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Should we be allowed to take days off work for a hangover?

I tried to convince all of my bosses to let me have a three-day weekend

Should we be allowed to take days off work for a hangover?
08 September 2017

I’ve started feeling my hangovers a little worse than usual of late. Perhaps you have too. No longer able to fling myself out of bed and find myself suitably buoyed by thoroughly brushed teeth and a Berocca alone, I am lurching, sweating, into the 48-hour hangover era. It fucking sucks.

A few years back, in 2011, researchers found that the average adult in Britain spends about 24 days a year suffering from a hangover. Equate that number to the average adult lifetime and that’s about four years. Four years spent feeling like you’re going to throw up every time you draw breath.

Two years later, the Home Office calculated lost productivity due to alcohol in the UK was at about £7.3 billion per year, with up to 17 million work days lost in that time due to hangovers and alcohol related sickness.

Two years after that, the Guardian reported concerns that we’d never be able to hide our hangovers ever again; that the ‘wearable tech’ employees were being encouraged to wear was nothing more than a way to let us grass ourselves up while looking like Star Trek nerds in the process.

And two years after that, London events company Dice introduced a system whereby their alcoholically-stymied employees could have a day off work for their hangover if they used emoji in the process. “We trust each other and want people to be open if they’re out late,” said Dice CEO and founder, Phil Hutcheon. “There is no need for a fake sick bug.” 

I decided to spread the idea to ShortList management: Should we be able to skip the subterfuge – the ‘sick voice’, the elaborate backstory, the faux-weakness the next day in the office (“Oh, much better, thank you… but still not 100%”) – and use a hangover as a legitimate excuse for a day off work?

Though the very notion of new media smugness – with its glass walls, bean bags, and hello-fellow-kids pandering – induces a similar feeling in me to waking up after a few too many Budvar, perhaps this concept might contain something approaching merit.

Your boss, shouting at you, because you're a hungover mess

“No,” says Joe Mackertich, editor of ShortList Magazine. “I would be outraged and I would seek to punish them,” he adds. “You must come in and you must work.”

While my own entrenched imposter syndrome has never allowed me to take a day off with a hangover, I can’t help but feel like the argument is more nuanced than some may give it credit for.

“Would you rather they came in with a steaming hangover – big red eyes, beer seeping out their pores, that kind of musty smell like an old sock – or not at all?” I asked.

“I’d rather they came in with a foul hangover,” says Joe. “I want to believe each member of my staff is robust enough to be able to shrug off a hangover.”

There inevitably comes a point in every person’s life when they must take account for their own actions: don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time – including when that time is mostly spent cowering in an office bathroom chopping out fat lines of raspberry Dioralyte, begging the electrolytes to alleviate your wounded insides.

“They should come in but they need to have a shower and brush their teeth first, though, please,” adds Alex Finnis, editor, “and ideally they need to do their hangover poo somewhere far away from where everyone is actually working.”

But what if I rang you and said that I was out too late last night and now I feel really, really sick, so ill that if I had to come in and sit at my desk I may actually just vomit and die instead of “I, uh… have one of those 24-hour bugs. Sorry!” Would that be appreciated more?

You, nursing your horrible, hungover brain

“I’d prefer honesty all the way,” says Ella Dolphin, CEO of ShortList Media. “I have more respect for those who fess up and would be more likely to give them a day pass, but there are no exceptional circumstances.”

“Am I misunderstanding?” says Joe, eyes all fiery now. “I spent my entire 20s working with a hangover. If I can do it so can you. If you suffer from terrible hangovers then don’t drink mid-week. I don’t want to see evidence of your iniquitous lifestyle in my workplace. If you hate your life so much that drinking in the evening is your only respite… fair enough. But if you let it affect your mood and performance at work you’re heading for disaster.”

“Know your limits,” says Ella. “Get your head down, drink lots of water, eat carbs and cry on the inside.”

But is there not the argument, I thought, that a hangover-related duvet day is not necessarily a selfish act: you’re avoiding having to inflict your zombified state on the immediate surroundings, polluting the air with bad ideas and incomprehensible babble.

“I don’t mind hungover people in the office as long as they don’t come near me,” says Ella.

“I just find hangover humblebragging especially tiresome,” says Maggie, our Head of Digital. “You drunk five tequilas, got to bed at 4am, and you’re still in the office at 9.30? I don’t care. Do some work.”

OK, another hypothetical for these five members of management; literally five of my bosses whose time I am stealing from their day: If a staff member calls in sick but you know – through intuition, snitches, or some very base-level Instagram tracking – that they were out on the piss the night before… what do you do?

The big boss, seeing through your crap excuses

“I think I’d call them out on it,” says Alex. “If they’re stupid enough to cover their tracks that badly then they deserve it.”

“Yeah, I think a bit of public shaming doesn’t go amiss here,” adds Maggie. “A passive-aggressive like of their Instagram photo or a call across the office when they come back asking how their night out was.”

“What I think should happen,” says Alex. “Is that everyone should be allocated, like, two or three ‘hangover days’ a year, which they can call in at any time – though if you reckon you’re going to have a big one and can forewarn your boss the night before that you may be taking one of those days tomorrow, then perfect.”

“The idea of a set number of hangover days to be used in a year is entirely unworkable,” says Phil Hilton, editorial director of ShortList Media, steaming in like a jouster to burst Alex’s bubble.

“If you think about it; it discriminates against the sober: drunks get free days off while non-drinkers – some of whom don’t drink for religious reasons – have to work? Then the idea tacitly accepts and bakes in a level of underperformance – effectively Rubbish Employee Days. While, as a manager, you know that people will make mistakes, it’s unwise to diarise them.”

Take that as a ‘no’, then.