How to manage diabetes in the workplace

by the Southern Cross Team
Wednesday , 17 January 2018 - 1-2 minute read
A woman holds an insulin syringe at her desk

Diabetes is the largest and fastest growing health issue we face in New Zealand, according to the Ministry of Health. With more than 240,000 Kiwis diagnosed with diabetes – and World Diabetes Day on Nov 14 – learning how to support those with diabetes should be a priority for every New Zealand workplace.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease where your body either can’t make insulin, or properly use the insulin it produces.

Insulin regulates the level of glucose in your blood stream and, without it doing its job, this leads persistently high blood sugar levels.

Having consistently high blood sugar levels can have a serious impact on your health, including cardiovascular disease, kidney issues, damage to eye-sight and lower legs, and skin problems. Understandably, some people with diabetes also suffer from stress and anxiety too.

The good news is that diabetes is also a condition that many people successfully manage through medication, diet and exercise, and continue to live full lives.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1: This is when the body does not produce insulin, and it is not preventable. This condition is managed by regularly injecting insulin.

Type 2: This happens when the body becomes first resistant to insulin and then starts producing too little. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed by diet, exercise and sometimes medication. It’s also reversible in some situations.

Gestational diabetes: This can develop during pregnancy. Blood sugar levels typically return to normal after delivery.

How employers can help

Work with people to understand their condition and needs

People managing diabetes need to maintain schedules about when they eat or take medicine. Things like shift work can complicate this. Sit down together and make a plan to ensure they’re safe at work and can successfully self-manage. This might include:

  • Ensuring a regular work schedule
  • Frequent short breaks to monitor blood sugar
  • A private place to administer insulin
  • Easy access to appropriate food

Encourage healthy food choices and lifestyle

With 1 in 5 Kiwis over the age of 15 estimated to have prediabetes and with type 2 diabetes being linked to obesity , encouraging healthy living can be one of the best ways of preventing type 2 diabetes developing. Initiatives you might consider include:

  • Help promote what “healthy food” is for someone with diabetes (Diabetes New Zealand has a great section on food and nutrition)
  • Run staff-cooking classes
  • Organise lunchtime exercise programmes

Top tip: Talk to your Southern Cross adviser about a launching a BeingWell programme for your organisation.

Educate employees about diabetes awareness.

The more awareness others have about diabetes the easier it is for individuals to manage. Education is also important to help those with undiagnosed diabetes spot the symptoms.

Did you know more than 100,000 Kiwis are estimated to be living with undiagnosed diabetes.

What employees can do to help

Talk about it

Everyone with diabetes will manage it in a different way, so talk to them about it. A little understanding and consideration can go a long way to making it a normal part of the work day.

Learn the signs

If a colleague has some of the following symptoms, but hasn’t been diagnosed with diabetes, suggest they get checked out:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating more frequently, particularly at night
  • increased hunger
  • feeling tired
  • weight loss or loss of muscle bulk
  • slow-healing cuts or wounds
  • blurred vision

For more information on diabetes in New Zealand, visit Diabetes New Zealand


  1. (n.d.). Diabetes | Ministry of Health NZ. Retrieved from
  2. (n.d.). Diabetes | Ministry of Health NZ. Retrieved from
  3. Coppell, K. (2013, March 1). Prevalence of diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes and prediabetes in New Zealand: findings from the 2008/09 Adult Nutrition Survey - New Zealand Medical Journal. Retrieved from
  4. (n.d.). About diabetes | Ministry of Health NZ. Retrieved from

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