Migraine en entreprise

Migraine in the workplace

Jun 08, 2021

I discovered migraine in my position as Human Resources Manager

We are hearing today the testimony of a HRD in business - Émilie D. in La Rochelle and currently manager of an event agency - who had the delicate mission of managing teams in which one of the members suffered from chronic migraines, in her post in Paris. We wanted to address several points, including that of people management within a team, and more broadly within a company.

Did you know about the migraine disease before having to manage it through a member of your team?

No. For me, a migraine is more like headaches that last for a while. That's just it. But I realized that we were on received ideas, and they mainly concern women. I didn't have any of my male collaborators who came to tell me that he had a headache, that he had severe migraines. It's mostly women.

How was the relationship between your employee and management?

The relationship with the migraine collaborator did not present any work concerns. It was well made. Only when the migraine started to come on did it show on his face because there are visible signs. Her eyes were more strained, her forehead wrinkled often and strongly. I had also noticed a certain susceptibility and sensitivity to ambient noise, which was beginning to be harsh. Except we were in a call center, with 50 people on set. So when the migraine arrived, she reported it and we had to let her go earlier, because we saw that there was real discomfort. Except that behind this departure, we had a job to do, deadlines to meet and above all a team to manage. What an employee does not do is necessarily transferred to the work of others. This is where we encounter the first problem. The migraine sufferer's level of concentration is very low — which is normal since they are in pain — and you can clearly see that. The work is not less well done, but as the level of concentration is lower, it takes longer. Normal performance is not good. She is slower.

How was the relationship with other colleagues or other team members?

The relationship with colleagues and team members is complicated. They don't recognize migraine as a disease. "You only have a headache, why is it taking so long?" This state cannot be seen, heard or understood. It's unseen. As the work is transferred to the other collaborators, it cringes! “I have to do her job because Madame has a headache? I specified to the collaborators that the colleague is not obliged to specify that her sick leave concerns her migraine. She could very well have something else, but she chose to share it in confidence. “We are a team, right? We support each other! If she had broken her ankle, the result would be the same! Reflections are inevitable. On the other hand, when she comes back, everyone is happy. We felt a real relief at the level of the team. We hope it will last a long time...

Do you have a procedure to help the migraine sufferer?

No, we didn't have any procedures in place for the migraine sufferer. Quite simply because migraine is not recognized as a disabling disease. Management's response is that you cannot take everyone's illnesses and organize the life of the company around them. Case by case, it is not possible, nor humanly manageable. The procedures exist only for people with recognized disabilities and this is not the case for migraine. We can not do anything. However, as team leader, we wanted to support this person and especially to arrange his workspace to help limit crises. We installed an ergonomic seat, more suitable computer equipment with a physical filter to lower the brightness. Moreover, it had been moved to the open space. But it was done because I recognized the disease, humanly. It was not the hierarchy that gave me the instructions. I did it on my own. If we ask the person to stay until the end of his hours when he begins to have a migraine, we know very well that he will not come the next morning. It is not yet known how long she will be absent. It happened that she could not be at her post for 5 days.

Have you provided information/prevention regarding this disease within the company?

We have not received any information from management, because migraine is not seen or understood as a disease, despite the fact that it is monitored by occupational medicine. But nothing more. We only had sick leave, but that's it. As it is not a handicap, the company is not required to make the slightest effort vis-à-vis the person. We are totally in the management of the human person. In terms of planning, when these migraine sufferers are absent, it's a headache.

How did you manage to manage the daily life without the person?

We did not set up a pair, but we tried to reduce tensions, especially during inter-team meetings because of the reflections and the spades sent by the collaborators: "Ah, but we may not be able to go to the end of the project, because if some are still sick, it won't work! “We know very well who is sick, but as a manager, we cannot hear them. And we have to answer. As a result, we respond with kindness that it could happen to anyone. I remember that I had intervened many times in this sense, recalling that all team members have the same missions. We were just trained to be interchangeable. We have to adapt, because we are all together, and we are all going in the same direction. We encounter a fault, OK. But we are strong enough to fill it. And tomorrow it might be someone else. Afterwards, when you're not in a team, it must be more difficult, but I've never had to manage a person individually.

How was this person perceived humanly?

For me, Elisabeth was a ray of sunshine. She was a very good collaborator. Her work was very well done and when she was well, she worked twice as hard as the others. But because of her migraines, she was perceived as an unreliable person. In terms of skills, she was at the top. Unfortunately, it has a flaw and this hinders the team.

Is it confined to non-essential tasks? Did you change her workload to lighten her to make sure the job got done or to make her feel better?

No ! I have always refused. We hired her for a specific job, she signed, so she does the job. Physically, she is diminished, she gives what she can, and then she is absent... But that's when the migraine breaks out at work . But, there is also the case where she calls in the morning to say that she will not come. We hear a voice of a person who seems to be well. It's a bit confusing. When you don't know that the person has a migraine, you can't hear it. It's really invisible. We then wonder if the person refuses to be treated. "But how can you be sick so often?" You don't have a treatment for that? Besides, the migraine comes back every month...but I'll spare you the masculine thoughts. We will forget them! When we do not know this disease, we do not understand. We do not understand how we can have 4 days off for a headache. It is not easy to manage, neither for the team, nor for the collaborators, nor for the management. When you are HRD, you now know that with a migraine sufferer, you are on a handicapping ground. It is high time that companies take this state into account. On the other hand, it is very important not to stigmatize them or treat them as lazy. The migraine sufferer is in great frustration, both vis-à-vis his disease and in his professional life, including the perception of others on his ability to work. She's competent and she knows it, but she's got this Damocles sword hanging over her head from migraines. For the person, it is already difficult to live with this disease because it impacts others whether they like it or not. And unfortunately, it also slows down his professional career. It is therefore necessary to find the right manager who will only be able to take into account skills, ignoring absences... not easy. There is still a long way to go.

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