As researchers from Denmark note in a new study published in the journal BMC Public Health, the number of people of working age who are living with chronic diseases is increasing, and workplace flexibility can help keep these people in the workforce if their colleagues can acknowledge their need for workday customizations.

Unfortunately, as these researchers discovered through an online survey of more than 1,100 Danish workers, employers feel a higher degree of responsibility to afford flexibility to workers with other types of chronic diseases—cancer, heart disease, arthritis, etc.—then they are to workers with diabetes. Additionally, employers "are willing to pay less for flexibility at the workplace for people with diabetes compared to people with chronic disease in general."

The researchers cite a perception gap regarding workers with diabetes: Flex is not seen as such a necessity for these workers, even though prior research has shown that a diabetes diagnosis "impacts negatively on a range of labor market outcomes e.g. early retirement, productivity, absenteeism, and income levels." In other words, workers living with diabetes face a bias when they demand flexibility, even though their reasons for needing flex should be unquestionable, and the afore-mentioned perception gap "suggests a potential need for dissemination of knowledge on how to support people with diabetes to be able to reconcile diabetes and work life and to enable people with diabetes to stay within the labor market without limitations brought on by their condition."

While flexibility should ideally be needs agnostic, the truth is that people living with diabetes have a serious reason for needing access to flex. In a handout about supporting people with diabetes in the workforce, the British Diabetic Association explains why a diabetes diagnosis warrants workday adjustments: "Diabetes is a lifelong condition, and whilst many people can live full lives if they are supported to manage their diabetes well, it can seriously affect a person's ability to do normal day-to-day things, particularly if someone has developed complications … People with diabetes may need flexibility in the way they work and their working hours, modified equipment, e.g. for visually impaired people, or a private space to take their insulin injections or do blood tests."

It’s important to remember that people living with chronic conditions and disabilities are a diverse group within themselves. Not every condition will looks the same, and not every person with a certain condition will have the same set of needs. This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to flexibility is not an effective health and wellness solution. The best thing an employer can do when managing folks with a medical need for flexibility is to listen to their concerns and work together to design a plan that benefits that individual as well as the business. When employees have access to the flexibility they need, they are happier, healthier, less likely to quit, and overall more productive and effective in their roles.

For more information about how a data-based approach to flexibility can serve as an inclusive health and wellness solution, click here.