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Concealment of type 1 diabetes at work in Finland: a mixed-method study

13 Jan 2018

Objectives

To explore the possible reasons for concealing type 1 diabetes (T1D) at work.

Methods

The main set of data came from a cross-sectional survey (response rate 49.3%), the participants of which were 688 wage earners with T1D. Concealment of T1D was measured by asking respondents have they ever during their working career hidden their diabetes from their (A) colleagues and (B) line manager. Furthermore, semistructured interviews (n=20) were conducted to obtain deeper understanding. Questionnaire data were analysed using logistic regression analyses and qualitative interviews with inductive thematic analysis.

Results

About 30% of wage earners with T1D had concealed their condition during their working career from their colleagues and almost 20% from their line manager. Individuals aged 18–44 years age were more likely to conceal their T1D from their colleagues than older workers during their working career. Not disclosing T1D to the extended family (OR 5.24 (95% CI 2.06 to 13.35)), feeling an outsider at work (OR 2.47 (95% CI 1.58 to 3.84)), being embarrassed by receiving special attention at work (OR 1.99 (95% CI 1.33 to 2.96)) and neglecting treatment at work (OR 1.59 (95% CI 1.01 to 2.48)) were all associated with concealment of T1D from colleagues. The youngest age group of 18–24 years were more likely to conceal their T1D from their line managers than the older age groups during their working career. Not disclosing T1D to the extended family (OR 4.41 (95% CI 1.72 to 11.32)), feeling like an outsider at work (OR 2.51 (1.52 to 4.14)) and being embarrassed by receiving special attention at work (OR 1.81 (95% CI 1.13 to 2.91)) were associated with concealment of T1D from line managers. From the interviews, five main themes related to concealment emerged, expressing fears related to the consequences of telling: (1) being perceived as weak, (2) job discrimination, (3) unwanted attention, (4) being seen as a person who uses their T1D for seeking advantages and (5) losing privacy.

Conclusions

A considerable proportion of wage earners with T1D are concealing their diagnosis often because of feelings associated with stigma. Both overemphasis and underestimation of T1D at work by the colleagues or line manager may lead to concealing T1D and may thus be harmful to self-management of T1D. The obstacles in disclosing T1D might be diminished by giving adequate information at the workplace about the condition and its significance.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open