Playing Hooky – #1 sign that your organization is sick

I love reading the paper on Saturday. I love the down time and reading through pages and pages of articles anxious to learn something new about what is going on locally and globally in the news. I had one such occurrence today. The article surprised me in its subject and tone.

The topic? Playing Hooky


I must admit I don’t think I have heard the “hooky” term since high school. But I’m sure we all know about what the term refers to. It is the practice of skipping out on school or work when you really aren’t sick. Sometimes people refer to playing hooky as taking a mental health day.

What was concerning though was the tone of how playing hooky was described.

The article stressed how important it was to monitor your employees and have consequences if there are too many absences. It was even questioned if the people were lazy and selfish or that the leaders had created an environment that was too stressful. It also proposed how important attendance is from an individual’s point of view. It was mentioned on how attendance is a key metric for performance reviews. (I won’t discuss performance reviews – we will have to leave that for another post)

Numbers were provided on how many people responded to taking a mental health day and the author was surprised. 71% said they taken a mental health day. The author was surprised and shocked that the number was so high. I was surprised and shocked that the number wasn’t 100%.


After reading the article, I had to two thoughts:

1) Playing Hooky is something that I think it very beneficial if used in moderation. I fully get that sometimes people need a day to unwind. Let’s be clear – if you are feeling miserable with a cold or flu the day at home is more stressful than a day at work. Weekends sometime don’t provide the rest nowadays that they may have provided in the past. Usually they are full of activities and errands that leave you just as tired. I encourage my team to take a mental health day if needed – I firmly believe they will be more productive in the days following.

2) It has been my experience that if you have people taking a lot of sick days or mental health days it is because the job isn’t meaningful to them and they are not engaged. Sometimes the mental health days are required due to stress, but a lot of time people are just not engaged with the work and may not feel valued. So I don’t view mental health days as the fault of a lazy employee or a stressful environment. (although a stressful environment can cause mental health days for sure) I view excessive mental health days as an indication that the organization is sick. (At least as far as that employee is concerned)


I used to be an employee that had the typical 3-5 sick days a year. I then changed jobs and joined Protegra. Within a year I felt so engaged and valued that my sick days reduced dramatically. In fact, I now average between 0-2 sick days a year. (including mental health days) Why? Because I absolutely love what I do and the people I work with. That engagement and affinity keeps me going. I don’t want to be at home.

We need to remind ourselves that the system drives the behaviours and people are not inherently lazy or selfish. We don’t need to monitor them and provide consequences. We just need to make them feel the work is important, give them somewhere to belong, and a family to work with.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: