Serco entered negotiations with its long-term group income protection (GIP) provider, Unum, last year about the possibility of offering proportionate benefit to employees with cancer.
The global outsourcing organisation offers GIP to all employees after two years’ service, up to 60% of salary.
Ashleigh Witcher, senior benefits and pensions administrator, says: “We’ve had GIP for years, but we’ve used it for [employees] who are well or injured and off work. We started to realise that cancer is one of the diseases that is now probably the third most important category, and that 70% of people that get cancer are curable and do return to work, or they don’t go off at all, but obviously they can’t do five days a week.
“Together, we [Serco and Unum] have worked out that we can use proportionate benefits and keep an employee in work and keep their skills retained.”
For example, in the case of a project manager who was redeployed to a more suitable, but less well-paid, role on return to work after cancer, Unum funded the shortfall in salary.
Witcher says project managers have to be very motivated, and a long-term illness can change an employee’s personality and the way they are driven. Serco’s approach is to support an employee even after they have recovered from cancer, she says.
The employer’s line managers have faced perhaps the toughest challenge in Serco’s cancer care strategy, in communicating with affected staff about their illness.
“Line managers say [they struggle with] never really knowing how much to get involved,” says Witcher. “Obviously, it’s a very hard situation and these are very hard conversations to have. We are still struggling with the difference between HR dealing with it and managers dealing with it.”
But Witcher is confident that the employee assistance programme Unum also provides as part of Serco’s GIP cover can help managers to support staff affected by cancer.
She says Serco’s cancer care policy is based on feedback from employees about how they would like to be supported in the workplace.
Of its 40,000-strong workforce across the UK and Ireland, 25 of Serco’s employees are currently living with a cancer diagnosis.
Read the full digital edition of the Health and Wellbeing supplement.