Mastering the Game of Hookie

Calling in sick to work is an underappreciated artform. Hookie is a game that requires boldness and creativity to be played effectively. Many hookie players are content to “sound sick” on the phone, suggest that they’re “not feeling well”, and propose they should “stay home and recuperate”. Unfortunately, the underachievers who concoct these lame excuses vastly overestimate their acting abilities (the “sick voice” always sounds fake) and fail to realize that a vague “I’m not feeling well” is code for “I just don’t want to come in”.

Others feign altruism, suggesting that they might “get the whole office sick” if they come into work. That’s a step above “not feeling well” and shows a modicum of creativity, but it’s still the stuff of amateurs. “Food poisoning”? Forget it. Unimaginative and overused. “Diarrhea”? Bold, and perhaps effective ten or fifteen years ago, but it’s cliche at this point and basically says “I’m not coming to work, don’t question it.”

Now, the excuses above are all fine and good in a relaxed office environment. Indeed, many employers in such a setting would be honored that you made up any excuse at all rather than simply stating “I’m not coming into work”. It shows respect. But in a strict work environment where attendance is closely monitored, you’ll need to dig deep.

I can’t remember the last time I called in sick to work, but having gained experience as both a hookie player and a supervisor I’d like to think that I understand the fine art of crafting a good excuse. Below are some guidelines to follow the next time you call in sick to work.

Don’t even think about faking a sick voice. You can’t act as well as you think you can and your boss will know you’re faking it. Sure, you don’t want to sound jubilant and energetic, but no need to lay it on so thick. A calm, subdued voice will suffice.

Forget about using vague generalities–“I’m not feelng well”, “I don’t feel so hot”, etc. If you’re really sick, you’ve got real symptoms–runny nose, congestion, splitting headache, etc. Be as specific as you can.

Avoid talking about being sick to your stomach or throwing up. At first these seem like good candidates. They’re specific, and nobody wants a puking employee at the office, but you might as well just tell your boss you’re hungover and can’t come in.

Use “shock and awe”. Come up with something so absurd you couldn’t possibly be making it up. Remember, you don’t have to be sick per se, you just have to be unavailable to come into work. “I just ran over a dog and I’m really shaken up” is a good example. “My cat has some kind of infected sore and I have to take him to the vet.” Things of that nature. Your boss will probably believe it, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll be so stunned by the audacity of the excuse that he’ll let it slide.

Unique personal ailments are ok (“My nose won’t stop bleeding”, “I just lost a tooth”, etc.) but remember, you need to be able to fake your way through work the next day, so try not to overdo it.

House, apartment, and car maintenance excuses can work well. “A pipe burst and I need to wait here for a contractor” or “There was a small electrical fire downstairs” aren’t bad. Dealing with things like that could take up your whole day. “My engine seized on the thruway and I’m waiting for the tow truck, then I need to take it in to be fixed.” You get the idea.

I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful and I’d love to hear any clever excuses you’d be willing to share. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think i dislocated my toe and should probably get it checked out.

Mastering the Game of Hookie