Tips for Managing T1D in the Workplace
Editor’s Note: The tips and advice presented in the article are representative of what have worked for this author. Beyond Type 1 recognizes that every job and every person’s diabetes is different, and what works for some may not be ideal for others. To learn more about diabetes and employment, click here.
Type 1 diabetes presents new challenges to our lives fairly often. These challenges might rise when we’re under great stress, experiencing a major life shift, or adjusting our bodies to new foods. Another hidden challenge that presents itself is managing type 1 diabetes (T1D) in the workplace. In a new position, the stress of starting a new job is enough. In your current position, bringing up T1D might feel strange if you’ve been there for a while.
Here are a few tips to better manage type 1 diabetes in the workplace for everyone from veterans to newbies.
I have been living with T1D for 19 years and raise awareness for the disease as often as I can. I started working at age 16 and did not realize how challenging it would be working with type 1 diabetes. I found that I didn’t want to openly talk about it with coworkers and bosses until it was mentioned or noticed.
Being open from the start of a new job, even during an interview, is extremely important for the well-being of you and your disease. When an employer asks you if you have any questions, feel free to mention that you have type 1 diabetes. From there, you can choose how you’d like to describe it or elaborate on it, however simply mentioning T1D might be enough for you.
T1D is a disease that, unfortunately, our world does not know well enough yet, exposing your coworkers to it from the start will also leave a mark on them. By not mentioning that you have this disease, you can put yourself in danger. Hint: serious lows. Depending on your work, whether it’s more labor-intensive or you sit in your own office all day, lows are always a concern and your coworkers need to know this.
Use this as an opportunity to enlighten those around you.
As a young adult working in my career, I’ve learned to be even more open about T1D. Most people I’ve encountered have been receptive to what I am saying and curious to know more. Give your coworkers a fast-track, mini type 1 diabetes lesson. Focus on the basics: highs, lows, feelings and needs.
Tell them what you think they need to know. Do you go low after walking around for a while or being on your feet? Do your blood sugars rise in fast-paced situations? What is best for you when treating a low? Do they need to call an ambulance?
Simply make them aware. Let them know that you may need a break at certain times of the day. If you have hypoglycemia unawareness, be sure to mention what that means in reference to having a low blood sugar. Keep the information light but serious, there’s no need to scare anyone away from you or raise major concern (just enough).
Don’t downplay diabetes.
Now, while we all know diabetes is just another part of our journey, it’s important to remember that downplaying the disease can also be dangerous in time of need. This directly relates to low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. By making your coworkers and employers aware of what can happen with severe hypoglycemia, you are protecting yourself.
So don’t downplay it! As I said before, keep it light but make it a serious conversation. Explain that making those around you aware of T1D is crucial in case of an emergency.
Purchase extra juice, glucose tablets, or fruit snacks to keep at or near your desk in the event of a low blood sugar. If you’re comfortable, consider leaving other supplies in case of emergency, just be sure they are safely tucked away. If you are leaving unopened insulin, be sure to keep it refrigerated until use. Utilize the refrigerator for other snacks or juices to help with low blood sugar.
Don’t be afraid to step away.
If at any time you feel like you need to leave the room, a meeting, or event, do not be afraid to do so. This might seem obvious to some of you, but sometimes it’s good to hear it.
Sometimes, I know I fall to the idea that I need to be everywhere, that I can’t let diabetes take me away from something for even a moment—I don’t want to miss anything. However, it is okay to leave the room if you need to or want to. Both high and low blood sugars affect how we are feeling, but also how we concentrate and how productive we can be.
By adding these five things to your routine, you’ll reap the benefits of safety and peace of mind. In the meantime, you’ll be raising awareness for T1Ds everywhere. I call that a win-win.
Want more about diabetes + work life? Check out Employment and Type 1 Diabetes.