you’re most probably experiencing, whether it be physical, emotional or psychological. Being able to openly discuss how you’re doing work-wise and cancer-wise will create space for understanding and adaptability in order for you to best manage both aspects of your life.
As a loved one to someone going through cancer, know that it may be a good idea to let your HR, Culture and Performance or closest manager know that you have a loved one going through cancer. An increased sense of understanding from your workplace will help you be a better support and loved one to the person close to you.
If you do need to request a reasonable accommodation or medical leave, you’re most likely required to disclose a medical condition. Otherwise, there’s usually no need to disclose health information to your employer, so there’s no pressure to do so. But make sure to double check what applies to you from your work and under your governing law.
Think about cancer in the context of your workplace
Maybe you’ve had your current job for a really long time, in which case, you’ll probably know the ins and outs of your workplace culture or how health issues and other challenges are handled. However, if you’re new, you may need to investigate what the effect would be of disclosing your cancer diagnosis.
If it’s super close-knit and friendly, you may feel more inclined to let your team know. If it’s a larger organization that keeps conversations on a professional level, perhaps you may want to only tell a few close colleagues (or none at all). Take a tab on what would feel comfortable for you and in line with the company culture in order to handle the news as smoothly and constructively as possible.
Keep in mind how news like cancer has been dealt with at your workplace in the past. Has anyone else been diagnosed with it and shared? How did that go? If so, take it as a case study on how to handle your own diagnosis. Connect with others in the War On Cancer app who may have experienced this, to get tips/advice and tricks on how to deal with the topic of cancer at the workplace.
If you choose to tell people, tell the colleagues you bond best with
It’s completely normal if you want people in your close circle at work to know about your cancer diagnosis. Make sure you can trust those you tell to respect the way you would like to share about your cancer at the workplace. If, for example, you only want to tell a few people and want to be the person in control of who knows and when (which you have every right to), ask for their discretion and know you can trust them.
You’re going to get a variety of reactions when you open up about cancer. Yup, pity’s the first thing, you called it. Some will also show genuine care. Others will offer to help you in some way or another. Others might freeze. Others may be overbearing. Everyone’s different. Allow a bit of grace here, but if it gets too much, be blunt about the fact that you don’t want your whole life to be about this now and that you’re still up for non-cancer banter by the coffee machine.
Want to know how you, as a loved one, can do to better support someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer? Check out this podcast with psychologist Dag Härdfeldt for some practical tips and insight.
When it comes to telling your workplace about cancer, give it a think and make an action plan that feels comfortable and right to you.