Watercooler Work-Life Balance

Do’s and Don’ts for How to Win at Missing Work

Written by Miranda Pennington

Whether you have some personal days in your arsenal to play hooky or need to scrounge some legitimate reasons to miss work because faking a cold isn’t going to cut it, you can probably get some mileage about of this list of Dos and Don’ts.



I’ve earned it.

This option requires some prep work and some sweat equity. Come in early and stay late for a few days a week, then by the time you go to your boss with a request for some flex time or a day off you will have earned it. You’ll feel better about the time away, and your coworkers will appreciate you didn’t just leave them in the lurch.

I’m [Doing Professional Activity] with a client.

This only works if your workplace routinely has to entertain clients or meet with them outside the office. Do not say you are playing golf with a client if you are a publisher and your client is an author or if you are an administrative assistant and your client is Staples. You will also have to actually meet up with a client for some reason!

I have a doctor’s appointment.

The savvy timing of doctor’s appointments is one of the best, least-arguable routes to a free afternoon for Netflix and snooze. Schedule a check-up or a physical or a cleaning for 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon and you’ll be on your way right after lunch.

I have cramps.

Honestly I would be way too embarrassed to use this one—and I actually do get bodacious cramps and occasional accompanying migraines. But, if you’ve got an easily flustered male boss and are a female employee with some moxie, this could have you stopping by the drug store for ice cream and some Red Box DVDs before you know it.

I’m working from home.

My husband is the most honest Work-From-Homer on the planet. He applies all that extra time he saves by not commuting to the work he gets done, and then we both get to knock off together around dinnertime. This requires you to stay near your email for any pressing questions, but will definitely carve the edges of your work day when you need a breather.


Noooooo. Just DONT!

I’ve had a death in the family.

My students are still trying this one occasionally, along with car accidents, family engagement parties that ran late, and last-minute flights back from Australia. Clichés are cliché and there’s no going back.

I’m too sleepy.

At my first job out of school we had an intern who fell asleep at his desk every day for at least an hour. It was baffling. It was distracting. His internship did not last longer than a month. If you can’t get enough sleep, definitely get enough caffeine.

I can’t get my car out of the garage. (See also: The L train isn’t running.)

Getting your car out, or taking the L, is something you have to do often enough to know how long it takes (or how to work around any common delays or obstacles).

I can’t find my polling place.

Apparently this is a real thing that happened and not just a sit-in protest for a national election holiday. Find out where you have to vote ahead of time; taking a whole day to do it is weird.

I have a personal emergency.

This nonspecific all-purpose band-aid for just not wanting to go to work doesn’t score you any points or make you look responsible. I know someone who uses “plumbing emergency” every month or so just so he can go in late. It’s fine if you actually have terrible plumbing (or a real emergency you can appropriately disclose later).

Whatever you do or say to get the mental health days you need, don’t lie to get it, and be responsive to your coworkers when you can! I hope you and your snooze-button will be very happy together.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.