- Cancer Information
- Practical concerns
- Cancer, work and you
- For workers
- Key questions about cancer and work
- Should I tell my co-workers?
Should I tell my co-workers?
How much you share with your colleagues or team is a personal decision. You may not feel ready to talk about your health and want to avoid lots of questions. Talking about the diagnosis or treatment may make you feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. You may worry people will treat you differently.
Managers may worry about how much to share with their team and the effect it may have, or what is considered professional or too personal. There are usually no rules about what is okay to share, so do what feels right for you.
If you tell your employer, you may want to let them know if you plan on telling your co-workers too.
Things to consider include:
- your relationship with other staff (as a manager or co-worker)
- whether you feel your workplace is friendly and supportive, or distrustful and negative
- who you feel you can trust with personal matters
- team unity if you tell some people and not others
- how your workplace has dealt with other employees with cancer or a serious illness
- whether your co-workers need to know what to do if you are unwell at work.
It may be difficult to hide your illness if you work in a close team. Cancer or treatment side effects may change the way you look or act at work. You may be away or working from home more than usual. Co-workers may wonder about these changes. Some may even become resentful if it seems like you are getting special treatment, or not doing as much work, and they don’t know why.
If you do talk about the cancer with close workmates, they can show their concern for your wellbeing and ask how to help you.
Talking to your co-workers
- You don’t need to tell everyone, especially if you work in a large organisation. You may only want to tell your immediate team members or some of your close workmates.
- Decide beforehand how much information to share.
- Find a comfortable private place, and set a time to talk.
- Think about how you’ll handle different reactions. Some co-workers might be understanding, while others may feel uncomfortable or even be upset. Planning ahead will help you cope with different responses.
- Let your co-workers know about the kind of support and help you need, and how this may change over time. It’s okay to let them know that you don’t want to hear about other people’s cancer experiences or their advice.
- If the thought of telling people is overwhelming, you could send an email. It’s your news to share, so do it in whatever way works best for you.
- If you worry you’ll get upset talking to people, ask your manager, a close workmate or the HR manager to pass on the news for you. Be clear about what information you are happy to share and what you want to keep private.
- Some people find that news about their diagnosis spreads around the office. Let your co-workers know up-front if you would prefer the news to be kept confidential.
- If people talking or asking you about your health makes you upset, talk to your co-workers or ask your manager or HR person to get involved.
- If you decide that you want to keep the diagnosis to yourself, remember that information you share on social media, such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, may also be seen by your employer and co- workers. Consider setting up a separate social media group for those you are happy to share information bout your health with.
Podcast: Coping with a cancer diagnosis
Brooke Russell, Principal Occupational Therapist, WA Cancer Occupational Therapy, WA; Bianca Alessi, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; James Chirgwin, Physiotherapist, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Simon Gates, Barrister, Tasmanian Bar, TAS; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Kaylene Jacques, Director, People and Communications, Cancer Council NSW; Alex Kelly, Senior People Attraction Advisor, Human Resources, Allianz Australia Insurance, NSW; Legal reviewer; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Lesley McQuire, Consumer, Cancer Voices NSW.
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