Workplace stressors can influence headache diseases Here are some of the main stressors employees encounter at work—and how employers can address them.
According to the Global Burden of Diseases study, headache disorders are the second leading cause of years lived with disability on a worldwide level. Migraine and other headache diseases present so many symptoms that disrupt the lives and work productivity of people who live with them and lead to lower productivity at work. Headache-related productivity loss costs organizations $50 billion in the U.S. and €88.3 billion in the EU.
Providing a safe and supportive workplace benefits everyone and helps with headache disease-related productivity. Being aware of workplace stressors is the first step to creating a safe space for employees. But what are some stressors employers should look out for, and how can you address these issues?
To determine the impact of environmental factors influencing headache, researchers conducted a questionnaire-based study with 18 Italian companies operating in different fields. Participating employees were asked to answer questions on how much and how often headache symptoms affected their work performance and productivity. The study also looked at other factors that may contribute to employee stress, such as how they felt about managers and management styles, how and whether they received rewards for their work performance and more.
Workplace Stressors and Their Impact on Headache
The study had a total of 1,044 participants who completed the questionnaire, nearly 50% of whom reported experiencing headaches. One in five employees reported that headache severely interfered with their work. Headache was also more common in women and connected to stressors like workplace violence, poor leadership and low rewards.
One of the most prominent stressors reported in the questionnaire was management style. Specifically, employees pointed to intrusive leadership, which is when supervisors cross into employees’ personal lives and invade their privacy. This dismissal of boundaries can cause heightened stress for employees and act as a headache trigger or worsening factor, interfering with their performance and productivity.
High-Intensity Workplace and Anxiety
A hostile and/or high-intensity work environment can also negatively impact employees with headache diseases. Participants who experienced violence at work had a significantly higher risk of headaches. Researchers also found that employees who were required to work overtime, worked with high effort or received low rewards were more prone to headaches. Working during off-time was also a factor, as it interferes with the employee’s personal life and, similar to intrusive leadership, crosses the boundary between professional and personal.
These factors can lead to anxiety or anxiety symptoms without necessarily meeting diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disease. Anxiety and anxiety symptoms are associated with lower work productivity independently of migraine and other headache diseases. According to the study, anxiety and headache severity are closely associated with productivity loss and presenteeism—when an employee is present at work but unable to perform their best.
Lack of Sleep
Irregular sleep schedule due to working late or night shifts and/or overtime has been associated with worsening of migraine and other headache diseases. A high-stress work environment can also carry over into non-work hours and make it difficult for employees to get quality sleep.
How can employers support employees who are managing migraine and other headache disorders?
As previously mentioned, management style is the primary workplace stressor that influences headache in employees living with headache diseases. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable environment for their employees in order to minimize stressors that could trigger or worsen headache disorders. There are several ways employers can offer support and ensure the workplace remains a safe and professional space for employees.
Fight Stigma With Understanding and Awareness
The most important thing an employer can do to support their employees with migraine is being understanding and open-minded. Migraine and other headache diseases are not always readily visible to others.This can contribute to stigma, causing people with headache diseases to feel like they can’t discuss their condition openly. Stigma can lead to discrimination, with some people dismissing or even invalidating the experiences of people with headache diseases.
Offer Workplace Accommodations
Another way employers can be supportive is by providing workplace accommodations for employees with headache disorders. Some accommodations include work-from-home options, flexible schedules and workspace ergonomic adjustments. Some organizations have also included time for workplace relaxation exercises and group health workshops to help reduce stress and physical tension.
Migraine and Headache Education Programs
In addition to workplace accommodations, employers can show support by implementing education programs within the company. There are many programs that can provide valuable information on migraine and headache diseases, such as the International Headache Society Global Patient Advocacy Coalition’s (IHS-GPAC) Migraine Fitness at Work (MFAW) initiative. MFAW is a customizable digital program designed to educate employers and employees about migraine and how it impacts those who live with the disease.
This study finds that headache disorders in the workplace are very common, which is consistent with prior studies.The key to cultivating a healthier workplace is keeping an open mind, promoting understanding and supportive leadership, and making the accommodations necessary to help employees manage their headache symptoms.