How To Talk To Your Boss About Migraines, According To Experts
You're at work, minding your own business — and then a migraine hits. Migraines can ruin your entire workday, but if you get them regularly, talking to your boss about your migraines can help you obtain accommodations, or at least make it easier to call out when one hits. Neurologists and HR experts tell Bustle that the best way to have that conversation is to figure out how to migraine-proof your workplace — and do so as a team.
The first step is to identify what it is about your workplace that might be causing your migraines to occur during working hours. Workplace migraine triggers, a spokesperson for the Migraine Trust tells Bustle, "could be physical, such as lack of ventilation or lighting, but could also be working patterns such as shift work or the inability to take an adequate lunch break, or stress that is caused by a particular role." All those elements have been known to create migraines, but it can be tricky to isolate what's triggering your own migraines at work. Is it stress? Is it a bright light or a coworker's perfume? If you have an occupational therapist, they may be able to help with this as well.
The next step is holding the actual conversation, and that's when things may feel trickier. "You don't want to say anything that would imply you aren't able to do your job," Jennifer Yeko, founder of Ninja Recruiting, tells Bustle. "Legally, employers can't discriminate against you if you have any health issues, but it may be hard for them to stop from firing you if you just aren't doing your job in general." The results of the conversation, she says, are highly dependent on how supportive a boss or HR manager you have.
If you have a supportive work environment, you're already halfway there. "A support system in the workplace, including team members and HR, can be especially important for those who suffer from migraines, as a migraine can severely impact productivity," neurologist Dr. Sara Crystal, MD, of the New York Headache Center and medical advisor to Cove tells Bustle. In a meeting with supportive superiors, you can suggest appropriate practical measures to help prevent triggering and maintain your health at work.
If you're not sure where to start, "providing a quiet, dark space," Dr. Crystal says, can make a big difference. HR managers can also help with asking team members to stop wearing strong perfumes or colognes if migraines are scent-triggered, or providing noise-cancelling headphones if they're sound-triggered. You can also ask to bring in a migraine-readiness kit, including pain relief, headphones and earplugs, in case a migraine hits while you're at work.
Managers can also make bigger changes that can help with migraine triggers, but it may be a good idea to work up to them gradually. A stable sleep-wake cycle, says neurologist Dr. Jin Li, MD, chief of neuromuscular medicine at the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, has been shown to help migraine patients. "Frequent change of schedules for shift workers may trigger frequent migraines," she tells Bustle. Other big workplace shifts that may help, she says, include ergonomic workstations to reduce muscular neck pain and regular lunch breaks, which can make it easier to s. Even if your boss is very supportive or your workplace has migraine policies in place, it's worthwhile to approach these ideas — which may rearrange your role significantly — slowly.
However, if your workplace doesn't have experience with migraines or your HR and superiors don't know what to do, you should tread cautiously, says Yeko. "If your company or employer is not as accommodating, you might want to consider your approach very carefully," she tells Bustle. Be prepared to have evidence — dates, notes and medical records — to indicate your history of migraines at work and what preceded them.
Dr. Li notes that employers should be aware that they should offer FMLA, or Family or Medical Leave, to workers with migraines. Migraines, she explains, cause "severe head pain", so they can't be dismissed as a mild headache. It should be pretty clear to your employers that they have serious effects on your work, but you also need to emphasize that they won't be there all day every day. "Most of the time, migraines are periodic, which means they come and go," says Dr. Li. Bosses and HR need to understand that you can still do your job, with a few provisions to help you along.
It's definitely possible to have a diplomatic, productive conversation with your boss or HR manager about your migraines and health. After all, they want you to be able to work to the best of your ability. Be prepared to back up the idea that you have migraines and that they appear for particular reasons — and have your own suggestions about how to make your workplace more migraine-friendly.