A study found that migraine has a profound impact on productivity, leading to significant financial losses for organizations.
Migraine is the leading cause of days lost due to disability in the world, particularly among people less than 50 years old. This translates to a significant financial loss for organizations, which experience not only lost productivity but also reduced employee performance throughout the year.
What is the actual cost of migraine for employers, though—and how can you quantify such an impact? To investigate the extent of migraine’s financial impact, researchers conducted a study with Fujitsu, a Japanese IT company, in 2018. The study was conducted with support from the International Headache Society (IHS) and the World Health Organization Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WHO-WPRO).
The Financial Impact of Migraine
Migraine is estimated to cost the Japanese economy US$3 billion in lost productivity per year. This is because the disease can significantly impact employees’ attendance as well as their performance at work. The study found about one-third of migraine attacks occur on workdays, and two-thirds of these attacks result in a substantial loss of productivity.
Organizations can reduce the potential for further financial losses by understanding how migraine impacts the workplace, specifically employee attendance and performance. Additionally, the data collected in the study can help employers create a more inclusive workplace and better support employees living with migraine.
Measuring the Impact of Migraine on Employees
The study was conducted between May and September 2018 at Fujitsu. Researchers distributed a survey among employees to measure the severity of impact on work and daily life. Questions were based on key factors measured in the migraine disability assessment score (MIDAS) and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment (WPAI) questionnaire.
To estimate the financial loss from headache, the research team used MIDAS to calculate:
- The number of days of headache
- Level of severity of headache (moderate or severe)
- Full and half days off work due to headache
- When work efficiency was reduced to less than half due to headache.
Researchers also evaluated the degree to which headache impacted work productivity on in-office days based on the WPAI questionnaire. Additionally, they asked participants if they had headache disorder-related symptoms on days when they did not experience headaches specifically.
Financial Losses of Absenteeism vs. Presenteeism
To fully understand the losses that result from migraine in the workplace, researchers examined two specific ways the disease may impact productivity: absenteeism and presenteeism. Absenteeism is when an employee has to take days off work due sickness, such as migraine symptoms. When an employee comes to work but migraine symptoms make it difficult for them to perform at normal levels—resulting in lower quality of work and productivity—this is called presenteeism.
In this area, the study yielded one insight that may change how employers think about the impact of migraine: researchers found that presenteeism causes more financial loss than absenteeism.
Losses due to absenteeism totaled US$2.7 billion, with loss of full days accounting for US$2 billion and half days accounting for US$700 million. Researchers calculated annual financial loss due to presenteeism based on the number of days when work efficiency fell to less than half due to headaches. These losses totaled US$3.3 billion according to MIDAS criteria.
Persistent Impact of Migraine on Non-Headache Days
The study also showed that 40% of people with migraine experienced interictal symptoms while at work. These are non-headache symptoms experienced between migraine attacks. The impact of these symptoms on work quality and productivity was significantly higher in people with migraine compared to those with tension-type headache. This suggests that migraine continues to have a potential impact on work efficiency and can contribute to financial losses even on days without headache.
Impact of Stigma on Employees With Migraine
Survey participants also reported experiencing stigmatizing attitudes in the workplace. Using the Stigma Scale for Chronic Migraine, researchers found that stigma associated with chronic migraine was higher than other neurological diseases, including stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and motor neuron disease.
Stigma often results from the misunderstandings and myths surrounding migraine. It also contributes to why many employees hesitate to share information about their condition with their colleagues. Researchers found that some participants felt their work relationships may be affected because of migraine, and many also experienced guilt about informing co-workers about their headaches.
Implementing Migraine Support and Education in the Workplace
To support employees with migraine and to prevent further financial losses caused by migraine, employers must understand the full impact of the disease. The study revealed a high prevalence and disease burden of migraine, resulting in a substantial impact on productivity and significant financial losses. Implementing workplace accommodations, providing migraine education and listening to employees who live with the disease are just some of the ways organizations can create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace.