The reality of managing migraine at work

By: Zoe Preston, who lives with chronic migraine

28th September 2021

My name is Zoe, I’m 26 years old and I began my journey of navigating life with migraine over 17 years ago.

It is in the last few years, however, that I have faced the challenging task of balancing the condition with full-time employment.

I have worked in my current role for almost eight years. The organisation I work for has a strict Attendance Management Policy which doesn’t leave much room in terms of sickness trigger points.

Policies that don’t take into account the fluctuating and episodic nature of migraine

Many people with migraine like myself will understand how migraine sick days can be odd spells and/or days over the course of a month rather than being absent from work for an extended period of time. This of course means that people with migraine may hit their sickness trigger points in the workplace much quicker than those who don’t struggle with the condition.

Over the years I have been subject to Attendance Management meetings, Occupational Health referrals, disciplinaries, and at one time the possibility of dismissal.

Impact on migraine

This of course has impacted negatively on my health as stress for me can be a major migraine attack trigger. I just seemed to be stuck in a vicious cycle and it was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel!

There is one positive of working in the job that I do and that’s my immediate team members – they are all so supportive, but it did take some years to gain the understanding I have from them now.

My migraine

Often, when a migraine attack occurs, I receive no warning and my vision can start to disappear from one minute to the next, meaning I have to up and leave the office there and then, leaving work and tasks to be passed over to other members of my team. I am conscious of this and I am aware it adds pressure to them but together we deal with these issues when they do arise.

Unfortunately, inconsistences in management have compounded and frustrated issues relating to my condition and I firmly believe that this is an important factor when dealing with migraine in the workplace. I’ve often found myself having to explain time and time again how my condition affects me and what happens when a migraine occurs and I’ve experienced different managers reacting to my migraine condition in various ways – some will allow the odd migraine sick day to be taken as annual leave or discounted as it’s classed as a disability but others won’t allow this.

The importance of understanding

For me, having more understanding from my employers and senior members of staff would greatly help me in managing my migraine condition in the workplace.

It’s important to me that we raise some awareness to help not just myself but other people with migraine who struggle to balance their employment with migraines.

I would like others to know that they are not alone and that together we can improve the way employers react to not only individuals who experience migraine attacks but the condition – and just how debilitating it can be too.