Type 1 Diabetes Workplace Toolkit for Employers
Advice for employers and line managers on supporting employees living with type 1 diabetes or who care for a relative with type 1 diabetes. Download your free copy at our Information Packs and Leaflets page.
Type 1 Diabetes Workplace Toolkit for Employees
Type 1 diabetes is no barrier to a successful, rewarding and fulfilling career. However, some people worry about what bearing their diabetes will have on their employment, whether they should tell their employer or how they will be supported. Download your free copy at our Information Packs and Leaflets page.
Workplace case studies
Anonymous, Trainee Solicitor
I was diagnosed aged 19 in the second year of university, studying law. I carried on which was quite difficult, before securing a trainee solicitor contract, which I am halfway through.
Because I have struggled with my grades at times due to my type 1 diabetes, I have had to be honest with employers about why that was. In many ways this helped me get a job because it shows I can manage something that is quite difficult and complicated.
The trainee position I am doing has not been particularly easy because the hours are quite long, sometimes 12 hours a day and I often have to work weekends.
Fortunately I have an employer that is understanding and supportive of people with long-term health conditions.
In terms of the everyday difficulties, it is mainly around the fast nature of the work. We work to a six-minute piece of work per invoice basis, so if I have a hypo that takes me out for 45 minutes, this can be a problem with these units of work.
As I have a Freestyle Libre sensor I can pre-empt a hypo, but in a meeting I might run a bit high if I am not checking my levels. I feel I have to be careful with my phone in case people just think I am using it for social purposes rather than monitoring my blood glucose levels – that is an issue when people don’t know about my type 1 diabetes.
I think the more senior I get, the easier it will be for me to de-stigmatise the condition and have a conversation about it – whereas when you are junior you don’t want to speak out or draw attention to yourself as much.
All my fellow trainees and the supervisors know I have type 1 diabetes and I haven’t been treated any differently as a result. They are interested to know what to do if something goes wrong but know that I still have the ability and it is not limiting my progression at work.
I think being frank with colleagues at the outset is important. As it is an invisible condition, people aren’t actively judging you but if you are feeling pretty terrible it can be very difficult to explain – and for people to understand.
Having type 1 diabetes hasn’t affected my ability to do the job I do. I am conscious that this is linked to my career choice though. I have a job that is back office and not client-facing.
I can pick and choose when I meet people and I don’t have to deal with students, patients, clients, etc. So from my point of view, it is very easy to manage in the workplace because I can do anything I need to do linked to my type 1 diabetes and juggle my working day around that.
I wouldn’t want to have to announce on day one of a new job that I have type 1 diabetes. I wouldn’t want to hide it though either. Prior to a CGM (continuous glucose monitor), I would have my blood-testing kit on my desk and would test at my desk, so eventually people would ask about it.
I think I might be afraid to disclose that I have type 1 diabetes at an interview because you just don’t know what the employer’s concerns might be – some companies can cope with time off for a chronic medical condition, but others can’t.
As I have got older I have become more relaxed about it. Now that I am relatively senior I don’t have an issue telling people.
I am more involved with things to do with the type 1 diabetes community as well, so I talk about my type 1 diabetes from this perspective. This is a better way of opening up the conversation about it, rather than how you might need to take the odd day here and there for appointments.
Explaining how you are helping further knowledge around the condition for the community puts it in a more positive light for
somebody who doesn’t know anything about it. I think a lot of skills you use to manage the condition equip you in the workplace – coping mechanisms, perseverance, being organised, risk planning – these all help an employer enormously.
The one thing I struggle with is not wanting to be perceived as a burden on my employer. I want to be viewed the same as everybody else with no special treatment.
When I was offered a place on the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) course I didn’t feel I could take five days off work for this, nor did I want to use it as leave. I think health care professionals need to look at making things easier for those who work by making these courses available online.
Generally though, type 1 diabetes doesn’t limit my ability to do my job – yes, you have to go off and have check-ups, but I very rarely take sick days. The appointments you need to attend are usually only half a day which I feel is acceptable.
I’ve managed to do every kind of shift possible in nursing – including night shifts.
You don’t actually need to do night shifts if you have type 1 diabetes, but there is more time on a night shift to take more regular breaks and I wanted to be able to experience the whole 24 hours of ward work. Also, night shifts mean you build a better bond with your patients.
Night shifts also allowed me more flexibility for my own appointments with my diabetes team as I could fit in early appointments, which was really useful.
As a student I was always given placements that were within an hour for me to get to – allowing me more time in the mornings to manage my type 1 diabetes if I needed it.
I make sure everywhere I work I mention my type 1 diabetes upfront. Initially I found there was a bit of ignorance – you can still experience the same misperceptions in the healthcare profession as in other sectors.
I was lucky that I wanted to be a nurse though, and knew that I could be. It’s heart-breaking to think that your career may be hindered because of type 1 diabetes.
There have been a couple of times when I have wanted to keep working but I have had to stop because it’s no longer safe due to a hypo. I know I can’t drive for 40 minutes after a hypo, so I apply the same principles and go to the staff room to recover fully.
I’ve always had a pump as I couldn’t see how, in nursing, I would be guaranteed a lunch break. I find the pump allows me to be more flexible, so that I don’t have to hand over a patient and can take my breaks anywhere.
I always have jelly babies with me and wearing a Freestyle Libre sensor means I don’t have to carry blood testing equipment around with me (you don’t have many pockets to put things in when you’re a nurse).
I always think that with shift patterns, it’s trial and error and you shouldn’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out. Talk to your manager, give things a try – but it can be tricky to alter your carb ratios for times of day when you would normally be sleeping.
I was a teenager when I went onto a pump and was taught a lot about carb counting at the time. I also had to adapt to the difference between school days and weekends. When I became a nurse I viewed the management of my type 1 diabetes and different shift patterns as a chance to add further skills to my diabetes toolkit!
Jake, Systems Engineer
When I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2013, I was in the air force. It was picked up in a medical – before I even had any symptoms. This meant I didn’t get my contract renewed.
So I had to come out of the military and look for another job which, fortunately, I found quite quickly at Sellafield. However the first job I was offered, a maintenance support position, also involved a medical which I failed. This was because the job involved working in areas where I couldn’t do finger-prick tests – so this wasn’t suitable. But I was put forward for a job which I could pass the medical for – systems engineer.
In order to go onto the plant, I have a system of work – a piece of paper – which says it is safe for me to be there, and allows me to carry glucose tablets. These have to be vacuum-sealed though and kept in double plastic bags. If I needed to take any while I am in the plant, I would have to be monitored to see if I have ingested any radiation.
Fortunately, I have good control with an insulin pump so it isn’t a problem. I take a blood test 15 minutes before I go into the plant.
Even though I have special arrangements in place at work, type 1 diabetes does not hinder me from doing my job in any way. I also have no complaints as to how accommodating my employer is with various disabilities.
I’m focused on progressing at Sellafield and think that, as I do progress, type 1 diabetes will have even less effect on my ability to do my job.
I do have difficulty with appointments though, as these can be difficult to fit in to my work schedule. The one I struggle with most is my annual eye check. I live quite a long way out and not being able to drive to the appointment is an issue. I got to take a week off for the DAFNE (Dose Adjustment For Normal Eating) course though.
Taking time out of work for check-ups causes knock-on effects as there are access restrictions into Sellafield at certain times of the day.
I do get to take days off for charity volunteering, which I use to support JDRF on the Scientific Advisory Council.