Open Access Open Badges Research article

Diabetes in the workplace - diabetic’s perceptions and experiences of managing their disease at work: a qualitative study

Annmarie Ruston1*, Alison Smith1 and Bernard Fernando2

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Faculty of Health and Social Care, Canterbury Christ Church University, Medway Campus, Cathedral Court, 30 Pembroke Court, Chatham Maritime, Kent, ME4 4UF, UK

2 2 Thames Ave, Rainham, Gillingham, Kent, ME8 9BW, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:386  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-386

Published: 25 April 2013



Diabetes represents one of the biggest public health challenges facing the UK. It is also associated with increasing costs to the economy due to working days lost as people with diabetes have a sickness absence rate 2–3 times greater than the general population. Workplaces have the potential to support or hinder self- management of diabetes but little research has been undertaken to examine the relationship between work and diabetes in the UK. This paper seeks to go some way to addressing this gap by exploring the perceptions and experiences of employees with diabetes.


Forty three people with diabetes were purposively recruited to ascertain ways in which they managed their disease in the workplace. Semi-structured, interviews were undertaken, tape recorded and transcribed. Analysis was conducted using a constant comparative approach.


Although respondents had informed managers of their diabetic status they felt that their managers had little concept of the effects of the work environment on their ability to manage their disease. They did not expect support from their managers and were concerned about being stigmatised or treated inappropriately. Work requirements took priority. They had to adapt their disease management to fit their job and reported running their blood glucose levels at higher than optimal levels, thereby putting themselves at higher risk of long term complications.


Little research has examined the way in which employees with diabetes manage their disease in the workplace. This research shows there is a need to increase the awareness of managers of the short and long term economic benefit of supporting employees with diabetes to manage their disease effectively whist at work. Employees may need individually assessed and tailored support on the job in order to manage their disease effectively.

Diabetes; Workplace; Disease management