Migraine causes 113 million lost work days every year just in the U.S. We are hemorrhaging talent and we don’t even realize it. Talk about an epidemic! For all the complaints about losing jobs to overseas companies and the loss of economic superiority, you would think someone would be talking about this astronomical loss of productivity.
What could we accomplish if we could recover those 113 million lost work days?
That’s over 300,000 years—60 times longer than recorded human history.
Dedicated, hard-working employees are getting the shaft right and left for a serious medical condition with no cure. They’re blamed and accused of lying to get out of doing their jobs. They’re resented by co-workers who refuse to leave the perfume at home, stop burning scented candles, lower their voices, or any number of simple acts that would dramatically ease their sick colleague’s burden. Requests for accommodations and complaints to human resources fall on deaf ears. Instead of empathy and accommodations, they get official reprimands, threats to job security, termination, denial of unemployment or disability benefits, and woeful lack of health care coverage to adequately treat their disease.
Companies need reliable employees.
Companies must be productive in order to be profitable. They hire people to do a job because it needs to be done. When that employee is absent, it hurts everyone. 113 million lost work days isn’t a personal problem. It’s a corporate problem that requires a corporate solution. Employees with migraine are not trying to shirk their responsibilities. They want and need to work, just like everyone else. Migraine is a neurological disease, not a personal problem. With a little understanding and some accommodations, they can be successful, reliable, valued members of the team.
Migraine is everyone’s problem.
One in eight people in the U.S. have migraine. Hiring people with migraine is inevitable. Most will never tell you about it for fear of reprisals, mistreatment, or job loss. If they must take a day off due to a migraine attack, they will probably not tell you the real reason. They may fear you won’t understand or accept that migraine can be severe enough to miss work. Employees whose symptoms are too severe to hide often worry about job security. They want and need to work. Their frequent absences and poor performance can often improve with some simple, affordable accommodations.
Accommodations are simple
Employers have the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations that offer these employees their best chance to be successful workers. Making appropriate accommodations for employees with migraine is simply part of the cost of doing business. Recovering some of those 113 million lost work days starts with understanding how the American workplace affects employees with migraine.
Migraine attacks are triggered by environmental stimuli. The American workplace can be a potential minefield for people living with migraine. Fortunately, with a little advanced planning, our work spaces can become friendlier for people living with migraine. Here are a few common workplace triggers with possible solutions:
- Fragrances – Almost anything with a scent can be a migraine trigger. While it may not be possible to eliminate every source of strong odor, there are steps every employer can take. It starts with creating a “fragrance-free” policy that discourages employees from wearing perfume or cologne in the workplace. Scented candles, potpourri, air fresheners, and essential oils also put employees at risk of a migraine attack.
- Cigarette smoke is a common, avoidable migraine trigger. No-smoking policies are a good start. Even in non-smoking offices, ashtrays are frequently placed directly in front of exterior doors. This forces employees with migraine to walk through a cloud of cigarette smoke as they enter or exit the building. By moving them further away, productivity is improved.
- Harsh lighting – While is may not be feasible to replace all lighting, it is often possible to provide alternative lighting in the areas where employees with migraine must work and take breaks. Florescent, CFL, and halogen bulbs are the biggest triggers. Install anti-glare screens on monitors and permit employees to dim the brightness on monitor screens. Room-darkening shades, blinds, or curtains may help, too.
- Dehydration is an avoidable trigger. Making fresh water easily available encourages all employees to stay well hydrated.
- Low blood sugar – Working through or delaying lunch and breaks increases the risk of an afternoon migraine attack. By creating a corporate culture that encourages regular breaks helps improve productivity. Rewarding good self-care increases employee wellness and productivity.
When an employee experiences a migraine attack at work, they may need some temporary accommodations. A migraine at work isn’t necessarily cause to leave work for the day. Reasonable accommodations can be made to allow sufficient rest and recovery. However, the recovery period may be longer than a typical break. Some employees may need only minor accommodations where others require an extended break from all work.
- Blocking sensory input – Generously permit the use of sunglasses, tinted glasses, wide-brimmed hats, scarves, ice packs, heating pads, headphones, and earplugs to employees during a migraine attack. These simple tools will permit them to recover more completely and return to work faster.
- Rest & recovery space – Create a cool, dark, and quiet where employees with migraine can retreat to recover from a migraine attack without having to “tough it out” or leave early. This also offers privacy for those who must use injections to treat their attacks.
- Ergonomics – The ergonomic needs of employees with migraine may be different than typical. They may need to move away from the typical workstation, particularly during at attack. Use of laptops while seated on a sofa, recliner, or overstuffed chair may be more appropriate. These alternative workspaces can allow employees to maintain productivity.
- Flexible scheduling – Flex time, telecommuting, paid time off, FMLA are all welcome by employees with migraine who will work diligently to meet their job requirements when migraine-free.
- Food & beverages are often served during company meetings and social gatherings. Offer migraine-friendly options by serving foods free of artificial sugars, preservatives, nitrates (often found in deli meats), and alcohol (especially red wine).
- Health & Wellness – Partner with companies that cater to the needs of people with migraine to offer discounted products and services to your employees.
- Insurance – When shopping for health insurance, remember to ask about the coverage of headache specialists (not just neurologists) and effective treatments for migraine. Don’t forget to include short and long-term disability insurance options in your benefits package.
Reclaim some of those 113 million lost work days by making it easier and more comfortable for the 12% of of your staff with migraine. Happy, healthy, pain-free employees will produce more and improve your bottom line. It’s simply good business.