I have a confession: I’ve fired people. Lots and lots of people. Hundreds. You see, in my pre-writing life, I had a job supervising employees and, yes, sometimes sacking them. It was never something I enjoyed doing.
Employee absences are on the rise with 40% of workers calling out of work when they aren’t sick. That number was up from 36% the year before. I get it. With work stresses and life pressures, sometimes you need a break. A day off. And no one knew this better than Ferris Bueller, the serendipitous master of playing hooky. Ferris skipped out of school nine times in a single semester. For his final day off, he brought along his friend, Cameron, and girlfriend, Sloane. Surviving until graduation with that severe a case of senioritis should be impressive to everyone.
Before I delve into how to take the day off, you need to decide whether you should take a day off. You can do this by using what I like to call the “Absence Frequency to Goodwill Ratio.” The Absence Frequency to Goodwill Ratio weighs two things. First, the number of days you’ve missed work in a rolling six-month period. Second, how well-liked, valuable, tenured, proficient, and trustworthy you are, as viewed by your employers. Only you can make this assessment, so it’s necessary for you to be as realistic as possible. Nearly 25% of people have lost a job, or have been threatened with termination for taking too much sick time. An honest evaluation of your Absence Frequency to Goodwill Ratio may save you from ending up in the unemployment line.
The longer you’ve been employed, the more goodwill you probably have. Even Ferris knew this. When he called out of school, he’d already missed roughly one day of classes every other week. As a senior and the most popular student on campus, Ferris had tons of established goodwill. There are limits to goodwill, though. Ferris knew this as well, saying that if he were to try for ten absences, he’d “probably going to have to barf up a lung.”
As a rule of thumb, unless it’s absolutely necessary, I would never recommend calling out work during your first four months of employment. Missing work after your first four months of employment positions you outside of many employers’ 90- or 120-day probationary window, which makes terminating an employee for a single infraction more difficult.
“How Could I Possibly be Expected to Handle School on a Day Like This?”
If you’ve decided that you’re in the clear and ready for your much-needed day off, you’ll need to choose when.
If you go the Ferris route and take your day off with someone else (co-workers are always a no-go), it’s essential to coordinate schedules. Missing work on certain days is definitely safer than others. The least-risky days to miss work are usually Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Calling out on the weekend raises red flags immediately. If the weather’s great or there’s an event going on locally, double your employer’s skepticism.
You should only miss Mondays or Fridays if you’re scheduled to work both the day before you call out and the day after. If you have weekends off already, calling in sick on Monday or Friday creates the impression that you’re gunning for a three-day weekend. Don’t risk it. Likewise, any day before or after a holiday or other non-business day should also be avoided.
Whatever you do, make sure you haven’t discussed the day you’ve picked with any of your co-workers. People talk. If it’s discovered that you’ve coincidentally called out on that very same day you’ve mentioned or previously tried to find a replacement for, you’re toast. Remember, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.
“It’s Pretty Tough Coming Up with New Illnesses.”
There are a million excuses for missing work, and I’ve probably heard most of them. A lot of these so-called “safe” reasons for missing work are no longer acceptable. In the Uber and Lyft era, having “car trouble” is not an excuse to miss eight hours of work.
Your excuse needs to prevent you from being present at work or from being able to perform your duties, for a single day. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, both Ferris and his girlfriend, Sloane, use the two best and most effective excuses: illness and death. Telling an employer that a friend or family member has met their maker is a complicated move. If you’re found out, it’s nearly impossible to explain away. For that reason, like Ferris, you should go the unwell route.
Calling in sick can be tricky as well, though. To ensure you’re successful, you must follow a few simple rules. First, in this scenario, it must be you or your young suffering from the illness. Next, choose an illness that is semi-serious, but not severe. It shouldn’t be something you’re able to work through, but it also shouldn’t require a trip to the doctor or ER. Avoid injuries as excuses for this reason.
Keep it simple. Stick to an ailment that comes on suddenly and forcefully, and disappears just as rapidly. Remember, you’re only going to be missing a single day. Having a migraine, vertigo, female problems (if you are female), diarrhea, or anything contagious, is usually a safe bet. These will limit the amount of questioning by your employer. To prepare yourself for a possible quiz on the symptoms, always research your make-believe malady.
“Incredible! One of the Worst Performances of My Career and They Never Doubted it for a Second.”
Now that you’ve decided on your illness of choice, you’ll need to let your employer know you can’t make it to work.
Unless it is your employer’s policy, you should never notify work of your absence by email. You should also always give notice yourself. Yes, a phone call comes with it the potential to trip-up and be found out. The risk is worth it, though, as it shows your employer that you’re not avoiding them.
It’s also important to follow all employer guidelines, rules, or requirements. You don’t want to execute an elaborate plan and get away with everything only to lose your job over an administrative technicality.
The earlier you contact your work, the better. You may also want to call the night before to tell your boss that you’re feeling under the weather. Though this usually isn’t required, the evening-before call gives them “a heads-up, just in case” you’re unable to work the following day. Of course, you and I know you’re not going to be there. The next day, though, they’ll be more prepared for your phone call and absence.
When you place the call pretending to be ill, you’ll need to play the part. Your “performance” (as Ferris called it) needs to be convincing. If you’re going to pass yourself as being sick, you’re going to need to go full Brando and do some method acting. Actually believe that you have whatever it is you’re claiming. If it’s diarrhea, call from the bathroom, while sitting on the toilet. If it’s vertigo, make yourself disoriented by spinning around until you’re dizzy. The more you can adopt the mindset of a suffering and sick employee, the easier it will be to play the part.
Your voice and affect are just as important as what you’re saying. Set the alarm to wake up ten minutes before you usually would. Call work immediately upon waking, while you’re still groggy and haven’t had anything to drink. This will add a raspiness to your voice.
Always be prepared to talk to your supervisor, even if you think you’ll luck out and be able to leave a voicemail or message with a co-worker. Only call once you know what you’re going to say. Don’t rehearse before the call, or it will sound rehearsed. Keep the conversation as short as possible (without seeming to rush). Be sure to avoid any details that could later trip you up.
If your boss is being a bit incredulous, you have to convince him!
If you start getting the third-degree, or you sense real hesitation, the easiest way to address his skepticism (without actually addressing his skepticism) is by saying that if you don’t start feeling better within a few hours, you’ll see about getting into your doctor so you’ll be able to work tomorrow. This non-committal statement doesn’t say you’ll see a doctor for treatment, but that you’ll look into making an appointment with your doctor. Of course, you won’t, so it doesn’t matter either way, but the statement alone creates the perception that you’re ill, trying to get better, and that you’ll do your best to be back in the following day.
“The Question Isn’t ‘What Are We Going to Do,’ The Question is ‘What Aren’t We Going to Do?'”
Now that you’ve got the day off, you can now breathe a sigh of relief, right? Well, no. Before kicking off your day of merriment, you need to eliminate as many avenues for being caught as possible.
The biggest key to not getting caught it to avoid all social media. This means absolutely no Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram. 43 percent of employers have found an employee lying about being sick by checking out their social media posts. I once fired someone for calling out on Black Friday. He claimed that he was deathly ill and couldn’t work. His Facebook posts, however, made it clear that instead of nursing an illness, he was enjoying the Christmas sales going on at the mall. Though it would be best to avoid using your phone entirely, this may not be possible or reasonable, so do what you can to limit its use today.
You’ll also want to avoid any noticeable appearance changes, such as a newly-acquired tan or a new hairstyle.
Finally, and this should be common sense, avoid going anywhere that someone from your work will see you. Your safest bet is, of course, staying home and enjoying a day in. If you’re going to go out, follow Ferris’ example. He ventured from the suburbs to the city, where he was unlikely to run into anyone from his school and be caught. Similarly, if you work in the city, explore another part of the town, or an entirely different place altogether.
If you want the full Ferris experience and relive his epic day off, here are some suggestions.
Take a joy ride (vintage Ferrari not required). Sometimes the journey is the destination. Nothing beats a combination of blaring tunes, the open road, and having no particular place to go or things to do.
Sightsee. Ferris and friends’ tour of Chicago took in many of the city’s landmarks and attractions, including the observation deck at Sears Tower.
While your city may not be home to the world’s tallest building (at the time), even relatively small-sized towns have attractions that people can wader into and enjoy. If not, you probably live close enough to a city to play tourist for the day. Grab a guidebook or contact the nearest Chamber of Commerce for some tips on where to explore.
Soak up some culture. Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane popped in for a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago on their epic day off, seeing classic works by Seurat, Chagall, Rodin, Hopper, Picasso, and Pollock, among others.
There are probably dozens (or more) of small, no-cost or low-cost museums within a drive’s distance, no matter where you live. I once stumbled across a small museum featuring American folk art and spent hours there, checking out all the works. Because it was the middle of the day, I practically had the museum to myself. A quick computer search will probably uncover some hidden gem just a stone’s throw away.
Hit the beach. While they only took a quick pitstop on the Lake Michigan shoreline, there’s no reason Ferris and company couldn’t have spent some time frolicking in the water, and there’s no real reason you shouldn’t. You should cautious, though. Coming into work noticeably three shades darker is a dead giveaway that you didn’t spend the day sick in bed. If the sand and waves are worth the risk, opt for going in the early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s effects are less powerful. Also, remember to slather on the sunscreen and re-apply liberally as often as needed. If you return to the office looking like Tan Mom or a slab of beef jerky (is there a difference?), there’s nothing I can do to help you.
Be a sport. If a Cubs game at Wrigley Field is a bit too far away, you can always scour the internet for tickets to other local sporting events.
If you’re not a fan of watching sports, you can always opt to participate. Hitting the links for a round of golf, a bowling alley for a few gutterballs and strikes, or even the swimming pool for a lap or relaxing float, will be much more enjoyable and far-less crowded while everyone else is at work. Just as Ferris said while noshing down ballpark snacks: “Do you realize that if we played by the rules, right now we’d be in gym?”
Enjoy a meal out. Like Abe Froman (“The Sausage King of Chicago”) and his guests, who dined at the posh Chez Quis, you can never go wrong grabbing a great lunch.
Try experiencing a restaurant you’ve never been to before. Skip the chain restaurants and go for something unique and special. Find something nearby with good reviews and be sure to ask the waiter what dishes are the most popular and what he recommends.
“Only the Meek Get Pinched. The Bold Survive.”
When you return to work, don’t draw any attention to yourself. Be sure to arrive on time, or five minutes early. If you happen to be asked, offer few details and avoid wearing anything that you may have purchased the day before. If you claimed to be suffering from an illness other than the ones I highlighted, you might have to continue the act the next day at the office. Again, be sure to read through the symptoms and recovery times of your sickness, and be prepared to follow it through.
As far as you know, you’re in the clear. Confiding to co-workers, even those you consider yourself close to, about your day of playing hooky, should be avoided. When I was supervising employees, I had the expression, “They’re always your friends until they’re not.” You can never be sure when someone will use their knowledge for their own personal gain or to deflect attention from themselves if they’re being reprimanded. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t. Tell. Anyone.
“Les jeux sont faits. Translation: the game is up. Your ass is mine.”
So you’ve taken every precaution I’ve outlined and somehow, some way, your boss has discovered that you were faking. What do you do? Well, if you’ve followed all the steps I’ve outlined, that’s very unlikely. So, you probably didn’t. It’s not my place to berate you, though. Your boss will probably handle that. If you get called to his office, tell him a version of the “truth” — you were feeling better and wanted to get out of the house. There’s no way he can say, with certainty, that you weren’t feeling sick when you called out of work. That is unless you told your co-workers (which I’ve repeatedly warned you against).
If you’re caught, remain silent. The more you say, the more your employer has to use against you. If you let your boss talk, they may even let slip what and how much they know. You may even be lucky enough to figure out how they discovered the scheme.
If things are looking bleak, when it’s your turn to fess up, do the only thing you can do: look them in the face and lie. Lie. Lie. Lie. And then deny. What do you have to lose? After all, life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.