Employers Should Do More to Help Employees with Migraines

Combining a robust benefits package, migraine-friendly space and accommodating culture can create a comfortable workplace for people with migraine disease.

In today’s environment, employers are constantly looking for new ways to attract and retain talent, often through new benefits designed to keep employees happy and productive. Yet there’s one population that, despite its prevalence, is often overlooked: employees with migraine.

Many employers don’t focus on migraine because they think it doesn’t affect many in their workforce and thus doesn’t need to be a priority. However, the reality is that one in six U.S. workers live with migraine disease, and most employers have multiple team members who are affected. The lack of attention from employers means that most of these workers are left to manage attacks at their job with minimal support.

The good news is that once employers recognize this as an area of need, there is a lot they can do to help with relatively little monetary investment. For employers who are looking to better support this population, it can be helpful to group the steps they can take into three sections:

  • Building a robust benefits package
  • Creating an accommodating workplace
  • Establishing an accommodating culture

Building a Robust Benefits Package

The biggest change that an employer can make to help employees with migraine is to offer a more complete set of benefits, led by an expansive formulary list.

For many with migraine, medication is the most impactful tool to help them manage their disease so that they can be maximally productive at work. However, many of the medications best for treating migraine can be difficult for patients to get their hands on, in part because they’ve only recently become available and require complex, time-consuming prior authorization and appeal processes to approve them. Building an expansive formulary list as part of a self-insured company’s benefits package can help overcome these barriers and make it so employees don’t have to jump through seemingly endless hoops to get the medications they need, and therefore become more productive at work.

Getting into a neurologist is also a common roadblock to proper care, so helping employees get timely access to the right doctors is another important factor. Because the average wait to see a neurologist in the U.S. is 4-6 months, and most health plans have serious network gaps for neurology coverage, employers should consider incorporating innovative digital health solutions, like telehealth and personalized, application-based care plans, into their benefits packages. In doing so, they’ll be better able to provide their employees access to the right doctors without having to suffer for months before getting the care they need.

The right medication and proper access to specialists are amongst the biggest keys for treating migraine, and they can be the difference between an employee with severe migraine needing to leave the workforce due to disability and one who is able to stay and be a consistently productive contributor.

Creating an Accommodating Workplace

For people living with headache disorders like migraine, attacks can be triggered by all sorts of stimuli, many of which are common in offices and difficult for an individual to control on their own. However, with an accommodating employer, many of these triggers can be mitigated with simple changes to the office space.

Offering sound-proof earbuds, for instance, can provide relief from noise triggers for employees working in loud environments. Reducing harsh lighting, creating a scent-free office and being sensitive to temperature requests can also help address triggers.

Creating a wellness room where employees can rest during the workday is another relatively simple change that can have a big impact. Rooms like these, which some employers might already have available in some form, allow employees to escape office environments with potential triggers and provide a quiet, dark space for those with migraine to rest during attacks.

Not only do these changes help those with migraine and headache disorders, but they can also have benefits for a broader population, including neurodivergent individuals and those with other invisible illnesses.

Establishing an Accommodating Culture

Making the tools discussed above available to employees is essential, but it isn’t the final step. Those tools will be underutilized if employees don’t feel comfortable using them for fear of being stigmatized. That’s why it’s just as important that employers proactively create a culture that allows people with chronic neurological conditions to feel comfortable using the benefits available to them.

Allowing a flexible schedule, which gives employees more control over when and where they work, is one of the biggest things that employers can do. Working from home as needed allows a person to better control their environment and avoid triggers that may be present in an office. It also provides the ability to take breaks and work non-traditional hours so that employees can manage an attack that comes on during the work day, or deal with tasks that might have to take place during normal business hours, like calling a doctor or insurance company.

Even beyond scheduling, employees need to feel comfortable using visible tools, like “headache hats,” neuromodulation devices or tinted glasses. Employees should be confident their employer understands migraine is a serious neurological condition that requires attention and will take action to help, doing things like educating other employees about the disease and tools to treat it in diversity and inclusion training.

Combining a robust benefits package, migraine-friendly space and accommodating culture can create a workplace where people with migraine disease and other neurological disorders can not only feel comfortable, but thrive.

Elizabeth Burstein
Elizabeth Burstein is CEO and Co-Founder of Neura Health, an all-in-one benefits solution for the 1 in 3 employees with a chronic neurological condition.