How to support a coworker dealing with diabetes

How to support a coworker dealing with diabetes

Diabetes affects nearly 10% of the global population and impacts those around them too, from family members to coworkers. Diabetes is a serious disease and many who are not directly diagnosed have little understanding about it.

So, how can we – the office family – provide support for a coworker dealing with diabetes? Here are some things to remember that will help protect your coworker’s health and career.

  1. Understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes

    Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes may have similar symptoms, but there are distinct differences in how these diseases affect the body and also how they are treated medically. Two of the most important things the brain needs to function properly are oxygen and sugar.

    Insulin is the hormone our bodies produce to control the amount of sugar, or glucose, by moving it from the bloodstream and into cells. This is how the body gains energy from foods like carbohydrates after breaking them down.

    Type 1 diabetes

    In Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition, the body doesn’t produce insulin, and therefore struggles to control blood sugar and keep it at a safe level. In the United States alone, approximately 1.25 million adults and children have Type 1. Anyone diagnosed with Type 1 must have insulin therapy in the form of shots or a pump in addition to diet and exercise.

    Type 2 diabetes

    Type 2 is the most frequent form of diabetes. In this disease, the body does not properly use insulin and often leaves too much sugar in the bloodstream, known as hyperglycemia. Treatments for Type 2 vary from oral medication and lifestyle changes to insulin therapy, depending on the severity.

  2. Know how to help, as a boss

    First, let’s move forward under the assumption that a colleague has already shared with the office that they have diabetes. Be careful to adhere to the law in relation to a person’s right to privacy. They may or may not choose to share if they have Type 1 or Type 2, and may also request information about their condition not leave your office.

    Listen and be patient

    This is especially important for someone recently diagnosed. They may be going through major lifestyle changes, but also extreme high and low sugar changes can leave them feeling sick and exhausted.

    Give them space and time

    Type 1 individuals must check their sugar often, so make sure they have the time and space to make sugar checks as needed. Also be supportive when they need time off for doctor’s visits.

    Provide healthy snacks and offer potluck options

    This is great for the entire office team, but is of particular importance to people with Type 2 diabetes. It can be as simple as an option for sugar free coffee creamer, sparkling water and healthy snacks in the breakroom.

    Encourage an active office

    Since lifestyle changes are the first line of defense, mobilize your team. Short walks or stretching before coffee breaks can yield big results. Instituting team-oriented wellness also avoids singling any individual out.

  3. Know how to help, as a coworker

    Here are ways to help a coworker with diabetes:

    Be professional

    Asking a coworker “What’s that thing on your arm?” when referring to a pump may bring unwanted attention. Be sure to pose any questions in a one-on-one setting to avoid causing embarrassment. Avoid comments like “Oh, you don’t look like you have diabetes” or “But you’re not fat” as those may come across as very judgmental.

    Offer to cover for them

    Depending on the type of work, they may need to take breaks to check blood sugar or rest after dealing with a sugar drop.

    Ask your coworker if they have a plan for lows or highs.  Suggest keeping note cards somewhere accessible for quick reference if they need help.

    There may be juice or certain foods kept in a desk that you can bring to them. Depending on your relationship, they may even teach you how to check their sugar with a glucose meter or administer a shot.

    Support a healthy office

    There are creative ways to celebrate birthdays and milestones besides sugar-filled treats like cake and ice cream. Consider finding healthy alternatives such as fresh fruit, or maybe arrange fun activities and games instead of candy treats.

    Diabetes is about more than a person’s weight or the food they eat. While a significant part of the population deals with this disease, the severity and control measures are specific to an individual.  Remember, being supportive and discreet both on and off the clock enhances the comfort level for the entire team.

  4. Know the emergency signs

    Catching the symptoms of an impending diabetic emergency could help save your coworker’s life. Insulin shock can happen very quickly, so here are some signs to know that indicate an emergency and to call for help. There may only be a short period of time between them feeling confused and falling unconscious.

    Low sugar (hypoglycemic) signs

    • Rapid heart rate and nausea / vomiting
    • Signs that are very similar to that of a stroke or being drunk, specifically slurred speech and confusion / disorientation

    High sugar (hyperglycemic) signs

    • Excessive thirst and urination
    • Headache and blurred vision
    • Severe stomach pain
    • Vomiting
    • Confusion / disorientation
    • Fruity breath. As the body frantically tries to shed more sugar, each exhale becomes laced with sugar – meaning there is a fruity or sugary smell to the breath without chewing gum.

It never hurts to be prepared for medical emergencies in the office.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as medical advice.