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The best (and worst) excuses for a sickie


Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

View more entries from Performance Matters

I can't come in, my hamster died. No, really ...

I can't come in, my hamster died. No, really ...

What's the best excuse you've heard for a sick day?

One of our contractors told me last week that she had to go home to dunk her backside in a cold bath to help numb the swelling. Pardon?

Jane had just returned from a family holiday in the US. On the final day she went for a run in the bush, and 15 minutes into the run, nature called. After doing what she needed to do, Jane used what she thought was grass as a substitute for toilet paper - only to find out two hours later she had used stinging nettles. Ouch!

After I stopped laughing and realised she really was telling us the truth, I started to wonder about what would be the best excuses for a sickie. I didn't have to go too far to find out. A recent UK survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that one-in-three UK workers have used creative license to take sick leave.

PwC questioned 1190 people and 34 per cent admitted to stretching the truth to take time off work. The majority said they took time off from work because they felt bored or were depressed with their jobs.

Here are some of the most creative reasons:

A can of baked beans landed on my big toe; I was swimming too fast and smacked my head on the poolside; I've been bitten by an insect; My car handbrake broke and it rolled down the hill into a lamppost; My dog has had a big fright and I don't want to leave him; My hamster died; I've injured myself during sex; I slipped on a coin; I've had a sleepless night; My mum has died (this was the second time the person used this excuse); My new girlfriend bit me in a delicate place; I burned my hand on the toaster; The dog ate my shoes; My fish is sick; My toe is trapped in the bath tap; I'm in emergency as I got a clothes peg stuck on my tongue; I drank too much and fell asleep on someone's floor - I don't know where I am; My trousers split on the way to work; I've had a hair dye disaster; I've got a sore finger.

Closer to home, the Kronos Global Absence Survey reported that 58 per cent of Australians have thrown a sickie in the previous 12 months. That gives us the bronze medal of surveyed countries, behind only China (71 per cent) and India (62 per cent).

Research published in Punch magazine in 2012 proclaimed the average Australian now takes 9.3 sick days each year. This equates to more than 80 million days of sick leave per annum and is a 7.9 per cent rise from two years ago.

Sick leave now costs the Australian economy $30 billion a year (a combination of decreased productivity, financial costs and administration costs). By comparison, the average British worker takes seven days of sick leave each year and the average US worker takes three days.

A survey by Morgan & Banks published in the film Land of the Long Weekend highlighted 12.4 per cent of people admitted that none of the sickies they had taken in the previous year had been for genuine reasons (although I'm not sure if their reasons for having a sick day were as creative as the PwC UK survey).  Sixty-seven per cent preferred to take a sickie on a Monday, and 25 per cent chose a Friday because it gave them a long weekend. No surprise there.

What can companies do to try and minimise sick leave? The most important aspect in relation to sick leave is staff engagement. Employer-related causes of increased absenteeism include:

Low morale; poor working conditions; lack of job satisfaction or career progression; inadequate leadership and poor management; work-related stress; employee politics and discontent; and excessive workload.

The flip side of this is that highly engaged workforces report much less absenteeism and much lower levels of turnover. Forward-thinking employers are starting to offer workers "mental health days" or buy-back schemes where they can purchase extra holidays throughout the year.

And for employees, looking after yourself physically and mentally is a proven way to decrease the amount of illness you experience each year.

What's the best excuse you have used or the best excuse you have heard to take a sick day?


  • 80 million sickies! This equates to 80 Million X $ 50 = 4 Billion income to our doctors. What a easy money. No wonder those involved promote the requirement of producing a sick note. Disgrace.

    Date and time
    May 27, 2013, 1:04PM
    • The procurement of sick notes has nothing to do with doctors. Employers want certificates for the 1 day off because they don''t trust their employees.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 1:53PM
    • Actually, it's not doctors who push the need for a certificate, it's employers. Doctors' time would be better spent treating patients, rather than filling in forms.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:01PM
    • Are you suggesting that the Doctors are monopolising on people's sick days now? Why does everyone love to complain about who is taking money from who? I don't think a Doctor will hand out a med certificate for a dead hamster. It's hard to tell whether you are pointing the finger at Doctors or the ones encouraging the requirement for a certificate.... but definitely not at the ones having a day off at the expense of their employer. If a Doctor is treating someone who is genuinely too sick to work, then they are just doing their job.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:02PM
    • A lot of jobs only reqiure a medical certificate after 2 days sick leave which may be filled out by a nurse or even ? pharmacist...doesnt quite calcualte out to your figure

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:07PM
    • The doctors certificate is to certify that the individual was genuinely ill and unfit for work in the medical practitioners opinion. Employers require this because unfortunately many people consider sick leave as additional leave for any purpose not just genuine illness.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:10PM
    • I employ people casually so their sick pay is factored into the extra 25% they get paid. They don't get paid to have a day off anyway. But I insist they get one so I can be sure they are not actually chucking a sickie. So if that means they have to get off their back side and get to a shonkie doctor then so be it. Its a much less disruption to their life than mine after not turning up to work. Not to mention preventing someone else from earning the days work they were scheduled to do but didn't turn up for.

      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:25PM
    • for one day?

      chewing salty razors
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:29PM
    • Thats pretty simplistic, I have had sickies where I wasn't very bad and could of worked if necessary but I new we where quite at work and so I wasn't needed. But I have also come into work feeling very ill, because I knew I was needed at work that day. On one occasion I thought I would be needed because another guy was sick the day before, as soon as I found out he was in I went home.

      Uranium Willy
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:38PM
    • Normally you only need a Dr note if you take more than 1 day.

      Under the current Fairwork laws, every employee is entitled to 10 personal days per year. It does not have to be for sickness, it could be to look after you sick kid, or you partner, or you could just not be feeling like going to work.

      I think under the Fairwork Act, you dont even have to give a reason, if your day off is only a single day. You do need to call it in, as soon as is convenient. You just call your boss and tell them you wont be in.

      I suspect that the increase in % sick days over the past couple of years, is a direct result of the change in Law, under the Labour government, where people are entitled to more leave. Up to now 10 days.

      At our work, we used to have some people who would take a personal day off, at the end, or start of annual leave, or, on a monday, or a friday, or the day after the office xmas party.

      Those people are now gone, thank goodness. They abused the system.

      i Kam i Am
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 2:46PM

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