New Work Foundation migraine guidance supports worker well-being and helps employers cut billions in lost earnings

A new guide for managers outlines how they can support workers with migraines and help reduce the near £9 billion annual cost of work lost to the condition.

The Work Foundation, supported by Novartis Pharmaceuticals, has produced guidance for managers to enable them to better understand migraines, supported by employers, parliamentarians, health experts and patient representative organisations.

The guide sets out symptoms, triggers and what managers can do to support workers with the condition. It builds in part on the Work Foundation’s 2018 report Society’s Headache: the socioeconomic impact of migraine on the UK, which investigated the socioeconomic impact of migraines.

The 2018 report revealed an estimated 23.3% of the population aged between 15 and 69 have migraines, making the condition more common than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.

The resulting economic impact is huge, with an estimated 86 million equivalent workdays lost every year due to absenteeism and presenteeism – being present but not able to work at full capacity – and the indirect costs estimated at just under £8.8 billion per annum.

Despite the high cost – both economic and personal – of migraines, diagnosis and treatment is patchy, there is low public awareness and a lack of understanding and support for workers with the condition.

Developed with the help of patient groups, health experts and employers representing more than 1.3 million UK employees, including the BBC, John Lewis and Partnership, National Grid and The Daily Telegraph, the guide addresses employers on all aspects of how to support workers with migraines.

Haseeb Ahmad, Managing Director UK, Ireland and Nordics, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Country President UK, said: “We are delighted to support the launch of this new guide for employers. Migraine can have a devastating impact on quality of life and ability to work; we believe that this tool is therefore an important step towards helping those affected receive the best support and care in the workplace.”

“Many people with migraine are not supported effectively to manage their condition and maximise their potential in the workplace,” said Work Foundation Policy Advisor Astrid Allen. “In most cases, small support measures can be implemented to enable people with migraines to manage their condition and contribute more, even in the current situation with Covid-19, where many workers find their patterns disrupted.

“We want to improve the understanding and support for migraine in the workplace and improve the experience of people with the condition. Our guidance provides information on how to create a migraine-friendly workplace and identifies a range of measures that can be implemented to help people with migraines, many of which are applicable if you are working from home.

“The key message is that support needs to be tailored to meet the needs of individuals. Symptoms vary from individual to individual, and sometimes from attack to attack, so their needs can be very different and one size does not fit all.

“Workers need to be encouraged to take a shared responsibility for managing their health conditions, including migraine. That means supporting them to live a lifestyle that promotes health and well-being, enabling them to take preventative action, such as regular exercise – the benefits of which have been highlighted more than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic, and implementing good health management over time, including a regular review of support plans.”

The Work Foundation guidance for managers includes a ‘Migraine Action Plan’ designed for workers to outline their symptoms, such as disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, and feeling nauseous, and triggers, including irregular meal times, being dehydrated, artificial light and glare, and loud noise.

The action plan also allows workers identify support measures that could be implemented in the workplace or when working from home, such as access to a quiet room, flexible working hours and locations and time off for medical appointments. The plan can provide a useful template for discussions, identifying and documenting actions that can make a difference.

“The principles that underpin a migraine-friendly workplace are also key for a good workplace for everyone; enabling individuals to actively manage their health and well-being boosts engagement and productivity among the workforce as a whole,” said National Grid’s Stuart Clack, one of the employer representatives who help develop the guide.

“Having been a workplace well-being champion for many years I thought I had covered most illnesses that can affect the workplace. Not suffering from migraine myself, I had little or no knowledge of the condition and was shocked to find out the impact on businesses and colleagues alike.

“This tool kit will help me understand the issue in more depth, enabling us to build migraine into our well-being strategy and build better understanding and resilience to migraine.”

The Work Foundation’s Migraine at work: Guidance for Managers is available for download here: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/work-foundation/publications/reports/