Diabetes At Work: Workplace Accommodations

As we noted in a post here at Diabetes Flashpoints last year, having diabetes — either Type 1 or Type 2 — can have a major impact on productivity in the workplace. This may be due to a number of factors, including the need to check blood glucose levels, the need to take insulin and other drugs, and fluctuating blood glucose levels that may cause trouble focusing.

But in the face of these obstacles, a new study from Denmark suggests that people with diabetes shouldn’t expect a great deal of sympathy from potential coworkers. The not-yet-published study — which was presented earlier this month at the American Diabetes Association’s 76th Scientific Sessions in New Orleans — is based on an online survey given to 1,103 participants. While 540 of these participants were given questions about accommodating coworkers with Type 2 diabetes, the other 563 were given questions about accommodating coworkers with an unspecified chronic illness. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of the two sets of questions.

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As an article on the study at MedPage Today notes, both sets of questions asked participants if they’d be willing to pay — in the form of slightly lower wages, for example — for accommodations for a hypothetical coworker. These accommodations included the option to switch to a part-time position, being able to work from home, and getting an extra break at work (without being paid less). Only 33% of participants agreed that it was the responsibility of employers to provide accommodations for people with diabetes, in contrast with 70% who said the same for people with cancer. Women, younger people, and people with less education were less likely to be in favor of accommodations for people with diabetes.

Not surprisingly, participants who didn’t believe that diabetes is a “severe” disease were less likely to favor accommodations for people with diabetes. But somewhat surprisingly, having the view that diabetes is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle didn’t make participants any less likely to support accommodations. These two results indicate that the lack of support for accommodations for people with diabetes may be based more on the belief that diabetes is a minor condition than on any desire to punish people for perceived lifestyle choices.

What’s your sense of how diabetes is viewed in your workplace — have you ever asked for any special accommodations? If not, did you hesitate because of the expected reaction of your coworkers or boss? Do you think your coworkers understand the potential severity of diabetes, or what managing it really means? Do you think people with diabetes can or should educate coworkers about the disease? Leave a comment below!