Hey Boss, I Have Cancer

John ran a busy manufacturing company.  One day his bookkeeper came into his office, closed the door, took a deep breath and said, “I’ve just been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.”

Managers know they need to help their employees through challenging times, but almost no manager is prepared for such devastating news from an employee they depend on every day.  If you find yourself and your company in such a daunting situation, here are some things to keep in mind:

Let your employee share their news

You may be the first person to learn about the diagnosis.  Listen patiently.  Help your employee navigate the logistics of their options for health insurance, medical leave, short term disability, and other available benefits.  Who should they be talking to about such information?  Ask the employee how and when they’d like to communicate their situation to the team.

Help your team respond

When your staff finds out about the cancer diagnosis, most will want to spring into action.  They may want to raise money or send emails or set up a CaringBridge page, but even the best intentions can backfire.  Some employees may be touched by the heartfelt gesture on their behalf, others might feel uncomfortable in the spotlight.  It’s important to talk to the employee about their privacy preferences.  Everyone has a different way of reacting to such a situation.

Develop a plan for work

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is emotional.  Employees of small companies may think work plans are bureaucratic, but when it comes to a cancer diagnosis, specific plans can be a powerful form of support.  The employee can be too stressed to put a process in place for achieving work deliverables.  If/when the employee will be taking time off, ask the employee how much they want to be involved in setting up methods for making sure responsibilities are transferred smoothly.

Make the tough decisions

Treatment and (hopefully) recovery timetables can be unpredictable; sometimes your best-laid plan has to morph into something different.  The key to making tough decisions is remembering you have a business to run.  While it may not seem fair, it’s a disservice to the business and all the team to wait too long to address the situation.

If the worst happens and you receive the news John did, it’s hard to know what to do next.  Avoiding or ignoring the developing situation would not be helpful for your employee or your business.  The hope is that the person who has been diagnosed with cancer will find a supportive environment enabling them to return more quickly to full health and their important position in your business.

The road is easier together,

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