Diabetes 9 to 5: Dealing with diabetes in the workplace

Balancing diabetes, work and family requires patience and planning. Much like a professional juggler, people with diabetes have to keep a lot of balls in the air for the show to run smoothly. When a ball is dropped because you went out to lunch with a client, miscalculated the carbs, and returned to the office with high blood sugar, the 'show,' or the rest of your workday can suffer.

So how do we best prepare for the challenges of managing diabetes in the workplace?

How and when do we tell our bosses and our coworkers?

What kind, if any, accommodations do we request? These are some of the questions I address in my book, The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes, Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood.

Should you tell your coworkers about your diabetes?

According to the American Disabilities Act, you don't have to tell people at work; however it's a good idea to let someone close to you know in case of an emergency. Rosalind Joffee, president of cicoach.com, an online resource for professionals with chronic illness and author of Keep Working Girlfriend, says telling people at work should be done on a 'need to know' basis.

Rosalind says you need to always be prepared to explain how your condition might affect your work life -- and have answers about how you're going to handle that.

Katie McCutcheon has type 1 diabetes and works at a doctor's office where her coworkers are very supportive. She says telling coworkers is a great way to educate people about diabetes. "The more comfortable I am telling people, the more they feel comfortable asking me questions/learning about the disease," she said.

What about your employer-provided health insurance?

Diabetes is often considered a pre-existing condition and until recently, that meant many insurance companies could deny health benefits to people with diabetes. As we all know, the government has been working to provide health care for all Americans, and one of the hallmarks of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was signed into law in 2012 is the elimination of pre-existing conditions for children under 19. In 2014, insurers are banned from discriminating against adults with pre-existing conditions.

Good health care coverage still has long way to go for under-insured and low-income people with diabetes and that's why understanding your coverage is a must for people with diabetes. Make an appointment with your HR manager to ask questions and to get help deciding which plan is the best for your health.

How do you strike a work & personal life balance?

Managing our personal and working lives is always a challenge. Throw diabetes into the mix, and suddenly there are more decisions to think about each day. Lesley Hoffman Goldenberg works full time as the Education Director at a Conservative Synagogue in midtown Manhattan and says she often has to run programming or teach on the weekends.

"On the days where there's Religious School, I'm often at work from around 10 am until sometimes 8 or 9 pm. I try to bring a healthy dinner or run out and get a salad in the middle of it all. But, I end up eating at work and synagogue food is so unhealthy! The great part about my job is that I run my own show. I have bosses, but I am very autonomous and can get my work done as I please. If I need to chat with a doctor during the day, log my blood sugars or leave for an appointment, no one bothers me. I am very grateful for this position."

Lesley's advice is to always place diabetes high on the priority list at work.

"It's hard and it can be challenging depending on what kind of work you do, but it's imperative, and is as important as work or family. It will never take care of itself, but it can be so well controlled that it will seem easier."

Seven tips for dealing with diabetes in the workplace

  1. Listen to your body. Pay attention to your body's signals; stop and test your blood sugar when you feel tired, hungry or irritable
  2. Be prepared. Keep an emergency pack on hand with glucose tabs and extra supplies.
  3. Wear a medical alert bracelet. Always wear a medical alert bracelet. There are plenty of fun, affordable, and creative designs available, there is no excuse not to wear one.
  4. Bring your own lunch. Pack a lunch from home. They are healthier and you can control the carb content.
  5. Watch your stress levels. Be mindful about stress, which can elevate blood sugars, and give yourself an extra few minutes to take a break during stressful days at work.
  6. Exercise. Don't just sit at the desk all day. Whether it is a walk around the building or heading to the gym on your lunch hour, make time for exercise.
  7. Ask for help. If you are struggling, don't be afraid to ask for help.

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About Amy Stockwell Mercer

Amy Stockwell Mercer is a freelance writer living in Charleston, SC with her husband and three young sons. Her book, The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes, Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood, was published by Demos Health in 2010 and the follow up, The Smart Woman's Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes, What Will Work, will be published in the fall of 2012.

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