Boost Office Morale (And Productivity) By Helping Employees Dodge ‘The Migraine Drain’

A pounding headache makes focusing on screens and spreadsheets difficult, if not impossible. Although little can stop a migraine once it has set in, savvy supervisors can head them off by reducing environmental stressors. 

As a manager, it’s vital you know your employees who experience migraine headaches well enough they feel comfortable asking for help. Understanding common migraine treatments and triggers will help both of you navigate the condition effectively.

As you and your migraine-prone employees work together, here are a few questions to consider:

Is A Healthy Work-Life Balance Realistic…And Achievable?

The onset of a migraine at work creates a demoralizing domino effect. The result is a feedback loop of worsening work-life balance.

When an episode occurs at the office, the employee often takes the headache home. In search of relief, they miss out not just on work, but on family time, exercise, and recreation. Lack of self-care time then becomes an additional contributing factor, making episodes at work all the more likely. 

Constant migraines can torpedo work-life balance. Beyond stealing employees’ self-care time, migraines encourage unhealthy habits. They cause sufferers to lose sleep, reach for easy (read: unhealthy) meals, and forget to consume enough water — a devil’s trio of risk factors for even nastier headaches. 

Are Our Stress Levels Fairly Constant…Or Are We On A Rollercoaster?

At every job, work stress fluctuates. While some variation is to be expected, periods of high pressure can trigger migraines. An employee might feel fine and perform well during a crisis, but they may later experience a “let-down effect,” which can trigger an episode once the stressful period has passed.

For those prone to painful headaches, difficult tasks can exact a heavy toll. If stress spikes cannot be avoided, supervisors who help their employees gradually ease their stress level back to a baseline level will lessen the chances of an episode.

Can Office Migraine Triggers That Can Be Reduced or Eliminated?

Migraines don’t typically appear out of thin air; frequently, an episode is triggered by something most employees don’t often notice. The hum of the furnace or the aura of the overhead lights may not be so harmless. These daily, low-level triggers can exacerbate existing work stress. 

Crunch time at work can also cause a conscientious employee to feel “trapped” by a genuine desire to pitch in. Unfortunately, that admirable trait can backfire, as it adds to the stressors already in play. A savvy manager will step in and insist on everyone taking regular breaks, in shifts, thereby offering headache-prone workers some relief (without calling undue attention to them).

A good supervisor knows what triggers migraines and works creatively to minimize disruptions. Can office furniture be rearranged? Can lighting be modified? Maybe window shades could be installed strategically. Perhaps staff schedules could be rearranged so that a migraine-prone worker is able to work remotely.

How Is Overall Productivity Being Affected?

There is an obvious hit to team productivity whenever any worker goes home to recover. Even those who tough their migraines out, however, affect the team.

A worker with a migraine who chooses to stay at his or her post won’t be nearly as productive. A drop in individual productivity might catch the attention of other team members, who might — or might not — think to ask about the employee’s well-being.

An employee who is reluctant to disclose a migraine — however noble the reasons — may unintentionally create a situation ripe for chatter, or even resentment. That employee’s attention span is also compromised as he or she runs a diagnostic inner monologue. After a while, other employees may be diverted from their tasks to wondering about the condition of their coworker.

Chronic migraine sufferers often tense up whenever the work environment gets stressful. Others get the sense that something is not quite right. In this way, the anxiety of one person hoping to keep a migraine at bay can spread to the entire team, who might not even be consciously aware of the cause for the tension they feel.

Is Unmanaged Work Stress Responsible For A High Rate of Turnover?

Perhaps one of your brightest employees has a tendency to suffer from migraines. A smart manager wouldn’t want to drive that employee away only because there are too many headache triggers in the office environment. In fact, that manager might do well to see the migraine-prone worker as an “opportunity.” 

Ask migraine sufferers to identify sources of stress that make the office a less pleasant environment for everyone. Together, come up with alternatives, such as using floor lamps instead of overhead lights.

With no relief, suffering employees are likely to turn over. Frequent turnover is expensive and notoriously difficult to solve. Making the office environment more pleasant can only help with employee retention.

Some professions are, by their nature, fast-paced and stressful. The good news is, implementing even small measures can help to reduce stress and cultivate employee goodwill. For example, waiters at a busy restaurant could benefit from shorter but more frequent breaks to help them maintain composure.

Who Else Is Being Negatively Affected?

We’ve already noted that the migraine sufferer isn’t the only person that feels the impact of lost work time. But even if everyone on the team is sympathetic and has been well informed, problems can still crop up. Employees might have to pick up more slack than planned as a coworker recovers. People with serious head pain aren’t normally a lot of fun to share space with.

Despite a shared commitment to weather the storm, tensions may build and irritability could begin to show up. If the employee works in a service role, irritability can come across poorly to customers. 

If an employee feels a migraine coming on while at work, managers might look for ways to temporarily place them in a different role. Perhaps a cashier can be moved to a location that does not require interaction with customers. Being creative with assignments might even open up opportunities for cross-training, which could increase the overall efficiency of your organization.

The bottom line is, workplace migraines affect others on and off the team. Don’t lose your head. You can’t help workers in need if you’re suffering yourself.