Diabetes is a lifelong and severe health condition where your blood glucose levels are too high. This is an issue resulting from insufficiency of the hormone, insulin. Either, your body can’t produce insulin, or the insulin your body produces is insufficient or doesn’t work. These are two different types of Diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes results from your pancreas being unable to produce insulin at all. This is a genetic condition that is not related to your diet or lifestyle. Around 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes.

What happens is that your body can still break down carbohydrates from food and drink into glucose, but you don’t have the insulin needed to help it absorb into your cells; resulting in high levels of glucose in the blood. This can make you extremely thirsty and hence need to use the toilet a lot. These are some early signs of undiagnosed diabetes and are the most common way to spot it. Other symptoms include severe tiredness because your cells can’t access any of the glucose they need, and you can also lose a lot of weight very quickly.

Type 2 diabetes is similar in that the problems occur from a build-up of glucose in the blood, but with type 2 the pancreas can produce insulin, it just can’t produce enough, or what you can produce doesn’t work correctly. This means that the more excess glucose in the blood, the more the pancreas tries to produce enough insulin, but it can’t. This can cause the pancreas to tire out and eventually stop working altogether. Type 2 diabetes is said to be closely related to health and lifestyle.

As it comes on much slower than type 1, people can unknowingly live with type 2 diabetes for years. The symptoms before diagnosis are much the same as type 1. They include tiredness, feeling very thirsty and needing to use the toilet a lot.

90% of people living with diabetes have type 2, and some people experience little or no symptoms at all. Those who do, often feel like they aren’t severe enough to seek medical advice for and hence can live up to ten years without a diagnosis. This can cause further health complications such as problems with your eyes, feet, heart, kidneys, and in some cases, can cause strokes.

Managing diabetes at work

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be easily managed, and you can go on to lead functioning and healthy lives which shouldn’t have any impact on your career. The treatments vary slightly between the types:

  • Type 1 is managed by taking insulin via an injection or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetics will need to take insulin every day; otherwise, the body can’t perform critical life-saving functions. You may also need to check your glucose levels with a machine regularly.
  • A change in lifestyle can sometimes manage Type 2 diabetes; this includes healthy eating, regular exercise and losing weight. However, most of the time medication will be necessary to control glucose levels. You can eventually go into remission, which means you can stop taking medication, but this is rare.

There is no reason why any career would be closed off to somebody with either type of diabetes and whether you choose to tell your employer is up to you. However, as with all disabilities, your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support you at work, meaning that it can be very beneficial to disclose that you have diabetes. If you decide as such, you could have a discussion with your employers about how they can support you, and what changes to your working day you might require.

There may be a few specific roles where an employer would have to assess the safety of employing a candidate with diabetes and may decide that it is not safe.

Advice for employers

Suppose a staff member does approach you to disclose their diabetes. In that case, there are plenty of things you can offer them to make their work-life a lot easier while managing their condition. The most important thing, though, is to be educated on the subject and speak to them directly about what specific help they need.

Providing such help will not only improve the lives of your diabetic employee, but make it easier for them to work, and will demonstrate to all your staff your wish to support them when they need it.

Some things to consider include:

  • Reassure your colleagues that you know why they are injecting insulin and they have no need to be embarrassed. If they are self-conscious, you could offer to provide a private area for them to take their medication, so they don’t feel pressure to do it publicly or in somewhere unsanitary.
  • Because diabetes medication often needs to be taken at certain times and often with meals, you could offer flexible breaks that suit your employee’s medical schedule. Or more generally, you could offer flexible working hours.
  • Some people with diabetes may need specialist equipment because of a side effect of diabetes. For example, an eye condition caused by type 2 diabetes could cause an employee to require a unique computer. Go to our page on funding for information on how to cover such costs.
  • Time off for regular medical appointments.
  • Support your staff to go on educational courses about diabetes. Many sufferers find these events helpful in learning how to manage the day to day effects of diabetes.