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Diabetes in the Workplace

Tips for being prepared on the job, from initial interview to retirement

Florist with tools in the garden shop

For most people, getting and keeping one or more part-time or full-time jobs is a fact of life. By some estimates, a person may spend as much as 30 percent of their life on the job. For those living with diabetes, many aspects of one’s working life – from nailing a successful job interview to ensuring a smooth commute to planning for one’s retirement – may present specific challenges. Read on for some tips and suggestions that may help to make work work for you.

(Wondering about the rights of a person living with diabetes in the workplace? In this 2013 interview, Katie Hathaway, now Vice President of Legal Advocacy for the American Diabetes Association, answers questions about diabetes discrimination at work.)

Getting hired

Preparing for a job interview may be stressful, and diabetes may add an additional level of anxiety. Writer Catherine Price, who lives with type 1 diabetes, described how she “was sitting in the Manhattan office of one of the country’s top book editors, trying to explain why she should buy my proposal, when I felt my mind begin to slip.”

Her diabetes was related to the project she was pitching, so she was able to explain the situation and pop a few glucose tablets for her low blood sugar. But the experience taught her that, as is nearly always true with diabetes, preparation is key.

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Her suggestion: the day before (and morning of) the interview, try to follow a normal schedule and to eat foods you’re used to, in order to help avoid unexpected blood sugar fluctuations. Price said she now tries to schedule interviews for a non-meal time, like mid-morning or mid-afternoon (the times of day her blood sugar tends to be more stable).

In addition to food and exercise, the potential stress of a job interview may also affect blood sugar. Price suggested, as she did, bringing some glucose tablets – or some other form of fast-acting carbohydrate – to the interview for quick action if in case of low blood sugar.

Read more: Catherine Price discusses getting hired with diabetes.

Taking diabetes to work

African businessman driving car

Sometimes, just getting in to work may feel like a job itself. But what to do when commuting is inevitable?

Gary Scheiner, MS, CDE*, who lives with type 1 diabetes, said he advises his clients to give themselves a bit of extra time in the morning and leave early to help avoid feeling hectic in heavy traffic.

“You can listen to music, a podcast or anything that relaxes you,” he said. “I like to set a goal for positive behavior change: Think about what gets in the way of making that goal happen, and brainstorm strategies to address the barriers. Work on stress management techniques like slow paced breathing.”

Scheiner said that he also encourages his clients to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace, since a key chain or wallet ID may be overlooked. (Read other opinions on wearing medical alert jewelry here.) “Program an ICE [In Case of Emergency] number into your phone so that health care providers would know whom to contact,” Scheiner added.

Read more: Gary Scheiner’s tips for making a commute as smooth as possible.

Goof-proof your workplace

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With proper planning, the workplace doesn’t have to undermine healthful eating habits or one’s diabetes management strategy.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, said that she believes her clients may help set the stage for healthful at-work behaviors: “Sure, a candy dish seems welcoming and fun,” she explained, “but if your hand finds its way from the dish to your mouth, it’s time to dump the candy. Instead, bring in flowers, photographs or something else that says, ‘This is my workspace.’”

She also suggested that bringing in one’s lunch may be empowering: “I find such power in this strategy that I pack my lunch even on days when I work at home. If daily brown-bagging seems daunting, set an initial goal of bringing lunch two or three days per week. Or, if you’re lucky to have a refrigerator at work, stock it with your lunch fixings for the week.” (Be sure to check with your diabetes care team before making any changes to your meal plan.)

Read more: Jill Weisenberger shares 10 goof-proofing tips for the workplace.

Changing jobs

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It may become comfortable having a daily routine, and if so, a job change might feel as though life has turned upside down. Julie Nance, RD, LDN, CDE*, has lived with type 1 diabetes for over 20 years. Because her husband is in the military, she has had to change jobs several times over the years. Nance recommended finding out the specific job requirements in advance, as well as any kitchen or cafeteria amenities available, to help plan when to eat lunch, snacks, and where to store any necessary medications.

Joan Czarnowski Hill, RD, CDE*, LDN, encourages her clients to ask about worksite health and wellness programs such as an onsite gym. In the absence of onsite facilities, a longer commute may mean planning to get up earlier or switching exercise to after dinner. Those with gym memberships may want to find a facility closer to the new job. (Be sure to talk to your diabetes care team before making changes to your physical activity routine.)

Read more: Tips for starting a new job with diabetes.

The golden years

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Even the best job isn’t meant to last forever and at some point our thoughts may turn to making the most of our so-called “golden” years. Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE*, cPT, asks “What do you see when you look into your retirement future?”

For some, Grieger said, expanding on their career and volunteering in creative ways may bring joy later in life. “People who volunteer don’t just gain personal satisfaction,” she explained, “they also tend to enjoy better physical and mental health. Consider using your professional skills in volunteer roles by teaching classes or joining a community organization, such as the American Diabetes Association.”

Retirement may also offer the opportunity to focus on your diabetes management goals, including fitness programs for both body and mind. “In addition to thinking about and planning your financial security, as a person living with diabetes, consider how the changes in your weekly routine might affect your activity and fitness levels, food choices, and free time,” Grieger said.

Read more: Get more ideas for a fulfilling retirement.

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The diabetes journey

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Joan Czarnowski Hill and Julie Nance received no compensation for their interviews on The DX. Catherine Price, Gary Scheiner, Jill Weisenberger and Lynn Grieger are paid contributors to The DX. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewees and/or contributors, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2016 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

 

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