Employees With Diabetes: A Supervisor’s Guide

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If you think you don’t know anyone who has diabetes, you might think again. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, which translates into 9.4 percent of the population. Of the 30.3 million Americans with diabetes, 30.2 million are adults over the age of 18. This means that, in the workplace, there’s a pretty high likelihood that at least one of your employees has diabetes. Another 84.1 million adults in the U.S. have prediabetes, which greatly increases the chance of Type 2 diabetes. So, even if you don’t have employees who currently have diabetes, they may be at risk for developing diabetes in the near future.

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A vested interest in learning about diabetes

As a supervisor or manager, you might be asking yourself why you need to know about diabetes. One reason is the cost of managing diabetes is staggering: In 2017, $237 billion was spent in direct medical costs and $90 billion in reduced productivity. The CDC notes that “indirect costs” of diabetes include:

• Increased absenteeism
• Reduced productivity while at work
• Inability to work as a result of disease-related disability
• Lost productive capacity due to early mortality

Your employees are assets to your company in many ways; it stands to reason that you have a vested interest in keeping them healthy and supporting them as best you can.

The power of education

You don’t need to be a diabetes expert to help and support your employees. However, understanding more about diabetes and informing your team about this condition can provide a host of benefits, such as:

• More productivity and decreased absenteeism
• A lower chance of on-the-job injuries
• Improved energy
• Better concentration
• Less stress and tension
• Increased job satisfaction

Your employees who have diabetes will feel better and enjoy their job more, knowing that they are able to self-manage their diabetes, even when at work. They’ll appreciate the support from you and their colleagues, as well.

Diabetes in a nutshell

So many people have diabetes, yet many people don’t understand the condition. As a general overview, there are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes: An autoimmune condition in which the pancreas stops making insulin, a hormone needed to help control levels of glucose, or sugar. People who have Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to survive. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 percent of cases of diabetes.

• Type 2 diabetes: With this type of diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or is unable to use it well (called insulin resistance). Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases. People with Type 2 diabetes may manage it with lifestyle efforts (for example, healthy eating, physical activity, weight loss), diabetes medication, or a combination of all of these.

Gestational diabetes: This is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It affects between 1 and 4 percent of pregnancies. Blood sugar levels generally return to normal once the baby is born, but both the mother and the baby have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Some of the risk factors for diabetes are as follows:

• Being overweight or obese
• Being age 45 or older
• Having a family history of the condition
• Being of certain ethnicities, including African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American, or American Indian
High blood pressure, heart disease, or stroke
• Not being physically active
• Depression

Diabetes that is not well-managed can greatly increase the risk of diabetes-related complications. These include:

• Heart disease
• Stroke
• High blood pressure
• Kidney disease
• Eye disease (called diabetic retinopathy)
• Nerve damage
• Gum disease
• Skin conditions
• Foot problems
• Depression

Managing diabetes is a lot of work, and a person who has diabetes doesn’t get to take a vacation from his or her condition. You might say that diabetes self-management is a full-time job!

So, what can you do?

Promoting diabetes awareness, education, and support in the workplace can go a long way toward helping those who have diabetes, as well as those who may be at risk for diabetes or who have loved ones with the condition. Here are some tips to help your employees:

• Offer health screenings to help your team know their risk. Screenings can include blood pressure, blood sugar, A1C, cholesterol, weight, a foot check, and vision screening.

• Provide a diabetes risk test to employees every fourth Tuesday in March, which is Diabetes Alert Day, or during the month of November, which is National Diabetes Month. Check out the Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test.

• Boost diabetes awareness. Hang up posters in the break room or include diabetes-related articles and healthy recipes in a company newsletter or on your company’s intranet. Tie diabetes awareness into health screenings.

• Focus on education. Explore the company’s health plan offerings around diabetes self-management education and make sure your employees are aware of their benefits. Arrange for a diabetes educator or a dietitian to provide talks, workshops, or cooking demonstrations.

• Spread the word about diabetes resources, such as Diabetes Self-Management’s website and magazine.

• Designate an area for employees to go to check their blood sugar, or administer insulin or other medications.

• Keep treatments for low blood sugar handy. Treatments might include glucose tablets, glucose gel, juice boxes, small boxes of raisins, or packets of honey.

• Arrange for healthy foods to be served at meetings or office parties. Fresh fruit, yogurt, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain crackers, popcorn, and raw vegetables are good choices, either in place of or along with the usual muffins and bagels. Beverage options might include sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, or diet soda.

• Talk with the cafeteria manager about serving tasty but healthy meal and snack choices.

• Encourage a little friendly competition — start up a daily or weekly step challenge, or have people take photos of their meals and vote on the healthiest one. Provide prizes, such as gift certificates or activity trackers, for the winner.

• Build stretch breaks into trainings or meetings. End with everyone taking three deep breaths.

• Hold walking meetings, if possible. Urge employees to get up from their desks and move for a couple of minutes every 30 minutes.

• If your budget permits, look into standing desk options or swap out desk chairs with fitness balls.

You may not have a lot of time or money, and that’s OK — remember that a little goes a long way in showing your employees that you care. For more information about diabetes that you can share with your team, visit the National Diabetes Education Program’s website.

Want to learn more about working with diabetes? Read “Diabetes on the Job,” “Making a Living With Diabetes: Job Problems,” “Making a Living With Diabetes: Working From Home,” “Making a Living With Diabetes: Monetizing Your Life,” and “Making a Living With Diabetes: Disability.”