Diabetes is a silent disease in which many individuals become aware that they have diabetes only when they develop one or more of its life-threatening complications (Wee et al., 2002). Complications from Type 2 Diabetes include blindness, renal disease and amputation amongst others, Overweight, obesity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and lack of physical activity have been described as the major risk factors for non-communicable diseases including diabetes (WHO, 2009).
It is not uncommon for people living with diabetes to conceal their condition from their employers and colleagues in order to avoid negative reactions. As a result, an insulin injection may be missed, a blood glucose test forgotten or a meal postponed, consequently jeopardizing an individual’s overall health and perhaps his or her safety on the job.
Employees with diabetes live with the disease all day, every day – including work. Although people with diabetes may face challenges on the job, they can overcome these and be successful in any field of endeavors. The following are some of the issues employees with diabetes consider:
- If I reveal that I have diabetes, could I lose my job or be denied a promotion?
- Meetings are often scheduled at lunchtime, but no food is served. I have to eat; what should I do?
- I have to travel a lot for my job and entertain clients; how do I follow a healthy diet?
- How do I eat right and get enough exercise on the road?
- How can I fit managing diabetes in my busy life?
What can employers do?
Millions of people living with diabetes manage their disease very well both off and on the job. Reasonable accommodation of a person with diabetes may simply mean altering an employee’s work schedule to include regular breaks so he or she can eat, monitor blood glucose or administer medication.
An individual with well-managed diabetes, and whose employer encourages his or her diabetes management in the workplace, does not pose any more threat to his or her colleagues or to the efficient operation of a business. However, it is important that everyone in the workplace have accurate information about diabetes and how it is managed. Communication, cooperation, and accurate information will encourage a healthier and productive environment. Employers can make the strongest impact on health care costs and productivity by focusing on:
- Diabetes prevention and management education
- Heart health, blood pressure, and cholesterol management
- Tobacco cessation
- Weight Management
- Stress Management
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Bhakti Shah, MPH is the Founder and Managing Director of ImpactAfya Ltd, collaborating with Workplace Options and Mayo Clinic, USA to provide Corporate Wellness and EAP Solutions in East Africa. Bhakti is also the Advisor for the Africa Business Portal and the Past President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Tanzania.
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