Entering the Work Force
Your career may be just starting or starting to take off. Trying to manage both your career and your diabetes care at the same time can be a challenge. But it can be done.
You probably already know everything you need to do to manage your diabetes. In an ideal world you would have time to get it all done. Blood sugar could be checked regularly at the same time every day. There would be time to work out. Your meals could stay within your meal plan without lunch meetings and business dinners getting in the way. And you could take your insulin as often as you need to, without having people stare at you. But since you are working in the real world, here are some tips to help you get through the workday.
You may need to make some changes at your workplace so you can continue to manage diabetes on the job. For example, you might need to take breaks to check your blood sugar and to take your insulin.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that some common diabetes management practices at work include:
- Breaks to check blood sugar, eat a snack, take medicine, or use the bathroom
- A place to rest until blood sugar becomes normal
- The ability to keep diabetes supplies and food nearby
- The ability to test blood sugar and inject insulin anywhere at work
- If requested, a private area to test blood sugar or take insulin
- The chance to work a different work schedule that fits your needs, or to work a standard shift instead of a swing shift
These are just a few examples. A more complete list is available on the ADA website at www.diabetes.org. You may need other changes at your workplace. You and your employer should meet privately and discuss your needs.
To tell or not to tell?
If you need any changes made to your workplace, like the things listed above, then you will definitely need to tell your employer about your type 1 diabetes. But in many cases, it is completely up to you whether you want to make your type 1 diabetes known to others in the workplace. Deciding to "go public" about your type 1 diabetes can be a hard decision. Here are some ideas to help you decide who to tell on a case-by-case basis.
Why you may want to (or need to) share:
- Safety. In some jobs, mistakes and accidents can happen as a result of low blood sugar and could cause injury to yourself or others. One example is a job requiring driving or operating heavy machinery. Also, if you are in law enforcement, fire fighting, or certain other public safety jobs, you should be open about your type 1 diabetes. In fact, the federal government does not allow people who take insulin (basically everyone with type 1 diabetes) to enter the armed forces. And, with a few exceptions, the federal government does not allow people who take insulin to drive large trucks or buses on interstate routes
- Low blood sugar events. As we mentioned above, lows can be dangerous. You may be confused, unable to function, and in need of help during a low blood sugar event. If your co-workers know that you have type 1 diabetes, they may be able to help you or, at least, will understand why you are acting the way you are
- The need to be open. Keeping your type 1 diabetes a secret can be stressful. But if you are open about it, you may find your co-workers to be helpful, understanding, and supportive. Some of your co-workers may even have family members with diabetes or even have diabetes themselves
Why you might not want to share:
- Privacy. There are just some things that are personal that you may want to keep to yourself. For instance, how much money you make or who you voted for in the last election is nobody's business if you don't care to discuss them. For some people, their type 1 diabetes is private as well
- Fear of unfair treatment. You know that employers aren't supposed to turn you down for jobs or deny you a promotion because you have diabetes. But it can happen. This type of unfair treatment is against the law. However, it can also be hard to prove, so it's natural to want to avoid it
Except in cases where it could cause a safety issue, it's your decision whether or not to tell your employers and co-workers about your diabetes. But you should consider how difficult it can be to keep your diabetes a secret. It may not be easy to take your insulin and check your blood sugar in private while at work. And if you've been comfortable in the past with letting people know about your diabetes, your work environment should be no different.
Some people may feel as if the time clock is fighting their internal clock when working evenings, nights, and weekends. When you have type 1 diabetes, this kind of schedule may cause diabetes self-care challenges. Working hours outside the 9-to-5 workday, which is sometimes called “shift work,” or “rotating shifts,” may affect blood sugar.
Working the night shift may also affect activity levels, meal times, and food choices. For example, snacking from a vending machine instead of sitting down to a healthy dinner can affect how well one controls their blood sugar. However, many people with type 1 diabetes do find ways to make shift work fit into their lifestyles.
Here are a few ways to try and shift into shift work if you need to:
- Adjust the timing of insulin doses to match changing meal times, especially when working new or different hours
- Try to stick to an eating routine, no matter when work hours are scheduled
- Remember to take breaks to check blood sugar, eat a snack, take medication, and use the bathroom. Talk to your employer and explain the situation if taking these breaks would conflict with normal work rules
Speak to your health care provider for help making these adjustments.