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What about heartbreak leave?

The move for 'First Day of Period' leave leads to an introspection on other kinds of leaves that elicit divided opinions

British artist Tracey Emin’s conceptual artwork ‘My Bed’ at the Tate Britain in London. Photo: Paul Hackett/Reuters
British artist Tracey Emin’s conceptual artwork ‘My Bed’ at the Tate Britain in London. Photo: Paul Hackett/Reuters

A Mumbai-based digital media company, Culture Machine, announced that it would offer “First Day of Period" (FOP) leave to its more than 75 female employees, flagging a wave of commentary and social media support last week. There’s now a petition with close to 30,000 signatures. And a Shiv Sena corporator, Sheetal Mhatre, is campaigning for FOP leave to be made mandatory. According to a Hindustan Times article, Mhatre has tabled a proposal in the Brihanmumbai municipal corporation (BMC), asking for government, semi-government and private organizations to grant leave to women on the first day of their periods.

Is this woman-friendly? Several commentators believe so, though some of them admit they are just glad that menstruation is being discussed. While the idea of period leave is de rigueur in countries like South Korea, Italy and Japan, most experts interviewed for the articles over the last week—chiefly gynaecologists and human-resource managers—are not in favour. For instance, Dr Nandita Shah, co-director at Akshara, a non-government organization working for equal rights for women, believes that treating menstruation as a sickness is a false equivalence, and that making menstrual leave compulsory will dissuade people from hiring women.

Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar got trolled for tweeting that pain during periods is abnormal and needs to be addressed. I’m with Diwekar on this. Women with endometriosis or other serious menstruation-related disorders need medical intervention. Others suffering discomfort need a diet and lifestyle change more than a day’s leave.

FOP leave got me thinking about other kinds of leave that elicits divided opinions. I Need A Mental Health Day is now increasingly popular. Except that it is unclear how a couple of days off can address a serious psychological condition. While it could be a good stop-gap measure, what is perhaps more important is employers allowing flexible hours for staff to see a therapist regularly if they need to.

I’m suspicious of people who only fall sick on Mondays. This has a name: I’m Too Hungover To Come To Work leave. I would make a case for Divorce Leave but you would only agree with me if you have ever sat next to someone who was undergoing a complicated divorce and didn’t get along with their divorce lawyer. Some leaves are necessary not just for your own workplace productivity but also for that of those around you.

Apart from personal illness, I have found two things to affect productivity. One is the illness of a family member or pet and the other is heartbreak. Most employers would find the illness, hospitalization or accident of a family member a valid reason for leave, no questions asked. There is relatively less compassion about pet care, but it is not unheard of. But how many people have the privilege of citing heartbreak as a reason for leave? And yet, one should be able to really, as the short-term symptoms can mirror mild to severe depression. Our beds might not be as artistically dishevelled as Tracey Emin’s famous installation but our minds can be as gloriously messed up after a break-up.

I don’t remember if I had used the exact words but many years ago I had asked an editor for heartbreak leave and she had thought it was a reasonable request. I had broken up a long-distance relationship a few months after pictures of us promising each other beautiful forevers had been posted on Facebook—oh, the follies of the 20s! I didn’t know if I was ever going to see this person again. I couldn’t write and all I wanted to do was play November Rain on loop. So I took a few days off. And while I did nothing more life-altering in that period than buy knee-high strappy gladiator sandals, by the time I came back to office I had switched to old Hindi songs, which was at least less annoying for those around me.

In 2008, a Tokyo firm Hime & Co. actually announced it would give paid time off after a bad break-up. The “heartache leave" for staff aged 24 years or younger was one day per year, while those between 25-29 could take two days off and those older could take three days off. The reasoning was that heartache leave would allow staff to cry themselves out and return to work refreshed. The Japanese know a thing or two about the art of mending. Besides, if it’s happening in Japan, it must be the future.

She tweets at @aninditaghose

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