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headaches at work

Have a Migraine at Work? How to Tell Your Boss You Suffer From Migraines

Some pointers, if you’ve decided to talk to your employer about your headaches.

Claire Thomson

If you are a headache or migraine sufferer and have made the decision to discuss your medical condition with your employer, you may not know where to begin.

It’s ultimately your call on how — or even if — you want to talk to your boss about your condition, and you have no obligation to do so. However, if you decide this is a conversation you want to have, here are some pointers on how you could possibly approach this discussion.

Telling your boss about headaches or migraines at work can be stressful because “there can be a stigma attached to them,” says Lisa Brateman, LCSW, a psychotherapist and relationship specialist who practices in New York City. Her suggestions:

Leave Shame at the Door. First things first: Don’t feel ashamed about your condition, Brateman says.  “You can offer just as much as someone who doesn’t suffer from headaches or migraines,” she says.

Decide How Much Advance Warning Is Necessary. You might think through how often you get headaches or migraines and when they are debilitating. Does your boss need advance warning? Possibly, if you get headaches often, says Brateman: “You want to warn them so that if you start calling in sick or not following through, you don’t have to backtrack and say, ‘This is why.’”

Your Boss Isn’t a Doctor. If you decide to talk about your headaches and migraines, “you don’t want to present yourself as a patient to your boss,” says Brateman. You can give a bit of detail about the symptoms that make it hard for you to concentrate on work — maybe you deal with blurred vision or sensitivity to light — but don’t feel like you need to go too in-depth, says Brateman.

Communicate. When you’re experiencing a headache or migraine, it may help to clarify to your boss that even if you have to take time off, you’ll absolutely finish your work, says Brateman. The more precise you can be about when you’ll handle your projects, the better. “When they don’t know what’s going on, they draw their own conclusions,” says Brateman.

Follow Through. The real clincher is what you do once your symptoms have receded. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I’m going to make up for missing work and finish that report,’ but your actions are really what your boss hears,” says Brateman. Reinforce your words with actions that emphasize your dedication. That can help you show that while headaches or migraines may disrupt a traditional workday for you, you won’t let them get in the way of your overall contribution to the team.

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