Share on linkedin Share on twitter Share on facebook In 2023, the U.S. remains the only developed country worldwide that doesn’t have a universal healthcare
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Are our workplaces conducive to healthy choices? Are they diabetic-friendly?
The fast-paced modern work environment has undergone a significant transformation, with long hours, sedentary jobs, and unhealthy eating habits becoming the norm.
Unfortunately, this lifestyle shift, along with other factors, has had a negative impact on employee health and drove diabetes to become one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the workplace.
With over 28 million in the United States diagnosed with this endocrine disorder, employers now have to ensure that workplaces not only accommodate the needs of diabetic employees but also promote healthier choices for all.
This article delves into understanding diabetes in the workplace context, the relationship between diabetes and work restrictions, rights, and regulations, and the steps businesses can take to foster a diabetic-friendly environment.
Diabetes in the Workplace: Rights, Laws & Regulations
Diabetes is a serious, chronic illness that, in the short term, may cause severe sickness and lead to life-threatening complications in the long term. According to the American Diabetes Association, over 37 million people in the United States have diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
For people with diabetes, life is a continuous balancing act.
Diabetes must be effectively managed every hour of the day, including in the workplace, much like in everyday life. However, the specific management needs vary from one person to another and can influence the work setting.
Nevertheless, people with diabetes can be found in various industries and professions, and in many cases, diabetes doesn’t significantly affect their job performance.
However, diabetes imposes certain work restrictions that employees and employers need to consider.
Diabetes & Work Restrictions
Diabetes and work restrictions have evolved over time, and people with diabetes can now work many jobs that were once off-limits to them.
For example, commercial drivers who use insulin can now get a medical certificate from the Department of Transportation through a special program. Firefighters, police officers, and other law enforcement personnel can be assessed to see if they can do the job instead of being automatically disqualified.
In other words, people with diabetes now have more career options than ever before.
However, some jobs are still restricted to them, usually because of the need to use insulin.
According to the American Diabetes Association, pilots with insulin-treated diabetes can get a third-class medical certificate from the FAA, but not a first-class one needed to fly large commercial planes.
Most military branches also restrict enlistment for people with type 1 and 2 diabetes. However, people with diabetes can serve in other capacities in the Department of Defense and as military contractors.
Diabetes Safety Considerations
Employers may sometimes have safety concerns regarding diabetes, but these concerns are often based on misconceptions or outdated information.
For most jobs, there is no reason to believe that an employee’s diabetes will put themselves, other employees, or the public at risk.
However, there are some jobs, such as operating heavy machinery or carrying a firearm, where there may be safety concerns if the employee’s blood sugar levels become too low (hypoglycemia).
Employers should evaluate each employee’s diabetes on a case-by-case basis, considering the worker’s job duties and ability to manage their condition.
In addition, employers should also work with the employee to develop a reasonable accommodation plan, if necessary, to help them safely perform their job duties.
Diabetes & Workplace Discrimination
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was amended by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“Amendments Act” or “ADAAA”), diabetes is recognized as a disability, and employees with diabetes are encouraged to disclose their condition to their employers to ensure they receive the full protection of the law.
The ADA defines discrimination as failing to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities. These accommodations can be categorized into three main areas:
- Physical modifications to the workplace to ensure accessibility for employees with disabilities.
- Adjustments to company policies and procedures to accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities.
- Provision of specialized equipment, technology, or support services to assist employees with disabilities in performing specific job tasks.
Employers are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship, defined as an action that would create “significant difficulty or expense” for the employer.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides resources and assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act to both employers and employees.
Creating a Diabetes-Friendly Workplace
With the prevalence of diabetes on the rise, workplaces can play an essential role in supporting employees with diabetes and reducing the risk for those who might be pre-diabetic.
Creating a diabetes-friendly workplace involves understanding, accommodation, and proactive health initiatives.
1) Diabetes Management Programs for Employers
Diabetes management programs can be an asset for employers.
As diabetes is a costly disease to treat, diabetes management programs can help reduce healthcare costs for employers by preventing complications and hospitalizations.
This approach stands out as an ideal starting point, as it is specifically tailored to address the unique challenges and needs of each diabetic employee.
These programs offer tools like blood glucose monitor kits for daily sugar level tracking, continuous glucose monitoring (CGMs) for real-time tracking, and various diabetes apps that assist in tracking blood sugar, diet, exercise, and medication, along with features like meal planning and insulin dose calculation.
By providing employees with the tools and resources they need to manage their diabetes effectively, employers can reduce healthcare costs, increase productivity, and improve morale.
2) Physical Environment
When a person is diagnosed with diabetes, they face a long and tiring health routine that includes consistent monitoring of dietary intake, blood sugar levels, and sometimes even the administration of insulin injections. Managing these routines can be more challenging in the workplace than at home.
In other words, employees with diabetes might need frequent breaks, and their meal timings could differ from their colleagues.
To accommodate these employees, employers should consider creating a designated area where they can relax, check their blood sugar levels, and administer insulin if needed.
Allow them to take breaks, meals, or medication, and ensure appropriate disposal and storage units are available for insulin supplies as necessary.
In addition, employers should also train first aid and safety personnel to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and how to treat them.
A “hypo” box containing appropriate treatments should also be installed in a central location as a safety precaution.
3) Nutritional Support
One of the best ways to support employees with diabetes is to provide them with healthy food options in the workplace.
Examine the food offerings in the workplace, whether in the pantry, from vending machines, or provided during internal office meetings and guest visits. Consider stocking the following healthy options:
- Coffee and tea without sugar
- Healthy beverages such as water, unsweetened iced tea, and low-fat milk
- Snacks such as nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables
In addition, organizing nutritional workshops or inviting healthcare professionals for regular sessions to educate employees about diabetes management and healthy eating can further nurture a supportive environment.
Taking such steps not only benefits diabetic employees but also promotes overall well-being and productivity among the entire workforce.
4) Mental Health & Stress Management
Employees with chronic illnesses like diabetes often face higher risks of experiencing mental health challenges, such as depression and anxiety.
In fact, some people with diabetes experience what’s called “diabetes burnout” or “diabetes distress.” This feeling, marked by overwhelming frustration and defeat, arises from the ongoing demands of managing a long-term condition.
Stress, whether from personal life or work, can negatively affect blood sugar levels and one’s capacity to manage their condition effectively.
Recognizing that stress can worsen blood sugar fluctuations, employers should offer guidance on stress management, such as mindfulness and meditation, promote behavioral and mental health offerings, and give access to quiet rest areas.
5) Flexibility & Accommodations
Employers can create a diabetic-friendly workplace by understanding the unique needs of diabetic employees and providing necessary accommodations.
This includes offering flexibility in work schedules to allow for regular medical check-ups and accommodating sick leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for any diabetes-related complications.
However, to avoid creating a toxic workplace culture, all employees must understand that these accommodations, such as extra breaks, are not “special treatment” but are necessary for the health and well-being of diabetic employees.
By providing such accommodations, employers can support the health and well-being of their diabetic employees and foster a more inclusive work environment.
6) Promoting Physical Activity
Physical activity plays a big role in managing and preventing diabetes. Introducing short, scheduled breaks for light exercises, offering standing desks, organizing walk-and-talk meetings, and incentivizing participation in fitness challenges can all encourage movement throughout the day.
Additionally, creating accessible and well-equipped on-site fitness facilities or partnering with nearby gyms for discounted memberships can further motivate employees to prioritize their physical well-being.
Not only will this aid diabetic employees in managing their condition, but it will also cultivate a healthier, more energetic, and productive workforce overall.
7) Education & Awareness
Without appropriate care, those with diabetes may face risks such as vision loss, advanced kidney disease, diabetic neuropathy, limb removal, or cardiac conditions.
Given this lack of awareness, initiating education and awareness programs becomes even more crucial.
For employers looking to make their first move, incorporating diabetes information in HR communications or linking to external resources, such as a 1-minute prediabetes risk test, is an excellent place to start.
By incorporating diabetes self-management education material into workplace training, employers can support their diabetic employees and encourage early detection and prevention in those unaware of their condition.
Furthermore, activities such as hosting a diabetes education expo, offering health screenings, or organizing diabetes-friendly potlucks can boost understanding and foster a culture of support.
How to Measure Success?
The average direct medical cost of caring for an employee with diabetes is approximately $13,000 annually, more than five times that of a nondiabetic. These numbers jump even higher when adding indirect costs, such as lost work time, disability expenses, and premature deaths.
Most employers are aware of the financial implications of this disease and are looking for ways to contain these costs.
So, how can employers measure and see if their efforts to create a diabetes-friendly workplace are successful?
Employers can track the following metrics to gauge the effectiveness of their efforts:
- Participation rates: How many employees actively participate in diabetes-specific programs and workshops?
- Clinical outcomes: Are employees’ blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels improving?
- Dietary Choices: Are more employees selecting healthier food options from the company cafeteria or vending machines?
- Resource Utilization: How many employees utilize resources such as counseling, gym memberships, or joining fitness challenges?
- Healthcare costs: Are healthcare costs for employees with diabetes decreasing?
- Productivity: Are employees with diabetes missing less work and taking fewer sick days?
In addition to these quantitative metrics, employers should also collect qualitative metrics, such as employee satisfaction and employee feedback about the program.
These metrics can help employers understand how employees perceive the program and identify areas for improvement.
Managing Diabetes as a Workplace Health Priority
Diabetes, though incurable, can be managed with the right mix of lifestyle adjustments, medications, and consistent blood sugar monitoring. The importance of managing diabetes extends to everyone diagnosed with the condition, but it becomes crucial for working professionals.
However, current diabetes treatment models are often fragmented and inefficient, making it difficult for patients to get the care they need.
Nowadays, forward-thinking companies are pioneering innovative ways to address the challenges of diabetes management. Employers understand there is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing diabetes in the workplace.
One way is to make diabetes programs more innovative and engaging by incentivizing employees to take care of their health through their benefits design.
For example, some companies offer financial incentives for employees to complete diabetes self-management programs or to reach specific health goals.
Companies are also exploring new business models to improve the quality of care offered to employees while reducing costs. New approaches, such as comprehensive and integrated person-centered care, transformed primary care, digital health approaches, and value-based benefit designs, are rapidly emerging and taking over.
Corporate Innovations & Initiatives in Diabetes Management
The challenge of coping with diabetes has sparked a growing interest in diabetes management among startups, businesses, and tech giants.
From employee resource groups to behavioral algorithms, companies are finding innovative ways to address this growing epidemic and create more diabetes-friendly workplaces.
Walmart offers a variety of diabetes-friendly resources to its employees, including access to affordable insulin and diabetes management programs.
One of these programs is called MyAgileLife, a free program that helps people with diabetes manage their disease by providing access to resources such as self-care education, support groups, and wellness coaching.
MyAgileLife is available to Walmart employees, spouses, and dependents, regardless of whether they are enrolled in a Walmart health plan.
Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical company, is dedicated to improving the lives of people with diabetes. It develops and manufactures a wide range of insulin products and other diabetes medications, including the popular medications Ozempic and Wegovy.
Novo Nordisk has an Employee Resource Group (ERG) called A1Connection.
This ERG serves as a resource and voice for people living with diabetes at Novo Nordisk and helps to bring greater education and awareness of diabetes to the community.
Samsung & WellDoc
Samsung and WellDoc have teamed up to offer WellDoc’s BlueStar mobile diabetes management tool directly to consumers.
BlueStar is an app that received FDA clearance in January 2023.
It uses clinical and behavioral algorithms to provide individualized, real-time coaching. In two clinical trials, BlueStar reduced blood glucose A1C by an average of 1.9%.
Apple is also planning to enter the diabetes management space.
In April 2023, reports surfaced that Apple had brought on board a group of biomedical experts to create sensors that can non-intrusively track blood sugar levels, aiming to assist those with diabetes. If successful, it could present a new potential market for the Apple Watch.
This top-secret project, dubbed E5, is developing a way to measure how much glucose is in someone’s body without pricking the skin for blood.
With its vast resources and expertise, Apple is well-positioned to succeed in this endeavor. If successful, the E5 project could pave the way for more innovative and accessible healthcare technologies in the future.
The Benefits for Employees & Employers
In conclusion, creating a diabetes-friendly workplace is a win-win situation.
Employers can look forward to reduced healthcare costs and enhanced productivity while employees with diabetes receive the support they need.
By prioritizing health and well-being, companies are making a wise business decision and sending a message of understanding and inclusion for all workers.
After all, the future of work is one where everyone is supported, regardless of their health status. Progressive employers are leading the way by creating workplace environments that accommodate the needs of employees with diabetes and other chronic conditions.
By eliminating diabetes and work restrictions, employers can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace where everyone can reach their full potential.
Written by Ivana Radevska
Senior Content Writer at Shortlister
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