3 Steps for Employers to Create a Diabetes-Friendly Workplace

The World Health Organization reports that about 422 million people worldwide are living with diabetes. More than 95 percent of those have Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset). And millions of people are being diagnosed with Type 1 and 2 diabetes each year.

What does this mean for you as an employer? There’s a very high probability that you have employees in your workforce experiencing the vast impacts diabetes can have on their physical, emotional, and professional well-being. Consider this research:

  • The Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews found that employees with diabetes reported higher rates of presenteeism (1.1 vs. 0.7 hours per week), absenteeism (1.4 vs. 1.1 hours per week) and decreases in productivity due to illnesses (2.5 vs. 1.8 hours per week) compared to responding employees without diabetes.
  • dQ&A, an organization founded to support those with diabetes, found people with Type 2 diabetes (T2D), reported a 19 percent loss in productivity for those taking insulin and an 11 percent decline for those who don’t.

These findings clearly indicate to employers that there is an urgent business need to create diabetes-friendly workplaces. Need more proof? Another study found that 32 percent of benefits decision-makers cite indirect costs of diabetes resulting from fatigue, understaffing and reduced productivity. Twenty-three percent say a side effect of diabetes at work is poor morale among employees who must perform work to cover for their absent co-workers.

Fortunately for employers, studies prove the value and human-centered benefits that both employer and employee receive when enveloped in a diabetes-friendly workplace. In that same survey of benefits decision-makers, 90 percent believed their employees with diabetes would feel more empowered at work if the company provided a diabetes management and support program. Half of those surveyed said helping employees to keep their blood sugar within an appropriate range has a tangible value for both the employee’s well-being and the company’s bottom line.

Conclusion? HR professionals have an immense opportunity to lead their company’s effort in building and supporting a diabetes-friendly workplace management program.

Building a Diabetes-Friendly Workplace: 3 Ways to Support Employees with Type 2 Diabetes

As reported in HR Executive, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recognizes that lifestyle change is critical for people managing Type 2 diabetes. However, often left out of the conversation, are the influence that physical and social environments have on health outcomes, especially as it relates to your employee’s work life. In this, employers have an opportunity to use the social and physical environments that exist within their workplace to engage employees in managing their diabetes and prioritizing their own well-being. So, where to start?

1. Conduct an environmental scan to evaluate the physical and social workplace

Upwards of 80 percent of health outcomes can be attributed to environmental factors such as housing, income, education, social networks and communities, and access to nutritious foods. In creating a diabetes-friendly workplace, employers must acknowledge and address these physical, mental, social, and environmental factors and their impact on employee well-being.

  • Provide access to diagnostic measures – Employers can help their teams by providing access to diagnostics that test physical factors impacting their employees’ health and ability to manage their diabetes. This can be done through biometric screenings. These on-site screenings measure blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, and blood glucose levels to provide a snapshot of an employee’s physical well-being. Encouraging your employees to monitor these metrics, especially blood glucose levels, can reveal crucial information for them as they work to manage their Type 2 diabetes and overall health.
  • Provide testing accommodations – For employees with diabetes, blood glucose monitoring is a major component of diabetes management and care. Most individuals with Type 2 diabetes need to test their blood sugars once or twice a day. If your employees don’t have a private location to check their blood sugar to properly manage their diabetes while on the job, employers should provide accommodations. In this, employers must empower employees to manage their health while also helping them work effectively and safely.
  • Plan for consistent breaks and mealtimes – Consistent breaks and mealtimes can be crucial for those with Type 2 diabetes in maintaining a blood glucose monitoring schedule and eating properly. Aduro® Connect Care Health Director, Heather King, often hears members with diabetes complain about all of the junk food their co-workers bring into the office to share. “A creative idea to combat this is by promoting ‘bring healthy snacks to share’ days or ‘fresh fruit’ days,” says King. “To demonstrate an ongoing commitment to a diabetes-friendly workplace, I recommend that cafeterias always offer diabetes-friendly food options, such as whole grain breads, lean protein, and fresh vegetables.”
  • Support healthy habits – Employers can further encourage healthy habits and behaviors by forming walking groups and fitness challenges, for athletes of all skill levels. For employees working remotely, employers can provide consistent break times, host virtual meetings to build community support, encourage staying active throughout the workday and even providing fitness trackers (more on that suggestion later in this post).
  • Minimize social isolation – Today’s work culture is one of always ‘on’ and connected, especially in hybrid work models. Without a break from work, undoubtedly stress levels increase and unhealthy behaviors (such as eating “comfort” junk food) are adopted as coping measures. Employers adopting a hybrid work model should work to minimize the social isolation of its team as it inhibits physical activity, which can have a negative effect on one’s Type 2 diabetes management and overall well-being.

2. Guard against discrimination

In a study of over 1,200 people with Type 2 diabetes, 19 percent reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace due to their condition. Moreover, 49 percent reported hiding their diabetes from others and as many as 4 in 5 people with diabetes have experienced diabetes stigma. To combat this discrimination against people with diabetes, it’s vital to understand it.

Diabetes-related stigma and discrimination is the exclusion, judgment, prejudice, and blame that is unfairly experienced by those with diabetes. Diabetes stigma can worsen mental health conditions and diabetes distress, as well as magnify socioeconomic health inequities. This discrimination and judgment can often prevent those with diabetes from reaching out to others for help or seeking medical help when needed, resulting in poor diabetes management and emotional exhaustion.

Employers have a moral and legal responsibility to support those who may report diabetes-related discrimination. Employees should never shy away from offering support, such as:

  • Making the reporting of discrimination easy – Facilitate communication by making it easy for employees to report potential workplace discrimination issues to human resources, leadership, or their managers. It’s crucial that employees feel safe to share and be supported with sensitive healthcare topics.
  • Use person-first language – According to a panel of leaders from the ADA and the American Association of Diabetes Educators, language is powerful and can have an impact on perceptions as well as behavior. Person-first, strength-based, empowering language can improve communication and enhance the health and well-being of people with diabetes. Additionally, by referring to a person as ‘having diabetes’ versus ‘is a diabetic’ goes a long way in demonstrating awareness, a sense of dignity for that person, and a positive attitude toward employees living with the disease.

3. Provide well-being technology to encourage healthy behaviors

Let’s face it. Most people operate their lives through their mobile devices or computers in some form or fashion.

Case in point: according to Deloitte’s 2020 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers, 42 percent of consumers said they use technology tools to measure fitness and track health-improvement goals. Moreover, Gen Z and Millennials are more likely to believe these fitness trackers can change their behavior.

Technology gives employers an opportunity to show it supports a diabetes-friendly workplace by providing its team members access or subscriptions to fitness trackers and well-being tools that promote physical activity, healthy behaviors, and better lifestyle choices. Technology meets consumers where they are and in a way they prefer. And it can be a key to behavior change.

However, technology and wellness tools do not work alone. A sense of accountability, as well as social and provider support, is necessary to successfully foster real change in employee behavior. By increasing this support of health habits and creating a community amongst those who utilize these fitness trackers and tools in the workplace, employers can increase motivation and health awareness.

Diabetes management programs work off these same principles by encouraging accountability around healthy behaviors that promote better diabetes self-management. Studies show that participating in a diabetes management program has a significant positive impact by reducing medical costs, improving productivity, and reducing absenteeism in employees.

King notes that Aduro® Connect Care offers a personalized approach to managing Type 2 diabetes. “Personalized onboarding and content, real-time data and insights, and the support of certified T2D coaches ensure that employees with T2D receive the right support and the right times,” says King. “It’s our goal to deliver a human-centered approach and empower individuals to take control of their life.”

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Support of a Diabetes-Friendly Workplace

The good news is that changes made by employers to transform their workplace into more diabetes-friendly places can be done simply and quickly. By scanning and monitoring the physical, mental, and environmental well-being of employees, guarding against and combatting diabetes stigma, and utilizing technology to promote healthy lifestyles, companies can create a work environment that better supports your employees with diabetes.

Building a diabetes-friendly workplace and integrating diabetes management programs encourages your employees to take their diabetes care into their own hands, while feeling supported by their employer every step of the way. For more information on how to support employees with Type 2 diabetes, check out our blog, The Impacts of Type 2 Diabetes in the Workplace and How Employers Can Help.