Defusing the Diabetes Workforce 'Time Bomb'

Employers can influence the prevention of Type 2 diabetes

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Feb 7, 2014

Employees with diabetes report not just higher health care costs, but also more lost work time due to absence. In addition, their work performance is more likely to be impaired compared to workers with normal blood glucose, according to Diabetes, a new report by the nonprofit Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI), a workforce health and productivity research organization.

Approximately 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control; approximately 7 million of these individuals are undiagnosed. If current trends continue, one in three adult Americans will have diabetes by 2050.

The likelihood of diabetes generally increases with body mass and is highest among employees with chronic health conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, high cholesterol, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sleeping disorders and anxiety.

“Treatment could help limit the toll of the disease, but many employees with diabetes may be unaware of their condition. Employers could benefit by improving diabetes awareness, encouraging healthy lifestyles and facilitating disease management,” IBI president Thomas Parry told SHRM Online. “Equally as important, the same programs that employers can introduce to manage diabetes—with their emphasis on diet, exercise and coping skills—also help keep healthy workers healthy and support an overall culture of health.”

IBI’s analysis draws on data from 99,558 employees across 55 employers, an average of 1,810 workers per employer. Among the findings:

  • Employees with diabetes are more likely to miss work because of illness. On average, the odds of missing at least one day of work in the last month were 47 percent higher for workers with diabetes than for employees with normal fasting blood glucose. By contrast, the odds for a worker with pre-diabetes were only 16 percent higher than the odds for a worker with normal blood glucose.

  • People with diabetes report lower job performance. Diabetic employees report slightly lower job performance than employees with normal blood glucose levels, even after adjusting for other health conditions. Performance for employees with pre-diabetes levels of blood glucose is not discernibly different from that of employees with normal blood glucose, underscoring the potential for positive outcomes by achieving moderate blood glucose improvements.

Prevention Steps

Employers can influence the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and help control the effects of diabetes for their employees who are already diagnosed by taking the following steps:

  • Increase awareness. Employers can improve workers’ access to blood glucose testing, paying special attention to those groups identified as having a high likelihood of elevated blood glucose levels, and work with supplier partners to ensure individual employees have access to needed education and services.

  • Promote weight loss among employees with unhealthy body mass. Employers can provide greater support for workers who wish to adopt healthier lifestyles by trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight. Even moderate weight loss can produce tangible improvements in blood glucose levels.

  • Actively promote disease management. Diet, exercise and coping skills can continue to be effective for individuals already diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Different types of insulin control mechanisms and medication may also be added. Employers should be aware that proper disease management requires excellent care coordination among multiple providers and active involvement in treatment on the part of diabetic employees.

“Given the ever-increasing rate of diabetes and its consequences, the time for employers to act is now. Introduce clinical screening programs, adopt lifestyle intervention programs for those in the pre-diabetic stage and provide targeted disease management for those already diagnosed. Finally, broadly measure the results of your interventions so you can show the full value of your programs,” said IBI Research Director Kim Jinnett.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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