Excuses, Excuses

Employees can be creative in providing reasons for not working, but experts advise trying honesty.

July 20, 2005|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

I hurt myself bowling.

I eloped. My cat has hairballs.

I couldn't find my shoes.

My curlers burned my hair and I had to go to the hairdresser.

I was spit on by a venomous snake.

I'm taking three days off to sing in the opera.

I'm in jail.

I forgot to come back after lunch.

I have plastic surgery scheduled.

A hit man was looking for me.

REASONS NOT to go to work: My cat unplugged my alarm clock. My garage door is broken. I couldn't find my shoes.

It might seem like a stretch, but managers say these and other outlandish excuses are among the reasons their employees have given when calling the boss to get out work.

Whether it's the dog days of summer or a sense of entitlement, workers are coming up with a flurry of excuses to take a day off.

The line between work and home time has blurred. Many employees are putting in extra work hours at home, and some are recouping that time with bogus sick days. Experts say many workers view sick days as extra vacation days, or they might need personal time but fear their boss won't react well to the truth.

"Sometimes people feel their employers might not be understanding if an emergency comes up or if they need a day," said Renee Whalen, vice president for the Washington-Maryland region for Accountemps, a California-based financial staffing firm that surveyed managers last year about unusual excuses employees used to request time off.

Thirty-five percent of workers say they called in sick when they weren't at least once over 12 months, according to an August survey of 1,600 workers by CareerBuilder.com, an online job search engine associated with several newspaper Web sites, including baltimore sun.com.

One in 10 workers said they called in sick when they weren't three or more times, the survey said. The need to run errands and make appointments, relaxing and catching up on sleep were the top reasons they did so.

Whether bosses accepted their off-the-wall excuses depended on the worker-management relationship, said Jennifer Sullivan, spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.com in Chicago. Bosses typically let the excuses of a high-performer slide, but tended not to believe chronic offenders, she said.

When baseball season and the weather began heating up, the Orioles tried to have fun with the idea that unscheduled absences might drive workers from their offices directly to Camden Yards. Earlier in the season, they sent this e-mail to fans:

"On Wednesday, May 4th, the Baltimore Orioles take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 3:05 p.m. Many of you would normally be at work during these hours, so we'd like to help you arrange a day off from the boss. Just click on the permission slip below, print it out, fill in the appropriate info, and present it to your supervisor."

`A higher cause'

The link took fans to an Orioles "`Official' permission slip," asking to please excuse the employee from his or her work duties "as his/her presence is needed at Camden Yards for a higher cause."

Matt Dryer, senior director of public affairs and advertising for the Orioles, said a good number of walk-ups were at the game that day, though it's impossible to say if they were skipping work.

"With so many people working downtown ... and having a good weather day, people are always looking for a reason to sneak out. And they can work pretty much most of the day when the games start at 3 o'clock," Dryer said.

Her duty

Laura Stack, president of Colorado-based professional training company The Productivity Pro Inc., knows some of her employees call in sick when they're not, but she doesn't mind. Her employees often put in 50 or 60 hours a week on the job, and Stack says it's her duty to make sure they don't burn out.

"When you have an employee who really is a committed, competent, very motivated worker, they tend to overwork anyway," said Stack, the author of Leave the Office Earlier.

When her employees are working extra hard, Stack often spontaneously gives them a day off. And if a burned-out worker has to call in sick when they're not once in a while, Stack lets them get away with it.

It's almost a joke in her office.

"Oh, you're calling in well?" she'll ask through the telephone, before telling her employee to have a good day.

Personal time

Stack said part of the reason workers call in sick is because they're doing more work on their personal time - from checking e-mail from their home computer to putting in a few extra hours in the evenings - yet often they're not given the chance to recoup that time by, for example, running personal errands during work.

"It could also be that your kid is playing a soccer game that afternoon or is in a school play and you have a very rigid, barbarian type of boss who won't let you go and flex your day or change your hours to ensure that you can attend that event," Stack said. "So you do what is a natural thing for a parent to do: Call in sick."

Many companies, she said, have been successful when they give workers a number of days off to use for sick or vacation days.

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