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Closing the Return-to-Work Gap

June 23, 2021
June 23, 2021

As more and more people get vaccinated and the number of COVID-19 cases drop around the U.S., many employers are beginning to bring their employees back into the office. Some companies have become fully remote, others have embraced a hybrid model, and many have decided to have their teams come back into the office, just like before.

After a year of working remotely, coming back into the office is a big transition for most workers. The last year not only brought changes to how team members work, but it also impacted how they take care of their health. This is particularly true for those with conditions like type 2 diabetes who depend on their routines to stay healthy.

As employers ask their team members to come back to work, they need to carefully consider how to best accommodate those with diabetes, especially since 34.2 million Americans—1 in 10—live with the condition. At Virta, we interviewed people with diabetes about their take on the return to work and are sharing their insights below.

Stop and think about the impact of returning to work

Returning to work is a significant transition for those who have spent so much time working remotely. Many employees have relished the ability to work from their homes, while others encountered challenges. Whether working from home impacted employees positively or negatively, it’s clear that the changes have affected everyone’s mental, physical, and emotional health.

Verna Bartels, a Client Service and Support Specialist at a lending services company, has been impressed and comforted by her company’s approach. “My company has decided on a slow return to work with employees coming in one day per week for a few months, then ramping up to two days per week,” she said. “I’ve really appreciated the fact that they’re taking a slow approach.”

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to stop and think about the impact, especially for those who have health conditions. Verna reported that her company won’t be requiring masks, but encourages employees to wear them if it makes them more comfortable. “As someone with diabetes, I appreciate the freedom to make the decision,” she said. “Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it.”

Consider that the transition affects everyone differently

Dr. Abbie Davis works in higher education in Daytona Beach, Florida, and considers herself a very social person. Going back to work– meeting colleagues and students face-to-face– is something she’s very excited about. “Working from home took something away from me– I love being with people. Communicating via Zoom was just not the same,” she said.

Abbie believes working in person is much better for her mental health, which has ramifications for her physical health as well. “My coworkers see the positive impact of me taking control of my diabetes, and this motivates me further,” she said.

But this isn’t true for everyone. Some have trouble managing the temptations in their workplace and have found relief in working from home. Verna reported that being away from company lunches made it easier for her to make nutritious choices. “At my office, they ordered lunch every Friday, and I often couldn’t eat the food,” she said. “Not being around those triggers has been fantastic for me,” she said.

In the end, it’s best to ask employees what they think. Most helpful would be to ask their employees for suggestions,” said Jim Carroll, CEO of The diaTribe Foundation, an organization focused on improving the lives of those with diabetes. “We certainly had many discussions here at diaTribe and created a small task force to suss out how we could safely return to the office.”

Provide diabetes-friendly food options

Jim Kennedy, a software engineer at Banfield, has not yet worked with colleagues in person, as he accepted the job when everyone was remote. It’s been a challenging time in his journey with diabetes, and he hopes that when he returns to the office, that there will be nutrition options that are friendly to him. “Just as companies offer vegan, dairy-free, and gluten free options in meetings and in cafeterias, they should be offering diabetes-friendly options, as well,” he said.

Lori Redding, an insurance underwriter who is currently undergoing diabetes reversal treatment with Virta Health, has found that being at home makes it more difficult to stay on track with her diabetes plan. “I’m the only one on a keto diet among the four adults in my home. Temptation is here every day,” she said. Shannel, an insurance underwriter for State Farm, won’t be returning to the office. “When I first began working from home there was a learning curve, simply because I have access to my own pantry,” she said.

Although both Lori and Shannel enjoy working from home and will continue to do so into the future, they see the benefit of being in the office in regards to her health, especially if the employer provides and accommodates appropriate food options.

Offer coverage for diabetes treatments and programs

Stress has a negative impact on our ability to manage our physical health. Abbie reported that her prior job was much more stressful, which made it more difficult to manage her diabetes. “There wasn’t a culture of wellness in my last job, and overall it was a stressful environment,” she said. “Thankfully, my new manager and new department are much more supportive.”

The turbulence of the past year has led to a lot of stress. In this environment, it’s been difficult for many with diabetes to manage their condition. Many of the people we talked to agreed that having access to diabetes treatments and programs was valuable. For example, Jim said that he pays out of pocket for Virta, and would love it if his employer offered it as a benefit to him. 

Lori is grateful that her employer offers Virta and cover its costs, as it’s been a life-line throughout the past several years, helping her manage (and reverse!) her diabetes and giving her access to a coach who can help her navigate the transition.

Returning to work with diabetes

Those living with diabetes have differing views on returning to work. After all, everyone has different triggers and motivations. However, anyone living with diabetes—whether they’re working in an office or from their desk at home—can use extra support from their employers. Open consideration, reasonable food options, and the provision of diabetes programs can all help to make employees feel at home.

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