SICK BOY SYNDROME: Most of us take a sickie from time to time. But how does it affect your career? Rob Gray reaches for his doctor’s notepad

There can be few people who’ve never experienced that Monday morning feeling. The feeling that can only be articulated as: ’Oh my God, how can the weekend have flown by so fast? Is it really time for work again? Do I have to go into the office? Do I - really?’

There can be few people who’ve never experienced that Monday

morning feeling. The feeling that can only be articulated as: ’Oh my

God, how can the weekend have flown by so fast? Is it really time for

work again? Do I have to go into the office? Do I - really?’

Fortunately, more often than not, the back-to-work blues can be chased

away by throwing aside the duvet and heading for the shower. But what if

you can’t shake them? What if the Boomtown Rats’ song I Don’t Like

Mondays is rattling persistently around your head, and the prospect of

going to work seems more hideous than a trip to the dentist to have a

wisdom tooth extracted?

Is it acceptable to malinger and skive? Is it okay to feign an ailment -

to call in sick with food poisoning, flu or sundry other concocted


And if you were to do this, and do it more than once in a blue moon,

what implications might it have for your career?

’I’ve never taken a sickie,’ says Jon Restall, senior group sales

executive at IPC Music and Sport. ’But you can get quite tired in this

job, so I can see why some people might feel the need to exaggerate

sickness every now and again.’

What’s really going on?

Seth Hawthorne, advertising director of Maxim, thinks that once a staff

member gets into the habit of periodically pretending to be ill, it

masks an underlying problem. ’If it is happening again and again, then

something else is definitely going on. It’s incumbent on managers to

find out what the problem is. If you have a happy team, people will want

to be in the office.’

According to Carole Spiers, founder of occupational stress consultancy

Carole Spiers Associates, people are far less likely to take time off if

they feel valued. She feels that the disappearance of loyalty culture

and the job for life mean some people may feel less guilty about taking

advantage of employers.

But absenteeism can have a profound affect on employers. Last July, the

CBI published a survey, Focus on Absence. This found that absenteeism

from work cost British business pounds 10.2 billion in 1998, at an

average cost of pounds 426 per worker.

Significantly, while non-attendance rates among manual workers were down

on the previous year, there was an upward trend for white-collar

workers, from an average of 6.8 days off in 1997 to 7.6 days off in

1998. The survey found that absenteesim was lowest when senior managers

were responsible for maintaining attendance levels. Flexible working

patterns and policies designed to alleviate stress seemed to reduce

absenteeism and cut costs.

Another report, Maximising Attendance, published in February by the

Industrial Society, revealed some discrepancies between employees’

reasons for absence, and what managers believed to be the causes.

Although colds and flu were the top reasons listed by both employees and

managers in the survey thereafter the reasons diverged. While employees

cited stomach upsets, food poisoning, headaches, back problems and so

on, their managers felt the reasons were more likely to be stress,

personal problems, extending the weekend and low morale due to


’Stress is a very large and real problem,’ explains Spiers. ’People have

to make time for themselves. But I wouldn’t put forward the idea that

they should build that into their working day.’

She adds that taking too much time off work is likely to damage your

career. ’There is always somebody behind you who is going to do your job

better than you. People are looking over their shoulders the whole time.

These days the fear culture is enormous.’

Jael Soards, senior sales executive at Virgin Radio, agrees. ’In this

kind of job, people notice if you are absent. It does become a bit of a

standing joke if someone is always taking time off. Not that we have

anyone here like that, of course.’

Craig Harris, national sales director at Pearl & Dean, says: ’It would

be interesting to look at the total number of sick days people take and

find out how many are on a Monday.’ He adds ominously: ’Maybe I’ll have

to look into that.’

All in the mind

One media company has adopted an intriguing approach to the back-to-work

blues. Magazine publisher Cabal Communications has introduced what it

calls ’mental health days’. Staff who wake up feeling they don’t want to

go to work are allowed to take time off for the sake of their emotional


Kevin Hickman, PR manager at Cabal, says: ’People have been sensible

about mental health days. They haven’t been abused - perhaps because we

are quite a small company and many of our staff are quite senior. A lot

of people don’t even take them. In some ways it is almost enough that

they are there.’

Fiona Lewis, sales manager at Eurosport, thinks mental health is a big

issue. She believes the onus is on companies to ensure their staff do

not get mentally and physically run down. This is in line with

recommendations from the Industrial Society, which says employees and

managers should be trained to recognise the early symptoms of


Lewis adds: ’Every once in a while it is good for people to leave work

at 4.30pm for the sake of their mental health. In this job, you know

they are going to more than make up for it by working until 8pm on

plenty of other nights.’

Given the importance of client entertaining and schmoozing, nights on

the job, as it were, often go on very late. The demon drink, of course,

regularly plays a part in proceedings. But the consensus is that having

a hangover is no excuse for not making it in to work.

’You need to make it into the office - it’s a point of honour,’

Hawthorne declares. ’A no-show is an extremely bad way to conduct

yourself. This is a fun business to be in and part of that fun comes

from going out and entertaining clients. If the next day is a working

day, it’s a working day - and you should bear that in mind when you are

out on the town.’

Pearl & Dean’s Harris adds: ’In this industry you can’t accept hangovers

and late nights as an excuse for not coming in or coming in late. If you

are out at a bash and you see people drunk at 3am, you think, ’right,

see you in the office at nine’.’

The real thing

But be warned: few people appreciate it if you insist on struggling into

work when you are genuinely under the weather, especially if you have

something contagious. Sluggishness and irritability caused by feeling

unwell will not help client relations. And coughs and sneezes will make

you few friends - it could even lead to a depleted workforce if others

succumb to your bug.

’People who struggle in with their eyes and noses streaming, shivering

and spluttering, should probably go straight home again,’ says


No-one minds when you have to take time off for a legitimate illness.

But faking it is another matter entirely. If you do it repeatedly,

suspicions will grow and people will think less of you. The best advice

is to head for the shower when the alarm clock goes off, rather than

lingering in that deliciously soft, warm bed of yours.


A raging hangover is an occupational hazard. The night before may have

been fantastic fun but when the alarm goes off the next morning, you

have to face the world feeling like death.

Taking a day off is not really an option when there is work to be


And so, with sledgehammers pounding your cranium and dehydration so

severe you feel more delicate than a china doll, you head gingerly for

the office.

But how on earth do you turn yourself into the dynamic selling machine

you really are? Perhaps as soon as you get to your desk you should hit

the internet and head for, which offers a range of

cures for boozy over-indulgence. Yet only those with the strongest

stomachs are likely to try out some of the remedies, such as a

Senegalese stew called Jassa, Truly Hot Thai Noodle Soup, or marinated

fish. (Don’t, however, allow colleagues to direct you to,

with its distracting range of ’beer cams’ providing images from bars

around the world.) A better bet is to heed the advice of other hardened

sales folk.

’If I have a hangover, I drink Purdeys, which is like Coca-Cola with

herbs,’ says IPC’s Restall. ’It’s foul. But if you can stomach it, it’s

quite effective.’

’The best cure is the hair of the dog,’ advises Pearl & Dean’s


’Whack another alcoholic drink down as soon as possible. Greasy sarnies

make me feel worse, but a lot of the team find them reviving. But in my

view a quick slug of vodka does the business. You just need to top up

the alcohol levels again.’

Eurosport’s Lewis begins with ’water and painkillers’. ’And, of course,

you need to have copious amounts of Diet Coke and crisps,’ she adds


Maxim’s Hawthorne swears by ’Berocca, the fizzy vitamin supplement,

Neurofen - and bacon sandwiches.’ He adds: ’Somebody suggested Berocca

to me a few years ago and it really peps you up.’ But Soards at Virgin

Radio goes for the sommelier’s remedy. ’I reckon the hair of the dog is

always a good one - a nice glass of expensive red wine.’ James Hayr,

promotions director at GQ, plumps for something harder to procure:

’Twelve virgins on toast - with tomato ketchup.’ Presumably he has to

look beyond Conde Nast’s Hanover Square (or should that be Hangover

Square?) offices to fulfil that order.