This Chronic Disease Has an Absenteeism Cost of $150 Billion, and a Presenteeism Cost of $1.5 Trillion

Take a moment, if you will, and imagine an unhealthy employee in a standard office environment. She’s in average shape, in her early 30s. This employee is burning through her sick time, missing work for health-related reasons. 

What medical condition are you imagining?

There’s any number of potential maladies that could fit this profile: Cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Epilepsy, Musculoskeletal disorders, or mental health conditions. But statistically, there’s a relatively high probability that our employee is suffering from migraine.

Most adults are familiar with the concept of migraine, but a majority of them misunderstand two major elements of Migraine Disease – the severity and the frequency.

Migraine is often thought of as bad headaches, but it’s so much more than that. Stress, dehydration, or a specific sensory trigger can set off a vicious mental maelstrom that can completely disable even the toughest of workers. These aren’t headaches; they’re allergic reactions for your brain.

Then, there’s the widespread nature of the problem. According to the World Health Organization, one in six adults suffer from migraine, with frequencies spanning from “occasionally” all the way up to “chronic problems.”

Managers and HR specialists are not unaware of the existence of headaches and migraine, but our research shows that they may not fully grasp the seriousness of the problem or the price tag associated with it.

“Managing the health and wellness of employees is difficult enough, but it is even more difficult when you have to manage and accommodate different chronic diseases,” said Jonathan Edelheit, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Corporate Health and Wellness Association. “Most employers don't realize that migraine is the third most prevalent chronic disease that adults suffer from. Employers don't necessarily know all the intricacies of the legalities related to these chronic diseases, but the reality is that employers are ultimately responsible for understanding and following these laws.”

Before even considering potential litigation, migraine can be a huge financial liability to both employees and employers. Migraine costs the US Economy roughly $78 billion every year, and one chronic migraine employee annually costs his or her employer roughly $9,364 in direct and indirect costs. One study showed that the cost might be even higher, reporting that an employee suffering from migraine direct annual healthcare costs could weigh in at around $11,000 in direct costs as opposed to non-migraine suffering employees weighing in at $4,400. 

The Corporate Health & Wellness Association partnered with the Global Healthy Living Foundation to study the frequency, severity, and impact of migraine sufferers in the workplace. We discovered insights from the data we collected that were meaningful and, at times, even a bit shocking. We had more than 800 unique responses from employers, brokers, and fulltime employees who suffer from migraine. During the research process, we read hundreds of testimonials from sufferers who work full-time and struggle to overcome both the stigma and incapacitation that comes with their disability. We learned that employees who suffer from migraine fear calling out of work sick, are often uncomfortable asking for special accommodations, and struggle to get the right medications to help them manage their disorder.

The report found that employers and consultants know the problem exists, at least to some degree, and the financial cost is unbelievable. Some of our consultants said that their employer clients are spending up to 30 percent of their medical claims just on migraine, yet education and resources on the subject are often limited. 

As is the case with many chronic diseases, managing the effects is a daily struggle. Our report found that migraine has a lengthy list of comorbidities or other medical statuses, and sufferers are also likely to face depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, sub-clinical vascular brain lesions, coronary heart disease, hypertension and more.

Our survey included more than 75 questions, aimed at employers, healthcare brokers, and employees who suffer from migraine. The report provides valuable perspectives for employers, brokers, and consultants who face the challenge of managing chronic diseases and migraine in the workplace.


Migraine in the Workplace: What Employers and Employees Need to Know can be downloaded for free, thanks to the work and support of the Corporate Health and Wellness Association and Global Healthy Living Foundation. You can download the report here.