The subtle art of calling in sick
You’ve spent the night in the bathroom after eating some questionable takeout food, and you’re still feeling queasy. What are you going to tell your boss?
While some people are hesitant to share the personal reasons they need a last-minute day off, others may overshare in order to prove they’re not playing hooky.
But you don’t need to reveal all the gory details when you call out sick.
“You don’t have to prove your illness to anyone,” said Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster.com.
And let’s get one thing out of the way: If you are sick, stay home. There’s no reason to risk getting your coworkers sick or prolonging your own recovery. And there shouldn’t be any guilt in taking time off to get well.
“It’s a benefit that is due to you as part of your compensation package — don’t feel apologetic about taking it,” said Janel Anderson, a workplace communication expert.
Keep it brief
Less is more when it comes to sharing details about your ailment or personal business with your boss.
“Say as little as possible without being cryptic,” suggested Karen Friedman, a leadership and communication expert.
She recommended writing something like: Hi manager, I am sorry I can’t make it to work today, I have a fever and am in bed, or I am not feeling well and will not be at work today and I hope to be back tomorrow.
Explaining the details isn’t necessary, and the more specifics you add, the more suspicion it can cause. “If you are overexplaining, you can make it sound like you are trying to convince them and make excuses.”
Acknowledge bad timing
What if the timing of your sick day is pretty suspect, but you are legitimately ill? Like calling out after the Super Bowl, a holiday weekend, or the office holiday party?
Acknowledge the coincidental timing, but hold firm. Say something like: I would love to say I had too much fun last night, but I am not even an NFL fan, suggested Patricia Rossi, author of “Everyday Etiquette.”
Be realistic with your abilities
Set expectations of your availability in your sick note.
If you are in the right frame of mind to answer emails or texts, you can include that you plan to check in periodically. If not, don’t be shy about saying you won’t be available.
“If you have a really bad sinus headache and have to do work that requires thinking and analyzing and reasoning, you probably aren’t bringing your ‘A game.’ Let it go to a colleague or let it wait,” said Anderson.
If you think this might be the start of something bigger that may keep you out of the office for a few days, tell your boss you will check in before the end of the day about tomorrow.
If you anticipate being out for a few days, try and give your boss as much notice as possible.
Inform on a need-to-know basis
Your very brief and to-the-point sick note should be sent to your boss and anyone else who might be affected by your absence.
Then send a follow-up email to your colleagues with any applicable documents or information they may need to continue to work.
When it comes to who you should inform about being out, learn your company’s protocol. Human resources may want to be notified. If you are out for a few days, some employers will ask for a doctor’s note.
Put your boss at ease
Bosses should be respectful of your need for time off, but an important project or client meeting can make them uneasy and push you to come in.
Offer a little reassurance, but don’t feel obligated to give more details.
“Have a strong contingency plan, tell them [insert co-worker’s name here] will do a great job in my place,” said Anderson. “You can also add that it wouldn’t be in the organization’s best interest to have you come into the office today.”