5 Tips for Dealing With Diabetes and a New Job
On the clock with diabetes
Congratulations! You have a new job, new responsibilities, new coworkers and boss, and maybe even a new commute or lunch routine. When you have diabetes, you have something more to think about than your first-day paperwork. Here’s how to make your transition a smooth one.
1. Consider Who You’ll Tell
You don’t have to inform an employer that you have diabetes—and company personnel are not permitted by law to ask. But you may want people to know, says Joanne Rinker, MS, RD, CDE, LDN, a dietitian and diabetes educator who sits on the board of directors for the American Association of Diabetes Educators. If you have a job with a rigid schedule, you may want to tell your employer about your diabetes so you can have the breaks you need for self-care tasks. If you have a more relaxed structure and privacy in your new job—a place to check blood glucose, take injections or medications, and have meals and snacks as needed—you may choose not to tell.
Your conversations can be subtle and confidential, or you may share with everyone. Brianna Wolin, 21, of Chicago shares a quick speech about diabetes with coworkers: “I am entirely self-managed and have never needed others’ assistance due to a diabetic emergency. However, in the event that I do need help, please find the glucagon in my bag and call 911, unless I am conscious, in which case please direct me to drink a sugary drink. I may need to suddenly go to the bathroom, leave my desk, or leave work for the day, which I will never abuse. If you have any questions, always feel free to ask—I’m an open book!”
2. Know Your Rights
It’s your employer’s responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, according to federal regulations. That includes offering reasonable accommodations for where to check blood glucose, dose insulin, and treat lows.
To that end, attorney Benjamin Eisenberg, director of the American Diabetes Association’s Legal Advocate Program, and his team help hundreds of people with workplace issues every year. “We are willing to help you educate an employer, help you negotiate problems, or even walk you through the steps to file formal legal complaints—whatever we can do to help fight for fairness for people with diabetes at work,” Eisenberg says. Get in touch with an advocate by calling 1-800-DIABETES or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Communicate & Educate
People who lack information about diabetes may make incorrect assumptions about it. Some people with diabetes, in an effort to not make their new coworkers uncomfortable, may hide their management and treatment. But this can be dangerous. Anthony Ware, MPM, MFP, APM, 48, a retired Navy veteran and airport manager from Lake Charles, Louisiana, hid his type 2 diabetes for six months. “I … found myself having a hypoglycemic episode once a day before I came forward,” Ware says. The good news: “There was an immediate positive reception with genuine concern for me.”
Ware says communication, cooperation, and information encourage a healthier, safer, and more productive workplace environment. Not sure where to start? Learn more about workplace discrimination at diabetes.org/workrights. The National Diabetes Education Program’s Diabetes at Work offers fact sheets, lesson plans, and tool kits for workplace education. Find out more at diabetesatwork.org.
4. Build a Buddy System
If your workplace has a wellness program that promotes healthy worker behaviors, consider joining. If it doesn’t, ask your boss or human resources department about creating one. These programs can be beneficial to people with and without diabetes.
It behooves both workers and employers to use a workplace wellness program, says Joan Bardsley, MBA, RN, CDE, FAADE, assistant vice president of Medstar Health Research Institute and Medstar Health Nursing. “Employers are … doing this so people are healthier,” she says. “A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce.” The ADA’s Wellness Lives Here program (diabetes.org/wellnessliveshere) helps employers promote healthy living and reduce illness.
5. Account for (In)Activity & Stress
Whether you’ve got a job that requires you to be on your feet all day or one that keeps you at a desk, your blood glucose levels can be affected, says Pamela Allweiss, MD, MPH, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation. And different days might involve different tasks, so it’s important to check your blood glucose as directed, especially on days that heighten your stress levels. You should also make your mental health a priority, Allweiss says. “We know people with diabetes have a higher chance of depression,” she says. “Depression is probably the most prevalent cause of absenteeism at work.”
Simple things, like keeping emergency glucose nearby and maintaining a sharps container for discarded lancets or needles, can make your workplace safer for you and your coworkers. Pamela Allweiss, MD, MPH, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Diabetes Translation, suggests that folks who operate machinery, work shifts, or work at high heights—all of which can affect blood glucose—check levels early and often. “Be safety aware,” she says.