By Mary Malone, Disability and Productivity Consultant, The Standard

Many men, perhaps even some of your employees, are growing facial hair to raise awareness for prostate cancer. As they groom and grow their beards, it’s a good time to brush up on how you can help support an employee affected by a cancer diagnosis.

The impact of a cancer diagnosis can be devastating on an employee’s personal life and result in uncertainty about his career. It’s important that employers understand the challenges their employees face and offer creative solutions for mutual success, and most important, recovery. Incorporate the following seven tips into your outreach and support for an affected employee.

  1. Offer compassion. Let’s face it, to say cancer is tough is an understatement. Offering a simple note to your employee to let him know he has your full support through this difficult time can be encouraging. Remind others who may be working with this individual to offer the same level of care and compassion.
  2. Do your research. When an employee is diagnosed with cancer, be sure you understand the facts. Cancer is a sensitive matter on many levels, and gaining some basic knowledge on the diagnosis can be a great place to start. Sites such as and are reputable sites to use. Be sure you understand the demands cancer patients go through, as well your organization’s short- and long-term disability plans.
  3. Reach out for assistance. It’s important that job responsibilities and duties are communicated directly to an employee’s health care professional. This will allow the doctor to make the appropriate recovery plan and recommendations for workload. It also can alleviate any stress the employee may have in sharing his decreased work ability with the employer. Some disability insurance providers also offer assistance, such as a vocational consultant, to help with this type of outreach.
  4. Be flexible. Returning to work from cancer is far different from a surgery or musculoskeletal injury. Employers should never expect an employee to work through treatment, but sometimes employees want to work. Generally, what people do for a living is how they identify themselves and can help define a sense of normalcy in their lives. Helping an employee communicate with peers and feel a daily sense of purpose can instill value and worth. However, an employee may struggle with recovery from surgery and the negative side effects of cancer treatment such as fatigue and lowered immunity. In these instances, it’s important to allow an employee to return to work on “good days,” work from home or maintain a reduced workload.
  5. Manage expectations. Working through the acceptance of a cancer diagnosis is hard enough, but having unattainable work expectations can make recovery even more difficult. As an employer, you should ensure these individuals have reasonable expectations on themselves and remind them their recovery, not work, comes first.
  6. Watch for emotional changes. Dealing with cancer can be an extremely difficult time for an employee and his family. Pay attention to any emotional changes your employee might have and provide access, perhaps through your employer-sponsored employee assistance program, to professionals who specialize in the emotional well-being of employees with serious illnesses.  
  7. Prepare yourself.  It’s much easier for you to focus on providing your employees with the proper support and compassion when you have the necessary tools to get them through this difficult time. Having the proper disability insurance can make all the difference — especially when an employee’s prognosis may still be undetermined.

About Mary Malone

As a disability and productivity consultant with The Standard, Mary works with employers to implement The Standard’s Workplace Possibilities℠ program. This involves review of current employer practices and finding the best local Workplace Possibilities consultant for their culture. Her job involves traveling to these employers and training the new consultant. Mary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from the University of Portland, and she also has an Oregon nursing license.

About The Standard

The Standard is a leading provider of financial products and services, including group and individual disability insurance, group life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance, group dental and vision insurance, absence management services, retirement plans products and services, individual annuities and investment advice. For more information about The Standard, visit

The Standard is the marketing name for the subsidiaries of StanCorp Financial Group, Inc.: Standard Insurance Company, The Standard Life Insurance Company of New York, Standard Retirement Services, Inc., StanCorp Mortgage Investors, Inc., StanCorp Real Estate, LLC, and StanCorp Equities, Inc.