I-Know-How project helps cancer patients in 2 Seas region to keep working

A cancer diagnosis is a huge disruption in someone’s life. If they are working, their colleagues and employer are also affected. By creating tools to help all concerned parties navigate the practical and emotional difficulties a cancer diagnosis brings, the I-KNOW-HOW project is ensuring that cancer patients in the 2 Seas region remain at work for longer during their treatment, and that they can return to work sooner. This allows them to keep earning money, maintain social contacts and retain a sense of control over their lives and work. For employers and governments, it means reduced costs.

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The I-Know-How project helps promote communication at the workplace when a colleague is receiving treatment for cancer ©Pixabay/Creative Commons licence The I-Know-How project helps promote communication at the workplace when a colleague is receiving treatment for cancer ©Pixabay/Creative Commons licence

" “Employment is crucial for people with cancer to fully reintegrate with society, as it provides income, social contact, structure and strengthens feelings of control.” "

Project website

The project intends to increase the percentage of cancer patients who keep working, or return to work, by 15 %, and to reduce their time away from work. This means that in the project area – the UK, Netherlands, France and Belgium – 4 889 people with cancer will stay in, or return to work, according to the project website.

This will be done by designing three online return-to-work programmes to help employers, employees, medical professionals and job coaches understand the relevant legislation and develop the skills to communicate around a sensitive subject like cancer. Interviews with employees, companies, HR staff, job coaches and medical professionals will be used to develop the content for these online tools.

Three tools

An information service is intended for use by cancer patients, their employers, job coaches and medical professionals. It is intended, with the aid of stories adapted to each of the four regions, to help them address issues raised by a diagnosis. Interviews with role players will be used to develop the content for the narratives.

A job coaching service will be developed for professionals, volunteers or people with coaching expertise to help cancer patients return to work. Its content will be developed from best practices in the four countries, and interviews with coaches and with employees about what they need to make their return to work as easy as possible.

Lastly, a coaching service for employers will contain suggestions on how HR staff and managers can help employees with cancer to continue working during and after their treatment. Options they can explore include job carving, adapting the working environment or working hours, and retraining.

Testing of online tools started in the autumn of 2020. Employees, employers, HR staff, job coaches or medical staff can help test these tools. In return, they have preliminary access to innovative tools and receive updates on project results. Most importantly, they help people with cancer.

More cancers diagnosed

More people are being diagnosed with cancer and more people are surviving. This has led to a need to find ways to help people with cancer remain productive during and after their treatment. In the Dutch province of Zeeland, for example, 1 873 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2018. Most of those were in the 45 to 74 year age bracket.

The project aims to foster communication among all those affected by a cancer diagnosis, to ensure everyone feels understood and has their needs met. It is intened to help dispel the taboos around the disease, as well as feelings of pity that colleagues may feel towards the patient. Often patients are not honest with their employers about their capabilities or energy levels. This could be out of fear of losing their work, or guilt at not being able to do their share of the work, leaving their colleagues to pick up the slack.

Finally, the project will compare existing policies in the 2 Seas area, identify best practices and gaps and make policy recommendations at European and national level.

I-KNOW-HOW has partners in each of the four participating countries: the Artevelde University of Applied Sciences (lead partner), Sterpunt Inclusief Ondernemen and Gespecialiseerd Team Bemiddeling, in Belgium; ZB Planbureau en Bibliotheek van Zeeland and HZ University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands; Rother Voluntary Action and the Sara Lee Trust, in the UK; and the Centre Oscar Lambret and Métropole Européenne de Lille, in France.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “I-Know-How (Integrated knowledge & coaching service to support people with cancer in how to remain in or return to work)” is EUR 4 130 613, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 2 438 412 through the “Interreg V-A - France-Belgium-The Netherlands-United Kingdom (Two seas)” Operational Programme for the 2014-2020 programming period. The investment falls under the priority “Technological and social innovation”.

Draft date

01/07/2021