Destigmatizing Invisible Illness, Part 2: Diabetes

If several members of your workforce all broke their legs at the same time, you’d probably notice pretty quickly. The same is unlikely to be true of an invisible illness like diabetes. But diabetes affects 11.5 percent of adults in the U.S., and estimates indicate that employer costs for diabetes treatment reach $20.4 billion each year. It doesn’t help that 1 out of every 4 people with diabetes doesn’t know they have it.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports that most medical professionals agree that diabetes awareness both improves health outcomes and assists in reducing medical costs. Experts also believe that treatment positively impacts workforce productivity. To be clear, it’s not employers’ role to manage employees’ health conditions. However, employers can support employees with diabetes in the workplace. Here’s how to get started.

Drive Diabetes Awareness

The American Association of Diabetes Educators reports that 84.1 million adults in the U.S. have prediabetes. But there is a silver lining: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the development of Type 2 diabetes from prediabetes can be slowed or even prevented altogether. Greater awareness of the risk only improves the chances.

Consider partnering with diabetes educators to talk about diabetes prevention and diabetes awareness programs for employees. There are a variety of “lifestyle management” educational topics like obesity, nutrition and physical activity that can help lay a good foundation for employee health.

Promoting diabetes education actually kills two birds with one stone — not only does it help employees with prediabetes or diabetes, but it also benefits others in the office, even if they might not have to worry about developing the condition. People with diabetes often have to manage their health while also contending with the stigma associated with the disease. Educating all of your employees improves your entire workforce’s health literacy and helps maintain a well-informed culture of workplace wellness.

Support Employees in Diabetes Management

When an employee is managing a diabetes diagnosis, it can be hard to know where to turn for help. Support your employees by making it easy for them to get the information, education and treatment they need. As part of your health benefits communications, highlight any diabetes education benefits available. There are also excellent resources online, including those from the American Diabetes Association, the American Association of Diabetic Educators or the National Diabetes Education Program.

For people with diabetes, blood glucose testing and insulin administration are part of their daily lives. But finding a place to take care of those needs can be difficult. To support diabetic employees in managing their illness, consider setting aside a designated area where employees can store their supplies and test their insulin levels in private. Also seek out other ways you can help diabetics while they’re at work, such as offering workplace wellness programs that can support all employees’ health and well-being.

Diabetes awareness and support extends beyond the illness itself. It also includes providing health benefits that help diabetics manage additional risk factors they face. People with diabetes are at higher risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack and depression. Diabetes can also affect the eyes, feet and kidneys. Providing comprehensive health benefits and encouraging annual health exams can go a long way toward supporting the overall health of diabetic employees.

Employers can make a difference when it comes to this invisible illness. Even if a diabetes diagnosis isn’t obvious at first glance, acknowledging the risks and effects of the condition — and making it a goal to give every employee the knowledge, tools and resources they need to manage their health — is all it takes to support your workforce with a positive, wellness-focused environment.

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