Cancer at work: Position cancer as an employee wellness priority by Marius Meyer

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This week we celebrate #WellnessWeek in South Africa.  It reminded us of the importance of health and wellness in society and indeed the workplace. Last year (2017) we celebrated the launch of the collaboration between the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and the Forever Changed Campaign, an international cancer initiative.  This is a formal process of collaboration about employee wellness in the workplace and society, with a specific focus on a campaign to address cancer in South Africa. SABPP is a professional body for Human Resource (HR) Managers responsible for setting standards of practice and a code of conduct for HR Professionals. One of the HR Standards developed by SABPP is on employee wellness and we believe that it is essential for HR and Wellness Managers to include cancer as an important employee wellness priority.  The reality is that at least 10% of your employees will get cancer, and the other 90% will have family members or friends with cancer. Thus, 100% of your workforce is affected by cancer.

Since last year, SABPP management and staff have interacted with Addi Lang and David Salomon from the Forever Changed Campaign. We immediately connected and started to plan collaboration in addressing the issue of cancer in the workplace and society at large.  I am also proud to announce that the Forever Changed Wellness Programmes have now been accredited by SABPP for the purpose of continuous professional development (CPD) for HR Managers. This means that HR Managers can obtain CPD points if they attend any of the Forever Changed workshops.

This year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during the State of the Nation Address on 16 February 2018 that South Africa will embark on a National Cancer Programme. Hence, we fully support the Forever Changed Campaign in raising awareness and educating people about the imperative of dealing with cancer in a more holistic and integrated manner.  People have options, and they need to be informed of all the options available to them. In particular, I invite HR and Wellness Managers to become involved in this initiative. For SABPP this initiative is a great opportunity for organisations in support of their efforts to apply the national HR standard on employee wellness.  In fact, this issue is so important, it is a matter of life and death.

In 2013 SABPP developed 13 National Standards, and one of them is Employee Wellness. We expect HR Managers to show that they care for their staff.  According to cancer statistics, 14% of men and 13% of women in South Africa are at risk of getting cancer. Thus, if you have 1000 employees at your company, at least 130 of them will be affected by cancer. If not today, sometime in future. Moreover, very few of us do not know either a friend of family member who has cancer. At a personal level, I was also affected. Between November 2017 and February 2018 I lost four uncles over three months due to cancer.  Therefore, cancer affects all fo us.

But let me remind you of what the National HR Standard on Employee Wellness is all about.  It defines employee wellness as a strategy to ensure a safe and healthy work and social envionment is created and maintained, together with individual wellness commitment that enables employees to perform optimally while meeting all health and safety legislative requirements and other relevant wellness good practices in support of the achievement of organisational objectives.

A key focus of the campaign addressing cancer at work and society is about being more proactive and where possible, preventative in our behaviour and actions.  I want to suggest that the acronym CANCER guides our thinking and actions going forward:

Let us continue as HR professionals and colleagues to prioritise wellness and cancer programmes as two of our top priorities. It is our hope that the national cancer programme will provide the impetus to prioritise cancer as an important area to the addressed.  Too many South Africans have died of cancer, hence the need for more proactive and preventative approaches to cancer.  Also, the HR Manager has a key role to play in supporing employees with cancer, as well as their family members. The sad thing about Wellness Week is that some of the people joining us this week in all the wellness activities may not be around next year  this time. It is time to create a caring society, one in which humanity and life is celebrated.  The more we focus on wellness as a lifestyle and a workplace issue, the better we will eb equipped in driving employee wellness at a national level.


Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and author of 26 books for Juta, Van Schaik, Lexis-Nexis, Knowledge Resources and more than 600 articles for magazines such as HR Future, HR Voice, Talent Talks, Leadership Online and Achiever Magazine. 

For more information about the Forever Changed Campaign visit