Is the art of pulling a sickie on its last legs?
IT'S cold. It's dark. It's time to get up for another year's work. Tomorrow sees many us shuffling back on the treadmill, nursing a nation's collective 10-day hangover. It doesn't matter that it's Tuesday and only four alarms until Saturday.
It doesn't help that we just had a week of legitimate duvet days, complete with steady supplies of chocolate and societal permission to commence drinking directly after a late breakfast.
At these dark times it's hard not to give serious consideration to what was once recognised as the venerable art of pulling a sickie. And it is at these times that the truth hurts the most.
The fact is, the recession has killed the sickie. And we can't even afford a little compassionate leave to mourn its passing.
We used to live in different times. Indeed the internet is full of sites suggesting there are still civilisations for whom the sickie remains a time-honoured, if not honourable, practice.
Websites such as wikihow.com and cannotbebothered.com explain the rules for novice skivers in clear, easy-to-follow steps. The true aficionado of dossing recommends laying some groundwork in the days preceding the duvet coup. This requires identifying your choice of illness and setting the scene with suitable symptoms: a dry little cough perhaps that will grind on your colleagues' nerves just enough for them to remember it when you make that call. The opportunity to vent their repressed irritation will cast them as unwitting witnesses to your fictive sickliness.
The jury is out as to whether it is absolutely imperative to make the call in person or acceptable to shirk the responsibility onto a semi-willing second party. Those who do bite the bullet are advised to do so lying on their back to induce a weary tone, preferably with head hanging off the end of the bed to add an authentic strain into the voice.
Over-egging the sickly voice is generally discouraged even for those of thespian tendencies, as is offering up lurid details of the timings, colourings, tone and texture of your particular ailment. Better to allude to the symptoms you're supposedly suffering without reconstructing the scene in full-blown HD and surround-sound.
The truth is, when we really are sick, we don't want to talk about it. We just want to get on with being sick so we can get back to getting better.
The chances are your employer only half believes your excuse anyway and doesn't particularly care whether it's true or not. What they care about is when you'll be back and how much inconvenience your absence is going to cause them.
When you do get back, the palaver is far from over. The skilled sickie-puller knows that their duties continue for at least another day or two.
Pack a plain lunch to push around your desk. Accept offers of sympathy but refrain from chit chat, as if lacking the energy to do anything but catch up on lost work. Remember that even 24-hour bugs leave their mark for at least a couple of days.
Were we living in a different time, the latest outbreak of the winter vomiting bug virus would offer prime sickie material to veterans of this age-old art form. Dublin hospitals on both sides of the city are reporting the worst outbreak in recent years, restricting visiting hours in an attempt to control its spread.
But who could blame you for wanting to visit a sickly friend or relative at this time of year? And once the telltale norovirus symptoms of cramping, diarrhoea and vomiting take hold, medical advice is to stay home for four full days to avoid transmitting the resilient virus to co-workers.
All of which means you could conceivably opt for another four days of day-time TV from under the duvet while finishing off those abandoned coffee creams. You could even time it to take in a Friday and Monday -- usually dangerous territory for feigned sickies -- meaning just two days of work to catch up on.
And you get to blame it all on your kind-heartedness in visiting someone more unfortunate than yourself.
Such thoughts are likely to cross many minds tomorrow morning as trilling alarms trigger the silent horror of Back To Work moments across the nation.
Few of us however will actually go through with whatever elaborate plans we conjure up to get us into the shower and onto that commuter treadmill. Most of us are just grateful to have a job to go to.
A report published by IBEC last summer showed that absenteeism has dropped in the five years since the last comprehensive survey in 2004, from an average absence rate of 3.38pc to 2.58pc.
The sickie is a dying art form. But, look on the bright side, at least you won't be reduced to scoffing those coffee creams.