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How to Play Hooky

How do you tell an unreasonable boss that you don't feel like working today?

by Dear Jon
August 13, 2001

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How to Play Hooky_Dear Jon-How do you tell an unreasonable boss that you don't feel like working today? ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

How do you tell an unreasonable boss that you don't feel like working today?

Urgent Questioner

Dear Urge,

I have had this experience many times. My experience reflects the deeper currents in this issue.

In recent decades, honest people who did not feel like going in to work, were torn because they did not want to waste sick days and they did not want lie to their bosses that they were sick. Some of these honest people wound up in personnel departments, where they began to reconfigure benefits packages in ways that began to make some kind of sense.

Now, some jobs offer a limited number of "personal days." Being personal, it is impolite for the boss to inquire as to the reason, which is: "I'm playing hooky." One can say to one's boss, "I am taking a personal day today" and divulge no additional information. Your boss won't know whether you are waiting for the cable guy, seeing a marriage counselor, or sitting on your couch in your pajamas watching reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie."

Even more forward-thinking, honest people, realized there is a whole, special category to "I'm playing hooky today." Some enlightened employers now offer what are called, "Mental Health Days." If you tell your boss, "I need a Mental Health Day today," that basically means you are sitting on the couch in your pajamas watching reruns of "I Dream of Jeannie," because bosses know that sitting on the couch waiting for the cable guy is a "personal day."

Your "unreasonable boss" could figure into one of many categories. Perhaps you are working for an employer who comes from that old school of thought that, unless you were sick, on vacation or on a jury, you could be expected to come to work. Those old codgers believed that, basically, you had to "work" in order to "live," that is, buy food for yourself and a roof over your head. They can actually remember the days when one's ability to buy Christmas presents and plan a family trip, depended on, and I know this is laughable, showing up to do your job. They got this idea from THEIR parents, who actually, and this is hilarious, thought that FOOD was something you had to pull out of the ground with your own hands, or pick off of trees, and if you didn't, you went hungry!

Unreasonable, I admit. We all need "Mental Health Days" from time to time. We just get so stressed, you know, what with the cell phone vibrating all the time, and the mall adding a whole new wing, and the high score eluding us in "GraveRobber IV: Blood-bath."

Not that we don't work. We definitely do, on "labor-saving" devices we call computers. I know that 55+ hours a week staring at monitors, preparing reports that become obsolete as soon as they are printed just because the VP isn't savvy enough to surf for the up-to-date information, can drive anyone insane. The joke is, I'm not kidding. We really do need Mental Health days. Most of our grandparents think we're nuts, and they are absolutely right. "Neurotic" is no longer a diagnostic category, but we all know what we mean.

So you might work for an employer with a fairly enlightened benefits package, but your direct report is to an unreasonable middle manager, or VP, who believes that unless you assemble as many reams of printed obsolescence as they do in 55 hour weeks, you are not working hard enough. Thus, using the time off you are allotted is technically permitted, but you will experience retaliation in your review.

You are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because the guy who had opened a garage business selling goldfish on-line, and was offering you 6-figures back in 1999 to become his CFO, is now working in tech support at a community college.

My advice to all of you in that situation is: Take all the mental health days you can, and keep your resumé up-to-date. Remember, your unreasonable boss is going to be unreasonable whether you show up at work, or not. Might as well not for a day -- as long as you can still get paid.

There is no point in trying to make an unreasonable person happy. It is your responsibility to set your own boundaries. When your unreasonable boss crosses those boundaries, let him or her know. Maybe it will earn you some respect. They can deal with you, or they can yell at you and retaliate in your review, but they cannot keep you against your will and they do not own you.

For the long term, I recommend finding a job with a reasonable boss, one who understands what "mental health day" means and takes one occasionally.

Or, you can find a job picking food off of trees. As in the days of our grandparents, we still employ fruit-pickers in America, even with our subsidy system. Of course, you will be with people who do not speak English, and you will earn approximately a dollar a day, but at least you will have food and a place to sleep, like the back of a truck with forty others, driven by a guy down a mountain pass in Arizona who has just snorted some of the other stuff he is smuggling. Ah, work! Ah, America! I suppose I should get dressed now.

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