People Management poll: should employees get a day off for a relationship breakdown?

Almost 1,200 voted on LinkedIn on whether ‘heartbreak leave’ should be a thing. HR experts take a look at the results

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Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni took a ‘personal day’ off and avoided going to a major party conference last week after she announced that she was parting ways with her husband.

Speaking via video link at her party’s Brothers of Italy conference, she said: “I’m sorry to not be with you in person, but I too am human.”

While the UK has no country-wide separation or divorce policy, in January Asda, Tesco, Metro Bank, NatWest, PwC, Unilever and Vodafone signed up to a pledge by the Positive Parenting Alliance (PPA) to introduce more family-friendly HR policies for staff going through divorce or separation. 

But an exclusive poll carried out by People Management of almost 1,200 people on LinkedIn found that the majority of people (46 per cent) do not think employees should be entitled to ‘heartbreak leave’ following a break up, with 40 per cent saying they should and 14 per cent unsure. 

“One day off isn't going to do much good under those circumstances,” says Dominique Nally, human resources consultant at OneHR. “The break-up of a relationship can be equivalent to bereavement because we essentially mourn the end of the relationship.

“This in itself is likely to result in the grief curve we know. Personal self care needs will thus vary and won't fit neatly into 7.5-8 continuous hours.”

She says flexible working options might be necessary when employees are going through personal hardships and workplaces should allow such options. “I appreciate that the day after the break up, being at work isn't going to be on the cards so, in this respect, maybe allowing a day off is fair,” Nally continues.

“But I'd much prefer to see organisations offering an ongoing listening ear, empathy, understanding and the flexibility to vary the way people work, as and when they need it, while going through the stages of grief – for example, start later, finish earlier, work from home, use holidays and use compassionate leave.”

Stephen West, people director at Lightful, says introducing such a policy without having already established a supportive company culture is “pointless”. “Call it what you want – sick leave, personal day – if someone is suffering and needs some time, they should take it without fear of needing to fit specific policy labels. People over process,” he says.

But Mallory Conboy, former assistant director of human resources at Shangri-La Group, says such practices should be incorporated into wider policies and it should be up to employees whether they feel comfortable to disclose why they are requesting time off. “If staff are given paid time off, or even unpaid time off, just let them take it. No one needs to know what is happening in that person's personal life,” she says.

“It's a simple: ‘I need time off today. Thank you.’ The person can share the reason if they want but it is not necessary.”

The debate comes as businesses are increasingly acknowledging the impact that mental health can have on employees in the workplace. Previous research by the PPA found that three quarters (74 per cent) of employees who went through a divorce felt less efficient at work. 

The majority (90 per cent) of the 200 people surveyed said their work performance was impacted when they went through a divorce and 95 per cent said their mental health at work suffered as a result. 

Half (52 per cent) said they felt they might lose their job for taking time off work to process their separation, and 9 per cent said their employer has specific policies or support for employees going through separation or divorce.