Traditionally, the average general retirement age is 60 to 65. However, recent research has found that more people opt to “work longer before retiring”. Various reasons are behind this trend, either the retirees want to continue working or they simply need to provide for their family. Along with the rising employment of older workers in the workforce, employers need to consider the implications it might bring: growing number of cancer diagnosis. As many might notice, older employees could be more vulnerable to serious illness than the younger generations, so it is best for employers to be prepared.
Cancer Survivorship survey by Bristol-Myers Squibb revealed that there is intense cancer increment driven by population growth and increasing life expectancy. Ever-growing numbers of people living with cancer affect productivity in a significant number. Fortunately, cancer survival rates are also on the rise due to earlier diagnosis and improved treatment.
Although the cancer survival rate is higher, Bristol-Myers said that there is a loss in productivity of cancer survivors who were unable to return to paid work in the UK. Cancer becomes an increasing economic and health burden for society. Around one-half of Bristol-Myers survey respondents are concerned about a loss of productivity (52 percent), rising insurance premiums (50 percent), and the costs of days off sick (48 percent). These concerns are particularly prevalent in Asia-Pacific where 62 percent express the same concerns.
Legal policy adviser of Australia’s McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer Sandra Davoren told Cancer Survivorship that there is a high implication for the workforce that cancer diagnosis will affect overall performance. The consequence of the increasing prevalence of cancer suggests a greater economic impact in the future. In 2010, the UK employers suffered £5.3bn of loss of productivity, and this figure is expected to rise sharply if the number of people with cancer doubles to 4m by 2030.
Some sectors and jobs have a higher risk of cancer than others. For instances, depending on what workers are exposed to, working with asbestos, diesel engine exhaust, silica, pesticides and herbicides, as well as working in the sun can all increase the risk of cancer. High paying jobs such as pilot can also be exposed to higher-than-average levels of UV radiation on the job. According to Jama Dermatology, exposure to UV radiation is known to increase one’s risk of skin cancer. Sitting for an hour in the cockpit of a plane in flight can expose the skin to the same amount of UVA radiation as using a tanning bed for 20 minutes.
Any desk job that requires extended periods of sitting can also be hazardous. We all have heard from many studies that sitting too long and continuously exposed to a screen can higher the risk of fatigue and stress. Yet, little do we know, higher sitting times mean higher rates of cancer and overall mortality, even when the said individuals got some daily exercise.
A study from the American Cancer Society revealed that people who spend prolonged leisure time sitting (defined as more than 6 hours per day) have a 19 percent rate of death compared to those who sit an average of 3 hours per day. The number includes all causes of death, including cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer, and other digestive diseases, Parkinson’s disease, nervous disorders, musculoskeletal disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.
While employers have initiated wellness and wellbeing programs in their organisation, it is also important to introduce policies with a focus on cancer prevention, including counselling and screening. Employers also need to develop policies that support staff with cancer and to have a flexible approach towards the implementation of the policies, depending on the needs of employees, thus preventing the loss of productivity as mentioned earlier.
Other prevention measures employers can do are as follow:
As employers are doing their best efforts to prevent illness and cancer at the workplace, there should be significant progress on practices and policies to strengthen workplace support for employees with cancer and those affected by it. Bristol-Myers survey revealed that 29 percent of their respondents either agree or strongly agree that their companies do not sufficiently support those with serious illness. Almost four in ten (38 percent) stated that their company should improve its practices and policies on employees with serious illnesses like cancer.
When asked where companies can do better? Bristol-Myers respondents said employers can better improve practices and policies through training in order to prepare managers in dealing with direct reports of employees who have serious illness. Other improvements are also needed, including in communication, workload adjustment, and counselling services.
All in all, as every sector of work is exposed to a different level of illness, managers and other board members should prepare enough as to avoid loss of productivity or profit. Not only do employers need to have a holistic approach to prevent those types of illness. Employers should also prepare strategies as to how those affected by cancer and other types of illness can cope up with their work after treatments.