Diabetes in the workplace – how to manage it

Clinical Nurse Specialist in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Bupa Cromwell Hospital
13 June 2016
Workers on laptop

Having diabetes can bring challenges during your working day. But the good news is that people with diabetes work successfully in many different jobs and professions.

What are the challenges at work?

The workplace is different for everyone, and so everyone’s experience of managing their diabetes at work will be different. But some of the problems that might occur include the following.

  • Your work pattern may be unpredictable, which can make it tricky for you to get the regular mealtimes and breaks you need.
  • It may be difficult to follow a healthy diet where you work.
  • We all know work can be stressful, and stress affects how well your diabetes is controlled.
  • You may worry about what your workmates and employer will think if they know you have diabetes.
  • You may even be concerned about keeping your job.

Do I have to tell my employer?

You don’t usually have to tell your employer, but it’s probably best to. If your employer knows you have diabetes then they can work with you to provide any extra support you need. The law on disability says that employers should make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help you at work. What these adjustments are will depend on your personal circumstances, so you should discuss these with your employer. Adjustments might include extra breaks for blood monitoring, or taking food. Or perhaps you might need a larger computer screen if you have eye problems.

Some jobs have specific rules about the health and physical abilities of the people who do them. For your employer to correctly assess you for these, they’ll need to know that you have diabetes.

What about telling my workmates?

It’s up to you whether you tell the people you work with that you have diabetes. They may have wrong ideas about diabetes, so it might be helpful to reassure them with some simple information.

Whether you tell people generally or not, it’s a very good idea to tell at least a few of your closest workmates. Then they’ll be able to help you if you have a hypo (hypoglycaemic episode). Tell them how to recognise that you’re having a hypo, and give them some simple practical steps to follow. If your workplace has a first aider, you should talk to them too.

Tips for managing diabetes while you’re at work

  • Don’t skip breakfast, especially on work days.
  • Plan what you’re going to eat during the day. This may involve taking your own pre-prepared food and healthy snacks.
  • Unless you can monitor your blood at your desk, keep all the things you need in a handy easy-to-carry bag. Make sure you have somewhere safe to dispose of your sharp lancets.
  • If you work in a very hot environment and you take insulin, keep it in a cool bag if there’s no fridge available.
  • Keep an emergency supply of quick-acting carbohydrate (e.g. glucose tablets, jelly babies) ready in case of a hypo.
  • Learn some techniques for managing and reducing stress.

And finally – know your rights in law. Ask for help if you feel you’re being treated unfairly because you have diabetes.

Where can I find out more?

Diabetes UK has lots of useful advice on their website about living with diabetes, and about the law relating to employment. You can also call their helpline to talk to someone.

If you’re concerned about managing diabetes at work, or have particular problems, talk to your diabetes nurse or GP. Your employer may also have an occupational health team who can give you advice and support.

And joining an online forum or local diabetes group lets you share your work experiences with others with diabetes.

You can also find out more information on our diabetes hub, which has a range of information about preventing and managing diabetes.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health. You’ll receive a personalised lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a healthier, happier you. 

Ferenc Gyalus
Clinical Nurse Specialist in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Bupa Cromwell Hospital

What would you like us to write about?


Bupa health insurance

Heart icon

Bupa health insurance aims to provide you with the specialist care and support you need, as quickly as possible. Find out how you could benefit.