5 ways employers can make diabetes education programs more inclusive

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Diabetes doesn’t quit. Employees struggling with the disease often have to make difficult decisions about their medications. It can be hard to keep control of blood sugar every day and feel healthy enough to function well at work.

Many workers don’t tell their employer they have diabetes. Some 81% of benefits decision makers believe employees with diabetes at their companies keep it a secret.

Giving voice to an issue is the first step toward solving it. Diabetes in the workplace is in need of attention: rates are rising in the U.S., as are the associated costs — unplanned missed workdays, reduced productivity and the stress associated with uncontrolled diabetes add up to billions of dollars per year.

To help employers find solutions, Roche Diabetes Care commissioned a survey of more than 200 benefits decision makers at self-funded companies to learn their perceptions of the human and financial burden of diabetes. What’s clear is that addressing the myriad of concerns related to this condition is a top priority for benefits decision-makers; indeed, 70% say it keeps them awake at night.

Benefits decision-makers say the impact of diabetes on their companies is significant:

  • More than one in four report diabetes results in increased costs to replace workers (28%), increased administrative and other indirect costs of managing absenteeism (29%);
  • One in three believe diabetes results in indirect costs resulting from fatigue and understaffing as well as reduced productivity;
  • One in four feel diabetes is responsible for poor morale among employees who must perform work to cover absent co-workers.

The majority (87%) agree it is vital that employers offer continual support to employees with diabetes. Listening, education and help simplifying everyday diabetes management emerge as ways employers can improve the health of their employees with diabetes and the company bottom lines. The following are five approaches to consider.

Cultivate a collaborative, supportive environment to encourage employees with diabetes to feel comfortable and at ease about sharing concerns.
Four in five (81%) benefits decision-makers surveyed say they believe employees keep their condition a secret. Fear of discrimination is one reason those with diabetes keep quiet along with the general sense that their colleagues and superiors just don’t know or understand what it’s like to live with the condition.

Secrets are also stressful. Employers can address this by including diabetes more frequently in workplace wellness education programs and discussions, and creating safe forums for employees with diabetes to share concerns and express their needs. Listening and making employees with diabetes part of a two-way dialogue demonstrate the company values not only their opinions but also their important contributions to the company community.
Designate private places at the office where employees with diabetes can test their blood sugar during the workday.
Some 90% of benefits decision-makers surveyed think their employees would value company access and time to monitor blood sugar or take injections.
Simplify daily diabetes management so employees have what they need to be in control of their blood sugar levels at home and at work.
People with diabetes have different concerns and different needs at different times. A company-sponsored program to simplify the daily decision-making and management of diabetes needs to be personalized, easily accessible and help the user keep track of their blood sugar levels automatically. Benefits decision-makers believe employers supported in this way would be:

· Less distracted and less stressed at work (37%);
· More productive (45%) and have better morale;
· Take fewer sick days (39%);
· Feel their employer cared about them (41%).

We have created a program that offers the elements that enable personalized accessible support. Participants say they feel more positively engaged in their daily management and more confident at work.
Demonstrate the value of supported employees with diabetes by measuring impact productivity and absenteeism.
Most of those surveyed say they believe company-supported programs that help employees with diabetes simplify daily management of the condition would have myriad benefits:

· 89% say it would lead to a higher quality of life and reduced sick time and related expenses;
· More than four in five say a company-supported program would result in more company loyalty and less turnover (83%) and contribute to increased productivity (84%);
· 90% believe employees with diabetes would feel more empowered at work if they participated in a company-supported program that helped them keep their blood sugar levels in control.

Consider conducting brief surveys of employees about their perceptions of diabetes. These can be done before or after education or awareness efforts are in place. For companies with support programs in place, surveys can be conducted among participants. Qualitative and quantitative data help demonstrate the value of these investments. Just asking the questions among employees show the company cares.
Show your successes; don’t just tell.
Show the value of educating about diabetes and supporting your employees with the condition. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. Collect and tell their stories. Create testimonials in articles for internal newsletters and videos that can be shown on monitors around the office. Stories are powerful ways to educate, build empathy and understanding, and perhaps most importantly, get the secret of diabetes out in the open.