With the latest figures showing that the UK could see 5.5 million people with diabetes by 2030, and the fact that right now there are double the amount of people living with the disease than 20 years ago, diabetes is certainly a subject every workplace should be aware of and understand how to deal with.

With World Diabetes Day coming up on November 14th, here we look at how employers can support staff living with the condition.

Diabetes in the workplace

According to Diabetes UK, 37% of people living with the condition said diabetes caused them a problem at work. In fact, as many as one in five people with type 1 diabetes reported discrimination in the workplace.

The Diabetes UK advocacy service said 30% of all of its issues were related to work-related problems in 2017 – a total of 1,593.

There are many ways in which a business can help its employees to feel supported and remain productive. Let’s look at some ways in which employers can make huge positive differences for their individual workers, their overall workforce – and even society as whole.

How to support employees with diabetes

  1. Open up the conversation
    Allowing the conversation to open up around diabetes can help in a variety of ways: improving the mental health and wellbeing of the employee; the eradication of discrimination; understanding of how staff are coping; and the ability to providing initiatives and measures which everyone gains from.
  2. Educate yourself on the disease
    There are alarming numbers of people out there who don’t even understand the disease they’re living with, so it’s unlikely that employers without diabetes will fully understand it. There are many resources out there so a quick read will give you a lot of insight. For example, did you know that there’s a link between diabetes and depression?
  3. Be flexible
    Understanding what your staff with diabetes need means you can then put measures in place to help them. Being accommodating for attending healthcare appointments for starters. Supporting them around working hours, any modified equipment they need or showing patience for when the disease becomes debilitating.
  4. Provide privacy
    Staff with diabetes may need to take injections of insulin or check blood sugar levels throughout the working day. Giving them a private and clean space to do this will provide peace of mind and inclusivity and reduce stress.
  5. Revisit working practices
    Do your terms allow for assessing a worker on an individual basis? For example, some employees may benefit from flexible working patterns or a higher level of sick leave. Diabetes can cause short and long term complications, so factor this in to your policies.
  6. Train your staff in first aid
    Your workforce should know what to do in an emergency situation, but do they know what to do in a diabetic emergency? Pass on the information you have gathered.
  7. Do a diagnostic diabetes risk assessment
    Get the overall picture of your workforce. Understand the full health picture of your staff, then you can make steps towards pinning down your approach, ensuring the workplace is prepared, safe and supportive to those who need it.

Practical ways to target diabetes

Look at your company culture
As well as supporting people who already have diabetes, there are many improvements employers can make to do their bit in eradicating the disease. We know there is plenty that can be done to avoid getting type 2 diabetes. Promote healthier choices in available food and drink, encourage work-life balance and exercise, and have policies around mental wellbeing.

Stamp out ‘the sitting disease’
A study in the journal Diabetologia discovered that people who sit still for long periods of time double the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even if they exercise too. The NHS says many adults in the UK sit for about nine hours a day, and that living a sedentary lifestyle is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and early death. Because many people spend hours sitting at a desk while at work, employers should be finding ways to reverse this problem. For example, encourage people to take the stairs, set reminders to stand, create standing work stations, go for a walk while speaking on the phone or regular coffee breaks.

For a comprehensive guide to diabetic first aid in the workplace and training staff in an emergency, visit CE Safety here.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.