Tips to Help Employees Manage Diabetes at Work

Diabetes affects many workers, and it's important to know how to prioritize their health and manage unique risks.

Diabetes is on the rise in the US — the number of Americans diagnosed with the condition is set to increase from 22.3 million to 39.7 million by 2030. Absence from work due to type 2 diabetes, in particular, costs employers over $20 billion every year, SHRM reveals. Diabetes is a chronic condition that essentially prevents the body breaking down glucose into energy, resulting in the need for medication (including injections) and testing blood sugar levels throughout the day. Helping your employees manage their diabetes can benefit both the individuals and your bottom line.

Risk assessment

While many people can manage their diabetes without it impacting their work performance, be aware that shift work can negatively affect the condition. If an employee is unable to check their blood sugar or take insulin when needed, they run the risk of it going high or low.

A low blood sugar can result in feelings of weakness, dizziness, and potentially loss of consciousness. Conducting a risk assessment with the employee in question can help you better prevent this happening. How stable is their blood sugar typically, and what medication do they use? Is the employee able to take regular breaks and check their blood sugar regularly? How does the work typically performed affect their blood sugar? Are they performing tasks that may be dangerous if their blood sugar goes low? Can working in certain conditions (such as alone, overnight, or driving) still be safely performed?

Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Encouraging your employees to make healthy dietary and lifestyle choices can help them manage their condition. In particular, patients with diabetes commonly experience foot problems caused by nerve damage. Diabetic socks can be helpful in minimizing or preventing foot pain — especially if employees spend a lot of their time at work on their feet. Additionally, healthy eating can prevent and control diabetes (and even reverse Type 2 conditions). Implementing a diabetes nutrition program in the workplace can empower employees with diabetes with the knowledge needed to stay healthy. This could include cooking tutorials and tips on reading nutrition labels correctly. An exercise program which encourages and motivates employees to be active regularly can also be beneficial.

Facilitate day-to-day management

You should be willing to make reasonable adjustments to allow your employees with diabetes to work comfortably and safely. For example, you may need to offer flexible working hours or private spaces to allow them to check their blood sugar and administer insulin. Additionally, it may be helpful to create storage space for insulin supplies if it isn’t feasible for employees to keep them with them all the time at work. Employees with diabetes-related complications may also need time off work regularly.

It’s important to provide your employees with diabetes the support they need to manage their condition successfully. The effort you put in will ultimately improve your employees’ quality of life, lower health care expenses, and minimize costly absenteeism.

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