Nearly everyone has heard of sick leave, the time that people are allowed off from work to recover from an illness, whether real or feigned. More people also are becoming aware of child-care leave, the time off that companies are supposed to allow to mothers or fathers of a newborn child. Now the Osaka-based Japanese unit of the huge British pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca has announced a “headache-leave” policy — although employees must submit a medical certificate in order to take advantage of it.
Personnel managers in other companies may be developing headaches of their own at the news. What if their workers start requesting such leave? There already are indications — among younger employees especially — of a breakdown in the Japanese tradition of not taking all the vacation time one is entitled to, even though the trend is still officially discouraged. It may be largely because of the tight job situation that so many people remain resigned to the thought that long vacations are something only workers in other countries can enjoy.
No wonder, then, that so few men in this country are willing to follow the example of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and take some time off following the arrival of a new baby. The Labor Ministry acknowledges that in the decade since the law to promote child-care leave — without salary — was enacted, fewer than 1 percent of eligible men have applied for it, compared with more than 44 percent of eligible women. Male employees who do take such leave describe the experience in glowing terms, but they face setbacks when they return to work, not to mention being criticized as slackers even when they were not collecting pay.
The drug company instituting the new headache leave says its purpose is to raise public understanding of people who suffer severe head pain. It is also the case, however, that the company is putting on the market here a new medication for the treatment of migraine, the intense chronic headaches that often resist standard therapies. If in the process of helping to relieve such pain the company also encourages the practice of reasonable time off to recover one’s health, it will perform a double service for the nation’s workaholics.
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