Five Tips for Managing Diabetes in the Workplace

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If, like most people, you spend most of your waking hours working, a harried work schedule or frequent business travel can make the task of managing your diabetes even more stressful, which is the last thing you want.

We sat down with Erin Kelly RN, BSN, Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) in the Adult Clinic at Joslin Diabetes Center, for advice on how to successfully manage diabetes in the workplace. “The biggest message I try to send is that diabetes doesn’t have to dramatically affect you or your life at work, it’s just something additional that you’re going to have to manage,” says Kelly. She offers the following five tips for managing your diabetes while at work.

Communication is Key

For many people, deciding whether to tell an employer about their diabetes can be a cause for concern. But as Kelly explains, while you probably don’t want to discuss all the details of your diabetes with your supervisor, sharing vital facts about your condition is a good idea.

The first step is to have a formal meeting with your supervisor. “Frame the conversation in a way that communicates it won’t impact your job. Tell your supervisor that you want to make them aware of your diabetes so that if you should need help, or have to take a break, they know why,” says Kelly. “It’s an important conversation to have, but I think a lot of people are afraid to raise the subject because they are worried that it may reflect negatively on them or affect their job.”

Remember, people with diabetes are protected at work through the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “It’s important for people to know that they don’t have to be afraid to inform their employer about their condition. There are lots of resources to help them navigate that conversation,” says Kelly. The American Diabetes Association offers resources that can help facilitate these conversations.

“For people with type 2 diabetes, and only on oral medications, providing a general awareness about the condition is probably enough,” she says. But if you have type 1 diabetes, you might want to tell your supervisor that you will need a little leeway during the day to check your blood sugar and take medications.

Find a Helpful Partner

It’s completely up to you whether you tell coworkers about your condition. “But giving someone you’re close to a heads up about your diabetes can help you in the long run,” says Kelly. “Let’s say you have type 1 and you feel comfortable discussing it with a coworker, that person could be a point person for you, knowing where you keep your supplies and even helping with treatment if need be.” When you do talk to a coworker, explain diabetes-related symptoms in simple terms. Describe what a mild reaction might look like. You can also review an emergency plan for what to do in the case of a more serious health problem.

Be Prepared

Frequent business trips, altered sleep schedules and regular fast food stops can wreak havoc on your health, leaving you feeling stressed and tired. “In general, a lot of diabetes management is about planning ahead, whether you are at home, at the office or on the go,” says Kelly. Start by identifying the work-related circumstances that throw your healthy habits off track, and then come up with various options. Remember, there are multiple solutions for every problem. For example, if you find it impossible to eat right when you travel, start bringing sandwiches and healthy snacks with you. Research healthy restaurants in the area you’ll be visiting. “Whether sitting all day or flying across a few time zones, it really comes down to being prepared,” says Kelly. This will give you a sense of control you didn’t have before, and help you stay on track when things do get crazy.

Store Supplies at Work

Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, keeping supplies at work can help you rest a little easier. “Generally we recommend that everybody, regardless of what kind of diabetes they have, keep some type of treatment available at work for low blood sugar, it can be in your pocket book, briefcase or desk drawer,” Kelly says.  “You just want to make sure it’s accessible.”

Talk to a Diabetes Educator

“There are lots of factors that contribute to blood sugar control,” says Kelly. You should understand how your diet, exercise, stress levels and alcohol consumption affect your diabetes control. That way, you’ll be better able to take care of yourself at work, whether you’re sitting down all day or traveling. Everybody reacts to things differently. You want to do what is right for you.

Do you have any tips for managing diabetes in the workplace? Share with us in the comment section below!

For more help with managing diabetes in the workplace, contact our Certified Diabetes Educators at 617-309-2780 or make an appointment with our Adult Clinic at 617-309-2440.

One Response to Five Tips for Managing Diabetes in the Workplace

  1. Mike Dy says:

    Great tips! I agree that it will be difficult for someone who have diabetes to work well. When at work I think it is also good to measure the blood sugar during free time.

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