In Absentia

First published in New Escapologist Issue Three

My work attendance record has more holes in it than a hunk of cartoon cheese. I may regret this when I’m asked to account for near-criminal levels of absentia at a future job interview, but, for now, a stolen day here and there is all that makes my shitty Temp job bearable. When Wringham asked me to write something for my career-afflicted brethren, I knew exactly what to do. Here are my foolproof ways to get time off:


Mastering a Ferris Bueller-style ‘sick voice’ is something we’re all familiar with. In the past, I’ve coughed myself hoarse before dialling my boss’s digits. Recently, I’ve rethought the practice. Instead of trying to convince your boss that you’re sick, let them know that you’re faking it. Who cares what the boss thinks? Phone the boss and cheerfully announce that you’re sick as a dog and you can’t possibly come to work. Wahey! This will infuriate your boss, but it would be impolite to second-guess your malady. It’s the office equivalent of mooning a tiger while its safely behind the bars of a cage. Great fun.

If you’re not up to this, the best thing to do is speak in a slightly subdued tone and explain that you have flu-like symptoms and a headache and that you’ll make a doctors appointment if things don’t improve. It’s also a good idea to take your fake sick days mid-week: most people fake illnesses to extend their weekends, so it will be more believable if you’re absent on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday instead. Showing up on Friday is terrific fun: you’ll be fresh as a daisy while your colleagues are knackered.

Don’t take single sick days. Take three days or even a week. A human being will only fall sick a believable number of times, so you might as well string out each imaginary virus for as long as possible. There’s actually a technique used by Human Resource managers to measure absenteeism called the Bradford Formula. It works on the theory that short, frequent absences are more disruptive than longer, less frequent ones. By putting your feet up for a week instead of a day, you can cheat the system: more time off can actually mean a cleaner absentee record.

Leak in the kitchen

A brilliant way of getting a day off is to report a mechanical problem at home. ‘There’s a leak in my kitchen!’ is the classic. What you don’t have to report, however, is that it’s a actually a leek. That is, of the leafy, green variety and that you’ll be eating it in soup-form later, while you watch Richard & Judy.

The best way to report this news is in an urgent tone. Say that you’ll come to work as soon as you’ve “got this mess cleaned up” and as soon as the plumber arrives to take over. Make another call after lunch to say that it’s a more involved problem than you thought or that the plumber is yet to show up. It looks as if you’re going to be here all day, dammit.

The quick pop-out

These are brilliant because you don’t even have to explain them. Extract yourself from your desk and go for a pint in a nearby pub (preferably one your boss is unlikely to frequent). Do so without asking or telling anyone where you’re going. If anyone questions you upon your return, you can blame it on a dental appointment, a doctors appointment or a meeting at another office or organisation.

Job Interview

Your employer is not legally obliged to give you time off for a job interview. The shock of your announcement, however, will knock your boss for six. To play it cool, he’ll probably grant you the day (or a half-day) off. It will also be a signal to your boss that you’re hot property: another organisation is interested enough to commit the time and money to interview you.

If you’re asked for what company you’re being interviewed for, say it’s via an agency and the identity of the company has not been revealed to you. On the other hand, you’re even less likely to arouse suspicion if you can arrange to attend a real job interview: make sure it’s as far afield as possible so that you can enjoy an expenses-paid trip to another city.

Family Emergency

If you need a day off at the drop of a hat, even mid-shift, you can always play the ‘family emergency’ card. To begin with, you simply declare a ‘family emergency,’ preferably with your coat and keys in hand to signify urgency. Usually, your boss will respect your privacy enough not to probe too deeply, but, in the event that he does, you can sacrifice a fictional aunt or uncle. In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David escapes a commitment by reporting the death of a ‘step-uncle,’ because he thinks the specificity of ‘step-‘ is more believable. I’d advise against this in favour of the simplicity of ‘uncle’. I would also avoid using fictional grandmas, mothers or fathers: unlike aunts, uncles, and cousins, those relatives are limited by nature.

Depression/Long-Term Sick

Perhaps the ultimate in ill-gotten time off is to complain to your doctor about stress, anxiety, insomnia or depression. Refer intermittently to a stressful workload. If you happen have physical ailments that could be attributed to stress, such as eczema or hives, be sure to use them to good effect. Your doctor can write you a note for weeks or months away from work. If it’s a work-related stress problem, you will have the rare pleasure of presenting the doctor’s note to your boss and saying “I’m sick and it’s your fault.”

Feeling Guilty?

It’s imperative that you feel no guilt about taking time off. If you’re feeling guilty, you won’t be able to concentrate on watching Trisha or building a tower of beermats or however it is you choose to spend your bonus day. Absenteeism is better for everyone than presenteeism: there’s no point being at work if you’re just going to stare out of the window or at Facebook for seven and a half hours. Also, by taking a high number of sick days, you may even reward your office with the honour of ‘sick building syndrome’ and your bosses may have to reassess the quality of their working environment. Everyone’s a winner.


Jon Ransom has had many, many temp jobs. He really just wants to work in the fresh air and be left alone.

Issue One extra features


The reformatted edition of Issue One is the definitive one but there’s a bit of stuff we cut out. As a website bonus, we’ve posted some of these ‘deleted scenes’:

The above fresco is by the almighty Pete Thoms. Read the rest of this entry »

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