November is the month of Diabetes Awareness. But how aware and inclusive are workplaces about the needs of diabetic colleagues?

Yes, it’s an easily managed condition (for the most part) and not really a handicap. But the hard fact is that the numbers in India are growing at an exponential rate, as are the complications (blurring vision, kidney and heart issues) from the disease, which cannot be taken lightly.

If you look at the graph of diabetes growth in India, it has shot up from a prevalence of 9 per cent of the population in 2011 to 9.6 per cent in 2021 (77 million) and is expected to go up to 10.4 by 2030. “We are rapidly heading to a situation where one in nine people in India will be diabetic,” says Thirukumar R, an HR veteran who has been sensitising corporates to take care of their diabetic workforce. At forums like NHRD (National Human Resource Development) network and SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), he brings the topic to the fore, stressing on the need for including diabetes in the corporate wellbeing programmes.

“Is there a provision for a room within organisations for diabetic employees to take their insulin shots?” asks Thirukumar, who points out how most go to the restroom to do so and how unhygienic it is. “I have been urging organisations to do blood sugar tests among employees often,” he says, pointing out how the undiagnosed numbers of diabetics is so vast in the country. The International Diabetes Federation reckons that there are 39 million undiagnosed diabetics in the country.

He also frowns upon strict rules in many workplaces that forbid eatables at the desk, which could put diabetics who plunge into low sugar situations in danger.

Talk to diabetics and the lack of sensitivity among colleagues and supervisors come to the fore. Arvind Ramaswamy, an IT professional from Pune, who requires four shots of insulin a day, describes how he has faced situations where meetings often stretch on well into the lunch hour. “I finally started taking my lunch into the meeting room, as I need to take my insulin shot and eat within 15 minutes after it,” he says, and only after he repeatedly did it, colleagues got the message.

At birthdays celebrations of colleagues or key milestone achievements, scant heed is paid to diabetics, with only gooey cakes, sweet desserts and pizzas on the menu. “It never crosses their minds to order a sugar free dessert or a healthy snack even though one third of the workforce should not be partaking of such stuff,” complains one employee.

The lack of inclusivity and sensitivity is not limited to corporates but also friends, families and society at large, says Nupur Lalvani, founder of non-profit organisation Blue Circle Diabetes Foundation which conducts awareness workshops among corporates, schools and municipal bodies. The good news, she says, is that unlike the early years when they had to pitch to organisations, now corporates are reaching out on their own to ask for sessions.

Often, Thirukumar points out, employees themselves do not disclose their diabetic status fearing it would impede travel opportunities or promotions, which actually is counterproductive. “In the US, the ADA (American Diabetes Association) clearly talks about protection from discrimination because of diabetes. Employers cannot fail to hire or promote you because of diabetes. In India, we have no such protection,” says Lalvani.

However casually we may take this disease, there is no sugar coating the fact, that it is a condition that needs to be addressed.