New research shows that a large proportion of men who have completed cancer treatment say they had a positive experience of returning to work – with 62% saying they received good support from their employer during and after treatment – but more could be done to make sure the remaining third isn’t falling through the net.

The survey conducted by YouGov, and commissioned by insurer Unum in partnership with Maggie’s, the charity that provides free practical, emotional and social support for people with cancer and their family and friends, suggests some men with cancer may miss out on the support available at work because they don’t anticipate how their everyday needs and role in the workplace may change, and so don’t talk about this with their employer.

It found that two in five men surveyed who have had cancer and returned to work after completing treatment (40%) could have underestimated the physical, mental and emotional effects of the condition, such as fatigue or memory loss, and the impact they may have at work. More than a third who were employed at the time of diagnosis (36%) said they wanted to be treated exactly the same by their employer after their diagnosis, yet for those who returned to work, falling behind (26%) and not being able to handle the workload (26%) were amongst their biggest worries about returning to work.

Although many found working with or beyond cancer harder than they expected, as many as one in five men we surveyed (21%) put off telling their HR department about their cancer diagnosis until they had to take sick leave or receive treatment and one  in ten (11%) didn’t tell their HR department at all. Only 59% of those surveyed said they would feel comfortable discussing the support they need at work with their employer, and one in five (21%) said they didn’t feel comfortable asking for time off for appointments related to their condition.

For many men with cancer, work can play an important role in recovery – by providing a sense of normality and purpose, as well as a focus beyond cancer. As many as 63% of the men surveyed who are currently working said their job was just as important to them now as before their diagnosis, and 5% said it was even more important. Two in five (38%) said work was important to them because they see themselves as a breadwinner and someone who looks after their loved ones.

Employers can play an important role in helping men with cancer if they decide to return to work. According to the research, most of the men surveyed thought it important that employers understand what staff with cancer are going through (81%) and 79% thought it would be helpful for their employer that they have access to expert advice on how to support these employees back to work.

Lesley Howells, Research Lead at Maggie’s, said: “A positive return to work can play an important role in recovery, yet many men with cancer find it difficult to admit that they need extra help in the workplace, either to themselves or their employer. They need support to acknowledge that their everyday needs in the workplace may change and to ask for the flexibility and adjustments they need. That’s why Maggie’s and Unum are working together to combine our experience of providing emotional and practical support with their expertise in workplace rehabilitation. Together, we want to encourage men with cancer and their employers to have an open and honest dialogue.”

Joy Reymond, Head of Vocational Rehabilitation Services at Unum, said: “When treatment is complete and the most obvious symptoms subside, it can be easy to assume that things will simply return to normal at work. But it takes time to adjust to the longer-term consequences of cancer, such as fatigue or memory loss. It can be tempting to try to jump right back in, but it’s important for employers and employees to agree positive, realistic goals and timeframes. Effective communication is key if employers are to understand the needs of staff with cancer and put in place a tailored and flexible return to work plan to make sure they are providing the right support.”