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Blue @ Work

Don't let diabetes devastate your workplace

What employers can do.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention External Site, more than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes — and 25 percent of them are unaware they have it. And more than 88 million adults (one in three) in the United States have prediabetes External Site, which is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes External Site. The disease, which causes high blood sugar and resistance to insulin, is linked to unhealthy diets and a lack of regular exercise. And it is significantly increasing in a key age group: millennials. It’s one of the top-10 conditions affecting that generation and increased in prevalence by a whopping 22 percent from 2014 to 2017.

Both prediabetes and diabetes pose a significant financial risk to your business — more than obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, and mental health. The American Diabetes Association® reports External Site that diabetes led to $237 billion in medical costs and $90 billion in reduced productivity in 2017. Indirect costs of the disease External Site include worker fatigue, understaffing, absenteeism, and poorer performance. According to the HR Executive, the number of people living with diabetes is expected to more than triple External Site in the coming decades.

With numbers like these, your business is likely not immune to the effects of this disease External Site. However, studies have shown External Site that providing tools and resources for your employees to manage this condition can significantly lower your health care expenses, improve employee productivity, and positively impact company culture and employee morale. Here’s what you need to know.

Accommodating employees with diabetes

First things first: let’s make sure you’re up to speed on how the American Disabilities Act (ADA) requires you to accommodate employees with diabetes External Site. Diabetes typically doesn’t impact External Site someone’s ability to do their job, and you may not even know which of your employees have diabetes.

However, the ADA states you must provide reasonable accommodations needed because of diabetes, effects of medication, or both. Not every person with diabetes will require the same accommodations, and most involve little to no cost for you. Examples include:

  • Accommodating an employee unable to work while learning to manage their diabetes or adjusting to medication
  • Setting up a private area to test blood sugar levels or inject insulin
  • Providing sufficient breaks to eat or drink, take medication, or test blood sugar levels
  • Making sure employees have a place to rest until blood sugar levels return to normal

Offering these and other modifications External Site will help your employees be more productive and efficient while they are working. As an employer, you are not required to monitor employees to make sure they are regularly checking blood sugar levels, eating, or staying adherent to their medications. However, this is where investing in a diabetes self-management program and other education can fill those gaps.

How you can help your employees

While it’s not a requirement from the ADA, helping your employees manage their diabetes External Site can increase productivity, keep claims costs in check, and cement the message that your company supports and cares for its employees. An employer-sponsored, diabetes self-management program can take many forms. Based on the needs of your employee population, it could include:

  • Education about healthy food and lifestyle choices. You can point your employees in the direction of reputable, well-known sources that can help them manage their diet and exercise, like the Mayo Clinic External Site and the American Diabetes Association® External Site, or offer one-on-one or group sessions with dietitians or nurse practitioners on how to stay healthy while living with diabetes.
  • Digital programs and tools like Naturally Slim® or smartphone apps, which can help employees easily schedule medication reminders, track their blood sugar, monitor their weight, get tips and advice for living with diabetes, share records with their health care team, and more.
  • Wellness programs can cover important topics in fun ways — for example, a cooking class that includes a component on how to read nutrition labels — that keep your employees engaged in lifestyle changes. Don’t forget to offer incentives for those who actively stay engaged in diabetes management, prevention, or reversal programs you offer.

You can also make small changes at every level that make it easier for your employees with diabetes External Site to avoid temptation, like swapping soda bottles for water in vending machines or making sure office potlucks have a wide variety of food groups covered.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at Send Email.