Quick poll: Difficult discussions. Talking about diabetes at work.

Dr Gary
By Dr GaryCA Latest Reply 2013-08-09 17:31:05 -0500
Started 2013-08-03 14:36:39 -0500

Are you talking to anyone at your job about your diabetes? Most likely, you are closer to some co-workers than you are to others. So you may let those you are closest to you in on your diabetes.

Trust is a big factor, of course. And depending on your level of trust, you may not want to talk about your diabetes at all. Especially if you have had negative experiences, like someone who shared the information when you asked them not to. Maybe you’re concerned something like this might happen in the future. If you have established trust with co-workers, how did you do it?

On the other hand, if your diabetes affects your work performance at times, if you need to have a plan in place in the event that you become ill and need help, or need to take some time off, then you may not have a choice but to let specific co-workers know how to recognize symptoms and what to do to help you. How did that discussion go?

And then there is the whole issue around telling your boss, or not. How this might affect his/her expectations for you, or your benefits, or whether or not you are promoted. Or even your job security. How are you handling your diabetes with management?

And how about your rights as an employee? Is advocating for yourself viewed as just that – advocating for yourself – or is that likely to result in your being viewed as a “troublemaker” at your job?

Talking about a chronic condition at work can be complicated.

How do manage these discussions? Anything that’s worked? Any stories to share? Looking for some advice?

I’m looking forward to hearing more about what challenges you at your job. I hope you’ll jump in here!

18 replies

DanniDiabetic 2013-08-08 19:57:20 -0500 Report

Everyone at my job knows but unfortunately we all work alone so I wear a bracelet and a lot of my customers know .. It's nothing to be ashamed of and needs to be understood.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-09 17:31:05 -0500 Report

Great attitude, Danni. Wearing the bracelet is an excellent idea. You are so correct, nothing to be ashamed of. Thanks for sharing this!

AliB1980 2013-08-06 12:54:38 -0500 Report

I always tell my work place I am diabetic just in case I ever went into a diabetic coma (which I never have in 15 years thankfully - I'm 33) - It would be dangerous for them to not know what to do. However I got sick on a work trip last year due to long hours (18-19 hours days for 5 days) - ended up getting a tummy bug from a place I ate which of course sent me into DKA - ever since then work have been not putting me on work trips and have not been terribly supportive on occasions when I am sick (even though other people in the office have the same level of sick days)…so its hard as I feel under pressure never to be sick which is not feasible!! So frustrating !

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-06 22:13:49 -0500 Report

Hey AliB,

Seems to me like a great idea to have a support plan in place at work, just in case. But I'm sorry to hear that your experience of getting sick resulted in such a sea change in the way you are being treated. It sounds like an overreaction on the part of your employer, along with plain old lack of support. I am hoping this changes over time. I can understand why you would feel the pressure to avoid sick days. But still, I hope you are taking good care of yourself, and taking the time you need to take when you aren't feeling well.

Thanks for sharing this.


Chopstix 2013-08-05 21:03:19 -0500 Report

Hey, Dr Gary! I am currently in Nashville, TN, going thru orientation. Right now I have to take a stress test because of my heart bypass. I did pass my road test even though I had not driven a truck since the day I had the heart attack in February. Last night I walked for half an hour and climbed four flights of stairs at the hotel. I checked my glocuse this morning and it was 76. My a1c at my physical was 6.5!! My best to everyone and I'm going to try and keep on trucking…

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-06 10:58:30 -0500 Report

Hey Chopstix,

Nice to see you! Wow, you have come a long way. And you have a great attitude. Sounds like you are taking good care of yourself. I hope the orientation goes well. And yes, keep on trucking!


Type1PastryChef 2013-08-04 02:11:31 -0500 Report

Personally myself it doesn't bother me if my co workers know that I'm a type 1 diabetic. I'm a pastry chef so I work long hours on my feet, running around in all different temps. Also I don't always have a chance to take a proper sit down break to eat a meal. I've learned through the years juice and soda can be my best friend! If I have a low while plating a wedding cake for 250, I don't have time to sit and snack. I just grab a large glass of Oj or some other juice. If I can't fide that, I've learn one can of coke does the trick and I can drink it fast and continue with my work at the same time.

Most people I don't just go and tell I am diabetic but when they find out most just want to learn what is all. I do for the most part make sure my direct boss knows for if something happens they know how to deal with the situation.

The only time I ever have problems with people knowing is if they them-self are a diabetic. Mostly type 2, they also seem to put there own input on how to live with it. If they see me drinking juice or trying one of my desserts, they will try and tell me I'm not taking care of myself or doing something wrong. I've been a diabetic for 12 years now and a pastry chef for 10. I know how to do my job and still take care of my health. They never ask what and why I'm doing something they just assume they know. If I'm drinking juice or soda, it's due to a low. I taste everything I make its my job. I plan my meals around that I eat almost no carb meals to make up for it.

I don't see harm in telling people your diabetic at work. If people at different to you cuz of it, it's probably due to lack of knowledge. Teach them.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-04 21:27:24 -0500 Report

Hey Pastry Chef,

You have a pretty interesting job. And it sounds like you have a strategy in place to take care of yourself in a really hectic environment. It was expecially interesting to hear how other diabetics want to jump in and give their opinions. Well meaning, I'm sure, but you seen to have a strategy in place to take care of yourself.

You said it well. Teach. Offer some "patient" education.

Thanks for jumping in here.


kaydee 2013-08-03 19:18:09 -0500 Report

Thanks for bringing this topic up. I am currently looking for a job and have become anxious about letting any employer ever again know I have diabetes. I don't think it's viewed as a point in my favor even though in the past I have told bosses and coworkers when it seemed appropriate, but times have changed. Once I do obtain a job, it will become obvious as I'm a pumper and take blood sugars every couple of hours. My hope is that employers will eventually realize that people with diabetes are often taking better care of themselves than many of their employees. I hope to keep educating those around me that it's a part of life.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-03 22:33:30 -0500 Report

Hey kaydee,

Thanks a lot for sharing what's been going on with you. I know that "to tell or not to tell" question can be especially difficult when starting a new job. I especially liked your comment about how diabetics are taking the best care of themselves. That's a very good point. I hope role models like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is living with diabetes, will help to lessen the stigma in the workplace.

And best wishes on your job hunt. I hope you will keep us posted!


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2013-08-03 19:01:08 -0500 Report

Dr. Gary, I was working for a non-profit and was diagnosed. The company has a formal gala that is the yearly major fundraiser. The year I was diagnosed was the year they honored the medical field and had diabetes screening for employees and guest. A coworker talked me into going into the screening with her. I held her hand when they pricked her finger.

The topic at work was who had gotten their results. It turned out that 4 of us were diagnosed, two were prediabetic and 2 were type 2. We became our at work support system. Everyone including the CEO and COO knew we were diabetic and also supported us. Company luncheons changed including the companies Thanksgiving and Christmas celebratory meals. Now there were healthier foods and desserts were available for diabetics and non diabetics.

Not one of us were ever ashamed that we were diabetic and none of us hid that fact. We all began to bring lunch and we each shared information because we were educating ourselves. The only problem we had was a non diabetic who thought all diabetics were the same and that we all could eat the same foods. She was the most annoying until one day I told her at lunch that she needed to spend more time enjoing her lunch instead of telling us what we could and could not eat and we didn't need her uninformed information. She was offended but that ended her input. She actually learned from us. The only diabetic in the company had been a diabetic for 10 years and could not give us support because we learned she knew nothing about the disease.

Eight months after we were diagnosed the CEO called all of the diabetics into her office. She first told us she was proud of our success and noticable weight loss. She then told us her sister was diagnosed the night before and wanted to know what to do to help her. We asked for permission to copy all of our information. We took her a stack of reading material. She would come to our offices to ask questions and we gladly gave her answers. We got updates on her sisters progress. Her sister sent us a thank you card letting us know she appreciated the help total strangers gave us.

Dr. Gary, a diabetic can be happy at work with no worries. If your job requires you to work in conditions where you can't take regular breaks, where you can't have a snack at your desk or if you are working with heavy equipment, or power tools, someone should know you are diabetic. If you suddenly become hypo or hyperglycemic and someone is injured, odds are your co-worker could possibly sue you for endangering their lives. I dated someone who worked in a factory with his mother and a person fainted at his station and injured the mother, he lost an eye and three other people were severely injured because someone was hyperglycemic and fainted. Not only did the company get sued but they all sued the diabetic and won. As a former medic who has responded to offices and other businesses, if you pass out for an unknown reason, the first thing the paramedics is going to ask is if you have heart problems or are diabetic. If your coworkers don't know we are going to have to find out what happened to you and if it takes time, that is your own fault. Heart attacks are the easiest to diagnose.

All of my friends and the police officers I am with a lot know I am diabetic and have permission to use my phone for emergency contacts (I remove my password on my phone when I am out with the officers and friends should they need it) and to look in my purse to get my meter pack to get my fast acting glucose to help me should I need it when I get low. I made it my responsibilty to tell them because they would be my first responders until medical personnel can get to me. Hiding your diabetes and being ashamed of it, could do you and those around you more harm than good depending on what type of job you have. I think your closest friend at work should know.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-03 22:26:12 -0500 Report

Hi Joyce,

Thank you so much for jumping in with such a wise and empowered response.

Your organization certainly had an enlightened approach to helping and encouraging employees with diabetes. I have often wondered how companies deal follow up on health screening, if they work with employees who test positive for conditions like diabetes, and how they do it. You were fortunate here, and you had an opportunity to help your CEO with her own sister.

I hadn't thought about the potential risk to others that feinting can cause, that is something to keep in mind. As well as making sure people around you are aware that you may need help, in what to do.

I liked your comment about not being ashamed. We all need help at one point or another.


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2013-08-03 23:24:57 -0500 Report

I think it was because of the size of the organization. I don't think they expected employees to get tested. They also changed the foods for company meals when an intern was hired and had to have a glutten free diet.

I don't people realize that your friends and co-workers are your first responders. They are the ones who are going to try to help you before the paramedics arrive.

Then again management may not care at all. We got a call one hot Saturday afternoon. The outside temp was 101 with very high humidity. A guy working in a chain resturaunt fainted. For most of his shift the manager made him work in the kitchen in the heat. Refused him a break and all he had was water. He sent him out to restock the salad bar. He was in the cold air and fainted. He was hot and dry which is not a good sign. He was almost in a diabetic coma. His manager was asked repeatedly if he had medical problems and the boss said no. The police knew he was lying and asked again and he said he was diabetic. The man admitted he would not let him eat or take a break. We found his insulin in his bag with instructions on how to take it. Paramedics treated it. We put a sheet of plastic on the stretcher and put ice on it, placed him in the bed of ice and covered him nearly naked in ice and transported him with a police escort. We got him in the ER and he was treated. They added more ice and a fan. He woke up shivering. Two weeks later a police officer stopped past the fire station and told us the young man was suing the company and the manager and the company fired the manager. This man willfully and deliberatly put this man in danger of possibly dying because he wanted to prove he was the boss. It was not until the officer threatened to arrest that manager before he would give us an emergency contact number to take to the hospital. When you work for a tyrannt you may not want them to know you are diabetic but you should have a coworker you can trust to have your back if you get ill.

Dr Gary
Dr GaryCA 2013-08-06 10:48:31 -0500 Report

Hi Joyce,

Wow, that is just an incredible story. You must run into all kind of situations in your line of work. Tyrant is a good word. When you have someone like that in charge, who is really all about proving thier own power at any cost, you have a recipe for the kind of emergency you described so graphically. Just amazing.

This is why we need laws regarding behavior and policy in the workplace, and why companies need to be training ther management in these policies. If managers can't be compassionate human beings, then we need strict guidelines for them to adhere to.

Thanks for sharing this!


Just Joyce
Just Joyce 2013-08-06 10:59:15 -0500 Report

I agree 100%. Far too often people who are managers are power hungry. They spend too much time controlling people that compassion goes out the window. In the end everyone suffers. The manager risks causing employees to quit, reduce moral and put the company at risk of a lawsuit.