Diabetes in the Workplace

People with diabetes are always living with the disease, including at work. Although people with diabetes may face unique challenges at the worksite, they can overcome these challenges and be successful with the help of an informed employer. Today, let’s chat more about the importance of understanding and accommodating those who have diabetes. 


What is diabetes? 

Diabetes is a chronic and sometimes fatal disease in which the body cannot control the amount of sugar in the blood. It can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The major types of diabetes are: 

  • Pre-diabetes: Refers to blood glucose levels that are higher than usual but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Half of those with pre-diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes. 
  • Type 2 Diabetes: When the body can’t properly make or use insulin – the hormone that controls sugar (glucose) in the blood. 90% of diabetes cases are type 2, with onset more often in adulthood. Lifestyle factors significantly influence many cases. 
  • Type 1 Diabetes: Occurs when the body can’t produce insulin at all. It occurs in 5-10% of cases and generally develops in childhood. It is unrelated to lifestyle but is a function of genes and environment.

You can maximize the health and productivity of your workers with diabetes by being more aware of common concerns in the workplace, such as accommodations for people with diabetes and shift work.


Diabetes in the workplace  

Shift work, particularly night shifts or long hours, can be challenging for people with diabetes. Research has also found that individuals who work night and rotating shifts may be at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes. 


Changes in routine can present several potential difficulties, from mealtimes to medication schedules. Varying shifts and work schedules can affect your ‘body clock’ if sleep becomes disrupted, leading to problems in controlling your diabetes. Shift work can alter the body’s circadian rhythms and internal body clocks that respond to natural daylight and darkness. Consequently, blood sugar levels can be affected, which may change sleep times can lead to more significant problems with hyperglycemia (too high blood sugar) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). 


The following six tips can help employers help their employees manage diabetes at work: 


  1. Establish Insulin Accommodations: Depending on the severity, some people with diabetes require insulin injections to keep their glucose levels stable. Though every person may have slightly different needs for managing their diabetes at work, providing a private, discreet space for those needing insulin daily and a proper disposal receptacle for needles in this space is a good idea.
  1. Provide Education: Diabetes education can benefit all your employees, not just those with the disease. Consider providing diabetes awareness training to your entire workforce, as everyone likely has a personal connection to someone diagnosed with diabetes. Small changes in weight, diet, and exercise can significantly impact the likelihood of developing diabetes. Educating employees on eating healthy, reducing stress, and getting proper exercise is a great way to lead prevention efforts. 
  1. Offer Healthy Food Options: The easiest and most cost-effective foods to provide the office are not likely to be the healthiest. Consider offering fruit and yogurt at the next morning’s meeting to balance out your donut spread. Provide a healthy lunch one day out of the week. Work with your vending machine provider to select more nutritious options for the next restock. Many people in the workforce eat out of convenience, so support your employees by making some of those convenience foods healthy. 
  1. Help Employees Find a Community-Based Organization: Diabetes Canada and other organizations that assist people with diabetes, people with prediabetes, and families of those with diabetes. Online support may be a good option if there’s no such group in your area. As an employer, you can share this resource with employees in need, helping them to connect with an organization that provides the assistance they need. 
  1. Be Flexible with Scheduling: Choosing the best healthcare options for your employees can be stressful. Most healthcare providers will appropriately accommodate the needs of people with diabetes. In addition to the scheduling, your employees with diabetes may need more time away, even for short medical appointments. Your employees managing diabetes may also require more frequent breaks, including time for strategic snacking to monitor and balance blood sugar levels. Most importantly, it would help if you were open and communicative with your employees about schedule preferences to create a plan that’ll work for everyone. 
  1. Implement a Workplace Wellness Program:  This is becoming increasingly popular as much of the workforce, especially younger generations, is voicing a desire for all health aspects to be considered by their employers. Wellness programs don’t benefit employees alone. A healthy workforce is more productive, and fewer sick, exhausted employees translate to better outcomes for businesses in general. A few components of a workplace wellness program might include the following: 
    • Physical activity programs, like yoga or fitness classes. 
    • Workplace health screenings for important medical indicators.
    • Programs and workshops geared toward ending negative habits and beginning positive ones. 
    • Mental health assistance, in addition to healthcare. 

Understanding and making sure all employees are safe and taken care of is key to a successful business. Every individual living with diabetes will have a different experience. Therefore, ensure you understand the needs of the person, and accommodate your workplace accordingly. 

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