How to Play Hooky from Work (Without Getting Caught)

Some days, you’re just sick – of work, that is. Physically, you might be perfectly healthy, but your mind is telling you a need a day off. So what should you do when the urge to play hooky hits?

First off, don’t beat yourself up for wanting to miss work. Most bosses may frown upon employees who fake sick to spend a day at the beach, but going AWOL from the office is something many people do occasionally. Of the 38% of workers who said they’d called in sick when they weren’t actually ill, 27% admitted they did so because they just didn’t feel like showing up and 26% said they needed time to relax, a 2015 CareerBuilder survey found.

Advocates of the occasional unexpected absence from work say it can be restorative, provided you do it right.

“Before playing hooky, I suggest giving thought to what can truly ease your burdens and recharge both body and mind. Whatever activities you decide on, turn off your smartphone and put it away while doing them – checking emails and social media will only elevate your stress level,” Donna Sapolin, the founding editor of Next Avenue, wrote in an article explaining why she thinks playing hooky can sometimes be a good thing.

Your desire to shrug off your responsibilities may be normal, but there’s a right way and wrong way to go about skipping work. Scheduling a vacation day to recharge is your best bet, and is the option least likely to do damage to your career and relationship with your employer. But for times when you can’t plan your absence in advance, another approach is needed.

Whether you need a full-blown mental health day or just an hour away from your boss, here’s The Cheat Sheet’s advice for how to play hooky from work.

1. Plan a small escape if you can’t take the whole day off

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Sometimes, when you’re most in need of a day off is when you can least afford to be absent from work. If looming deadlines and huge projects have you longing – but unable – to flee, give yourself a smaller but still restorative break.

An extra-long lunch away from the office can give you some much-needed time to recharge. Don’t invite your co-workers, since the conversation is likely to turn to work matters (or gripes). Try meeting up with a friend or just dining on your own to give yourself a mental break.

If disappearing from the office for an hour or more just isn’t an option, take a quick walk around the block or stroll to the coffee shop. Better yet, spend a few minutes in a nearby green space. A short walk in the park (as opposed to on crowded city streets) can help reduce stress and improve your ability to focus, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

2. Meet all your deadlines

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Skipping out on work with unfinished projects on your desk is sure to provoke the ire of your boss, not to mention annoy your co-workers. If you’re attempting an under-the-radar escape from the office, your absence is more likely to be noticed if someone comes strolling by your cubicle to ask about the status of a past-due report.

Tidying up loose ends before you leave not only makes playing hooky less noticeable, it will also make it easier to enjoy your break, since you won’t be worrying about those unfinished tasks in your inbox. Plus, it will keep your colleagues on your good side. Most people report they experience more work and stress when a co-worker doesn’t show up, according to a survey by The Workforce Institute at Kronos. You can make their life easier by not leaving them to put out the fires caused by your absence. Hopefully, they’ll extend the same courtesy to you.

3. Act sick the day before

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Faking a cold or the flu is time-honored tradition, with more than 50% of U.S. workers saying they’ve called called in sick when they’re not really under the weather, the Workforce Institute study found. If you’re going to fake sick, though, it’s best to proceed with caution. One-third of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder said they checked up on employees who claimed to be too sick to work, and 22% had fired someone who was bluffing about their illness.

When fibbing about an illness, make sure your lie is believable. Feigning a cough or a headache sets the stage for the next day’s absence. You’ll also want to call in sick just after you wake up and while still in bed, Kerry Speckman, the author of The Hooky Book, told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, since your voice will sound more gravelly and strained. And don’t concoct a story about a weird or complex ailment. Just telling your boss you’re suffering from diarrhea should be enough to curb any further questions, she said.

4. Stay off social media

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We can’t emphasize this one enough. If you are going to play hooky from work, stay off of social media, especially if you told your boss you were home with the flu or food poisoning. Thirty-two percent of employers say they’ll lurk on an employee’s social media to see if they’re really ill, CareerBuilder found. Social media surveillance has led 36% of employers to catch an employee in a lie about their health, and 26% have fired the employee as a result.

Staying off social media isn’t just a case of CYA. It might just make improve your mood. People who took a one-week break from Facebook reported being happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who continued to use the site, according to a study by the Happiness Research Institute. If you’re burnt out, a break from status updates could mean returning to work with a more positive outlook than when you left.

5. Go somewhere that doesn’t feel like work

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If you’re going to play hooky from work, make sure you’re getting the full benefit of your time away. Ditch all the trappings of the office on your day off – stay off the computer and resist any temptation to check your email. Instead, do something that doesn’t feel at all like work.

For some, time away from the daily grind might be best spent hitting the slopes or relaxing on the beach. Others might want to take in a ballgame, go the movies, or simply curl up with a good book. The point isn’t so much what you do as the feeling you get from doing it. If you can’t get away for a full day, try visiting a nearby museum during lunch or skipping out an hour early for happy hour with friends.

Whatever you decide to do on with your unexpected time off, focus on enjoying yourself, rather than feeling bad about not being in the office.

“As far as feeling guilty, you work and part of your benefits is to have days off,” Speckman said. “Why should you feel guilty about taking something you’re entitled to? If you don’t get sick, you’re still entitled to the days.”

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