Andrew Jackson, UK Country Manager at Lundbeck, discusses the impact of migraine in the workplace and the steps we can collectively take to help manage its burden on productivity
Migraine affects approximately one in seven adults in the UK, so it is essential that migraine in the workplace is finally taken seriously.
Someone’s health should not affect their ability to perform meaningful work, that is to say, work that satisfies, motivates and brings a sense of achievement. However, it’s a sad reality for the many people living with migraine that it has a profound impact on their daily work conditions.
It is estimated that migraine affects approximately one in seven adults in the UK: that is equivalent to around 10 million people in the UK who experience migraine attacks regularly and more than one million people who have ‘chronic migraine’, when they experience 8 or more migraine attacks every month.
The toll of migraine in the workplace goes far beyond pain and discomfort
The toll of migraine in the workplace goes far beyond the pain and discomfort that people experience; it can radiate into all areas of life. Research conducted by The Migraine Trust found that almost two-thirds (60%) felt their relationship with their partner suffered and that more than seven in 10 (71%) reported migraine had impacted their mental health.
The emotional cost is also the tip of the iceberg – there’s a cost in monetary terms, too, related to the days in lost productivity. Estimates put the cost to the UK economy at £8.8 billion, equivalent to 86 million workdays lost to migraine each year.
It is an easy assumption to make that lost productivity relates to people living with migraine having to take time off work, but lost productivity can manifest in different ways. Presenteeism, for example, is when people attend work but cannot operate at full capacity or potentially disruption among the teams’ people living with migraine work in.
Teamwork is often key in many professions, but some of those living with migraine report that their condition can lead to division from their colleagues, with limited understanding of migraine and its debilitating effects contributing to the long-held misapprehension that it’s ‘just a headache’ that does not warrant sick leave. This can compound feelings of isolation for those experiencing the condition.
In the UK, migraine is included in the Equality Act 2010, meaning that it may be considered a disability, depending on the frequency, severity and impact of the attacks. This is a useful foundation for employers to build the blocks of their company policy when it comes to migraine. It is a serious neurological condition that can have wide-ranging impacts, and deciding to treat it as such will encourage all employees to view it similarly.
The Work Foundation’s report on the impact of migraine in the workplace on employment in Europe gave much careful consideration to the characteristics of a ‘migraine-friendly’ workplace, with flexibility and support being two essential pillars. Flexibility can be expressed in many ways – whether it is encouraging hybrid working so employees can work in an environment free from aural or visual triggers (such as repetitive noises or flickering lights) or giving as much control to the employee to manage their workload. There are also practical considerations, which would see small accommodations like ensuring access to plenty of drinking water and a quiet room making a notable difference.
Those who suffer with migraine in the workplace need clarity on sick leave
Clarity on time off related to migraine is also essential, whether it is sick leave during an attack or making an allowance for regular medical appointments, as some treatments require regular assessment or are administered in a healthcare setting.
‘Migraine is controlling my life and needs more to be done about it’
When it comes to supporting, there are many ways that employers can demonstrate this. Better education of the whole workforce on workplace well-being and promoting healthy practices that can potentially avert or help with the ongoing management of all health conditions – not just migraine – is a positive first step. Most importantly, it is showing compassion and understanding to people who are at the mercy of a condition that can often appear without warning and take over. One particularly striking quote from a recent Migraine Trust report explains: “Migraine is controlling my life and needs more to be done about it: medical professionals and employers don’t understand, and neither does anyone else who doesn’t suffer with them.”
However, there is also the macro environment to consider. Employers can make positive changes on a company-by-company basis, but we should not forget that there needs to be a broader recognition of migraine’s impact on workplaces across the UK. Health services and policymakers must be reminded of migraine’s ramifications on the nation’s productivity and growth, particularly for large employers like the NHS and the public sector, where the resource is under pressure and long-term sickness has a significant impact.
Collectively, we must ensure that migraine is given due consideration and priority so that migraine services and treatments can ultimately be adequately funded and resourced.
Lundbeck is a global pharmaceutical company that specialises in developing innovative treatments for brain diseases. Headquartered in Denmark, it has approximately 5,600 employees worldwide.
 State of the Migraine Nation Dismissed for too long: Recommendations to improve migraine care in the UK [Report]. The Migraine Trust. 2021.
 Migraine’s impact on employment in Europe [Report]. The Work Foundation. 2019.
 Impact of Migraine. The Migraine Trust. [Internet] https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/impact-of-migraine/ Accessed April 2023.
 Society’s Headache: The socioeconomic impact of migraine [Report]. The Work Foundation. 2018.
 Treatment options. The Migraine Trust. [Internet] https://migrainetrust.org/live-with-migraine/healthcare/treatments/ Accessed April 2023.
This piece has been written and provided by Andrew Jackson, UK Country Manager, Lundbeck.
[Lundbeck have produced this article and provided it to Open Access Government to publish in an editorial capacity; it has not paid for this placement]
April 2023 | UK-NPMIG-0039
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