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By Kenneth Hein, US Editor

January 17, 2023 | 5 min read

A massive, new campaign will implore businesses around the globe to take a pledge to support employees with cancer.

Too often employees take it upon themselves to hide the fact that they have cancer. They fear that sharing their diagnosis with their employer could cost them their job. This became very clear to Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun when he received thousands of these testimonials after he revealed he was diagnosed and treated for cancer.

To take the stigma of cancer in the workplace head-on, Sadoun and the Publicis Foundation, today, are debuting the ‘Working with Cancer’ pledge at Davos. More than 30 companies have already vowed to build supportive, recovery-forward work cultures. Sadoun is inviting all businesses, of any size, to join the movement at workingwithcancerpledge.com. The initiative is supported by leading cancer organizations including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MacMillan Cancer Research and Gustave Roussy Institute.

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Getting rid of the taboo

“What we are trying to do here is to erase the stigma of concern about speaking openly in the workplace,” Sadoun tells The Drum. “Working with Cancer is starting from one very important premise, which is one person out of two will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. That means, very simply, cancer is going to be part of all of our lives. And hopefully, it is not the case for you, and your loved ones, but it has become clear that we will all have to work with cancer.”

The 50% statistic is from the American Cancer Society. And half of that group say they are afraid to tell their employers about their cancer even though most of them (92%) feel support at work positively impacts their health.

The Working with Cancer initiative “started from my personal experience,” says Sadoun. “Day after day, we are preaching to our clients that in a post-pandemic world, transparency is everything… I could have lied and not traveled for a couple of months. Most of the people I talked to said not to [reveal the cancer diagnosis] because when you go public, it hurts the people you love. It makes it more difficult. And secondly, more professionally, we were showing vulnerability. But it turned out to be a strength. At the time, we didn’t know.”

Coming together

Flash forward to today, when Working with Cancer has already received pledges from top global organizations including Abbvie, Adobe, AXA, Bank of America, BNP Paribas, BT, Carrefour, Citi, Disney, EE, Google, Haleon, L’Oréal, Lloyd’s, LVMH, Marriott, McDonald’s, Meta, Mondelez, Microsoft, MSD, Nestlé, Orange, Omnicom, Pepsico, Reckitt, Renault Group, Sanofi, Toyota, Unilever, Verizon and Walmart.

Sadoun offered high praise to arch-rival holding company Omnicom for taking part in the pledge. “It says a lot about John Wren’s leadership,” says Sadoun.

Publicis’ pledge, specifically, offers cancer patients at least a year’s worth of job security and personalized support when they return to work, as well as access to a peer group so they don’t feel alone.

The effort will receive a very bright spotlight on World Cancer Day (February 4). Publicis Group will launch a campaign blanketing more than the $100m in media that has been donated by partners. Meta has also donated 1bn impressions.

The launch ad is inspired by the testimonials Sadoun and his team received. The first emotional spot puts viewers in the shoes of people pretending everything is fine at work. Captions read: “just threw up in the bathroom” as a man sits in a meeting. Another says “never going to get this down” as a man sits down at a power lunch. “Desperate for help” appears as a young woman greets a customer with a forced smile at a local supermarket.

The call to action says: “Join our pledge to abolish stigma and insecurity at work for those with cancer.” It features the Publicis and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center logos.

Selwyn Vickers, CEO of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center said in a statement: “Taking collective action to normalize the conversation around cancer in the workplace is imperative to help people feel supported as they experience their cancer journey. MSK is proud to be a founding partner of Working with Cancer, and also to take this important pledge. As clinicians, scientists, and staff committed to caring for as well as treating people with cancer, we know the toll that cancer can have on patients and their families.”

Sadoun promised more news about the campaign’s rollout in the near future.

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