How Diabetes Affects Employment and Daily Work


Living with diabetes can present diverse challenges every day. For people with diabetes, a treatment regimen, food prep, and exercise are basic requirements. But living with diabetes can also impact people’s work and other daily activities.

How diabetes affects work productivity

Many individuals report lost productivity at work due to diabetes. For some people, this can include having to miss work, or being unable to work full-time. It can be physically and emotionally difficult to work while experiencing symptoms of high or low blood glucose. And stress and pain from diabetes and its complications can add to the burden.

At dQ&A, we regularly survey thousands of people living with diabetes about their experiences and opinions. We recently asked our community members how diabetes affects them at work. For example, we asked how many hours they’ve missed from work because of diabetes, and how much diabetes affected their productivity while working. People living with type 1 diabetes reported a 23% loss in work productivity due to the demands of diabetes (includes work time missed). Those with type 2 diabetes on insulin reported a 19% loss in productivity. Respondents with type 2 diabetes who don’t take insulin said they lost 11% of their work productivity.

“We’ve known for a long time that people with diabetes are likely to experience more sick days,” said Richard Wood, CEO of dQ&A. “Our latest research quantifies not only time away from the job, but also the significant lost productivity during work time that’s caused by diabetes.”

As employees, lost productivity can be frustrating and disheartening. But there are many ways employers can help. To start, it’s important to build a workplace culture of respect, understanding, and empathy. Employers can support people with diabetes by providing time and space for appropriate medical care. They can also improve healthcare offerings and provide wellness programs. Doing so will help all of their employees be as productive and successful as possible.

Workplace discrimination, protections, and resources

A supportive work environment can lead to better work outcomes and employee health. But unfortunately, diabetes can sometimes be the cause of discrimination. A survey in the UK found that:

  • 19% of people with diabetes were disciplined for needing time off
  • 25% were questioned about their time off for their illnesses
  • 12% were not allowed time off at all

Some of these individuals also said that they felt ashamed of their diabetes. Feeling required to take time off can cause guilt to arise. About 16% said they lied when calling in sick, and told their employers that they were suffering from a cold instead. Research shows that many people living with diabetes in the US also feel isolated or stigmatized.

While dealing with medical care, a career, and daily life can be challenging, there are support systems to help. It’s important to know your rights and find resources to help you successfully navigate your workplace.

In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with diabetes from discrimination. This includes things like an employer asking whether you have diabetes or what treatments you use. Under the ADA, those living with diabetes can also ask for accommodations to help manage their diabetes at work. For example, time for:

  • Daily diabetes management (blood sugar testing, meals, etc.)
  • Taking insulin
  • Treating high or low blood sugar has great advice about employment discrimination and an employee’s rights on the job. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also has a helpful outline about workplace rights. You can learn about appropriate workplace boundaries and accommodations you may be able to ask for. You can also learn how to file a charge of discrimination if you feel your rights have been violated.

Your workplace also has resources at your disposal. You can ask your company’s Human Resources department about sick time, medical leave, and other policies. These can help you manage your diabetes and career effectively.

Most of all, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. There are many sources of support available to help address some of the impact diabetes has on your daily life. After all, your life is about much more than diabetes! You can find other help online in the form of blogs, websites, and Facebook groups.

dQ&A has created a Facebook page where you can respond to questions, connect with fellow community members, and find new resources.

We’re committed to making life better for people with diabetes, and we couldn’t do it without the voices of our community members. If you’d like to share your experiences managing diabetes at work, please let us know below.

Photograph above is of a real member of the dQ&A community. Photography by Joseph Fanvu Photography

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