Back to work after breast cancer: what to do if your employee wants to go back to work?

October is international Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout this month, Pink Ribbon charities around the world aim to raise awareness of this disease. 1 in 9 women gets breast cancer at some point during her life and many people know someone who has suffered from it. Still we find it difficult to connect with women who suffered from breast cancer.

On Pink Monday, the first Monday of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Pink Ribbon focussed specifically on the reintegration of women with breast cancer in the workplace, together with Unique Belgium (subsidiary to Recruit Global Staffing), The Belgian National Institute for Health and Disability Insurance (Riviz) and Mensura (External Service for Prevention and Protection at Work).

During The Pink Monday Congress in Brussels the organisation shared best practices on reintegration into the workplace after a long period of absence due to breast cancer. Because that first day back at work requires an enormous amount of courage and energy. Understanding and support from colleagues make it easier to return to work.

Temporary employment agency Unique Belgium has been a partner of Pink Ribbon
for several years and supports the Pink Monday campaign. An Aelbrecht (photo), General Manager of Unique Belgium: "Ninety percent of our own employees are women
and unfortunately some of our colleagues
have been hit by the disease. We have a step-by-step plan for reintegration. It all starts
with a conversation between the employee,
her managers and an HR manager. We
discuss any adjustment that may be needed
in her responsibilities, workplace and working hours. What matters is that you recognize
each reintegration process is unique.” 

3 important tips for reintegration

Belgian entrepreneur Mieke Vanhuyse was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. She shares three important tips for a smooth reintegration.

1 Keep your employee informed

Re-integration starts even before the employee returns to work. It’s important that the organization keeps her informed of what is going on in the company. Feeling involved even during treatment will make the reintegration much smoother.

2 Communicate!

Ensure open communication about the illness and the treatment with the colleague. When everyone is aware of what cancer means, the after-effects will be better understood when you return. Open up the discussion about cancer, and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, because it can happen to anyone.

3 Setting new boundaries

The colleague wants nothing more than to return to "normal", also at work. But that’s much less straightforward than expected. Even the colleague herself has to figure out what she can and cannot do, and at what pace. Whatever you do, do not put pressure on colleagues to return as soon as possible (full-time), because the impact of months of treatment and the emotional rollercoaster that is used should not be underestimated.

To support the fight against breast cancer and a better reintegration in the workplace, Unique Belgium is organizing an online share & win challenge. Throughout October Unique Belgium asks all their temporary workers and companies to dress in pink, take a picture and share it on their social media. The photo with the most likes (conditions can be found via the link below) wins a healthy breakfast.

For more information please visit