This year, Migraine Awareness Week runs from the September 4-10. Remarkably, one in seven people in the UK suffer from migraines, which can be a debilitating and agonising condition. To mark the week, we’ve taken a look at the most common causes of workplace sickness and let employers in on tips to help their teams stay happy and healthy in workplace.


It’s believed that in the UK around 15.2 million working days were lost in 2013 due to stress, depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s imperative that employers do all they can to create a low-stress environment and a supportive work culture for their staff. The primary reasons employees may become stressed include overly heavy workloads, bullying or a lack of management support. And it doesn’t end there. Very stressed people are at increased risk of alcohol abuse, heart disease and high blood pressure. To minimise stress amongst your team, there are a number of measures you can take. Encourage physical activity and provide break areas, tackle any signs of confrontation or aggression between colleagues as they arise, and give staff as much autonomy as possible during their working day. Above all, encourage stressed employees to talk about the causes of their anxiety either with you or with a professional third party.


Migraine is a complex medical condition that manifests as a combination of headaches, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Some sufferers get a ‘warning’ that a migraine is on its way, which may be tingling limbs, flashing lights before the eyes or a shift in mood. Frequent migraine sufferers often approach their condition with a mixture of preventative and curative measures. In the workplace, there are a number of factors that can cause or trigger a migraine and it can vary between people. While individual sufferers must take steps to avoid their own unique trigger factors, employers can also play a part. Reducing stress, replacing fluorescent light bulbs (which flicker and can trigger the condition), providing a water cooler to encourage good hydration and anti-glare screens for computer monitors can all help. Where possible, offering flexible working patterns can also be a great support to those who endure migraines.

An unsanitary environment

Like public transport, schools and other areas where large groups of unrelated people congregate, the workplace is a breeding ground for all sorts of germs. The larger the workforce, the more diverse and more prevalent the bacteria will be. Of course, most bacteria are entirely harmless but it’s worth encouraging your team to take a few precautions, particularly when there are coughs, colds and other minor illnesses doing the rounds. Good hand hygiene is a central component in the fight against spreading diseases. Investing in hand sanitiser, regularly disinfecting areas like keyboards and desk tops, and avoiding eating at desks are all to be advised. Another way to combat germs is to implement a ‘clear desk Friday’ policy, which will give your professional cleaning teams a chance to properly cleanse working areas.

Sitting at a desk all day

Spending upwards of eight hours at a desk, looking into the glare of a computer monitor is not conducive to good physical or mental wellbeing. Responsible employers will encourage their staff to regularly stretch their legs, to take lunch away from their desks and, when on the phone to take the chance to stand up and move around a little. There are also steps office workers can be advised to take outside of work to counter any damage caused by desk-bound roles. For example, working a little extra exercise into the day by alighting from the bus a stop early or joining the gym to build muscle and make the body more resistant to injury or strain. Carefully planned healthy eating is also important, as carrying extra weight will only exacerbate the damage caused by sitting at a desk for 40-plus hours a week.

Back pain and chronic pain

Serious, ongoing pain can be incredibly detrimental to a person’s quality of life and, because of this, it is essential that employers do all they can to help their staff avoid it. One way to do this is to invest in health and safety training that equips people with the knowledge they need to avoid injury caused either by unsafe lifting or poor posture.

Many employers and employees in office environments are lulled into the false security of believing their workplace is danger-free. In fact, when it comes to the health and safety of your team there’s a lot to consider. To optimise productivity and wellbeing, responsible employers and informed employees will look into the dangers mentioned above and take sensible precautions to take care of themselves, and each other.

By Dr Phelan, an NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor Service