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Tips for Managing Your Diabetes at Work

Shift work, demanding workloads, unsympathetic managers, not knowing your rights — all these (and more) can make it hard to effectively manage your diabetes in the workplace. Even if your work is unpaid, like volunteering or caretaking, a busy schedule can wreak havoc on your diabetes care plan.

The good news? When you and your employer work with your diabetes, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish together. Below, we’ll discuss some of the challenges of diabetes in the workplace and will give you smart tips on how to deal with them.

Why Diabetes in the Workplace Can Be a Challenge

Diabetes has a lot of symptoms that can disrupt your work, including:

  • Frequent urination
  • Extreme thirst
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision

If these symptoms go uncontrolled, not only will accomplishing your to-do list feel like an uphill battle, you’ll be at risk of complications like heart disease and stroke.

This makes it vital to manage your diabetes at work and to keep a close eye on your glucose levels. But … that can be easier said than done, especially when you have a jam-packed day and a to-do list as long as your arm. Taking time to test, and even to eat or drink can feel like an impossible thing to cram into your schedule.

And some situations make it even more complicated.

Nurse with diabetesShift Work and Diabetes

Working backshift or rotating shifts? You may face unique challenges in managing your diabetes.

Irregular schedules often disrupt eating and sleeping patterns, which interferes with the body’s natural circadian rhythms. Ultimately, this makes it harder for your body to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Plus, adhering to your care plan may be trickier: The only food available at certain hours of the day might be the sugary offerings from the vending machine (or from your coworker’s drawer — we won’t tell).

This can all lead to spikes and dips in blood glucose levels and the complications that can come with them.

Laborer with diabetes
Heavy Labor and Diabetes

Physical activity can cause blood sugar levels to drop, potentially leading to hypoglycemia. If your job involves heavy labor, such as landscaping or construction, paying attention to your blood glucose levels is even more important.


Young worker with diabetesYoung Workers with Diabetes

Young workers with diabetes face unique challenges. They often have to manage their health while juggling schedules packed with school, extracurricular activities, and work commitments. That can be a lot to manage alongside blood sugar monitoring, medication, and diet management.

Plus, when they’re new to the workforce, young people might not have the awareness or confidence they need to advocate for their own health at work.

What Are My Rights as a Diabetic at Work?

You might have reservations about asking for the things you need to manage your diabetes at work, especially if you’re new to the workforce or to the job. But as someone with diabetes, you have legal rights to reasonable accommodations for your disease and to be treated the way any other employee is treated. Here’s a brief explanation of some of the laws that protect you at work.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal law that protects people with disabilities, including diabetes, from discrimination in the workplace. It’s meant to ensure that employees with diabetes have equal opportunities and are not unfairly treated because of their condition.

Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with diabetes.

These accommodations might include

  • Flexible work hours
  • Additional breaks for blood sugar monitoring
  • Access to healthy food options
  • The ability to keep diabetes supplies at the workplace

Employers must make these accommodations unless they can demonstrate that doing so would cause undue hardship to their business.

If You Experience Diabetes-related Discrimination at Work

If you experience discrimination at work due to your diabetes, it’s important to document each incident. Keep a record of dates, times, locations, what was said or done, and any witnesses who were present. This documentation can serve as evidence if you need to file a complaint.

You should first try informal efforts to resolve the issue, like going to your workplace’s Human Resources Department.

If those efforts fail, you can file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA and investigates claims of workplace discrimination. Filing a complaint involves submitting a charge of discrimination to the EEOC, which can be done online, by mail, or in person at an EEOC office.

The EEOC will then review the case and determine whether there is sufficient evidence to pursue further action.

Tips for Managing Diabetes at Work

Construction workers on lunchLuckily, diabetes in the workplace doesn’t have to come with frustration. With some simple tips, managing your diabetes at work can be much easier.

Maintain a Consistent Eating Schedule

Try to eat at the same times each day, even when working night shifts, to help stabilize blood sugar levels. If you work rotating shifts, maintain as much consistency as you can, and make sure to speak with your diabetes care team about how best to schedule your meals.

Have Healthy Snacks on Hand

Balanced meals are important for keeping steady blood glucose levels.

But in an office setting, it can be easy to be tempted by pizza and birthday cupcakes, especially when you’re starving. So, keep healthy foods on hand. Pack a lunch complete with complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

And keep snacks like nuts, fruits, and yogurt in the office so they’re within your reach when you need them. When your belly isn’t growling, it’s easier to make thoughtful decisions about what you’re eating.

Stay Hydrated

Water helps your kidneys filter out excess sugar. And water is a great alternative to sugary sodas and other drinks that can spike your blood glucose. So, it’s important to keep H20 at hand. Bring a water bottle to work so you don’t have to leave the office to stay hydrated.

Manage Your Medication

Taking your diabetes meds as prescribed is key to keeping your blood sugar levels on track. So, keep them handy, like in your desk drawer or a bag you keep with you, so you can get to them easily.

If you use insulin, store it properly — ideally in a fridge if there's one at work, or in an insulated bag if there’s not. This helps keep your meds effective.

Keep Moving

Moving around a bit during the workday can help manage your blood sugar. Try to take short, frequent breaks to walk or stretch; it can make a big difference. Use your lunch break for a quick walk or some light exercise to get your body moving. Desk exercises or a standing desk can also help reduce the amount of time you spend sitting, which is great for your circulation and energy levels.

Manage Stress

Keeping stress in check is important for stable blood sugar levels. Try mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to help reduce stress and improve focus. Deep breathing exercises or short breaks to relax can also be really helpful.

And when you do feel overwhelmed (we all do sometimes!), don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for support. Managing stress can have a big positive impact on both your mental health and blood sugar levels.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

A sudden dip in your blood glucose can be dangerous. So, it’s best to be prepared. Keep glucose tablets, snacks, and your medication at work just in case.

Also, consider letting a trusted coworker know about your condition and what to do if you have a diabetic emergency. You can also ensure you get the right help quickly by wearing medical alert identification. At the very least, keep this vital information someplace on you where first responders can easily find it, like in your wallet or on the lock screen of your phone. This is particularly important in manual labor jobs where sudden glucose dips can happen.

Monitor Glucose Levels Regularly

Preventing severe blood sugar highs and lows is important when you have diabetes. Severe lows, hypoglycemia, can cause nausea, dizziness, and even loss of consciousness. And severe highs can cause some of the same symptoms, without the risk of fainting.

If you work shift work, monitor glucose even more frequently, to catch any fluctuations early.

Consider a CGM

Continuous Glucose Monitors (CGM) automatically monitor your blood glucose levels all day long, without you having to do anything. That makes them a great tool for anyone who needs to monitor their glucose levels in the workplace.

Keep a Log

A CGM can also help you gain insights into why your blood sugar levels rise or dip throughout the day. As your CGM provides you with your glucose readings, just jot down the number in a notebook or on your phone, along with what you were doing or eating before the reading. This will help your healthcare team spot patterns and help you make any necessary adjustments. 

Be Open About Your Needs

Educating your coworkers and supervisors about diabetes and how to manage it can make a big difference.

If you don’t feel comfortable telling everyone at work about your diabetes, you don’t have to. But you should tell your immediate supervisor privately about the accommodations you need.

Advocate for any accommodations and support from your employer you need to keep your glucose levels in a healthy range, such as flexible breaks to test, take medication, or have a snack. Remember: Your employer is required by law to provide reasonable accommodations, so do your homework and then advocate for yourself. It’s an important part of managing your diabetes, and paves the way for others with the same condition.

Managing Diabetes at Work Doesn’t Have to Be a Full-Time Job

By being clear about your needs and taking time during the day to care for yourself, you can succeed at work while staying healthy and happy.

And a CGM can be a great tool to help you do it all, so you can focus on your workload, instead of manual testing.

Want to find out how a CGM can help you manage your diabetes at work? Our CGM guide walks you through the options so you can choose one that works for you.

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This information, including, but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained in this document, is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services of any kind. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and you should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this document. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Neither Total Medical Supply nor its employees make any representations, express or implied, with respect to the information provided herein or to its use.

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