AXA PPP healthcare

UK managers avoiding speaking to employees with cancer

Press Release   •   Oct 26, 2016 12:24 BST

25 October 2016 – A fifth (21 per cent) of managers with employees who have had cancer have never spoken to them about their illness, according to new research by AXA PPP healthcare.*

The research, which surveyed 500 UK managers who manage someone who has or has had cancer, also revealed that 20 per cent said they don’t know how to talk about cancer or other illnesses with employees. A similar proportion (21 per cent) said they don’t feel comfortable speaking about any illness with employees. Of those who have discussed the employee’s cancer with them, a fifth say they’re less comfortable discussing cancer than they are discussing other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

This is despite there being an estimated 2.1 million people living with cancer in the UK in 2010, set to rise to 4 million by 2030.** Therefore, actively managing employees with cancer – and talking about it – look likely to become more commonplace.

The study also found that 17 per cent of managers who had an employee with cancer return to work admitted having told the employee’s colleagues about their cancer without discussing it with the employee because they thought their colleagues should know about it.

Evelyn Wallace, Cancer Care Operations Manager at AXA PPP healthcare, comments, “Talking about cancer can be hard and the fear of upsetting the employee, despite having the best intentions, can put managers off broaching the topic. Equally, it’s alarming that some managers are sharing details of the employees’ cancer with colleagues without first asking them what they want to share. Having a frank and honest conversation with the affected employee can help managers understand whether or how they want to talk about their cancer and how and what they want the rest of their team to be told. It may sound simple but it can help employees retain control over what is an intensely personal matter and managers must remember that they should respect any request for confidentiality.”

The study also investigated the behaviour of managers towards employees who have returned to work after completing their cancer treatment and found that nearly two thirds (64 per cent) said that they didn’t change how they managed the employee. Of these, 41 per cent said this was because they worried about the employee’s abilities and therefore decided to manage them softly by taking away all the pressure on them.

Wallace continues: “Our research shows that managers could do more to support employees who are living with or beyond cancer, such as talking with them to get a better understanding about what they may be going through and finding out what their organisation may offer to support a phased return or flexible working arrangements as well as information and support available to employees. It’s important for managers to understand that returning to work after cancer can be a very daunting experience. It can take time to recover from any serious illness and each person will want to handle things differently. It’s also likely that their recovery to a new normality will be a rollercoaster – psychologically, emotionally and physically. Therefore, managers should not expect a formulaic return to previous standards. Nor should they expect the same productivity levels straight away but should instead listen to what the employee needs and be flexible in the support they offer.”

For further information and support around the effects of cancer from diagnosis and beyond, visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Cancer Centre at and join the conversation using #LetsSpeakCancer.


*Research of 500 managers who manage someone who has or has had cancer, conducted online in September 2016 by OnePoll.

**Maddams J, Utley M, Møller H., 2012. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. British Journal of Cancer. p1197:


Ben Faulkner/John DuBois AXA PPP healthcare press office 01892 612822

About AXA PPP healthcare

AXA PPP healthcare has been helping people to access healthcare services since 1940. Today it forms the UK healthcare arm of AXA and provides medical insurance cover and dental care for individuals and employers, and employee wellbeing, counselling, occupational health and rehabilitation services through its specialist Health Services division.  

About AXA

The AXA Group is a worldwide leader in insurance and asset management, with 157,000 employees serving 103 million clients in 59 countries. In 2014, IFRS revenues amounted to Euro 92.0 billion and IFRS underlying earnings to Euro 5.1 billion. AXA had Euro 1,277 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2014. In 2014 Interbrand ranked AXA the 1st insurance brand worldwide for the 6th consecutive year.

In the UK AXA operates through a number of business units including: AXA Wealth, AXA Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary, AXA Personal Direct and Partnerships, AXA PPP healthcare, AXA Ireland and an independent distribution business Bluefin. AXA employs over 10,500 staff in the UK.

The AXA ordinary share is listed on compartment A of Euronext Paris under the ticker symbol CS (ISN FR 0000120628 – Bloomberg: CS FP – Reuters: AXAF.PA). AXA’s American Depository Share is also quoted on the OTC QX platform under the ticker symbol AXAHY.

The AXA Group is included in the main international SRI indexes, such as Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and FTSE4GOOD.

It is a founding member of the UN Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) Principles for Sustainable Insurance and a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment.