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June 26, 2024

Compassionate Ways To Support Employees With 'Hidden' Health Conditions

Key insights from "The Great Disrupters: Creating a Culture of Compassion for Chronic Pain at Work," a discussion exploring strategies to support employees with chronic pain.

Compassionate Ways To Support Employees With 'Hidden' Health Conditions
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On June 20, 2024, the Health Action Alliance hosted "The Great Disrupters: Creating a Culture of Compassion for Chronic Pain at Work," a live discussion featuring industry leaders who shared ways to support employees with chronic pain and other “hidden” health conditions such as migraine disease, autoimmune disorders, endometriosis, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

The event included in-depth conversations on managing migraine attacks and musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace, along with compassionate and cost-effective ways employers can cultivate a supportive work environment where all employees can thrive.

The event also marked the debut of a new HAA resource for employers to support the one in five workers who experience migraine attacks. The toolkit includes a comprehensive guide for employers, as well as specific resources for workers, people managers, HR leaders and communications professionals. You can access them here:

Missed the event? Read on for a recap of the highlights. You can watch the full recording below.

Keynote Snapshot: The Power of Acknowledging Unseen Conditions at Work

Mario Harper, Director at Health Action Alliance, moderated a discussion with Dr. David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA, about how addressing chronic conditions through well-being programs and flexible work arrangements can improve employee health and productivity while being cost-effective for employers.

Key Insights

  • Chronic conditions significantly disrupt workplace productivity and affect all aspects of an employee's physical and mental well-being.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders are extremely common and can be exacerbated by job tasks.
  • Addressing chronic pain and implementing worker well-being programs can lead to increased employee productivity and loyalty, which results in increased profitability for employers.
  • Flexible work arrangements can improve employee health and are often less expensive for employers.
  • L.L. Bean reported a return on investment of up to $5.30 for every dollar spent on their comprehensive worker well-being program.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found workers with access to paid sick leave were 28% less likely to be injured on the job. 
  • Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) account for nearly one-third of workplace injuries and can result from poorly designed tasks, activities outside of work, or both.

Insight Spotlight

“Your workers are your most important resource” –Dr. David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed Total Worker Health (TWH), a holistic approach integrating workplace safety and health promotion to enhance worker well-being.

The TWH model combines traditional safety measures with health promotion to prevent workplace hazards, which can lead to long-term mental health challenges. It addresses both physical and mental health, considering factors inside and outside the workplace to foster a positive work environment, improve productivity, and enhance quality of life. By adopting this approach, employers can unlock their workers' full potential, benefiting both the employees and the organization.

Recommended reading from Dr. David Michaels: Fundamentals of Total Worker Health® Approaches

Take-Away Tactics

  • Support employees with chronic pain, no matter the cause.
  • Eliminate workplace hazards that can contribute to chronic conditions.
  • Implement flexible work arrangements to improve worker well-being and potentially reduce costs.
  • Consider adopting the Total Worker approach to enhance employee wellness.
  • Create holistic programs that support both physical and mental health.

Great Disrupter Spotlight: Migraine Attacks at Work

In this discussion moderated by Sarah Rauzin, Associate Director at Health Action Alliance, panelists highlighted the challenges and misconceptions surrounding migraine disease and offered recommendations for creating supportive work environments. Panelists included:

  • Carl Cincinnato, Executive Director, Migraine at Work
  • Jaime Sanders, Patient Opinion Leader, The Migraine Diva

Key Insights

  • Migraine is the third most common disorder in the world, impacting 1 out of every 7 people worldwide. 
  • Carl Cincinnato explained that symptoms of migraine, unlike typical headaches, can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, visual disturbances (such as auras), and cognitive impairment.
  • Jaime Sanders illustrated how misconceptions and stigma surrounding migraine can be internalized by people with migraine disease, affecting work performance and overall well-being.
  • Cincinnato noted that 9 out of 10 people can’t function at full capacity during a migraine attack, and functional impairment due to migraine is costly, increasing medical expenses and disrupting team productivity.
  • Sanders highlighted the importance of support systems and benefits like paid sick leave and paid family leave for caretakers of family members with migraine — policies that also increase overall morale in the workplace. 
  • Sanders and Cincinato explained cost-effective accommodations employers can make, including remote work options, flexible scheduling, lighting adjustments, noise control, and ergonomic improvements.
  • Jaime Sanders shared her personal experience with migraine and described the barriers to care Black women face due to racial and gender discrimination.

Insight Spotlight

“Once you learn to grow your voice, you're empowered, and understanding that migraine is not the fault of your own and that you did not cause this gives you a greater sense of self.” –Jaime Sanders, Patient Opinion Leader

”Migraine can be managed. And because the quality of care is so low, little things we do can make a big difference.” –Carl Cincinnato, Executive Director, Migraine at Work

Take-Away Tactics

  • Implement workplace education and training programs to increase awareness and understanding of migraine among all employees.
  • Create a supportive environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their migraine-related needs.
  • Offer cost-effective accommodations such as adjustable lighting and noise control to create a more migraine-friendly workplace.
  • Provide comprehensive health coverage that includes access to specialists and necessary treatments, including access to new, more effective medication options.
  • Consider the needs of caregivers and family members by offering flexible leave options.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to employee health, recognizing that individuals may face multiple health challenges simultaneously.
  • Take proactive measures to support employees with migraine, rather than waiting for accommodation requests.

Resource Roundup

HAA Migraine Resources

Recommended Resources From Our Partners

Mark Your Calendars

  • Fortifying Workers Against Smoke and Smog, July 24, 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT. Register here.
  • Nurturing Resilience in the Face of Eco-Anxiety, Aug. 21,1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT. Register here.
  • National Employers Summit on the Aging Workforce, Sept. 10, 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Register here.

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