Most American adults (89%) feel uncomfortable working with seriously-ill colleagues, according to a new national survey released by Cancer and Careers, a New York-based non-profit advocate for workers diagnosed with cancer.

Wakefield Research for Cancer and Careers conducted the online survey of 1,000 full-time adult workers in the U.S. between September 24-October 7, 2019, to determine if workers feel prepared and empowered to support co-workers diagnosed with a serious medical condition if management provides the right resources and guidance.

More than half of respondents (59%) said they did not feel confident their company’s leadership knew how to support employees with serious and/or chronic conditions.

Among respondents who said they had concerns, the most common was how much or what kind of emotional support to offer (69%), followed by how much to ask about their coworker’s medical condition/status (59%), and what kind of work-related help to offer (51%).

A majority of those who currently work with or have worked with someone diagnosed with cancer said they had concerns about being supportive, without being intrusive (90%), compared with 78% of those who said they have not worked with someone diagnosed with cancer.

Kathy M. Flora, a career coach with Cancer and Careers, said in the news release that creating and maintaining a supportive and inclusive work environment for all employees was critical, but the survey’s findings indicated there was still a lot of work that needs to be done for that to happen.

“When 89% of workers say that management could have done more to be supportive of their coworkers with serious medical conditions … it's clear a significant shift is necessary at the top levels of organizations,” she said.

Rebecca Nellis, executive director of Cancer and Careers, said that as the population of cancer survivors continues to grow, there will be an increasing need for such a dialogue.

“When employers and managers create and reinforce supportive policies, tools and guidance, navigating workplace challenges (becomes easier) for both employees with serious medical conditions and their coworkers,” she said.

Founded in 2001, Cancer and Careers is a national nonprofit organization that empowers and educates people with cancer to thrive in their workplaces by providing free expert advice, interactive tools and educational events.