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June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM), and it's an important time to consider how migraines affect the workplace. Approximately 12% of Americans experience migraines, making them the leading cause of disability among neurological disorders.
These intense recurring headaches are often characterized by pulsing, debilitating pain. So debilitating, in fact, that 90% of individuals with this disability are unable to work or function normally while experiencing one. Along with the pain, migraine symptoms can include nausea and vomiting and can last for hours or even days. Despite the intensity of these symptoms, chronic migraine remains stigmatized and both underreported and undertreated.
Adapting workplaces to prevent migraines or provide reasonable accommodations for those experiencing one can reduce the time that employees spend incapacitated and allow them to function effectively. It can also encourage employees with this often invisible disability to talk about it and seek diagnosis and treatment. Below we provide some tips for making your workplace accessible for employees with a history of migraines.
Stress is a major trigger for migraines, so steps should be taken to reduce it in the workplace. Encourage micro-breaks, where employees step away from their computers for a few minutes to refocus. Even walking to the kitchen to make some tea can reduce stress and improve concentration. In project management and documentation, break large tasks into smaller actionable items to make them feel more achievable. This reduces stress around where to start on a project and gives employees a sense of measurable progress when they accomplish the smaller objectives.
Increasingly, companies that are aware of how stress impacts their employees are providing avenues of mental-health care outside of working hours. One easy step to take is giving free access to guided meditation apps like Headspace. These apps focus on mindfulness and basic meditation techniques, benefitting employees at home and at work by teaching them how to deal with stress.
Other factors that can trigger migraines include bright or flashing lights, excessive noise, intense odors, and extended computer work. To reduce light triggers, start by installing lights with lower wattage. Remove fluorescent lights and other lights that flicker, as they can cause migraines for some people. Replace them with task lighting on individual desks.
Computer work involves staring at bright screens, so encourage employees to plan their workdays to intersperse non-computer tasks with computer tasks. If long periods of computer work are necessary, invest in anti-glare computer monitors or anti-glare filters for existing monitors.
If your office has separated desks, consider installing tall fabric dividers to reduce noise. In an open-plan office, noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs (as a last resort) can mitigate noise triggers. To reduce scent triggers, ask employees to refrain from using strong colognes or perfumes, or ask them to wear no scents at all. Additionally, switch to unscented cleaning products, and ask cleaning crews to use unscented products.
When an employee does experience a migraine, there are steps that can be taken to limit its effects and reduce its duration. Designate a "quiet room" so that anyone experiencing a migraine can retreat to a dark, quiet space. Equip your quiet room with a migraine kit containing pain relief, anti-nausea medications, cold packs, and water.
Allowing employees the option of flexible breaks and time off takes away the stress of being unable to work while suffering from an attack. That reduced stress can also help the individual recover quicker. For longer migraines, flexibility around sick days and medical appointments lets employees know that they are valued and that their disability isn’t an impediment to their careers.
If you would like to discuss ways your organization can improve accessibility for employees with migraines or other disabilities, talk to the experts at Galt Foundation. Feel free to get in touch with one of our friendly associates. You can reach us here or call us at 1-877-361-1277, and we would be more than happy to help.