should my manager cover my work while I’m on vacation?

A reader writes:

My former workplace was the kind of place where it was very difficult to take any sort of vacation time — we were super understaffed and had extremely heavy workloads. Nonetheless, I never leave any vacation time on the table, so come hell or high water I was taking mine. I’d planned a week long vacation and went to great pains to arrange my workload so that my absence would have a minimal impact on any projects.

There were about half a dozen key things I was responsible for that needed to happen while I was out. I met with each person impacted by those key issues, explained to them that I’d be on vacation during that time, and detailed for them what needed to take place. It was generally along the lines of “Creative assets for Project X need to be completed and emailed to the client on Tuesday, and handed off to the developers no later than Thursday in order to stay on schedule. Wakeen, the account manager on this project, will coordinate both client signoff and asset handoff, so please work with him on your deliverables and cc: my manager on everything.”

I verbally went over these details with people and followed up with emails. Note that I did not have direct reports; I was in a project management role and managed projects, not teams.

On my last day before vacation, I put together a single email documenting each of the key things that needed to happen, with all of the handoffs listed and people involved, and sent it to my manager. I specifically asked him if he could follow up on a few of the items that were either super urgent or that I feared might hit a sticking point somewhere: “Item A is business critical so I’d appreciate if you could confirm with accounting that it went through by Tuesday EOB; everyone knows their roles on this but since things are so busy here I’m concerned X might fall through the cracks” or “Jane has promised her deliverables by Wednesday but she really benefits from a reminder the day before something is due, so would you mind checking in with her on Tuesday?”

Well, my manager didn’t like this at ALL. He told me in no uncertain terms that I should be assigning somebody else to follow up on my work, period, and that he was NOT responsible for my work. I was really surprised by this, because whenever I’ve managed someone, I’ve considered their success to be ultimately my responsibility, and always served as a fallback for them when they were out. Additionally, I did not have a direct report to assign these tasks to at this job — I could and did ask people on my team to help out and check in on things, but there wasn’t someone I could just say “Jose, I need you to email Jane on Tuesday about this project” and assume that they’d do it. Everybody was so busy that I could ask colleagues for favors and hope for the best, but I thought it made sense to ask my manager to stay on top of a few of the most key elements in case my colleagues were too busy to remember to do my work on top of their own.

Was I out of line? Is it inappropriate to ask your manager to follow up on a few key elements while you’re out? The things I asked him to check in on wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes out of his day each day I was gone. Really curious about your take on this one.

No, you weren’t out of line. It’s not at all unreasonable to do what you did.

If I were your manager, I’d be delighted that you were so on top of this stuff.

However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I would agree that I was the best person to handle the things you were asking me to cover. I might need to be focused on other things that week, or know that my schedule was already in triage mode, or simply feel like someone else was perfectly well equipped to do it. So it’s possible that the substance of your manager’s stance was reasonable, even though the way he delivered it was ridiculous and awfully jerky.

He instead could have said, “Thanks so much for making all these arrangements and ensuring everything is covered. I don’t think I’ll have time to follow up with accounting or check with Jane on her deliverables, so how about asking Cecil to do that? Let him know that we talked and that I asked you to pull him in on this.”

The way your manager responded was rude and unwarranted, and he sounds like a bit of an ass.

{ 188 comments… read them below }

  1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

    My initial was question was, did she chat with her boss about following up on a few things or did she just send him an email with tasks? The way it was phrased made it seem like more asking then telling.

    1. OP

      I emailed (which was standard communication at that place — people were too busy to schedule a meeting just to chat about work!), but I was careful to use “asking” language such as “would you mind” and “I’d appreciate it if you could” when outlining my requests.

      In hindsight, I wonder if that was his issue, the fact that it was in an email. But he didn’t seem to have a problem lambasting me over email in return, so maybe face-to-face communication wasn’t his biggest priority.

      1. ace

        I think those are all fair points, and it does sound like a lot of this is his issue(s). The way I might handle it (again, very know-your-office/manager) is to set up an in-person meeting a few days before you leave, and present the issues that “must get done while I’m gone” as “would you like to handle or should I ask Wakeen to manage this while I’m gone?”

        I think the points I raised below are still valid ones, and in my office we’d only outsource those items that absolutely cannot wait/must get done during the absence.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        The reason it flagged for me is I worked for someone like this. He once threatened to fire someone for “telling him what to do” when they sent an email reminding him of a deadline :/

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

            Not at all. I could tell a million similar stories about this same boss and they are all basically a guideline of “How Not To Act in an Office.”

            But I could totally see my former boss having a reaction just like the OP’s :(

      3. Nellie

        I was going to say, the fact that you used this kind of language makes his response even more ridiculous. You were clearly trying to balance being deferential and direct, and if I assume correctly that you are a woman, it’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choice to make when doing this kind of thing (you are either too demure to get heard or a demanding bitch).

      4. De (Germany)

        Did you ever discuss what you should do when going on vacation with your manager at all? Who should cover you, what sort of tasks could wait for your return, etc.?

        Because really, I think I’d be pissed as well when a colleague goes on vacation and only on their last day finally starts telling me that I have to cover them. I might after all have other things planned for that time, be out for something myself, maybe cover for someone else already and so on.

      5. workisthebest

        If I was your manager, I would tell you it is still your responsibility to make sure the work gets done. If you choose to be unavailable during the vacation, you best be looking for a new job when you get back.

    2. ace

      Yeah, I also think this may be either a delivery issue or a know-your-manager issue. I work in a very hierarchical organization (law firm) and telling the boss that he needs to do A, B and C while you are out would not be well-received by many partners. However, saying: “The filing that’s due next Tuesday is drafted and ___ is available to help with any last-minute revisions you may have. Once you’ve reviewed, please let ___ know so it can be filed.” might be totally fine. I’d be very discriminating in what items I expect my boss to deal with in my absence, though, and only get him involved in the absolutely critical items that can’t be handled by someone else.

    3. The IT Manager

      That’s what I wondered because I think what the LW asked was totally normal*. I would not be upset if a subordinate did that. I would expect it of a subordinate with no one to delegate work to.

      *I am a project manager, and I mostly just tell people that things won’t get done (I do try to set things up so they can run smoothly without me) when I am on vacation because I have no one to delegate too. Contactors can’t make certain decisions and my boss are too busy or don’t have enough context to make many decisions for my project.

  2. NickelandDime

    The manager’s response was rude and unwarranted. He could have just forwarded the email to whoever and asked that person or persons to take care of the things he didn’t want to handle. I put my manager down as the person to contact should anything come up (if he’s available), when I’m out on vacation. He does the same of course.

    OP, is your manager a jerk about other things too?

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      My reading of it was that she hadn’t actually checked with him before sending the email (I could totally be wrong).

      Yes, his reaction was overblown, but to me it read like a knee-jerk response of “why is my staff member sending me a task list” and wonder if it would have gone over much differently with a personal conversation a few days before — something like, “Fergus, as you know I am going to be out over the next week and have made arrangements to be gone. There are a few mission critical tasks that require oversight, would you be available to handle them?”

      1. OP

        Yeah, I probably ought to have explicitly said something like that. I think what I actually might have said in the weekly status meeting was something like “I’m on vacation next week and will be following up with everybody about things that need to happen while I’m gone.”

        It just never crossed my mind that I needed special permission up front to ask my manager to support my projects.

        But that’s why I wrote in! To see if my perspective is totally out of whack.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          I don’t think your perspective is out of whack! My current boss loves receiving emails like this, because it allows her to be on top of what I have arranged and has a clear list of things I need her to do!

          As commentators we get to sit back and look at situations with a lot more information (i.e. knowing your boss’s overblown reaction), so it’s easy to make guesses as to why it happened.

          And BTW, I agree with AAM assessment that his response was rude. Even if he was really bothered he could have waited until you got back and said something about preferred communication style.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger

          You shouldn’t need special permission to ask about anything. A decent manager would have said “I’m busy, Cecil, you follow up on these” while forwarding to Cecil and CCing you. Since you have no direct reports, they’re really hanging you out to dry if they don’t delegate it to someone else. The only other thing I can think of is to get another project manager to follow up on these, even if they weren’t familiar with your projects. A peer for whom you could in turn cover for when they were unavailable might be the only other choice, but IMO your supervisor would be the logical and natural person to monitor these tasks. (I work in a very similar environment, and have project managers to whom I delegate tasks, even though neither of us reports to the other.)

          1. OP

            This is actually what I wound up doing. My very kind but extremely overworked colleague (also a PM) took on every single one of the tasks I originally asked the boss to help out with.

            1. Stranger than fiction

              And also, in hindsight, you could have inquired at the time he approved you vacation “so I’ll be putting together status of everything on my plate and anything that need to get taken care of while im gone. Who should i give that to?” But yeah what a pompous ass

            2. HarryV

              If you have a colleague, you should’ve asked them to cover and not your LM. I can somewhat understand where your LM was coming from. I would not appreciate a laundry list of things to do if my subordinate came to me. I expect them to take care of it with their peers. And these are things that should’ve been taken care of. It shouldn’t be up to LM to chase.

              1. Bon

                You see, I don’t find that to be true at all. I work as a PM with five direct reports and I have my Ops Director above me. If I’m going on annual leave, I put together an email regarding state of play of everything that I’m working on, where things are, tasks that need overwatch or customers/reports that need prompting to get things in.

                I get the same from the guys who report to me when they go on annual leave. That’s how I’ve always worked and I’ve worked in a lot of different places across my professional career. That’s what I’ve directed my reports to do as well, and I’ve chased them on their last day before annual leave to submit it even if it’s the last thing they do before they walk out the door. Ultimately their work reflects on me as their manager and I want to make sure that they know that they’re supported in their work.

                I’ve found that if you send an email like that to a colleague directly, a) you aren’t always aware what their calendar is like for the week that you’re out of the office and b) this could impact the success of the tasks that you’ve asked to be monitored.

                The only thing that I can suggest is that it may have blindsided the manager because she didn’t give him a heads up that she was going to send the email. His reaction was still out of proportion. Maybe he was stressed, maybe there are other factors that we’re not seeing and this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. It could have been passed off to someone else quite easily and without “lambasting” the OP.

                Also, I think that the manager should have been tracking the fact that the OP was going on annual leave and so should have been expecting something of this ilk. It’s not very hard to track, just put a note in your calendar – “Jane on AL this week”.

        3. MissDisplaced

          I don’t think your perspective is out of whack either. A manager should be glad you tied up the loose ends and basically just wanted him to follow-up on a few items to make sure they are proceeding on track.

          And perhaps, yes you could have given him more of a ‘heads up on this, but then again, it’s not like he wasn’t aware you were going on vacation since he likely approved the request.

        4. Kita

          I would have people respond either way in my office. I report to Direct Boss, who reports to Big Boss. Based on personality and position in the organization, they respond differently.

          Direct Boss would say, “Absolutely, can you leave me instructions for what to do?”

          Big Boss would not like being asked to handle these tasks at all. She sees it as her role to make sure the project gets done, sure, but she’d rather approach it as a conversation: “Task A might slip through the cracks. Is that okay if it gets delayed till I come back, or would you like to assign it to someone?” Often, she’ll actually say it’s fine if it’s delayed.

      2. NickelandDime

        I guess I’m seeing this through the eyes of the working relationship I have with my manager. And the fact that I did exactly what the OP did the week before when I went on vacation. And my manager didn’t take my head off. My manager knows what I work on, he knows when I go on vacation since he approves the time off, and he expects an email heads up on anything outstanding, if necessary.

        1. Ama

          Yeah, when I was in an administrative coordinator role, I was definitely the lowest person on the org chart (aside from the student workers I managed), and my manager *loved* that I put together a super detailed list of exactly what needed to be done while I was out. However, I can think of a couple of key differences in my approach, namely that I went over the list and how I was planning on distributing it with her in our weekly one on ones first (giving her the opportunity to move things around or tell me that I could let something wait until I returned) and that I also structured the list more as a “here are projects and tasks that may come up while I’m gone, and here’s where to find the info you need to move it along if you have to.” So it came across more as “I am helping you out so when Wakeen shows up looking for file X you know what he’s talking about” then “I am telling you that this is now your responsibility.”

          1. Ama

            Also just to add, I also don’t think the OP did anything wrong and that her boss overreacted, but having some experience with super touchy bosses has helped me find the right way to get my job done without damaging anyone’s precious ego.

          2. Kita

            Ama, I think I’d handle it the way you’re describing. By discussing it a bit earlier, the boss feels that they have time to provide input. My boss could say, “I need a list of tasks with info” first, then when I provide it she feels that she’s getting exactly what she wanted.

      3. Steve G

        Not asking beforehand doesn’t mean he gets to overreact. Why does everything need to be so serious at work, and why is anger the first response on the boss’s front? Aren’t managers supposed to have above-average communication skills? And aren’t they supposed to be able to roll with the punches and deal with things they don’t agree with or like without getting snippy? I’m on the OP’s side, if we are picking sides.

        It can be very hard to succeed at work and think outside of the box when you spend so much time worrying about how your boss or coworkers are going to react, or trying to proceed in a way to avoid overreactions on their part. Its a waste of energy.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          Yes in a perfect world, but as we know from reading here more often than not they don’t have the leadership skills and often are promoted by default- boss leaves or dies and they’re the next person with seniority …it sucks

        2. LBK

          100% agree. There have been many times when I’ve been frustrated by a lack of preamble for things being dumped in my lap, but it’s super inappropriate to blow up when it happens and it’s also just part of doing a job. Whether intentionally or not, sometimes you don’t get a heads up, and being able to adapt to that is a basic job requirement for any position, as far as I’m concerned.

        3. NicoleK

          Aren’t managers supposed to have above-average communication skills? Sure, in a perfect world.

        4. Rearrange

          I agree, I worked at a place where you had to constantly worry about hurting people’s feelings and as a Manager you had to hide your feelings…like a robot. The work was easy compared to office politics.

  3. This is More Anonymous

    This makes me think of an experience I had on my recent vacation. I took great care to clear my plate, and it was really important to my husband that I not spend my vacation doing work (this year has just been hell, he was so excited to get away). I checked my email a handful of times, mostly to be sure that I wasn’t getting anything time sensitive that wasn’t cc:’d to someone else. When I did, I forwarded the message to the person supervising me on that project and asked if she could respond to the emailer (it would have been a quick yes as long as she agreed with my recommendation on the issue) – she didn’t, and I got the sense she was really upset that I didn’t do it myself on vacation. I’ve been doubting myself all this time wondering if it is unreasonable to send things up the chain like this while on vacation.

    1. OP

      See, that was *exactly* why I was so detail oriented before I left!! I wanted to be 100% off the grid.

      I feel like the unspoken expectation was that I was supposed to be following up on all of this stuff MYSELF from afar, and that’s why my manager didn’t want to be bothered with them. It was “my” work to do, vacation or not.

      1. This is More Anonymous

        Exactly! My thought was, I know I usually do this kind of stuff so you don’t have to, and even though it wouldn’t have taken me long to do it while I away, I figured it should probably flow up since I’m on vacation and can’t delegate it anywhere else. All I got when I got back was a blank stare and a passive aggressive comment about how SHE always works on her vacations.

        1. mdv

          I took my computer with me on vacation to Europe this year, and expected to (and did) have to do several tasks while away. But I was out of the office for 17 days (!) at a time of year with a lot of deadlines on projects that ONLY I could do, which were waiting for feedback from other people. Everything that could be done before I left, or pushed back to when I got back, was done that way, but that still left 2-3 items I needed to attend to.

          But here’s the thing: I counted that time as work time, and did NOT take vacation for those hours! Not that I need to save vacation, but if I was working, then I was not “on vacation”, even if I was doing it from my brother and sister-in-law’s dining room table in Germany. :)

      2. AVP

        I have a similar role/job and I’ve always felt like that’s what they really want – for me to just handle things while I’m on vacation. Sometimes it’s alright, if I’m traveling alone and I know I’ll have good wifi, but that gets rarer as you get older and can afford to go off the grid more and have partners who want and deserve your attention.

        The only time I was on a trip and nothing blew up, I thought oh wow my supervisor is being so great and not sending me anything, how wonderful. Then I got back and found out he had pneumonia and everything had just been left at odds for 10 days or so. That was fun.

      3. chilledcoyote

        Yup, sounds like he was punishing you for taking vacation. Whether consciously or not.

      1. Natalie

        It really depends on who’s below you, though. I work in an office that is fairly flat, hierarchy-wise, so if I was going to send stuff down it’d be going to my admin who really isn’t qualified to make strategic accounting decisions. It has to go up from me to actually get addressed.

        1. This is More Anonymous

          Yup, same. There are only two people qualified to communicate with the person who email me – me and my supervisor on this project. It could only be me or her, and I (wrongly I guess?) assumed it shouldn’t be me because I was on vacation.

            1. Natalie

              Plus, lateral doesn’t necessarily mean they have the same qualifications, just that they’re roughly lateral in the hierarchy. The person lateral to me is a property manager, but that doesn’t mean I should be making decisions about the window cleaning contract. I don’t know anything about that.

            2. TootsNYC

              You specifically go and say, “would you do this for me, please? I’ll sub for you when you’re out.”

              In many ways, lateral is even better.

              1. AvonLady Barksdale

                Agreed. “Hey, can I put you on my out-of-office?” was a pretty standard request at my old job. We helped each other out. If something absolutely could not wait, then the person on the OOO dealt with it, and sometimes that meant bringing in a manager.

          1. LBK

            Eh, I don’t necessarily agree, especially for the specific tasks the OP mentioned needing to be covered. For more day-to-day stuff, I’d agree that the default should probably be someone lateral (or down a step, maybe, if you have someone you’re grooming). But for higher level tasks like the OP is describing, that seems odd to pass off to someone lateral. For example, I’d expect my teammate to send out the daily report I usually do, but I wouldn’t expect her to attend a meeting on an ongoing issue in my absence that she otherwise has no involvement in – my natural inclination would be towards my manager covering that.

          2. Althea

            You can ask someone lateral to do it, but you don’t have the authority to make them do it. What if half the people say no and you can’t get anyone to cover certain tasks? You still need to arrange with your boss, who SHOULD have the wherewithal to tell someone to fill in for you, and to enforce that they are responsible for getting in done. (Not – “oops, forgot, but Keffria is the one who’ll get blamed even though she was out and asked me to cover”) It’s the boss’s job to make sure there are redundancies in the system so that when you leave, get sick, or die, the business will function without losing anything.

            1. NicoleK

              Yup, totally agree. Sometimes managing sideways is more difficult than up or down.

        1. Stranger than fiction

          I feel for you, Op. My bf is also a pm and often has similar frustration regarding gettimg others to cooperate and do stuff on time when they don’t really report to him

          1. NicoleK

            +1 I’m having a hard time getting a colleague to give me information on a project that we’re suppose to be working on together

      2. Windchime

        I agree. I feel like I’m in the minority but I wouldn’t send a list of tasks to my boss for him to take care of while I was out. If there was something that absolutely had to be done, I’d work with a coworker to get that covered. My boss is there to do Director-level stuff, not make sure that my daily tasks get done.

      3. Kita

        Lily, I only have up. No one else works on my projects at all, even the one coworker in my department. The only way to go is up.

        1. Bon

          Same here. I have a director above me, and she has senior directors above her.

          She wants to see the tasks that need to get done – whether or not she carries them out or directs someone else to do them, it doesn’t really matter. There’s some people who are lateral to me, but they’ve not had any visibility into my projects. I have regular meetings with my director to let her know where I am with my projects on an ongoing basis, so it makes sense to handover to her. She has the information needed to talk to our clients and not sound like she has no idea what’s happened.

          She does sometimes get the Implementation Consultants who report into me making the calls and followups, but that’s her decision, and she’ll usually followups with them post activity and drops me an email.

          There’s an expectation that you check your email when you’re on holiday but I’m not expected to respond to anything until I get back to the office unless there’s a major issue, and even then I just forward to my director and she picks it up.

          I don’t think that it’s not normal to escalate to your LM when you go on annual leave. What they decide to do from there… Completely up to them!

      4. Hiding on the Internet Today

        In general, I’ve already delegated down anything that can reasonably go lower. My heavily technical staff just isn’t up for jumping into the executive political melee, being that interface is part of my job. I delegate down activities that are a developmental stretch as it is, giving anything bigger to people who are both not there yet in their growth and without their usual support structure (me!) isn’t a good plan for them or the affected project.

        Everything that is left gets to go up or wait for me to get back. Since I’ve already told the things that can be scheduled that they are happening later, there’s going to be some delegating up before leave, and in my out of office message.

        I run it by the affected parties, just as I do the stuff that is going to spread out or wait until I get back. I also work in a management culture that believes part of management is to act a force multiplier for their staff, removing issues, adding momentum, seeing opportunity and handing it off. It means that upward delegation is a common part of our culture to begin with.

      5. JC

        I think this depends on the culture of your office and what kinds of tasks you’re asking your boss to cover, although I would probably usually default to delegating laterally rather than up. I used to work in an office where the managers were very busy with meetings and did not have time to wade in the day-to-day details of the projects of the worker bees. When I worked there, I never would have thought for a second about delegating work to my manager when I was out, because by the nature of her job she simply was not a details person. And when you need things taken care of when you’re out, it’s nearly always details.

        Where I work now, sometimes I work more closely with my manager as a partner on things (think writing papers), so there are some kinds of work I could ask her to do rather than someone lateral. But the kinds of work I could delegate to her aren’t the kinds that would happen urgently when I was on vacation, for the most part. I could ask her to help with revising a paper she’s a co-author on while I was out of town if there was a deadline coming up, but not to keep tabs on X person who is supposed to send me Y thing. The latter, more detail-oriented thing I would delegate laterally or downwards.

    2. Anon for this

      My office has a culture of setting an autoresponder detailing who to go to while you’re away, and also emailing key stakeholders before you leave reminding them, say, that you’ll be out for the annual Cat Petting Parade and while you’re awake, Wakeen will cover anything teapot related, and Lucinda will cover anything coffee mug related, and Casey will be the backstop for anything unusual that Wakeen and Lucinda don’t know about.

      And then on one checks their email on vacation and it is wonderful.

      1. Louise Belcher

        Ah yes, the Cat Petting Parade! The problem is Wakeen and Lucinda will probably be so PO’d they weren’t invited, that they will sabotage all of your projects while you’re away.

      2. This is More Anonymous

        If only! In the years I have been in my office I have never seen anyone use an out of the office message here. I really wish that would change, but I am not in a position to make it so. :'(

        1. Stranger than fiction

          Right?! The people that do turn the auto reply on where I work do some or all of the following: leave the default 8 pt font on, leave their prior message from last Christmas, leave almost no info, just I’m out these days, not who to contact in their absence or anything else

      3. Cath in Canada

        Mine too. Although I’m always very careful to check with my delegate in advance, after witnessing a total shitstorm in a previous job when everyone went away at once and a customer got bounced through four people’s out-of-office autoresponses, forwarding his request to each new person in turn, and ending up being advised to contact the original person he’d tried to reach.

      4. AvonLady Barksdale

        I used to do this too– “I’m going on vacation next week, so please let me know if there’s anything I can handle before I go. While I’m out, you can send all requests for teapot handles to Cersei, and Tyrion will take care of any presentations.” I never got push-back, only, “Oooh, I hope you’re going somewhere fun!”

  4. The Toxic Avenger

    If I were your manager I would be very impressed with your diligence and attention to detail. Even if I were not the best person to follow up on your tasks, I would let that slide, because the spirit of what you were asking – to please make sure people are taken care of in your absence – was what mattered. Your manager sounds like a jerk.

    1. Elizabeth West

      I agree, and yes, he does. My manager is my backup–she does my stuff when I’m gone. I was totally offline to work when in the UK last autumn. But I did as much as I could before I left, including making drafts of the monthly emails she would have to send and forwarding them to her. It all went well. She liked it even more when I worked from London last visit and she didn’t have to do anything!

      But if I were OP and my boss were OP’s boss, she would never act like this. She would probably respond the way Alison said she would.

  5. LBK

    I think I’m most confused by your manager’s seemingly hands-off approach to getting your work covered. Every time I’ve gone on vacation my manager has come to me beforehand to confirm that everything I’d normally do while out is being covered and if not, we’d make a plan for it together. Maybe this isn’t the norm and/or it depends where you are in the hierarchy but I find it really weird that you wouldn’t have been working with him on this anyway.

    1. LBK

      Also, as I reread the things you asked him to do…those really, really seem like management things. If you don’t have a team lead or senior working under you, I don’t know who else I would expect to cover things like monitoring progress of ongoing projects that presumably your boss has some involvement in or oversight to anyway.

      1. NickelandDime

        I think that’s what makes his response so puzzling. I’m just assuming here, but it makes me think he’s probably a jerk about other things too.

    2. OP

      Yeah, he wasn’t a supportive boss in many ways. He really had no interest in the minutia of my day to day work — ever.

    3. Anonsie

      I’ve had a lot of managers like this, and generally in places where taking time off is Not Cool. The thought is that once you have to start asking other people to do things while you’re gone, your absence is too impactful and you shouldn’t go.

      1. LBK

        That is an absurd standard…if you have a job that can truly completely grind to a halt with no one covering you for a week with no impact to anyone else, I’d question if that job even needs to exist.

        1. Anonsie

          Well that’s why no one is ever supposed to be away from work, silly, because that isn’t possible.

          Actually my job comes in waves and there are plenty of trough times where I could probably vanish for two weeks solid and nothing would really change. I always try to schedule time off around those dips.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale

        I once had a boss who said, “If I can do without you for two weeks, I probably don’t need you at all.” I countered with, “If you can’t do without me for two weeks, something is seriously wrong in this business.” Then I went away for two weeks– work stuff that could be handled by other people got handled, stuff that couldn’t be handled by anyone else waited (gasp!). You know what fell apart? My TEAM. Apparently, every time I went away for more than 3 days, people got into awful, screaming, HR-worthy fights. (Not about me, mind you, but I learned one day that my role as sounding board was much more important than I’d ever imagined.)

    4. Althea

      “Maybe this isn’t the norm”

      It is most definitely a norm! It’s a manager’s job to ensure everything within the team gets done. If the manager has no interest in making sure all team tasks are covered, the manager isn’t managing – he’s just sitting in a chair while his team manages around him.

  6. Elder Dog

    Did you surprise your manager with this? I’m sure he knew you were going on vacation, but I would have looped him in well before the day before with the list of tasks you wanted him to cover for you. It might have only been a few minutes a day, but if this was a two week vacation, that’s a list of at least ten tasks and might seem like more than it was at first glance.

    I would have responded to the boss with “Sorry, I didn’t realize there is somebody supposed to handle these things. Who do you want me to send this to?”

    1. Anna

      I’ve never had to do a list like that. I get it all covered and if there are few outstanding things that I can’t get passed off, I ask my boss if she can handle it. If she can’t, it an probably wait.

  7. AndersonDarling

    When I go on vacation, I’ll tell a co-worker that they won’t get their regular report until Monday, and that my associate will be able to handle any questions that come up. I more or less just let people know how to handle my absence, I don’t actually assign tasks to them.
    I can understand the manager’s reaction that these tasks sounded a bit like micromanaging. I wouldn’t think about telling a co-worker to remind someone else to do something. If I received a list of items like this, I would be overwhelmed. But the manager simply needs to say, “Stop fretting about going on vacation. You can be gone for a week and everything will be fine.”

    1. OP

      Everything absolutely would NOT have been fine, though, if a few of my specific tasks didn’t get handled by somebody in my absence. Most of it, sure, it could have slipped. But there really were a few mission critical things in there that really couldn’t have fallen through the cracks without major repercussions.

      It seemed to me like my manager would want to be aware of them — if had we lost a client of mine, I assume it would have looked bad for him, too, you know?

      1. Sparrow

        I agree! Seems like common sense that your manager would want to be aware of and follow up on critical items.

      2. Miss M

        But remember you’re asking them to do you a favor in covering you and they’re being kind in doing so.

        1. OP

          I guess this is the root of my question.

          IS it a “favor” to ask your boss to cover your stuff in your absence?

          Or is your boss ultimately responsible for your projects, and is it part of their role to support you when you are out of the office?

          I mean, if I’d been hit by a bus and laid up in the hospital, wouldn’t it be my boss’s job to make sure my work got covered?

          Obviously, I get the part where you ask your boss and not order him or her around, that’s just out of respect. But I really kind of expect my bosses to have my back. Is that so crazy?

          1. Case of the Mondays

            Where I work, it is a favor, not expected. I’m expected to have my work all done myself beforehand. If I can’t, then I can delegate but it is usually on me to follow up to make sure it was done. I can ask my boss to follow up for me but it is not the norm. So, I have all motions/pleadings/responses due the week I’m out filed before I go out. If I’m waiting on an affidavit from a client I ask my coworker, when affidavit comes in, please attach to this objection I wrote and file it with the court. Let me know you did it. I then check my email to see if it is done and if I don’t see it, I poke my coworker with a quick “just making sure you are still on this.” Even if I gave it to my boss to supervise I would still do this because it is my license on the line.

            That amount of supervision takes maybe an hour max out of my vacation and gives me piece of mind.

          2. Miss M

            It’s one thing to be mutual supportive of each other, but at the same time there needs to be give and take – not just on his or your colleagues’ side, but also yours.

            Usually vacations are planned for and with your office said to be so small, it’s best to give co-workers as much notice ahead of time so they can work to accommodate your projects as well as their regular work. I think offhand your boss may have read your email the wrong way at first, but I think it’s also good that you kept him in the loop on everything as well.

            Based on my experience in working in a small office, I think it’s how you present your vacation request. If it comes across as though you expect people to cover you, then I would be hesitant. I once covered for someone at work during their vacation but when I asked her to do the same for me, she told me she was too busy to do so. If it’s a scenario where you offer to help cover for them so they can have time off to (especially your boss), then I would say that’s a better approach.

            1. Kita

              Miss M, I think it’s interesting how it was your responsibility to ask the coworker to cover and she had the freedom to say no. For us, the boss would be the one saying, “This needs to be done. Susan, take care of it while Millie is out.”

              1. Miss M

                My department was a staff of one (aka me). And unfortunately I worked with some very obnoxious and catty people.

          3. Sparrow

            In my workplace, no it is not a favor to have a manager cover work for a direct report. That is considered to be normal responsibility for a manager. Again, that is the norm with the places I’ve worked, but each office is different.

          4. CheeryO

            I think it just depends on your workplace. I’m going to be out of the office for 2.5 weeks this summer, and my current boss doesn’t mind covering for me while I’m gone. In fact, he will likely be taking all my calls, meaning that he’ll be straight-up doing a big chunk of my work for me. I think he would even cover for me if I were out for an extended period of time. However, we do have a pretty flat hierarchy here. He gets paid more for his years of experience, but he doesn’t necessarily do more high level work.

            I could see how it might look a little like plate-dumping, and it might have been better to ask your boss which peer to delegate those tasks to. Still, there’s really no excuse to be an ass to a conscientious employee. It would be pretty easy to say, “Hey, I’m actually too busy to do X, but I’ll give it to Lucinda.”

          5. Althea

            It’s not the boss’s job to cover your tasks. It IS your boss’s job to ensure the tasks are covered by someone. Asking him to do it was a bit pushy, but sending the same email letting him know the things that need to happen and that might need *someone* to follow up is common sense.

            I don’t follow the “it’s a favor” thing. Your office gives you vacation time. If you are required to work on vacation, it’s not vacation, it’s just a flexible schedule. If you are NOT required to work on vacation, someone needs to cover for you. That is not a favor, it is a requirement. How exactly the tasks are assigned could be more or less volunteer, but any office that truly offers vacations to employees cannot treat coverage as a favor. They are mutually exclusive ideas. Unless your job really can come to a complete halt for the vacation, I suppose.

          6. Cassie

            I don’t think it’s a favor in your situation. Like others have said, if he can’t/won’t do it, he can delegate it to someone else. He presumably has more authority to delegate than you do (aside from what you have already been able to get covered).

            In my case, my boss wouldn’t be able to cover most of my work (since he’s a professor and I’m not) – but even then, he technically is responsible for my work. Before I go on vacation, I ask a coworker to help out and I email my profs and students to please contact this person while I’m away. But if something comes up while I’m out, he has to delegate it to someone to take care of. That’s part of his job as a supervisor – so no, it’s not a favor!

          7. skyline

            It really depends on the task/duty and the nature of your role.

            For example, if timesheet approvals are due while I’m scheduled to be on vacation, they have to either be taken care of before I leave or go up the chain of authority. My preference would be the former, but the latter is reasonable given the constraints of timing and authority. My reports can’t approve their own timesheets, and my peers can’t approve people who aren’t in their chain of command.

            On the other hand, if I had other types of projects due while I was gone, I would either wrap them up before I was gone or delegate that work to someone trusted on my team. It’s not my boss’s job to see that gets done; that’s my job. This is where the distinction between a planned vacation and an unplanned emergency comes into play. To me, part of being approved to go on vacation is taking responsibility for getting my stuff done before I go (and stop taking calls and stop checking email!). So if I knew my report Jane needed my reminders to get work done, I would make Jane get her stuff done before I left.

            On the other hand, if I had an emergency and had to be out without notice, then I might give my boss a list of pending items that might require her oversight while I was out of the office (“Jane is scheduled to turn in her report on Wednesday, etc.”)

            And if there’s something that can’t be wrapped up before you leave for vacation and needs oversight from someone of your level or higher? That’s when you need to have a conversation well in advance with your boss on how they would like that handled, not just tell them to do it the day before.

          8. Kita

            OP, I almost wrote the phrase “asking for a favor” in an earlier comment before I realized that’s exactly what you’re not doing. You’re doing your job, making sure your boss’ department runs well. Favors are personal, anything work related is not a favor.

            And in my examples, my boss is often willing to make things wait. But we have a report due to our biggest funder that just can’t be submitted before I leave? She’s going to make sure she learns how to do that report or assign someone else to learn it. Not as a favor to me, just covering her own responsibilities.

        2. Anna

          Well not exactly, it’s kinda a quid pro quo kinda thing. You’re expected to cover your co-workers when they leave, and they’ll do the same for you when you leave. Yes it’s couched as a ‘favor’ but it’s more of a necessity. It’d be extremely weird and reflect badly on anyone of my co-workers if they refused to cover my work when I’m going to vacation.

  8. Lily in NYC

    I guess I’m in the minority here because I wouldn’t dream of asking my manager to cover for me, even for something small. I always ask a peer and then bring them a nice present when I return (and I make sure to return the favor for them when they are out). I do think OP asked nicely and that the manager wasn’t very nice about it, but I do understand why he wasn’t thrilled with the request.

    1. Anonsie

      The caveat here is when you don’t have any peers whose work overlaps, making your manager the only person who would actually know enough to do anything. This is often the case in my line of work so you always bounce things up to the boss when you’re going to be gone.

    2. Natalie

      Whereas I would never bring someone a present for covering for my vacation. It’s not a personal favor – it’s part of the job. I cover for them when they’re out, they cover for me when I’m out.

      1. Lily in NYC

        I don’t think it’s necessary to provide a present, but it’s what I like to do because the person who usually helps me is into giving gifts, so I know it means a lot to her when I get her one.

        1. Lily in NYC

          And in my situation it is a favor – she is not remotely obligated to cover for me and can say no if she wants.

          1. Natalie

            Different office standards, I guess. My office doesn’t have specific obligations (Joe always covers for Lucy, etc) we just all view it as a normal responsibility of an office. Everyone covers for everyone, essentially. We’re a pretty small office with generally one person per role, maybe that’s where it comes from.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      Not exactly in the minority.

      I do have a couple of people I cover for during their vacations, but it’s very specific and I initiate that I’m going to cover for them. I would have been (mildly) irritated to get the OP’s email but I would have just emailed back please find someone else to cover that. I wouldn’t have gone all pissed off but I also wouldn’t have done it (specific follow up tasks).

      1. OP

        So, as a manager, you just would have left business-critical tasks hanging in the wind if I couldn’t find someone else to voluntarily add to their 50+ hour work week to cover it? Seems like that could backfire on you.

        1. TNTT

          No, _you_ left them hanging in the wind … they’re your tasks. I agree with Wakeen’s Teapots. In my office, it is by no means your manager’s job to cover for you. It’s your manager’s job to ensure that your work gets done, which includes letting you know that your manager is not the appropriate person to delegate those tasks to.

          (Of course, this manager was extremely rude in letting you know that.)

          1. Elsajeni

            But like you say, it’s the manager’s job to ensure the work gets done — to me, that means that, if I don’t have the power to require someone to cover it and I can’t get anyone to agree to cover it voluntarily, the manager needs to step in and use her power to require someone to do it. Otherwise, what is my alternative, besides “cancel my vacation and stay here to do it myself”?

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

              Here’s an email I received from a relatively new (6 months) person on my team, this past Monday:

              ______________

              Good Morning,

              Just a reminder that [name] and I will both be out next week, 7/13-7/17. Please let us know who should be taking care of [daily task] during this time.

              Thank you!

              _____________________

              I was pretty impressed, this is her first job out of college. Here she identified that her natural back up was also out the same week, and she planned a week in advance to make sure there was coverage. She did the same thing with three other responsibilities, including appropriate people on the emails for each.

              This made it easy for me to be helpful in making sure things had coverage/she was pointed in the right direction, without somebody just assigning me work to do that week.

              1. TNTT

                Ding ding ding. Manager high-five to Wakeen and new-kid high-five to Wakeen’s report.

                The key thing that rubs me the wrong way I think is (1) that this email was sent the day before you left and (2) the telling Manager to do vs. asking Manager WHO should do.

          2. CAinUK

            THIS.

            OP your response here and general tone are problematic. You seem miffed that your boss was rude (and she/he WAS rude) and you also seem defensive about the fact that your boss was annoyed.

            Another way to read this: an employee decides to take vacation when she has critical projects. She runs around delegating, with many emails and project lists to get lateral coworkers to cover these key deliverables (none of this is protocol, and while the delegation might be seen as proactive, it might also be a random deluge of drama/panic depending on how this delegation was handled–calmly, or “Jane I need you to do THIS or else things fall apart while I am gone”). Then, the day before she leaves, this employee emails her boos saying “Look at all the delegation I have done, and also I need you to check on these things because you know that Jane needs reminders.”

            I would be annoyed if I had not been looped in, and with the presumption that I would handle this the day before you leave. Your letter also makes it seem like you wanted validation for having done so much delegation and work, but this would be tone-deaf if you hadn’t actually had conversations with you boss ahead of time on how to handle this.

          3. Shannon

            I respectfully disagree. They’re not her tasks, they’re the company’s tasks.

            1. LBK

              Yep, exactly what I was going to say. Work gets divvied up and assigned just by nature of it being impossible to have two people do one thing at once, but ultimately that work is everyone’s responsibility.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          I don’t mean to be harsh, honest, but what I’m reading in your post is that you would have been asking me to check up on/remind other people to do their jobs. I don’t do that. I have 4 million other things on my plate.

          I do cover jobs for people. There are a couple people out next week and we did a little strategy thing yesterday where we pieced out the pieces of the projects/duties to folks (meeting initiated by the highest level person who will be out next week) and I picked up one of the jobs myself. That’s more common than not, but I’m not doing follow up. I have way too many explody things to pick up that responsibility.

          1. TNTT

            Yes, this too! My understanding from the original letter is that the tasks delegated up to Manager were _not_ the mission critical tasks, it was “can you follow up with Jane in case she forgets to do the mission critical task.”

            A timed email can do that, a lateral or admin coworker can do that, a freaking post-it can do that. Not Manager’s job.

            1. LBK

              Is that not something a manager would be doing in the course of…y’know…managing? Touching base on progress of ongoing work and ensuring critical tasks get done sounds like some of the most basic responsibilities of any manager to me. That doesn’t mean you micromanage those tasks but you absolutely should have your hands around where everything stands with what your team is doing.

        3. AVP

          Honestly, I think the *real* problem here is that your office was not set up for people to be taking full off the grid vacations, and what he was really trying to tell you was that he wanted you to check in and do them. Of course, many managers won’t come right out and say that because they know how terrible it sounds and that vacation is supposed to be part of the package…but this is reality hitting ideals.

      2. doreen

        I might have done the specific tasks, but I would have been annoyed to get that email the day before the vacation started – and that would be true whether I’m covering for my boss, a subordinate or a peer. None of them know exactly what I will be doing for the next two weeks. They’ll know if I’m taking any days off, and they’ll know about issues that affect them. But my subordinate won’t necessarily know that I’m spending three days next week on an interview panel , my peers and my manager won’t know I have meetings every day next week and none of them will know if I’m planning to work on something that doesn’t lend itself to stopping and checking up on tasks or sending reminders. Dropping the list on me the day before the vacation starts doesn’t give me much time for “I won’t be available on Tuesday – I’ll have Mark remind Jane about her deliverables and Alan check with accounting to make sure item A is taken care of . But this task you have down for Wednesday – how critical is it that it be completed Wednesday ? Would Thursday morning work” Have a discussion with me and send me the email a week before- that’s fine. A general discussion of which coworkers will cover, followed by an email on the last day with specifics-also fine. An email the day before informing me of what you need me to do – not fine.

    4. Samantha

      I think this is completely dependent on role and workplace culture. There are plenty of people who have very specialized roles and it would be difficult for a coworker without that specialized knowledge to cover for them. In every job I’ve ever had I’ve done a check-in with my boss before I left for vacation and let him/her know what needed to be handled in my absence and it was never a big deal. They’d either handle it themselves or assign it to someone else if they had the ability and capacity to handle it.

    5. MissDisplaced

      I guess it depends on the type of work you do. My peers really don’t know how to do certain things as they cover a different aspect, or the peers might be in another region altogether, in which case you actually have the manager to step in.

    6. LBK

      I think it depends heavily on how far outside of your manager’s normal tasks that work would fall. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe you’re an EA? I could see that not being work that would get naturally delegated to your boss because well…part of the point of an EA is to do stuff so that the manager doesn’t have to do it. My current manager does some of the same tasks I do now in terms of reports and collecting data, so it wouldn’t be wildly outside of the scope of his normal work to handle a couple of my tasks.

  9. Julia

    Why could you have not just written email messages for reminders that work was do? You can set up emails to send at a specific time in advance. You could have cc’ed your boss.

    I would have said something like:

    Hello,

    This is an automated reminder being sent by Julia. I am out of the office for the week, but want to remind you to submit X by the end of the day. If you have any questions/concerns, please see Y. He/She is handling this while I am away.

    Thank you.

    1. Anonsie

      I 100% no longer trust these after the last time I went on vacation, set all my important email notifications to go out automatically on the days I would normally be sending them, and a few of them randomly didn’t actually send until way later. Like after I got back from vacation later.

      1. Isben Takes Tea

        I tried doing this once, only to discover that you had to be logged into Outlook for it to send anything, so it just waits to send your auto-scheduled emails until the next time you log back in.

        It’s. Annoying.

        1. Anonsie

          I figured it was something like that, because it worked for days I was checking email on my phone but not others. Ugh.

        2. Kita

          Isben, that’s exactly what I realized when I tried to set up auto-emails. What a pain.

    2. OP

      So, this technique has merit. But I still think I’d want somebody to CHECK that those mission-critical tasks got done. Because presumably I wouldn’t be watching my emails to see if I got a “roger that” reply, or a “oh jeez I can’t because reasons” reply, or no reply at all.

      It’s kind of like when somebody dies on TV — if you don’t actually see them die on screen, and there’s blood and a funeral… you don’t REALLY know they are dead.

      1. mno

        I doubt I would have responded exactly the same way, but there would have been a conversation later. You waited for the last day before vacation to pull me into the loop, assuming that would be ok. I would expect (and generally get) some lead time so I have time to work big picture. We would also talk about trusting in your coworkers. To be told what to do because you lack faith in your system? Who checks on you? I get the “want to do it right” deal, but at some point you have to get past it.

        I’ve always been happy to cover for my staff and for colleagues, but for me to respect their time, I need mine respected too.

        1. Anonsie

          I think you’re being a little overly critical on this here. OP has already said that she (he? sorry) explained she was going to do this in previous check-in meetings so the manager was not totally blindsided at the last second.

          Checking to make sure everything that was supposed to happen did happen is not weird or micromanage-y or denote a lack of trust in your colleagues… Especially when you’re the PM and knowing what’s going on and making sure everything is proceeding as expected is quite explicitly part of your job. Having someone else have their eyes on the whole thing while you’re away so someone has a picture for you when you come back is… Pretty normal.

          And past all that, none of this is the issue that the manager had. He was upset that the OP was hoping that he would help out while she was away. Which is also a normal thing to expect and he knew about it in advance, so his reaction is definitely puzzling and she’s right to be concerned about how it went.

          1. AnonyManager

            And I would add that OP’s supervisor should want to be kept in the loop as to who is covering what while OP is gone. If the manager wasn’t the person to “remind Jane of X, Y, and Z” he/she was certainly in the position to assign someone to the task of following up while OP was away. I find it really strange that the only thing the Manager seemed to get out of their exchange was the sense that OP was ordering him around. That’s just weird.

          2. mno

            I think she had previous meetings with other colleagues, not her manager. I would be irritated at being told what to do on the day before. I wouldn’t have responded in the same way – but yes, this is a problem for me. I don’t think this is a major calamity, but she should do things differently in the future.

  10. Sparrow

    Ugh, this makes me angry on your behalf. Your manager was rude. If he was not able to follow up on certain items, he could have asked nicely and in a much more reasonable manner to see if someone else could cover those things.

    I think the reason this bothers me so much is that I’ve dealt with people in my personal life responding in rude ways when it really isn’t that difficult to be nice and polite. Luckily I’ve never dealt with managers like this.

    When I go on vacation, I usually compile a detailed list and get coverage from one or more of my peers. I also go over the list with my manager in case he has any questions. I can’t imagine any of my managers reacting in such a rude way if I asked them to follow up with something on my list.

    From my perspective, I don’t think you did anything wrong and it’s not unreasonable to ask a manager to follow up on some items while you are on vacation.

  11. OP

    I’m also curious what makes you all think I’m a woman — I saw that several times in the comments.

    1. Louise Belcher

      I can’t say, because I actually thought you were a man. I’m not sure why.

        1. Anonsie

          “You mean you wish you were a lesbian, because grammatically… But I don’t say that, I don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”

    2. TootsNYC

      Some of that “she” business is that Alison (and therefore her commenters) tends to default to “she” as the generic pronoun instead of the more traditional “he.” (Would you be saying, “What makes you all think I’m a man?” if we were using “he”? I bet not. I think Alison tries to fight the unconscious stereotype that’s inherent in the habit of using “he” for a generic person.)

      1. OP

        Well, no, I would, LOL, because I *am* a woman. But the OP and all of my comments have been (as far as I can tell) gender-neutral. I just thought it was interesting that right out of the gate somebody was referring to me as a she.

        1. Anonsie

          We typically default to she here since Alison always does for the above reasons, yep.

          But I do like to play a game with myself on here where I try to guess the letter writer’s gender and it’s often easy to tell. Men and women are taught to use some different language patterns and word choices that you can pick up on even if you don’t explicitly know what they are.

          1. Three Thousand

            I’m not good at that guessing game at all. I assumed this letter writer was a man and was actually surprised to see people referring to her as “she” even though it’s the default here, because I thought her writing style was obviously masculine.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Yup. We tend to default to she here. Which is a welcome relief from the “he” default everywhere else.

      2. AW

        Ah, that answers my question. I had a feeling that might be the case but I couldn’t recall Alison using a gender specific pronoun when none was given so I wasn’t sure.

      3. bridget

        Interestingly, Alison’s female default has actually changed my unconscious assumptions on this site. I DO always assume that the writer is a woman unless the writer indicates otherwise. I don’t even think about it anymore.

        Was this what life was like back when that “brainteaser” about the surgeon being the boy’s mother was so difficult to grasp?

        1. Anonsie

          I told a group of people that one the other day and none of them could figure it out

        2. LBK

          I totally do that now too – I assume all LWs are female because I’m so used to female pronouns being the default here.

          1. Evan Þ

            Me too. But, stereotypes about who’s more likely to write into an advice column might have something to do with it, too.

    3. AW

      Dunno. I’m guessing once the first person did it everyone just went with it rather than double check the initial email and response. Or maybe it was just that the last two times an OP’s gender was clear they were women.

      I try to use “they” whenever I don’t know someone’s pronouns but many people just say OP. On sites like StackOverflow people assume you’re male but on knitting blogs folks tend to assume you’re female. I haven’t paid enough attention here to say whether commentors tend to assume the OP is female in general of if this was a fluke.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        I tend to use AAM’s default “she” when it’s not made clear :)

    4. The Expendable Redshirt

      Doesn’t Allison automatically use a feminine designation? Example: referring to the Boss or whatnot as “She.” Maybe that trend influenced posters.

    5. Artemesia

      I actually assumed you are a man because I would find it odd for a woman to ‘task her manager’ as you did without warning. I think it is presumptuous and would be likely to get fairly nasty pushback from almost any boss. My reports don’t give me ‘to do lists.’ ON the other hand, a good project manager makes sure to have done what the OP did in organizing tasks needing done — but you don’t task your manager, you consult with your manager about the best way to shift the tasks.

      1. vox de causa

        Exactly this. The part that seemed like it rankled the manager was the employee assigning work up the chain of command. It might have felt to the manager like the OP thought the manager’s time was less valuable than a lateral employee’s. Not necessarily, “This is BENEATH me” but more “If I had the time to be doing that kind of detail work at that level, I would already be doing it – why do you think you can dump work on me with no warning?”

        I think it would have been much better to say, ““Item A is business critical so someone should confirm with accounting that it went through by Tuesday EOB. Who do you suggest I give this to?” and “Jane has promised her deliverables by Wednesday but she really benefits from a reminder the day before something is due, should I ask Wakeen to do that or would someone else be better?” Or just saying “I’ve found someone to cover almost everything, but there are couple of sensitive tasks that I wasn’t sure what to do with. Can you help me figure out where they best fit?”

        And then if the manager really thought they should step in and do these things, it would be easy. But if not, it’s also easy to reply back and give directions about who should cover what. And then it’s in writing so that everyone is clear on which job belongs to whom.

        Don’t wait until the day before you leave and throw work at your boss. Don’t do that to anyone, really.

    6. Kita

      I think I assume anonymous strangers are men or women based on how much I can empathize with the way they talk about what they did. I could see myself doing what you’re doing, or describing it similarly, and so I kind of categorized you as “like me” and therefore female.

    7. Eliza Jane

      For my part, I assumed you were a woman because when I have seen people react this way to people stepping up and being proactive, it has almost always been to women doing it. :-/

      So when a man sends this kind of email, he’s efficient and proactive and responsible. When a woman does, she’s presumptuous and not respecting the chain of command and not understanding her place in the company. I’ve seen it enough times, especially in a male-dominated industry like mine, that I just assume that’s playing in, fairly or otherwise.

  12. Anna

    My guess is the attention to detail, and probably how you’re worried about your boss’s perception of you. It’s preconceived notions about female workers :) I thought you might be a young male in your mid to early 20’s.

  13. TootsNYC

    As a manager, I approach it the way the OP does: I am the Substitute of Last Resort for my people.

    If he wants you to get someone else, he needs to tell you who they are, and put his authority behind that request for backup.

    The only thing perhaps you could have done differently is to hash that out earlier, so that the communication about it wasn’t coming with time pressure behind it. And maybe ask, “Whom can I ask to do this?” instead of asking “Will you do this?”

    Because even if I’m the Substitute of Last Resort, I don’t really love having my subordinates boss me around. I tell them to count me in as an asset in terms of delegating, actually (using the words, “don’t be afraid to delegate up”) but it’s sometimes a bit of a zing, and I have to mentally remind myself that I’ve *ordered them* to do this. I find that the manner in which they do it can sometimes feel a little weird.
    Probably all of the phrases the OP says she used would sail right past my sensors without a hitch–but if her boss has different sensors…

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Yes, this. I think the manager is being unnecessarily snarky, but OP could have handled this better by making a list and saying, “These are the 10 things that absolutely need to be taken care of while I’m out.” And then follow up with either, “How should we handle this?” (if OP’s manager is not the type to answer, “You’ll be on email while you’re out, right?”) or “Seems like it makes sense for me to ask Wakeen to handle 1 through 3, Jane for 4 through 7, and would you be willing to help on the rest?”

  14. AW

    My former workplace was the kind of place where it was very difficult to take any sort of vacation time — we were super understaffed and had extremely heavy workloads.

    If your boss really didn’t want to have to cover for anything when someone was on vacation, he’d hire more people or, if he couldn’t, have some sort of standard operating procedure for how to handle work when someone is out. If you’re all so slammed that you can’t take PTO without handing off some work to other employees, it should be clear how to handle that.

  15. Three Thousand

    Your boss is angry that you had the temerity to take vacation time at all, and then on top of that you had the shockingly unbridled nerve to tell him, your superior, what to do, as if you, his subordinate, had simply forgotten your place. I’m glad to hear this is your former workplace.

  16. Mike B.

    The bright spot in this irritating little mess: your boss’s reply was documented in an email.

    In the future, if someone else drops the ball in your absence, you can point out that you were specifically instructed NOT to point out to him any critical projects that might need to be monitored while you’re away. Any blame that might have fallen on you will be deflected to him.

    And while you should do what this boss tells you, it’s an asinine instruction that you should disregard the moment you report to someone else. Good managers appreciate having thorough employees who ask for the help they need.

    1. Artemesia

      Not really. No one has ever won in this sort of conflict with a boss. The problem is not keeping the boss informed, it is treating the boss like his AA to be directed and presented with a to do list of tasks. Waving an email while you stomp and say ‘well you said not to tell you what to do’ having let everything fall through the cracks while you were gone, will not shift responsibility to the boss — it will shuffle you right out the door and rightly so.

      All the planning was great and informing the boss is great — but giving the boss marching orders — not so great. Lesson learned. ‘How do you want me to handle this; I am thinking of Ferdy to handle XYZ and Eunice to follow up on ABC.’ NOT ‘you need to do this and this and this while I’m gone — and oh pick up my shirts.’

  17. Susan

    I think the manager overreacted, but I also think that the email would have been a confirmation of details that you had reviewed with him beforehand vs. the current instance sounding like telling him what to do.

  18. ugh

    I was once out sick and e-mailed my manager to check on an employee who was notorious for slacking off. There was something rather urgent that had to be done that day. She e-mailed back that I should do it myself, but by that time I’d gone back to bed. I was sick! I just stayed online long enough to send that e-mail! When I didn’t reply I guess she got the message and she did check on my supervisee to be sure the urgent thing got done. Normally, my supervisee handles things when I’m out, but this person could not be trusted with self-supervision.

  19. Ann O'Nemity

    I wonder if the OP should consider looking for an internal transfer or another job entirely.

    I admit I’m biased based on a previous experience that was eerily similar to what the OP describes (understaffed, overworked team with unsupportive boss). In my case, there was a lot of specialization and little cross training, so it was difficult to find coverage ever. And it wasn’t unusual that a request for help was met with, “I’m already drowning and dropping balls. I literally cannot help with this one little thing you’re asking me to do.” Or, you’d feel super guilty because you knew that your sick day or vacation day meant that your coworkers were adding even more time to their 10+ hour work days. Somehow I just got used to it. It wasn’t until I had a different job with a different boss that I realized that THIS WAS NOT HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

    1. Beezus

      I thought that, too, on my first read, but the second time I read it I noticed she called it her “former workplace”, so it seems she’s out of there, yay!

    2. PlusOne

      This is what I did, to the point of transferring out of a job I actually liked because of it. I went from a boss whose belief was, “It’s your problem if you can’t find coverage, for vacation/unexpected sick days/business trips,” to a boss who says, “It’s your vacation time to take and it’s my job to make sure things keep running while you’re gone.” I miss my old job — but my new boss is awesome and am about to take my second vacation of the summer!

    3. OP

      Yes, this place was entirely like Ann O’Nemity’s experience. I wound up giving my tasks to another PM that was so underwater on everything else it made me cringe even asking her. But she was the only person I knew would follow up on my stuff even if it meant she was (literally) there until midnight.

      THANK MAUDE I AM OUT OF THERE. (And so is that colleague!)

  20. Tomato Frog

    I work at two locations, and when my boss needs to handle something I would otherwise handle, I say, “Someone will need to do so and so,” and then she can do it or delegate it or even decide it doesn’t have to happen. Another thing I might say is, “Will you handle that, or do you want me to take care of it?” I would actually feel pretty weird using the phrasing the OP used in her email with my boss, because it does seem to assume the boss will do those things.

    That said, if a subordinate sent the OP’s email to me, I wouldn’t dream of reacting in any way but to say sure or to delegate. The boss’s jackassery in the face of his subordinate’s competence and good planning completely eclipses any minor faux pas the OP might conceivably have made.

  21. NicoleK

    I manage a small team of 4 individuals. I’m the back up for all of them. At my organization, it would have been appropriate for OP to request that I follow up on critical tasks.

  22. Jess

    Ugh, this same thing happened to me once, almost exactly, except instead of it behind my manager it was a colleague my manager had specifically told me to outline what she needed to do on my projects while I was out to keep them moving. I came in the next morning to an ENRAGED coworker: “I have worked here LONGER than you, and I deserve DEFERENCE and RESPECT, and how DARE you tell me what to do!”

    This was someone I’d been very friendly with until that day so I was pretty surprised. I told our boss that doing anything on my projects was apparently beneath her, moved my stuff to another coworker who was happy to spend ten minutes a day keeping my projects moving while I was gone, and treated the woman who yelled at me in a distantly cordial way for the rest of my time at that job. After a bit she tried to be friendly again but I wasn’t biting.

    Your boss is a real asshole. If he didn’t want to handle that stuff there are other ways he could’ve said it.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

      I briefly managed an employee like this who always wanted to be asked to do things and would become outraged when people “told” her what to do. They had been understaffed before I came on board, so people walked on eggshells.

      Luckily, she found a “better job” in a place “where people would treat her with proper respect” (exit interview quotes). I don’t think I have ever seen so many happy attendees at a good-bye party.

  23. Far girl

    Does anyone else think OP might have handled this a little differently by asking someone in Accounting to contact the boss to confirm that Item A has been taken care of (cc the boss on that) and let Jane know that this time around due to OP’s vacation, no additional reminders would be sent? (step it up, Jane!!) OP, I realize there may be additional factors at play here so am just going off what you posted. Another thought: present the issues (“I’m worried that Jane may forget, she often benefits from a reminder and I won’t be here to do that”) and follow up with the “what would you recommend?” followed by longgggggg pause…..

  24. Bea W

    Um….WTF? Does he expect you to work while on vacation? As your manager, people are going to come to him if something key doesn’t get delivered and you are out of the office. So unless he’s going to assign someone else or allow you to assign someone else that responsibility, he is responsible for it by default.

  25. Nellie

    Maybe I’m too flip about chain of command myself, but it sounds like all OP asked boss to do was send a few emails to ensure things got done, not to do them himself. Even if he delegated that, wouldn’t he still have to ensure those items got done?

    This may also speak to knowing your audience, workflow, office culture and communication styles, but that just doesn’t seem like a lot. (I’ve worked places it would be no problem to ask a boss to do these, and ones that didn’t due to the nature of workflow, but I knew which was which before initiating a request like this.) And that OP is basically saying “these things will need to be taken care of in my absence.” Also, if he’s the manager, can’t he just as easily delegate those back out? Sure, OP could have phrased it differently, but these seem like ridiculous semantics. It sounds like he chose to be offended on purpose when really he should have set clearer expectations ahead of time about how she should handle redirecting her work while she was out.

    Also, for everyone saying you should never task your boss with something, what about things that need his/her review or approval? Sure it can be a fine line to come up with the phrasing and that’s there I think the gender dynamics come in and frankly power dynamics. If bosses don’t want things added to their plate that’s fine but then they need to communicate to their employees how to proceed instead.

  26. Chris

    Wow! This all makes me very glad that my organizations values vacation time and encourages staff to take the vacation they are earning as part of their compensation package. I see it as part of my role as a manager to ensure that my staff feel comfortable taking vacations, it makes them better employees. One of my employees is currently away on a five week vacation, that is rare, but our policy allows us to save up to six weeks. And, I personally like to support long breaks. Since this is an unusually long time, we did plan for it for a couple of months beforehand.

    Obviously, my work place has a different approach to vacation. However, I think if I were the OP, I would have met with my boss about a week before to go over how my work was being handled. Talked about any remaining details and sought the managers input on how to handle it. This manager sounds like a bit of a jerk, but I do think a few days more advanced discussion would seem less abrasive. Other people have suggested this already, so I’m not adding much new there.

  27. Kita

    For what it’s worth, I found this comment thread really interesting. It looks like there’s a divide between people who think that tasks should get handled upsteam vs downstream when the primary staff person is out of the office.

    1. OP

      I did too!!! My lesson learned from this experience is that in the future I’m going to ask my managers explicitly whether they prefer that I delegate tasks up or down when I’m out, particularly when I don’t have any “down” people to delegate to.

      This was a very interesting thread and I appreciate all the feedback I got on my post.

  28. Cynthia

    As weird as this sounds, most of this could’ve just been automated. (I have to do the same where I’m at when I go on vacation, and I’ll still get asked about items that my subordinates can do, but people would rather bother me about.)

    I’ve setup a calendar reminder in Outlook to notify my staff when to send a follow-up email. I’ve also scheduled emails in Outlook as reminders as well. Most of the time, if someone needs a reminder, I just set it up in my calendar or their’s and have it go to them automatically.

    It saves me the time of having to ask them every time.

Comments are closed.