After being discussed on Good Morning Britain, HR Grapevine ponders whether it is more than just a chat show topic...
“For years, you and your partner have been in a loving and committed relationship. You’ve lived together, adopted a pet together, travelled around the world together, and built a life together. However, over the last few months things have not been so great and you have gradually started to drift apart.
After a few attempts to ‘make it work’ both you and your partner mutually agree that breaking up is the right decision. You just want different things. Although you know this is the correct path to take, you feel paralysed by the heartbreak. Daily responsibilities, such as going into work, suddenly feel very difficult. What if you are unable to perform your job to the standards you’ve set? What if you break down in a meeting? What happens if you just can’t get out of bed in the morning?”
Whilst you might feel foolish, or like you might be laughed at, if you asked your boss for some time off to grieve the end of your relationship, whether to give employees time off after a break-up is a debate that has recently made headlines with questions being asked if there were benefits to offering ‘heartbreak leave’.
A few months ago the TV show Good Morning Britain posed the idea of giving employees compassionate leave following a break-up. Matchmaker Lara Asprey – who appeared on the show – says that employees need time off to recover from break-ups. She told HR Grapevine: “Heartbreak can be such a shock to the body that you almost need time to process what has happened. [Employees] need time to process it in order to grieve the loss of a relationship.”
Asprey explains that if employees are able to have some time off to come to terms with their break-up, they will be in a better mental and physical state when they return to work and will likely perform to a higher level. Some firms are already working along these lines. Grace Beverley, who heads up three UK businesses, allows staff to take a day off after a break-up if they don’t feel like coming in to work.
Asprey agrees with this tactic. “I think [employers] are realising that, in order to get the best out of employees, their home has to be in order for them to do that. If their home isn’t in order, then employers are recognising that they need to help employees to get [through] that.” The matchmaker adds this has a particular benefit for jobs which require intense concentration or need high individual capability.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine explained that the brain registers the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way as physical pain which is why people use language such as ‘my heart has been ripped out’ when describing break-ups as this phrasing associates physical with emotional pain.
Additionally, the brain releases hormones when we become attached to someone or something. So, when heartbreak strikes, the hormone levels drop and are replaced with stress hormones called cortisol. While this hormone is designed to support the body, too much cortisol over a long period of time can result in anxiety, nausea and weight gain – all of which can make it difficult for employees to concentrate and function at work.
Whilst Asprey sees the benefits of ‘heartbreak leave’ the matchmaker doesn’t think that this type of time off should be classified as official leave because this could leave it open to abuse. “I just think it should be taken compassionately by employers to say, look, there is a situation and we want our people to come back to work feeling like we have supported them through something difficult.
“Some days would be lost because obviously they won’t be in for certain days but in the long-run, [employers] will have dedicated, loyal workers who think that their employer understands their situation,” she adds.
Instead, Asprey believes the decision to grant employees ‘heartbreak leave’ should be at the discretion of a doctor rather than the individual themselves. “If [an employee] is feeling bad and they go to the doctors and say ‘look, I haven’t eaten all week, I can’t sleep, I’m anxious’, the doctor may look at them and say ‘okay, I’m going to write you off for a week, here is some medication that might help you – let me know how you get on’,” she adds.
“Employers do have to understand these things because it would help maintain loyalty, maintain the fact that these people feel valued, create a good relationship both between employer and employee and it will just create a culture of understanding and compassion,” Asprey concludes.