August 24, 2022

Chronic Migraine and Work

Managing Chronic Migraine at Work

Migraine can heavily impact work performance. And if you have chronic migraine, it can be debilitating and hard to navigate.

Chronic migraine is defined as having 15 or more headache days per month. Of those, at least eight must have migraine qualities. Migraine is a debilitating disease that can hinder work performance, make it difficult to function in the workplace and have a long-term impact on quality of life.

We spoke with Bobbi Walshe, a previous partner of an Irish accounting firm, about her experience living with chronic migraine. Bobbi discusses how this condition impacts her ability to work, the current stigma against the disease, what she does to manage migraine symptoms while working and more.

Chronic Migraine and the Workplace

It is certainly possible to work while living with chronic migraine. However, migraine symptoms and attacks can cause performance to decrease, difficulty focusing, issues with meeting deadlines and more. It is important to understand that migraine is a disabling disease that can interfere with an individual’s job.

“If I can actually get up and get through the first hour, then I’m pretty okay. But if I can’t, then I’m pretty banjaxed,” Bobbi explains about how migraine affects her ability to work. She also recounted how she would only be able to do five hours of work instead of eight hours a day.

Luckily, she has a few colleagues that are understanding, and she was able to make adjustments and accommodations. “I work two part-time jobs, where I can ring and say, ‘Do you know what? It’s not going to be today, but it’ll be tomorrow.’ And they go, ‘Okay.’”

Having an employer willing to be flexible with hours and schedules can make a huge difference for those who live with migraine. Furthermore, it creates a supportive work environment for the whole team. 

However, chronic migraine has also caused her to make sacrifices in her career. Bobbi mentions that migraine is what made her ultimately leave her previous position. “However much understanding I had—and it was just a small group of 40 people—when I was going to be elevated to a partner in a bigger firm, I just thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to bail out.’ And it was horrible. I felt cheated in so many ways.’”

Though migraine is manageable, it can obstruct careers and workplace development. Because of this, it is important to have a supportive workplace to minimize its impact.

How Do I Deal with Chronic Migraine at Work?

Firstly, it is important to inform your employer about your condition. Employers cannot support you if they do not know how your chronic migraine affects you at work. However, this is also easier said than done. There is still a stigma against migraine in the workplace. Because of this, it can be hard to open up to others about personal matters and difficult if you experience workplace discrimination.

“I was very careful about who I chose to tell,” Bobbi recalls. “I just told who needed to know.”

But telling your employer can allow the opportunity to gain the support needed for managing migraine at work. Speak with your employer and coworkers to work out a plan in case a migraine attack happens. 

Here are some accommodations you can ask your employer for in the workplace:

  • Working in a quiet area of the office
  • Working in a place with dimmer or dimmable lights
  • Asking for flexible schedules and/or work-from-home options

You can also put together a preventative kit, including compresses (cold and/or hot), eye masks, earplugs, and prescription preventative medication. Dehydration is often linked to migraine attacks, so keep a water source nearby. 

Migraine Education Programs in the Workplace

Migraine is costly for employers. Migraine is estimated to cost U.S. employers at least $13 billion in productivity loss annually. Most of these losses (about 89%) come from presenteeism, which is when employees are present at work but display decreased performance.

Employers are responsible for creating a workplace environment that allows employees to feel comfortable. Creating a migraine-friendly environment is a great investment that benefits everyone by increasing overall well-being and productivity. 

Including migraine education programs in the workplace is a great start to raising awareness and understanding, breaking down stigma and optimizing diagnosis and management. There are many online options for migraine education programs that are convenient to access. These programs can educate employers and coworkers about migraine and the impact it has on the workplace.

“The trick is to get employers to sign up to it,” Bobbi explains. “But it’s all about education…on a social level and a work level.”

Education programs, such as Migraine Fitness at Work (MFAW), can increase productivity by 29-36% due to fewer days missed due to migraine attacks, fewer days worked with migraine attacks and increased effectiveness when migraine attacks did occur.

Bobbi mentions that her professional life would have been different if there were more understanding and education on migraine. “I think I’d probably be further along in my career,” she says.

By providing these education programs, employees can learn how to support their teammates and the impact of migraine at work.

While migraine is manageable, it is still a debilitating disease that can interfere with an individual’s work life and productivity. Stigma continues to affect how others perceive it, including how employers and coworkers can treat the person living with migraine. But through education programs, people can understand and learn about ways to support their colleagues in the workplace. 

If you’re thinking of including a migraine education program in your company, check out the newly launched Migraine Fitness at Work program!

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