Heartache Leave

Innovations come from the most unexpected places: Japan, the country of salarymen, geishas and employment-for-life, is setting a new standard in work-life balance and employer compassion.

Tokyo-based Himes & Co. now offers "heartache leave", paid time off after a bad break-up with a partner.

"Not everyone needs to take maternity leave but with heartbreak, everyone needs time off, " explained Miki Hiradate, chief executive of the company. Workers 24 and younger can take one full day of heartbreak leave per year, while those 25-29 get two days and those 30 and older, three.

"Women in their twenties can find their next love quickly, but it's tougher for women in their thirties, and their break-ups tend to be more serious," Hiradate added.

The company also instituted paid sales shopping leaves, giving employees four mornings off per year to shop.

"Before, women could take half-days off to go to sales, but you'd have to hide your shopping bags in lockers by the train station," Hiradate said.

If you could have, how many days would you have taken off in the past year to shop and recoup from good love gone bad? Despite your company's policies, did you take some feel-good days off anyway? When, why and how did you pull it off? Does your company offer blanket personal days or other concessions to work-life balance, outside of the usual vacation, parental and sick leaves? Should they offer heartache leave?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  February 1, 2008; 7:15 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
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I would rather have bereavement leave for the death of a family member or close friend's family. Unfortunately, that happens more often.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | February 1, 2008 7:36 AM

I agree with KLB -- bereavement leave is helpful. I also like having a bucket of personal leave and policy that allows for more spontaneous use of it within reason. I.e. on Monday you know you will be able to deliver your expected work product by Wednesday afternoon so you arrange with your supervisor to take Friday off -- to shop, hang out with your loved ones, whatever... My most stressful job came with the greatest amount of leave and an environment that didn't encourage taking it!

Posted by: tntkate | February 1, 2008 8:14 AM

A day off to treat hooks & Worms disease.

When I worked my first job in Washington DC, I formed agood friendship with another programmer. Several times I called my supervisor and told her that I wasn't able to show up for work because I had a case of worms.

She was very understanding about it.

My friend called up also because he had a case of hooks.

She was very understanding about it too.

Then my friend and I would meet at our favorite fishing hole along the Potomac. Buatiful place along the locks at the C&O canal it is!

Posted by: DandyLion | February 1, 2008 8:37 AM

You know, I'm not sure I'd really call this "a new standard in work-life balance and employer compassion" -- sounds kinda like pandering and stereotyping to me. Women (apparently, only women) need paid time off work to go shopping? Women (once again, apparently only women) need time off to recover from a breakup? And the older you are, the more time you need? Because, what, when you hit the big 3-0 your dating life is over, so a breakup is so significant that you can't be expected to function for three business days?

I'm all for more flexibility. But I don't see how tacking on more rigidly-defined categories based on stereotypical assumptions really helps that. To the extent your business allows it, give people the flexibility to get the job done where and when they want to. Then give them personal time off to use shopping, or fishing, or just for a mental health day. Tack on a few necessary categories -- sick time, bereavement leave, and parental leave. Poof, you're done -- added bonus, you've provided a lot more meaningful flexibility than these kinds of stupid targeted policies can ever manage.

Posted by: laura33 | February 1, 2008 8:53 AM

I think adding a few personal days -- that can be used for whatever reason, no questions asked -- would be a great move towards flexibility. Hopefully judicious use would also convince skeptical employers that people can get their jobs done effectively without having to be in the office on a rigid timetable.

Regarding heartache leave -- I always loved the distraction of the office to get over breakups, major or minor. The LAST thing I needed was to be home moping. I think heartache leave is kind of silly, myself. But personal days -- bravo.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 1, 2008 9:00 AM

How absurd. Either call out sick like a normal person or suck it up.

Posted by: meglulofs | February 1, 2008 9:09 AM

I prefer to separate sick leave from vacation leave. I work for a government agency which has great programs on paper that seem to offer work life balance. This agency goes as far as to say that as long as you work 80 hours per pay period, you can set your own hours. In reality, it is virtually impossible to have this kind of a schedule because managers frown on it. The most flexibility employees have is to cram the 80 hour week into 9 working days. Occationally, some employees telework. In my personal opinion, if business started to evaluate real productivity of its employees versus hours spent in office, employees would be rewarded with more work life balance.

Posted by: tsm | February 1, 2008 9:18 AM

Heartache leave? PUH-LEASE!!!!! Some folks get in trouble if they need to take off to attend to aging parents, sick children, even their own health issues much less getting over a breakup that was bound to happen anyway.


Posted by: tecatesdream | February 1, 2008 9:21 AM

Nah, we're talking about a bigger issue than "sucking it up." Employers would win by offering employees a respectful measure of flexibility when it comes to balancing work and life, instead of sneakily using sick days to shop or fish or whatever.

Posted by: leslie4 | February 1, 2008 9:31 AM

I think some personal days is a nice thing to have.

A lot of times companies make some Federal holidays optional and then let people have those days for whatever they want.

Personally I don't think just ONE day is enough for some of the heartaches I've had. I guess it would be enough to throw your former-sweetheart's stuff out to the street.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 1, 2008 9:32 AM

I think it's a great idea...not for the reasons listed, but because then the woman's fellow employees are spared the continual, unremitting whining, moping and crying.

Posted by: Catwhowalked | February 1, 2008 9:34 AM

Oh, okay, I'm off to mope and whine and cry now...in private so I don't disturb anyone.

Maybe compassionate employers should set up a MOPE CRY WHINE room for female employees. What do you think, Cat?

Posted by: leslie4 | February 1, 2008 10:10 AM

ARGH!!! WPO ate my post so here we go again:

Our company used to provide us with personal leave that we could use for any reason (but you had to take your sick time out of this or your vacation). As long as you didn't get sick, you could take care of your mental health. It was absolutely awesome! Then they converted this to sick leave and it has to be used for sick leave or doctor's appts. I am a big proponent of personal days to give the optimum flexibilities for different employee needs.

And to update on my personal situation (thanks for everybody's comments). Something that happened (I won't be giving details) last night should change the dynamics of the two families. It should put us in a sink or swim situation that should show whether my husband desires to have a husband type relationship or simply wants me around for convenience sake.

And for the person that wondered if he was using me for sponsorship. Anything is possible but the ex-wife and the children came here under her sponsorship and not ours (not that we could sponsor the ex-wife). If anyone knows anything about the visa lottery, getting a visa through the lottery is somewhat like a miracle happening. Our contribution was helping to pay for the children's visas/arrival so she could actually afford to come here with them.

Posted by: Billie_R | February 1, 2008 10:20 AM

The quotation in the article as to how much time "women" need to recover from a breakup suggests that this is intended a bit demeaningly as a "women's" benefit. I'll bet there's pressure on men not to use this leave.

Posted by: tomtildrum | February 1, 2008 10:30 AM

Um, leslie4, you really think it is appropriate to mope, whine and cry at WORK? You really think your coworkers want to hear it? Hint: they don't.

Posted by: Catwhowalked | February 1, 2008 10:31 AM

my association gives us one chunk of pto time, which can be used however we like. the combined chunk is smaller than what most people get for vacation and sick, but the flexibility is nice.

we also get 3 days grief leave if someone close dies. when i had my miscarriage last May (on a wednesday morning), i took off the rest of the week with no explanation. i emailed my boss a few days later so he'd know what happened. i just took my pto for it--because if i'd taken the grief leave, people would have asked questions. (well-meaning questions, i'm sure, but questions i couldn't have handled at the time.)

i told my boss i would be taking a day of grief leave on my due date in december. we went back and forth about the easiest way to handle this, so no one would know why, and in the end he told everyone i was working from home that day.

my moping/crying at work lasted significantly longer than a day. i certainly never whined or talked to anyone about it besides my boss (no one here to this day even knows it happened except him) but there's no doubt that it significantly impacted my work for months.

i'm not sure it's possible to design leave policies that accurately address how people feel after heartache for whatever reason. i think 3 days of grief leave is the least they should offer, though.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 1, 2008 10:46 AM

I think that leave should be able to be used at your own descretion within reason rather than under strict guidelines. If employers are comfertable with giving employees X number of sick and X number of vacation days what difference would it be to give them Y number of days to be used at descretion.

For example, my mom ended up having to quit her job because her personal leave didn't cover anyone other than sick parents, spouse or children. My aunt (her sister) is single and lives alone and is going through breast cancer treatement.

My mother works for a school system that already gave her too few days. Luckily my fathers pension will cover them and my Aunt got the good news that the tumor shrunk 90% with chemo and major surgry wont be needed but if she could have used her sick days and personal days to take care of business with my aunt she wouldnt have had to quit her job.

Posted by: svigasl3 | February 1, 2008 10:47 AM

PTO -Personal Time Off. To use as one determines is necessary for their personal needs. Most companies have this type of leave that can cover almost everything; except bereavement and long term sick leave which are extra. A compassionate boss who understands heartaches would be great too. My boss was Incredible during my marriage loss and I am forever grateful and loyal to that boss for his empathy and compassion.

Posted by: cyntiastmancom | February 1, 2008 11:28 AM

I definitely second cyntiastmancom. Regardless of the circumstances, having a boss who actually cares about you is priceless and can't be mandated by any policy. Yet the caring boss is what inspires the true loyalty and willingness to bust my -ss for the job.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 1, 2008 11:31 AM

I'm just laughing here! I think these ideas sound brilliant! Ridiculous, of course, but brilliant. I've always had personal days as one of my benefits, but they were generally supposed to be used for scheduled personal business--a half day to meet with your lawyer to write your will, another half day for a long dentist appointment. That kind of stuff.

I think what these policies are doing is acknowledging the sneaky balancing that people already do. It was my (male) boss who first suggested to me that Christmas shopping is easiest done by going to the mall early and coming in late for work with some lame excuse. And while I've never personally had a breakup that was painful enough to make me feel like I needed time off, I know my sisters and brother would have been grateful to have this benefit instead of having to call in with a "food poisoning."

Sounds to me like these benefits are designed for the scrupulously honest. I've never taken a day off because I just felt like I needed a day off. I've taken vacation days to get stuff done (one day each December to shop, wrap and bake), and I've thought often about calling in with a fake ailment, but when the time comes I just can't bring myself to do it. I'd love a scheduled "shopping day" four days a year!

Posted by: sarahfran | February 1, 2008 11:45 AM

even better directed leave:


A Russian governor told employers to give workers a day off to have sex. Explanation: "We need more people." ...

The province that ordered a day off for sex is also offering appliances and other prizes to anyone who gives birth exactly nine months from the designated sex day.

Posted by: newslinks1 | February 1, 2008 12:00 PM

I think congress should declare a national half day holiday after the superbowl. Why not? The guys are going to come in hungover, if they make it in at all, stand around the water cooler and talk about the game for most of the day anyway.

Go Giants!

Posted by: DandyLion | February 1, 2008 12:04 PM

OT: Just wanted to say I've appreciated Fred's updates and hope everything continues to go well for Frieda. Also Billie_R - you sound like you've got a good head on your shoulders (and a good heart) but you're definitely in a tough situation. Keep us posted.

Posted by: anne.saunders | February 1, 2008 12:27 PM

DandyLion - you have good taste in football teams.

I actually had a male co-worker take an half a day after the superbowl when his team was in it. It was exceptionally mature -- he knew he wanted to be able to stay up late/drink a little more, sleep in, etc. Considering he worked from home at the time, I thought it was honest too... he could have faked his way through the morning had he wanted to.

Posted by: tntkate | February 1, 2008 12:29 PM

Leslie -- I grew up in Japan and I can tell you that there is no such thing as work-life balance there. Married women with children are expected to be confined to the home and almost never work, unless they have high status, studied abroad, work for a western company, etc. and those cases are few. Women in the workforce, even with college degrees, are often relegated to serving tea and making copies. Most of my friends (as a teen in the 1990s) never knew their fathers because they worked so much, and they hated them for that. Thus, women in their 20s/30s have no desire to marry or have children because they don't want to be unhappily enslaved like their mothers, and men have such poor views of their fathers that becoming fathers themselves is not attractive. Furthermore, day care is still rare there and hard to find. There really is no work-life balance in Japan.

Posted by: sretherford | February 1, 2008 12:36 PM

I'll probably get myself banned for posting this, but I wanted to re-emphasize what sretherford said - there's no work-life balance in Japan, for men or women. Married women with children are expected to stay at home. Women who work are most often treated as "oeru". (Think "Office Ladies" - OL - now pronounce with the stereotype Japanese accent. Okay, you've got it.) Men are expected to be "salariman" - work 6 days per week, for at least 10 hours per day, then spend the evenings drinking and socializing with your "team members" - i.e., your coworkers - because it builds the spirit needed to succeed.

One part of Tokyo is the largest red-light district in the world. It's called Kabukicho. There are, umm, "adult business" of every type - it's been called "the home of the high-class, low-class and no-class". One of the more popular "adult businesses" was called the "Office Lady Sexual Harassment Company LTD" (I'm not making that up). It was a place for the salariman to go and act out his sexual harassment fantasies for a fee. (See Ben Mezrich's description in "Ugly Americans.")

So, I'll believe there's work life balance in that society when the pigs fly over Mt. Fuji.

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 1, 2008 2:12 PM

Heartache leave, specifically as such, sounds pretty ridiculous to me. I think that it is fine to take a personal day, or even a mental health day, to recover from a breakup, but only in cases where you cannot possibly function at work.

When I divorced from my first husband, I found work to be very therapeutic. It was a place where I still felt needed and wanted, where I still felt competent. I also had friends at work, so it going to work was a whole lot better than staying home and moping by myself. And ultimately, working hard to get over the break up also had its own benefits -- I advanced in my career. Of course, I don't begrudge a grieving person a day to recover from heartache. I just don't think it is necessary to designate hearteache as an officially sanctioned excuse not to work. I think that the people who really feel they need it should take a day of annual, personal, or sick leave to have a good cry. Then they should pick themselves up and go to work.

Posted by: emily111 | February 1, 2008 2:17 PM

Responding to Dandylion's comment about calling in for worms and hooks (pretty funny), I once called my boss and told her I needed a mental health day. She told me that if mental health was my problem, I probably needed more than just one day.

Posted by: emily111 | February 1, 2008 2:26 PM

With a heavy heart, I have some very sad news to tell the people who read the Onbalance column and are familiar with its contributers. This is in reference to the first post of the day by KLB_SS_MD who wrote that she would rather have bereavement leave for the death of a family member.

She was notified by hospital staff that her mother was in serious condition. Later on this morning while being driven home by her coworkers, KLB_SS_MD learned that her mother had passed away. She is now grieving at her home in MD.

Over a year ago when KLB first began posting to this blog, I was struck by her insightful words about her mother that showed me her great ability for compassion, forgiveness and love.

From the December 2006 archives, KLB wrote:
"I can't speak for anyone else but I help my mother as much as I can. She left our family when I was 16 (I wrote above). The way I look at is that when she is gone I don't want to have any regrets that I didn't do the best I could for her."

Ever since that post, I've always wundered what kind of person KLB's mother was. Should I judge? I mean, leaving a child at 16? Anger? Resentment? What I found out about KLB was not what I expected though. I've come to know her as one of the most sensible, humorous, and caring people I've met in the virtual world. How KLB's mother, despite her flaws, instilled these values on her daughter is to me, one of those mysteries of motherhood that can never be understood.

So KLB, Here's DandyLion, hoping your sorrow turns to joy and the heartache quickly subsides as you remember your mother during the precious time she spent with you hear on earth. May she rest in peace.

Posted by: DandyLion | February 1, 2008 2:57 PM

Our thoughts and prayers are with KLB

Posted by: m2j5c2 | February 1, 2008 3:00 PM

KLB, my heartfelt sympathies to you and your family on the death of your mother. She was fortunate to have had such a caringm hardworking daughter who did so much for her and loved her unconditionally no matter how challenging her mother made the situation.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 1, 2008 3:19 PM

caring, not caringm. Hard to type accurately sometimes.

Posted by: mehitabel | February 1, 2008 3:20 PM

Thinking of you KLB -- some kinds of heartache take much longer than a day. Come tell us how you're doing when you're ready.

Posted by: anne.saunders | February 1, 2008 3:26 PM


Frieda and I will hold you in our thoughts. Not only today but in the next few days and months as you adjust to your new life without a mother.

I remember several months after my mother died, I was in a store. I saw an item and thought "boy, mom would love that!" Then I thought, "oh, that's right, she is gone now."

Our mothers are such a central figure in our lives, we will spend the rest of our lives mourning, remembering and just thinking of them. Over time, I hope warm thought of your mother will bathe you and sustain you.


Posted by: ffarkel | February 1, 2008 3:47 PM

DandyLion, thanks for the news, and for such a thoughtful post (you can pretend you're not a big softie all you want, but we know better).

KLB, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Posted by: laura33 | February 1, 2008 4:00 PM

Wonderful words DandyLion.

Posted by: cmac | February 1, 2008 4:02 PM

KLB, My heart aches for your loss. Your mother was so very fortunate to have had a second chance at being a mom to you.

DandyLion, You're a friend indeed when the chips are down. Alright. All the time.

Posted by: mn.188 | February 1, 2008 4:08 PM

Thank you for your kind words. I had forgotten that I had written that. Some say your words come back to haunt you - in this case that is a good thing.
Even as I wrote first thing this am my heart was already heavy as I feared the end was near.
Thank you to everyone else for your kind words and thoughts. I am sure I will reread them in the coming days.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | February 1, 2008 4:32 PM

My thoughts are with you during these difficult days. Losing a mother is hard, but I hope that you will find peace in having restored your relationship with your mother. I echo everything Dandylion said. He is more eloquent than I am, and his words were truly moving. Please remember that even in this strange place called cyberspace, you have friends who know you in spirit, even if we don't know you in person. We grieve with you, and give you our support.

Posted by: emily111 | February 1, 2008 6:50 PM

My thoughts are with you during these difficult days. Losing a mother is hard, but I hope that you will find peace in having restored your relationship with your mother. I echo everything Dandylion said. He is more eloquent than I am, and his words were truly moving. Please remember that even in this strange place called cyberspace, you have friends who know you in spirit, even if we don't know you in person. We grieve with you, and give you our support.

Posted by: emily111 | February 1, 2008 6:50 PM

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