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

4 thoughts on “Mastering the Game of Hookie

  1. Voidious says:

    Things are very different at a job where you can work from home (like mine). Suddenly, “toughing it out” and coming into work when you (really) have a cold is not only unnecessary, it will earn the ire of your coworkers. “Why the hell isn’t he wfh today? I don’t want his germs!” It also means that you don’t really get “sick days”; instead, you have “wfh ’cause I’m sick” days. (We literally don’t have any allotted sick days.)

    That said, I’m not sure I agree with all your suggestions. An outlandish excuse would strike me as completely fake 100% of the time, no matter what. (Unless you happened to catch me off-guard, I suppose.) In fact, you make a very good point in the “you probably can’t act for shit” segment, then you suggest that one of the best excuses is an absurd one that requires extravagant acting! But this leads well into my next point…

    It’s vitally important to know your audience. If your boss is some dumb shit, just ham it up and he’ll probably just be glad that you aren’t suspecting him of whatever moronic thing he probably almost got caught doing in the past week. If your boss is an extreme cynic (ahem), well, they probably think you’re lying anyway, so don’t waste time putting much thought into it, and especially don’t make up something unbelievable; for a trusting boss, you similarly need not put much thought into it (though for the opposite reasons). If your boss is a ditz, maybe something she’ll find relate-able, like, “I got a flat tire and I don’t know what to do so I called my uncle and I’m waiting for him now. Hopefully I can make it in for the afternoon.” For the boss that you were doing shots with until 3am the night before, a simple “I’m nauseous” might suffice.

    Lastly, it’s important to know your goal. Do you want or need to be believed? Does your boss take every single sick day he’s allotted, and you *want* him to know you’re bullshitting? If so, this is a great opportunity to come up with something clever *and* obviously fake. Do you have a chance of being believed, but you really need to get off the phone before the pizza you ordered gets there, removing all doubt that you are lying? Well, keep it simple then. You need to have a clear view of what you have on your side, what you are trying to achieve, and who your target audience is. Make the best of a bad (and bullshit) situation.


  2. Miker says:

    At this point if I am playing hookie, it is simply “family issue / personal issue”. Those are harder to argue and easier to simply say “I don’t want to talk about it”.


  3. Patchdude you make some really great points. I think your comments about knowing your audience are right on the money, and I should probably have elaborated a bit on that aspect a bit more (touched on it briefy in the second paragraph but didn’t go into detail). You really have to trust your gut. With these sick calls you can find yourself many levels deep in a vortex of patronization, so it’s ultimately up to the hookie player to decide what’s appropriate.

    I should clarify my comments about the “shock and awe” tactic, because I may have misrepresented my thoughts on the matter. You’re right, “outlandish” excuses are easy to spot, so I guess what I’m advocating is an excuse that is *just* weird enough to be unique, but not so absurd that it’s obviously fake. It’s a delicate balance, but I think a good hookie player knows where to draw the line.

    Mikedude: Yes, I neglected to mention one of the most versatile and reliable excuses ever–the “personal/family issue”, or as I sometimes call it, the “minor emergency”. You’re always justified in not wanting to talk about it, and in fact I think bosses usually want to avoid pushing the issue and are likely to just accept the excuse immediately and move on. You can’t go wrong with this one.


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