I was ill in bed all night - Sick day excuses

By Diana Clement

There can barely be an employed person alive who hasn't pulled a sickie. That is, taking a day off without using up your holiday pay. Some do it regularly, and others feel guilty even when they're genuinely sick.

If your boss has a sense of humour or you're just too tired to think of an excuse, then you might want to visit the Sickday Excuse Generator on the internet where you can generate tomorrow's excuse such as:

* My twitch is back and I might damage something.

* My 24-hour flu started this morning.

* Today is irritable bowel day for me.

* My Ex-Lax has finally kicked in - big time.

The website also has a hand-held computer version of the excuse generator for when you 'need to call in sick from the resort, atop the slopes, or from the sixth hole'.

A service that a New Zealand telecoms provider could pick up on is the website Call-in-sick.com, which is only available to North Americans at the moment. This service allows you to pre-record a sick message for your boss, which is delivered to his or her voicemail - alleviating the fear that you might sleep beyond 9am after a night out partying and not make the call.

If you are going to pull a sickie, and being abducted by aliens won't cut it with your employer, then you'll probably need to invent something that can't be checked too easily for a fail-safe sickie. Perhaps you've got a bad back or you had a one-off vomiting attack for no apparent reason.

The Holidays Act 2003 says that you need to provide proof of sickness or injury if you take off three or more consecutive calendar days. But you could be asked to provide proof for a shorter time if your employer believes the illness is being faked. That could be a little difficult if you weren't really sick or injured.

Perhaps you've been in contact with someone with 'flu' and you feel you're coming down with it. That way the next day you can say that you managed to escape the worst of the symptoms. Calling in sick saying you need dental work may not work if you get asked for proof.

In a survey, 94 per cent of employees in Britain admitted pulling sickies occasionally. In Britain and New Zealand many employers hate recurrent sickie pullers. Business New Zealand says sickies are a major problem for industry - especially those which require shift and weekend work.

Employers also have the support of the government. Earlier this year Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment Ruth Dyson encouraged employers to use provisions under the Holiday Act to deal with employees abusing sick leave.

It's not just your employer who you need to worry about. A survey published in Britain also found that two-thirds of employees were fed up with fellow workers pulling sickies. Some have to carry the can for their not-so-present work colleagues.

Used judiciously, however, sickies can be a good thing says Iris Barrow, career coach, counsellor and author, who runs Iris Barrow Counselling.

"Any forward thinking organisation now does recognise the need for a mental health day, especially when (employees) are really stressed out and not functioning efficiently," says Barrow.

Tacking a sick day onto a weekend can help employees get their energy up again. Not all employers will agree.

"I employed people in a counselling agency and encouraged them to do this. If they were really feeling tired I said: 'for goodness sake, take a mental health day'. I did this for 18 years and nobody ever took advantage of it," says Barrow.

Stress, of course, is a valid reason for taking time off sick. What's more, unchecked it can lead to depression and other illnesses, which will end up costing many employers the full sick leave entitlement.

"By taking a mental health day (employees) may well prevent a more serious illness."

Asking (or telling) your employer you want a mental health day can be a nail-biting experience for some people. What if it's taken down as a black mark against you? Barrow recommends approaches such as:

* For the past few weeks my energy hasn't been as good as it should be and this has been impacting on the job

* I haven't had as much energy, innovation and creativity as I normally have in the job and I am getting exhausted

* In order for me to give my best work and improve my productivity I would like to ask for a mental health day

* A mental health day may prevent me going to a lower level.

* I can guarantee I am committed to the organisation

There are of course some employers who just won't accept it , says Barrow. "They don't have much emotional intelligence. An employer that does have emotional intelligence will appreciate your honesty."

In general, says Linley Rose, professional coach and director of Coaching Associates, employers are quite accepting of employees taking genuine sick days - especially if there is good communication.

"I have worked with a client who had a lot of time sick and her way of handling it was to be up front with her employer. The employer in turn was emotionally supportive, but did not pay her once she had exceeded her sick allowance."

If you are taking a lot of sickies, then Rose suggests you take a long hard look at the reasons behind your actions.

"Maybe this is an opportunity to look at what is the reason and what is going on in your thinking about your job. Do you not want to be there or don't feel that you can be honest. (It could be) time to move on or time to change your thinking." You could also open your lines of communication with your boss.

Sickies are a lot more common when there's a big sporting event on or before and after a weekend - especially a long weekend. If you don't want to come under suspicion then it might be worth working with your boss for legitimate ways of taking time off work, but not having your holiday or wages/salary docked. These can include:

* Asking to watch or listen to the game at work. Perhaps you could suggest that the company provides a TV as a team building opportunity, thus boosting morale.

* Working through your lunch so that you can head off on holiday early or make it to the match.

* Suggesting an informal flexi-time system to enable you to get your chance to leave early.

Finally, dusting your face or just under your eyes with a little talcum powder can make you look quite ill...if your employer isn't as emotionally intelligent as others.

Or you can try this one: "Dear boss. I'm really sorry, but I can't come to work today because I've been abducted by aliens."

You may laugh, but that excuse has been used as a reason for calling in sick. I wonder what planet he was on...

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