113 Million Lost DaysLast Updated:
What could you accomplish if you had 113 million days? That’s over 300,000 years — 60 times longer than recorded human history. That’s how many days are lost to migraine every year just in the U.S. We are hemorrhaging talent and we don’t even realize it. Talk about an epidemic! So where is the outcry? The NIH, CDC, HHS…they’re all silent. Why have we not heard about this crisis? For all the complaints about losing jobs to overseas companies and the loss of economic superiority, you would think SOMEONE would be talking about this astronomical loss of productivity.
Here’s what we get instead…
“Suck it up.”
“Take a pill.”
“It’s just a headache.”
Dedicated, hard-working employees are getting the shaft right and left for a serious medical condition with no cure. They get blamed and accused of lying to get out of doing their jobs. They are resented by co-workers who refuse to leave the perfume at home, stop burning scented candles, lower their voices, or any number of simple acts that would dramatically ease their sick colleague’s burden. Requests for accommodations and complaints to human resources fall on deaf ears. Instead of empathy and accommodations, they get official reprimands, threats to job security, termination, denial of unemployment or disability benefits, and woeful lack of health care coverage to adequately treat their disease.
I get it.
Companies must be productive in order to be profitable. They hire people to do a job because it needs to be done. When that employee is absent, it hurts everyone. But most employers act like migraine is a personal problem that people just need to “get over” and get back to work.
Migraine is everyone’s problem.
Migraine is a societal problem made worse by society’s refusal to see the truth and do anything about it.
There are over 322 million people living in the U.S.
66% are of working age with an average unemployment rate of 5%.
39 million residents have migraine — about 12%.
Here’s the math…
322 million ÷ 0.66 = 212 million people of working age
212 million x 0.95 = 201 million are actually employed
201 million x 0.12 = 24 million employees have migraine
Employers, listen up!
ONE in TWELVE of your employees is living and working with migraine.
Most will never tell you about it for fear of reprisals, mistreatment, or job loss. If they must take a day off due to a migraine attack, they will probably not tell you the real reason out of fear that you will not understand or accept that migraine can make them sick enough to miss work. Those who do tell you are probably among the sickest whose symptoms simply cannot be hidden. Those employees have severe and debilitating symptoms that are extremely difficult to treat even for the most skilled headache doctors. They cannot just take a pill and get back to work.
Migraine is the 8th leading cause of disability in the world.
People with migraine have rights under federal employment and disability laws. As an employer, you have the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations that offer these DISABLED employees their best chance to be successful workers.
You can’t just fire them all.
- It’s against the law.
- You can’t afford to lose 12% of your workforce.
- They will just get replaced by more people with migraine anyway.
So it’s time face reality.
Hiring people with migraine is inevitable. It’s also discriminatory (and criminal!) to screen them out during the hiring process. Making appropriate accommodations for migraine-disabled employees is simply part of the cost of doing business. Budget for it or pay the price on the back end in lost productivity, reduced profits, and/or fines for violating labor laws.
It’s really not as hard as you might think.
- Institute a company-wide fragrance ban. No more perfume, cologne, scented candles, potpourri, or air fresheners — they are all common migraine triggers and make symptoms worse during attacks.
- Institute a no-smoking policy and don’t put ash trays right in front of exterior doors. This forces workers with migraine to walk through a cloud of cigarette smoke on their way in or out. Cigarette smoke is a common migraine trigger.
- Replace florescent lighting with incandescant bulbs — at least in the areas where employees with migraine must work and take breaks.
- Invest in a water delivery service to encourage all your employees to stay well hydrated as dehydration is also a common trigger.
- Create a culture that encourages employees to take regular breaks and eat lunch. Skipping meals is one of the biggest migraine triggers and companies do them a disservice by unconsciously rewarding employees for “working through lunch.”
- Generously permit the use of sunglasses, tinted glasses, wide-brimmed hats, scarves, ice packs, heating pads, head phones, and ear plugs to any employee with migraine.
- Offer an alternative workspace for employees whose migraine attacks are triggered by sitting for long periods at desks:
a. Issue laptops to allow these employees to move about during the day.
b. Install anti-glare screens on monitors and permit employees to dim the brightness on monitor screens.
c. Create a comfortable work space furnished with sofas, recliners, etc.
d. Install room-darkening shades, blinds, or curtains on windows.
- Create a “rest & recovery” space that is cool, dark, and quiet where employees with migraine can retreat to recover from a migraine attack without having to “tough it out” or leave early.
- Offer flex time, telecommuting, and generous paid time off.
- Offer high quality health care benefits with low out-of-pocket costs to employees.
- Offer FLMA benefits even if you are not legally required to do so.
- Offer (and pay the premiums if you can) short-term and long-term disability insurance.
- Offer migraine-friendly options at company-hosted meals by serving foods free of artificial sugars, preservatives, nitrates (often found in deli meats), alcohol (especially red wine). You already make accommodations for vegetarians and those needing gluten-free diets so why not include the needs of migraine, too?
- Partner with companies that cater to the needs of people with migraine to offer discounted products and services to your employees.
Accommodating migraine is good for business.
Reclaim some of those 113 million lost days by making it easier and more comfortable for the 12% of of your staff with migraine. Happy, healthy, pain-free employees will produce more and improve your bottom line. You cannot afford to ignore their needs any longer.