Diabetes at Work

 Guest Post from David Mapletoft, Diabetes Educator

An estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. The total financial cost of type 2 diabetes is estimated at $10.3 billion.

The workplace can add to the challenges of managing diabetes, in a number of ways. Take the time to think about what your diabetes care needs are and how they affect or fit into your workday, and make sure to plan for you and your diabetes on the job.

Meal Planning

Fitting in meals at work can be challenging. Talk with your dietitian and diabetes educator  about options based on the diabetes  medication that you are using. e.g. If you are using a mixed insulin e.g NovoMix30 this may not be the most suitable for you if you have a problem with regular meal times or different levels of physical activity each day. The long acting part of this insulin will be working for 12 hours, so if you skip or delay a meal you may increase your risk of hypoglycaemia.

The best option for eating healthfully at work may be to bring food from home. This allows you to control what you eat, how the food is prepared, and how large your portion sizes are. It may save you money, as well.

If you work out on the road you already know how hard it is to find some healthy takeaway food options. How about investing in a good Esky or car fridge to keep your food fresh and healthy. Having some good options available on the set beside you also for snacks can reduce your risk of having a hypo whilst doing. And dietitian  you know it is recommended to have a bgl of over 5 mmols to be able to drive safely?


Rushing out to work each day can be a stressful  time, especially if you have small children to get ready for school also. Forgot your medications? Your lunch? Again, a good idea to keep some spares in the workplace – not in the car though if you are mobile in your day (temperatures may affect their chemistry and make them less effective for you).

Blood glucose level measuring equipment – it is a good idea to keep a spare meter at work and also some strips. Replace them before they expire though.

Measuring Blood Glucose Levels

Finding time to get your work done in itself can be a challenge. Avoiding having a hypog is in your best interest though, productivity will fall if your brain is not getting enough glucose.

At the very least try and measure your blood glucose level for a week at work now and then to determine if you are on target most of the time, and to assess your risk of hypoglycaemia also.

Check with your work colleagues before you measure your blood glucose level to determine their level of comfort and understanding about what you are doing / going to do.


Always expect to have a hypo, even if you have never had one.

At some point in your diabetes history it is likely that you will experience this. As we get older it gets harder to change behaviours. So, my philosophy is to be prepared and behave like you want to be able to treat a low blood glucose level IMMEDIATELY  as it occurs. So many people living with diabetes fear low blood glucose level – and that’s a valid fear. BUT by carrying appropriate treatment (and knowing the early symptoms of hypoglycaemia ) with you at all time you can minimise the problem. Having something to eat within arms reach – and not outside in the car – is going to be helpful.

Medical Appointments

Talk with your manager about your health, and how important it is to you to be able to maintain maximum work output for your company. Fluctuating blood glucose level not only can make you less efficient at work in the short term there is evidence that blood glucose levels that fluctuate a lot can be more harmful to your health than persistently high blood glucose level.

Medical appointments ideally will include your visits to all member of your health care team, not only the doctor. Explain to your manager the roles of each person, and maybe even provide them with a letter from each person on your team with a plan to help you be  most productive / effective at work.

Sick Days

Everybody gets sick from time to time. Ideally you will have a safe and effective sick day plan in place long before you need it. Especially if you have type 1 diabetes. Staying out of hospital is going to help you keep your job, so know how to achieve this (although not always possible, with good planning there’s many things you can do to reduce your risk of hospitalisation due to diabetes)

Sick day plan type 1 

Sick Day Plan type 2


People who primarily sit at work will want to figure out when during the day they can get up and move around. Using breaks to walk up and down the stairs or walking a few laps around the building during lunch may help offset higher blood glucose levels from lack of movement while you work. Try to squeeze in at least three 10-minute sessions of moderate activity a day for a total of 30 minutes daily.

If you are very physically active in your work be conscious of meal / snack breaks to prevent hypoglycaemia. Have a chat with your dietitian about how to best meet your energy needs. And remember, just because you are active at work does not mean that the level of physical movement is going to have a positive impact on your health. Ask an exercise physiologist about this activity in your day to check in on whether it’s enough.

Work Hours – Shift Work

Working an evening, night, or rotating shift can be particularly challenging when it comes to diabetes control. This is in part because shift workers tend to get fewer hours of sleep overall than do people who work regular daytime hours. In addition, figuring out the best times to sleep, eat, and exercise can be difficult. In general, you will still need to match your diabetes medicines to your meals, no matter when those meals occur.

Ensure that your diabetes educator, dietitian, counsellor know what hours you work to assist them in individualising your diabetes self care plan.

Education of Colleagues 

Discrimination and ignorance about diabetes is a common problem in workplaces. As is the fear advising your colleagues and management.

If you have a staff nurse or OH&S officer, have a talk with them about running some general diabetes awareness programs. One man in a men’s group I was facilitating  took this idea to his workplace: finding that with screening of 60 men, 15 had then gone on to talk to their doctor and be diagnosed with diabetes.

Please post any questions or comments below about how you manage your diabetes  in your workplace.

We all have something to learn; we all have something to teach.

Kind Regards,


Diabetes Educator 

1 Comment

  1. DavidMapletoft on April 16, 2015 at 12:41 am

    A post to day from the American Association of Diabetes Educators: 
    “Whether it’s demanding bosses or meetings that run late, you probably deal with a variety of challenges in the workplace. Add in http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/managing-type-2-diabetes.aspx and you’ve got even more to juggle while you’re on the job, says Maria Elena Pena, MD, an assistant professor at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine and an endocrinologist at North Shore- LIJ Hospital in Syosset, N.Y.
    The exact hurdles vary from person to person, depending on your health, your work schedule, and your type of employment. But there are effective measures everyone can take to successfully handle type 2 diabetes, no matter what type of work you do” More here @ http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/managing-type-2-diabetes/managing-diabetes-at-work.aspx