As organizations continue to lean on benefits as a key opportunity to differentiate themselves in a competitive talent market, many are expanding the scope and inclusiveness of their parental leave offerings, granting more paid time away from work to employees of all genders who become parents through birth, adoption, and surrogacy alike. This is partly a matter of making benefits more generous overall, but it’s also about signaling the organization’s commitment to values of diversity and inclusion.
Organizations are also paying more attention to helping working parents and caregivers re-enter the workforce after taking time away to care for their children or sick or elderly relatives. These “returnship” initiatives are specifically geared toward supporting women, who are more likely than men to take such career breaks. Caring for others isn’t the only obligation that forces employees to spend extended periods away from work, however; sometimes, it’s their own health.
In a recent story, Glenn Howatt from the Star Tribune highlighted how advances in cancer detection and treatment are improving the health outcomes of patients, but noted that cancer survivors often don’t get much support in returning to work. From the perspective of HR, the management of cancer patients’ absences may seem similar to managing other instances of medical leave or short-term disability. However, employment experts tell Howatt that standard approaches to managing the exits and subsequent re-entries of employees can’t be so readily applied to cancer patients’ situations:
“The length of leave, 12 weeks, is not a lot for people with a lot of cancers,” said Ann Hodges, an emeritus professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. It’s unclear how many cancer patients lose employment because they’re not ready to return to work. But studies show that just 40 percent are back at work within six months. After a year, it’s still just 62 percent. Researchers have also found that loss of income due to illness is a major contributor to bankruptcy — and that cancer patients are more likely to declare bankruptcy.
The emotional experience of fighting and managing cancer undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on the personal and professional lives of survivors. Employers of cancer patients have the power to decide whether the impression they make on their employees during this time will be positive or negative.