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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Member Blog: How a migraine can do everyone’s head in at work

By Brandon Wilkinson - Medical Specialists

Are you a migraine sufferer? Or, are you an employer with employees that you are aware regularly suffer with them? If so, you will be delighted to hear that Medical Specialists® Pharmacy have gone to great lengths to make migraine treatment available for the thousands of people that need it after being inundated with requests for help from your fellow sufferers, and this help could enable you to get on with your day-to-day activities without the pain and stress associated with the condition.

Migraine is the most common neurological condition in the developed world. It is something much more intense and painful than a common headache, even though many people confuse the two. With an estimated one in four women and one in 12 men in the UK affected by migraines on a regular basis, this means around 15% of adults in the UK are suffering. Although sufferers may feel alone and isolated, migraine is a health problem even more prevalent than asthma, diabetes and epilepsy combined.

Despite this, it can be still misunderstood and underestimated in the workplace. Statistics indicate that over a third (34.3%) of sufferers are experiencing difficulty or discrimination in the workplace due to their condition. (The Migraine Trust, 2004).

Firstly, let’s look at some hard facts about migraine:

* Each year migraine causes a loss of over 25 million working days at a cost of around £2.25 billion to the economy.
* Migraine and chronic headache are the second most common reasons given for short term absence from work.
* A recent YouGov poll involving 2,105 people saw 15% of workers who pulled a ‘sickie’ used migraine as their excuse for a day off work.
* A survey conducted by The Migraine Trust in 2012 found that almost half (46.3%) of workers with migraine say they are unfairly untreated because of illness-related absence, over a third (40.5%) felt unsupported by their bosses and colleagues, and three in ten (30.5%) had received disciplinary action due to their health condition.

The main obstacle between fellow employees and the employer and their employees, is simply lack of awareness about migraines. Migraine pain can be excruciating for those afflicted, but an attack is often disregarded as ‘just a headache’. In addition, many employers are lacking understanding and not providing sufficient support for staff with migraines due to non-sufferers commonly using migraine as an excuse when they have a ‘sickie’ from work.

It is partly this reason why migraine sufferers feel isolated and unsupported, and employers should do their best to communicate with these particular employees, as even with the severe pain experienced during an attack, many sufferers will still continue to either attend or stay in work despite their productivity levels being negatively impacted.  This could have major implications for employers, both financially and with the subsequent drop in staff morale and productivity.

It is called ‘presenteeism’ when an employee still goes to work despite being unwell, and is rife amongst those with regular migraines and headaches because of the fear of reprisals from bosses.  Employers should have a fair and open communication policy with all employees – not just those with migraines – to reduce the risk of presenteeism, which can be problematic for everybody concerned.

The issue of presenteeism could be down to the fact some employers utilise strict absence record systems that focus on performance monitoring after a certain number of sick days have been reached. Some empathy needs to be shown though from the employer – otherwise stress and anxiety can be caused and exacerbate migraine attacks by acting as a trigger.

You as an employer should be aware that depending on the circumstances, migraine sufferers could be classed as having a ‘disability’ according to The Equality Act 2010.  It is employers’ responsibility to put into place appropriate conditions that make it easier for employees that suffer with migraines to actually do their job to a good standard and stop them being unfairly discriminated against.

Some helpful adjustments that employers can introduce for migraine sufferers may include: make sure employees have frequent breaks where possible, offer flexible working hours, amending shift patterns, carry out necessary improvements to the working environment (lighting, computer screens, work station), and make sure there is easy access to drinking water for all employees.

As well as being flexible with working hours, employers should also consider being flexible with regards to sickness policies to prevent migraine sufferer’s absence (which is highly likely to be only short term) resulting in strict/unfair punishments being handed out to them. Remember that the aforementioned changes do not cost much to introduce, and often have benefits to the wider team. A happier working environment will inevitably lead to increased productivity, and a happy employer!

For anybody still worried about the impact of migraine on their working life or indeed any day-to-day activities, Medical Specialists® offer a fantastic range of migraine prevention and migraine relief treatment (http://www.medical-specialists.co.uk/migraine.php) which, for UK patients, can be obtained within 24 hours following an online consultation with one of Medical Specialists’® GMC-registered doctors.

http://www.medical-specialists.co.uk/

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