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Type 1 Diabetes and Menopause in the Workplace: Insights and Strategies

Back in my corporate days, I often hesitated to be transparent about managing my type 1 diabetes. I feared judgment and worried it might negatively affect my job status. I downplayed my condition, not wanting it to impact how others viewed my work performance.

Today, with medical devices more visible, there's a growing curiosity about how we manage type 1 diabetes daily. For instance, when I experienced low blood sugar at my desk, more informed coworkers could have been prepared to help me, possibly preventing those 911 calls.

Looking back, I realize how much better it would have been for everyone if I’d been more open about what managing blood sugar entails. It’s important to give our coworkers and employers a chance to know us on a deeper level—such a valuable teaching point.

Whether you work in an environment where you feel welcomed and supported, communication at all levels is crucial. Insights and strategies in the workplace must be considered and put in place. Your performance and job status should reflect your skills and value as an employee, regardless of any health condition you manage.

Change begins within ourselves—accepting our condition and not letting it hinder our performance or fearing judgment. We should feel comfortable treating a low blood sugar, addressing a CGM alarm during a meeting, or managing a hot flash.

Woman typing on a computer at a desk with 6 other individuals.
While productivity and the bottom line are top priorities for companies, employee morale plays a vital role in achieving these goals.

The Statistics

Understanding the impact of chronic conditions in the workplace can help underline the importance of support and transparency:

  • Diabetes Prevalence: According to the CDC, approximately 1.6 million Americans have type 1 diabetes. Many of these individuals are part of the workforce.(National Diabetes Statistics Report)

  • Workplace Impact: The American Diabetes Association reports that diabetes leads to an estimated $327 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity annually.

  • Menopause Statistics: Around 6,000 women reach menopause every day in the U.S., affecting their energy, focus, and overall job performance.

In episode 55 of the Type 1 In Midlife Podcast, I had an enlightening conversation with Jacqueline Oliveira-Cella about the challenges of managing health conditions like type 1 diabetes and menopause in the workplace.

Jaqueline's commitment extends beyond professional pursuits, she is currently part of Harvard Medical School Global Healthcare Leadership Executive Program. She has also launched a non-profit social initiative aimed at disseminating actionable knowledge to boost employee health and corporate sustainability through 'Health at Work’ collaborations '- a social impact branch of her work.

Insights from Two Women Managing Type 1 Diabetes in a Corporate Setting

"I start by telling my boss, explaining that if I 'beep' due to low blood sugar, they need to know what could happen. I have a safety net of coworkers who are familiar with type 1 diabetes. I use Dexcom G6 with Omnipod 5, so my technology is visible. I wear blue for Diabetes Awareness Month and openly discuss my condition. After many years, most people at my company know and understand." Susan M.
"I always inform my workplace and professors that my Dexcom alerts might go off and I may need to take breaks to manage my blood sugar. I'm very open about my type 1 diabetes, and my devices are visible." Kate B.

With nearly half of our waking hours spent at work, it's essential to foster an environment where everyone understands and supports each other's health needs. Whether you're newly diagnosed or a seasoned warrior, bringing up your health condition with your coworkers or boss can be tricky.

Sharing Your Health Story

When it comes to sharing your health story, consider the following tips:

  1. Educate Yourself First: Understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it protects you in the workplace.

  2. Choose the Right Time: Schedule a private meeting with your boss or human resource department to discuss your condition. Avoid bringing it up during stressful times or in public settings.

  3. Be Specific: Clearly explain what type 1 diabetes or menopause entails and how it might affect your work. For example, let them know if you need breaks for blood sugar checks or if you’re experiencing symptoms that may impact your performance.

  4. Propose Solutions: Offer suggestions on how they can support you. This might include flexible scheduling, allowing snacks at your desk, or providing a private space for insulin injections.

  5. Encourage Open Communication: Foster a culture where health issues can be discussed openly without stigma.

For Employers: Creating a Supportive Environment

Employers play a crucial role in supporting employees with chronic conditions. Here are some insights and strategies in the workplace to consider:

  1. Education and Training: Provide regular training for all employees about chronic conditions like diabetes and menopause. This helps build empathy and understanding.

  2. Flexible Work Arrangements: Allow for flexible scheduling or remote work options to accommodate medical appointments or days when symptoms are particularly challenging.

  3. Wellness Programs: Implement wellness programs that offer resources and support for managing chronic conditions.

  4. Accessible Facilities: Ensure the workplace has necessary accommodations such as private spaces for medical needs and easy access to healthy snacks.

  5. Open Dialogue: Encourage an open dialogue about health and wellness, making it clear that employees will not face discrimination for disclosing their health conditions.

Personal Reflection

Since leaving my 9-5 in 2014, I’ve been able to navigate perimenopause without the added stress of a corporate environment. However, I often reflect on how my energy, focus, and relationships at work might have been affected if I hadn't left. This perspective fuels my commitment to helping women manage their health conditions more effectively in the workplace.

Melissa sitting at her desk typing on a laptop.

Managing type 1 diabetes and menopause at work requires a proactive approach from both employees and employers. By fostering transparency, understanding, and support, we can create a work environment that respects and empowers those with chronic health conditions.

Something else to consider might be medical ID jewelry. A medical ID bracelet is a piece of jewelry adorned with a universally recognized medical symbol, crucial for first responders in emergencies. Whether you have type 1 diabetes, allergies, or autoimmune diseases, a medical ID bracelet can be a lifesaver. Learn more about The Power of Medical ID Jewelry.

Let's embrace our challenges and turn them into opportunities for growth and understanding, ensuring that health conditions are managed effectively to benefit both employees and employers.

Download my Thrive with Type 1 Diabetes After 40 guide for a simple action plan to start excelling in midlife while managing diabetes!

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