Managing migraine at work
How you can manage the impact of migraine in the workplace
The impact of migraine on work
Migraine is most common among adults of working age. It can impact working life but this can be significantly reduced if people with migraine are supported at work.
People with migraine often need very little help from their employer, but this small amount of support can be decisive in enabling them to work effectively with migraine.
Not receiving support from their employer can have very serious consequences for people with migraine.
25,000,000 It is estimated that the UK population loses 25 million days from work or school each year because of migraine
47% Migraine/chronic headache was found to be the second most frequently identified cause of short-term absence (47%) for non-manual employees
£2,250,000,000 Absenteeism from migraine alone costs £2.25 billion per year in the UK
“I grew tired of questions and comments such as - I don’t understand why a headache is lasting more than a day?, have you ever been told that you shouldn’t be working full time?”
“I have a desk-based job which brings up its own difficulties. Visual disturbances come fast and ready when you stare at a computer all day.”
What you can do to help you work with migraine
For the vast majority of people with migraine their condition should not be a barrier to finding and retaining employment. However, from time to time it may have an unavoidable impact at work and here we outline some general considerations for people with migraine that are employed.
Whether you are starting a new job or have been in your role for a while, taking the following steps may help to manage the impact of your migraine in the workplace.
Tell your employer
Some people with migraine experience attacks once or twice a year, whereas for others they may occur much more regularly. The frequency and severity of attacks, as well as the symptoms experienced, can vary at different times and amongst people with migraine. Telling your employer can seem like a daunting thing to do, especially since there is so much misunderstanding and stigma surrounding the condition.
Employers are less able to provide support and understand the condition if they do not know that you experience migraine attacks. Formally telling them about your condition means that it will be on your personnel file should there be any changes to management in the future. Your doctor may also be able to write to your employer to confirm your diagnosis and any important considerations based on your personal circumstances.
Check your company sickness policies
At times migraine attacks can necessitate taking time off from employment. Since migraine attacks typically last between 4 to 72 hours, people with migraine are more likely to take short-term sickness absence due to their condition. Your company’s sickness policy and absence management procedure should outline your employer’s approach to managing sickness absence, in particular short-term absences, how they will support you and what to expect if you take absence. It is important to familiarise yourself with these policies and you may also want to read your company’s Equality and Diversity, and Health and Safety policies since these may also be relevant. If you are concerned about how your migraine related sickness absence is managed you are entitled to discuss this with your manager or HR. Information from your doctor and The Migraine Trust’s Advocacy Service can support these discussions.
Take steps to tackle work-related stress
The pressures of an increasingly demanding work culture can result in significant work-related stress for many employees. Depending on the nature of your work this may be consistent or vary across months, years or even throughout your working life. Stress can have a detrimental effect on sleep, eating habits and general wellbeing which can all be potential trigger factors for migraine attacks. Clear demands, clarity of role and objectives, regular supervision and support through change should all be adopted into management systems to effectively deal with stress in the workplace.
Many employers have additional offerings in place to promote staff wellbeing. These can range from flexible working policies, employee assistant programs, gym memberships and mentoring programs. Familiarise yourself with your company’s policies on managing stress at work and what you are entitled to in your workplace. If you feel that you have specific needs as a person with migraine then you can discuss this with your employer.
The Health and Safety Executive has a body of excellent information and resources on work-related stress, including the Management Standards for work-related stress which helps employers to support their workforce. Visit their website for more information.
Address any health and safety issues in your work environment
Depending on your role and the nature of your work environment there may be additional environmental factors to consider in relation to your migraine. These may concern managing triggers, providing the correct equipment or even avoiding particular activities. All employers have a duty to manage the health and safety of their staff at work. However, you don’t need to wait for your employer to raise these considerations with you. If you have concerns check the company policy and approach your employer directly to request a meeting.
Keep your manager informed
Migraine is a fluctuating and episodic condition and its impact on you at work may vary. Keeping your employer informed of any relevant changes to your condition or treatment can help them to provide you with the necessary support that you need. Your doctor and Occupational Health (if your employer has one) can support you in this process. You may also want to provide your employer with The Migraine Trust’s website and information resources to help debunk any misconceptions or confusion about the condition.
Keep a paper trail
Whether you are telling your employer about your condition, requesting time off for a migraine related medical appointment, informing them of sickness absence etc., it is a good idea to record this in writing. This may mean emailing HR or your manager even as a follow up to a face to face or phone conversation and requesting written minutes and outcomes of any meetings held to discuss your condition. You might consider keeping a diary and copies of any correspondence related to your migraine in your personal email account if you have particular concerns. In the event that any problems occur or circumstances change e.g. company restructure, change of management etc. these may be useful to refer to.
Working from home
Many people with migraine work from home. For some people it helps them to manage their migraines. However, it can also present challenges. Here is information on managing migraine when working from home.
How we can help
The impact of migraine on employment is a huge issue for people with migraine and The Migraine Trust. We understand that even with a supportive employer and the above in place, difficulties at work because of migraine may still occur. Our Migraine: Help at work toolkit has information, resources and tools to inform and support you to exercise your rights at work.