The Work Environment

Migraine Management Toolkit

Workplace Strategies: The Work Environment

Migraine affects adults during prime working years and can be debilitating, impacting productivity due to frequent worker absences. Many sufferers continue to try and work with symptoms, resulting in increased presenteeism (being on the job but not functioning optimally). Employees suffering with migraine often feel guilty about missing work and/or not performing well on the job, and are embarrassed about how their performance impacts co-workers. Many migraine sufferers hide their condition from their bosses and fellow employees, fearing that they will be seen as unable to cope.

What can an employer do?

There are simple actions employers can take to mitigate the negative impact of migraine in the workplace and promote a more open work environment. It is important to create a situation where common stigmas are eliminated and those suffering with migraine feel comfortable coming forward and asking for what they need. For example, a migraine sufferer may need an employer’s help and/or permission to remove triggers from their work area or adjust their work schedule. This process begins with creating awareness by educating all employees and manager/supervisors about what migraine is, what to expect when someone has an attack and how to provide support.

Workplace accommodations

The workplace can be filled with migraine triggers and some of these can be handled by the employee without an employer’s support. These include effectively managing diet and stress, dialing down the brightness on the computer screen, staying well hydrated, and taking breaks from sitting at a computer.

There are a number of migraine-related accommodations that an employer can make without too much added cost or disruption. For example, allowing a flexible work schedule and/or telecommuting where possible can help when a migraine takes an employee away from their job and they need to make up missed days, they feel a migraine coming on and/or are recovering from an attack. This set up can also allow the employee to work hours at home where there are fewer triggers that cause migraine (e.g. noise).

According to the SHRM 2017 Employee Benefits Report, many employers offer these benefits for all employees, not just for migraine sufferers:

  • 62% of respondents allowed some type of telecommuting
  • 59% allowed this on an ad-hoc basis (intermittently throughout the year or as a one-time event)
  • 57% offered flextime (allowing employees to choose their work hours within limits established by employer)

In the same survey, 15% of employers reported offering an onsite quiet room for personal use (e.g. meditation, prayer) and available if a migraine occurs.

What about the workstation?

Another area that can be the source of migraine triggers is the workstation. These steps can help reduce frequency of migraine in the workplace:

  • Properly position the chair and computer to reduce muscle strain
  • Reduce computer glare – anti-glare monitor covers can help with this
  • Adjust overhead fluorescent lighting and add natural light (e.g. a desk top lamp)
  • Reduce loud noise either by allowing use of ear plugs and/or white noise machines

If accommodations at a specific workstation are not possible, allowing the individual to move to a more suitable work space if available is also an option. This is especially important when the existing space is prone to loud noise, bright lights and/or strong smells, all common migraine triggers.