Recently, a professional football coach was sidelined from a prime-time game due to a severe migraine. While the condition made the news because of its effect on the big game, migraines often have a broader impact that hits closer to home. This is because migraines are the sixth most disabling illness in the world, and nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households include someone who experiences migraines.¹
Because of their prevalence, migraines can often pose a challenge for many organizations. The condition can often be unpredictable and result from different sensory triggers, causing employees with migraines to exhibit presenteeism, or have higher use of intermittent leave and potentially miss work because of their severity. As an HR manager, knowing the triggers and understanding how to provide accommodations in your workplace can potentially curb the onset of migraines and help boost employee productivity overall.
Understanding triggers and accommodations
The triggers for migraines can vary significantly. Migraines may be an after-effect of a stroke or brain injury, or could arise simply due to sensory factors. Fluorescent lights, certain scents, frequent computer use or even noises can cause a migraine. While often unpredictable, it’s important to understand the potential causes of migraines and how employees can be impacted.
Helping an employee who has migraines doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple workplace accommodations, such as providing task lighting, replacing fluorescent light bulbs over an employee’s desk, or providing noise-canceling headphones that can reduce the decibels or pitch of noises that may disturb an employee, can make all the difference. Intermittent breaks or short rest periods away from the workspace might also help. Depending on the employee’s job function, developing a work-from-home plan can also help increase productivity if he or she is experiencing lingering side effects.
Helping prevent migraines
I’ve had the opportunity to work with employees to adjust their work environments to help prevent migraines. Recently, I worked on a successful accommodation for an office worker who suffered a stroke. Her migraines were triggered in part due to fluorescent lighting above her cubicle, and we needed to find a way to address her condition without affecting adjoining workstations. To do that, I worked with the facilities services group to find a protective cover that could be placed over her cube to shield her from some of the lighting. We provided her with task lighting on her desk, and also implemented low-wattage lights in the area surrounding her desk. This helped her light sensitivity and allowed her to work more productively.
Determining the best accommodations and implementing them isn’t something you have to do alone. A consultant from your disability carrier can analyze the employee’s job function, workspace and medical condition, and work together with you and the employee to determine appropriate accommodations. This can help ensure that an employee is supported in the workplace, and that triggers that could set off a migraine are removed from their surroundings, helping prevent future pain and increase productivity.
 Migraine Facts, The Migraine Research Foundation, 2016, https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/.