The Art of the Sickie

Nobody gets enough holidays. After ten years in the same company, I have a mere 25 days off a year, nowhere near sufficient for the relaxed lifestyle to which I aspire. There are two ways to supplement this: ask for unpaid leave, which you probably won’t get and which costs you money, or phone in sick and be not at work, yet still get paid. No prizes for guessing which is preferable. However, to make the most use of this supplementary time off requires the use of psychology, as well as acting skills that would put Keanu Reeves to shame, in order to convince your employers that there is indeed a minor outbreak of Ebola in Tulse Hill, but that you should be over it by Thursday.


Firstly, choose your day. Everyone goes for Fridays and Mondays, so these are to be avoided for general sickies; this is doubly true for days around Bank Holiday weekends, when even the most gullible of bosses will begin to smell a healthy-but-faking-it rat. The advantages of, say, a Wednesday, is it chops the week right down the middle, leaving you no more than two days from legitimate leisure time. But remember to vary things a bit, as the aforementioned credulous manager is bound to notice you missing six straight Wednesdays.

Secondly, pick your cause. The ideal sickie:

  • comes on swiftly, avoiding the need to foreshadow your illness over the previous couple of days,
  • matches your lifestyle; foreign trips provide an opportunity for exotic infections on your return,
  • doesn’t mock co-workers; if someone’s genuinely asthmatic, using it as an excuse is impolite,
  • leaves no trace, since questions about what happened to the chickenpox marks can be awkward.
  • at the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, it should probably also be curable.

A Note On Hangovers

Never underestimate the humble hangover: absenteeism and poor job performance induced by it is estimated to cost the American economy $148 billion a year. [1] Yet despite this, it is viewed with great disfavour by bosses, as a self-inflicted wound. This is inconsistent – would they use the same grounds to deny sick leave if you got AIDS? – but here at TC, we don’t bitch about how unfair life is, we deal with it. Treat your hangover like a genuinely-ill sickie, and simply convert it into something less provocative. The exception is when those Kodo drummers in your brain are the result of a works outing: if everyone knows exactly what you were doing, you might as well bite the bullet and go in. It’ll hurt, but establishes your credibility as someone who won’t let “a mere hangover” stop them from coming in. Best not do it too often though, or “Jim is a conscientious employee” will become “Jim is an alcoholic”, though this would open up whole new areas of opportunity, such as cirrhosis of the liver, detox sessions, etc.

[1] Dr.Jeffrey Wiese, medical professor at the University of California, writing in the Annals of Internal Medicine, June 6th 2000.

senivpetro, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Top 10 excuses for absence

  1. “Food poisoning”. Your diet – curry, kebabs and other junk – sucks anyway, so this will come as no surprise to anyone. Discussion of bowel movements will block suspicious questioning.
  2. “Women’s problems”. Obviously limited to women, but if you are, you have a huge advantage: any male will blanch, and not pursue things further. Also a reason to act the complete bitch.
  3. “Migraine”. Excellent for emergency use, when you need to get out of the office quickly, although best to previously establish a pattern in less critical moments. A naturally recurring infirmity too, so can be used often.
  4. “Flu”. No-one gets a cold any more, let alone claims one a reason to stay home. Thie perennial favourite can easily be stretched across several days, especially if used during a genuine outbreak.
  5. “Back problems”. The ideal chronic illness, because it’s almost totally unprovable either way. Helps if you generally look miserable at work, which should be easy, since if you’re happy there, why are you pulling a sickie?
  6. “Dentist’s appointment”. Usually requires advance notification, and generally only good for half a day, but has the benefit that you’re not expected to be in the house.
  7. “Allergies”. I know someone who sniffed the family pet to enhance her sicky with streaming eyes and wheezing. Find your allergy and be ill at will; just avoid peanut-style anaphylactic shock.
  8. “Stress”. Implies you’re working too hard, which may or may not be credible, but the symptoms e.g. high blood pressure tend to be nicely internal. Develop a facial tic to bump up people’s pity. More advanced pupils may also care to test the theory that the more severe the complaint, the less likely anyone is to risk of contesting it, in case you actually are…well:
  9. “Cancer”. Only if you want a lot of time off. Everyone has dodgy moles, and even a lame melanoma is near-sacrosanct. Shave your head badly before you return, and blame chemotherapy.
  10. “A funeral”. While not strictly your affliction, Oscar-caliber practitioners can find out at work, and break down sobbing. Who’d dare probe such histrionics? Don’t claim dead parents too often…

Signing Off 

Opinion is divided as to whether it is better to have someone call in for you, or do it yourself. My view is that it depends on the precise nature of the illness you are claiming: the more serious ones are more likely to benefit from this approach. If you opt to use it, someone of the opposite sex is best, to prevent potentially awkward rumours circulating while you’re away…

You do not want any contact with your boss, who is liable to ask awkward questions. So speak to a sympathetic co-worker i.e. someone who won’t give a toss, or leave a message on voice-mail. Phoning early in the morning is helpful, because it looks much more conscientious than leaving it until lunchtime, and your voice is also likely to sound nicely raspy and weak. It’s worth setting an alarm-clock in order to do so, even if you crash out again immediately after.

If you are unlucky enough to encounter your boss, the question of when you’ll be back is likely to arise. Technically, the correct (but none too diplomatic) answer is “ask the bacterial infection currently rampaging its way through my body”. Therefore, vagueness is best: say you “hope” to be in tomorrow. For a short sickie, it’s best to leave on an optimistic note, by saying you think you’re over the worst and are feeling a little better this morning. This not only shows a keenness to return to your beloved job, it also primes an excuse, should you be heading out of the house.

Euricius Cordus (1486-1535), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Covering your tracks

Once you’ve convinced your boss, you want to enjoy your bonus holiday; this is fine if you work behind the counter at Millie’s Cookies, and are certain no-one is going to phone you at home about anything. However, odds are that you work with a bunch of incompetent baboons incapable of wiping their own bottoms, and who will think nothing of disturbing your recovery with an endless series of inane questions. Which is a bit awkward, if the truth is that you’re sitting in a beer garden somewhere.

Warn any unemployed/student/similarly sicky housemates who might get to the phone first: “I think he’s sleeping and I’d rather not disturb him,” is the answer they should give out if you aren’t around, or perhaps the more dramatic, “he’s in the bog puking up right now,” which should forestall all but the most persistent. Either of these can be primed during the phone-in, when you say you hardly slept and how badly your stomach was upset. It need hardly be said that if you answer the phone, a weak and quavering voice is essential, until you’re sure who’s on the other end.

If no-one at all is around when work comes a-calling, you need to have a good reason why you didn’t get to the phone. As well as the ones listed above, you can add things like “went to the chemists”, though this is not much use if you’re not around for the whole day. “At the doctor” gives a little more scope, since the NHS being what it is, getting seen the same day is a major triumph. An answering machine is almost essential: as well as allowing for call-screening, a phone that rings and rings is infinitely more suspicious than one which only trills twice before the message cuts in.

Do exercise care in your choice of destination: too many people have been nailed due to being spotted on the highlights at Lords’ after claiming a sickie in order to head for the cricket. Avoid TV cameras like the plague, even if you are a witness to UFOs landing outside 10 Downing Street: you are supposed to be at death’s door, not the Prime Minister’s. It goes without saying that you should also keep some way from your job, or any places associated with it. It may be tempting to attend that leaving do in the evening of your sicky, but it will only cause trouble as claims of “miraculous recovery” are likely to be met with scepticism.

The Return

It may be painful to realise it, but you will have to go back eventually. Ideally, you should continue to play the invalid for at least the first morning back. The impression you want to give is of someone who has bravely struggled into work, despite not quite being 100%. There is a secret technique here, which I now reveal: start acting ill only when you are sure no-one is looking at you. If you see anyone noticing, smile bravely, and make a limp attempt at perking up. This is such a contrast to what people expect from skivers, that the very idea that you’re pulling a double switch on them will never come to mind. You can now begin to plan your next scheduled malady…