University of California
Managing Migraines in the Workplace?

Managing Migraines in the Workplace?

Jan. 13, 2020
With one in seven people suffering migraines, the business loss cost could be $2,000 per employee, per year.

Migraines are known to disable people for hours, so what cost does this have for businesses?

To find out, Fujitsu Corp. surveyed more than 2,400 of its workers. The results revealed nearly one in five workers are impacted by migraines.

From an employee standpoint, a lack of understanding and awareness was only contributing to the problem which is not unique to Fujitsu. For a company with 150,000 employees, the loss is estimated at $350 million per year.

The extent of those suffering from migraines, which is the most common brain disease in the world, is huge as more than 37 million men, women and children in the U.S. have the disease.  And it is often under-recognized, under-diagnosed and under-treated. 

Migraine’s impact expands beyond the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, migraines are the third most prevalent medical illness in the world. It affects 1 in 7 people globally and fewer than 5% of those with chronic migraines have been seen by a healthcare provider.

To help employees improve both their lives and company productivity,  Fujitsu is participating in the launch of a major workplace initiative. The program, developed by the International Headache Society’s Global Patient Advocacy Coalition (IHS-GPAC), offers a roadmap for advocacy groups, employers and employees to work together to empower people with migraine and other headache disorders to seek care, reduce the stigma of migraine in the workplace, and provide optimal medical care for those impacted. 

 “The most important thing for employers to know is that by not addressing migraines in the workplace, your business could be losing a staggering $2,000 per employee, per year,” David Dodick, MD, chair of the IHS-GPAC.

To help employers get a better grasp of the issue, Dodick answered some common questions. 

 How does migraine impact employees in the workplace?

Employees with migraines experience the physical, mental and societal effects of migraines. They experience attacks that cause severe head pain and physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances known as aura, stroke-like symptoms, and more. Employees with migraines might miss multiple days of work or feel pressure to “push through” and go to work during an attack. Beyond the physical pain, migraine also takes a toll on mental wellness; even on headache-free days, employees might feel anxious about the onset of an attack. They also face stigma—migraine is misunderstood and underrecognized, making it difficult to explain and find support.

Are job candidates with chronic migraine unemployable? Please explain.

Candidates with chronic migraine are employable. Just like any other employee living with a chronic condition, accommodations may need to be made. When employers allow for flexibility in preventing migraine attacks, employees will be more productive, present and effective.

How can employers support employees with migraines in the workplace?

IHS-GPAC recently launched a global Workplace Initiative to encourage employers to make workplaces of all sizes more accommodating for those impacted by migraine, with the goal of reducing absenteeism, increasing productivity and lessening the global burden of migraines. This is a great place to start and a tremendous way for patients, advocates and employers to all work together for a positive outcome.

What employee benefits might be helpful to employees with migraines?

Employee benefits that would be helpful for people with migraines include flex-time policies where employees can adjust their work hours during the day to come in earlier, later or work remotely. Other benefits include scent-free, adjustable lighting and dark breakroom policies to give those with migraine ways to mitigate their triggers.

How can employees with migraine and employers work together to develop a work plan that benefits everyone?

The IHS-GPAC Workplace Initiative was developed to provide patients, advocates and employers with a roadmap for how to make the workplace more friendly for migraine patients.

Rolling out the Workplace Initiative means collaborating on multiple levels of the company for employers and employees should be done through an employee health committee with representation from every level of the company. The overall goal of any plan should be to empower employees to seek treatment and improve their wellbeing, reduce stigma and ensure support for those impacted by migraines in the workplace. It is especially important for the collaboration to be judgment-free, validating and open to flexibility.

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