everyone in my office works while they’re on vacation

A reader writes:

I recently moved from a nonprofit to a Fortune 50 company and I could use some perspective on an issue I’ve encountered: my team sort of…ignores vacations. There’s an expectation that people will be available for calls and on email even when on vacation. This applies to both pressing, urgent problems requiring CEO engagement, as well as routine calls and issues which don’t have to be addressed immediately. It’s basically team culture, both with our director asking people to engage while on vacation, as well as people just calling in on non-urgent meetings, etc.

I’ve taken to just not inviting people to calls when they’re on vacation, but the whole thing feels really problematic to me. In terms of ability to change the culture, I’m the most junior person on the team, despite 10 years of experience. Am I crazy? Are they crazy?

An outside perspective would be a ton of help.

They are crazy. You are not.

It’s one thing to contact people on vacation for truly pressing matters, or to expect them to check email once or twice during a week away. That’s not great, but it can make sense in some jobs. So be it.

But expecting people to take routine calls and to call in for non-urgent meetings? That’s not a vacation. That’s just working fewer hours from a remote location.

As the most junior person on the team, you’re not in a position to do much about this culture. But you might be able to set boundaries for your own vacation.

I’d talk to someone on your team whose judgment you trust and ask what’s up with this. Are people doing it because they want to, or would it be frowned upon if they didn’t? It’s possible that you’ll hear “Yeah, some people do that, but I’ve taken vacations where I made it known ahead of time that I’d be unreachable and it was fine.”

But if you hear “yep, this is just the expectation,” then it might be worth talking to your boss well in advance of your next vacation about whether you can structure it in a way that you’re not on call. It would be particularly convenient if you could mention that you’re planning to go somewhere where you won’t have cell or email service.

Also, sometimes you can manage this kind of thing by just announcing what you’re doing — i.e., “I’ll be unreachable by phone and email next week while I’m in Bali. I’ve shown Jane how to handle X in my absence, and if you have any questions about Y, Bob can help you. I’ll miss the meeting on Z, but Jane is going to catch me up when I’m back.” Sometimes, even when everyone around you is buying into a whacked-out culture, you can opt out by just … opting out and proceeding accordingly, and often you can get away with that. (Not always, of course. But a decent amount.)

But yes, this is crazy.

{ 291 comments… read them below }

  1. designbot*

    My solution to this problem is camping. Oh ha, that sounds really interesting but I’ll be in a tent in the woods and unlikely to have any reception.

    1. Nicki Name*

      Even better: one of my old bosses liked to go caving. (“Hey, where’s Aegon? I need to ask him something.” “Somewhere underneath Kentucky, last I heard…”)

      1. Immersang*

        “Somewhere underneath Kentucky, last I heard…”

        LOL! That sounds awesome, I need to start doing that.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      Yes. This. The western US has a lot more places with zero phone service but it exists back east too (every one of my cousins houses out in the country).
      Other options:
      Out of country
      On a cruise

      My personal favorite was out of country. Most aerospace technology is controlled by ITAR and under export control. That meant that by law, I could not have any technical discussions using foreign phone equipment or from foreign soil.

      You could also just put your phone in airplane mode.

      1. Naptime Enthusiast*

        That’s my favorite excuse. “Oh sorry, non-US citizens around, can’t talk work byeeee!”

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, a cruise would be my vote. You can’t use your cell phone because you’ll be out of the country and the internet is too expensive and unreliable. Say you’ll check email a couple of times but will otherwise be unavailable. Set up an out of office message directing people to ask urgent questions to your manager or a coworker.

    3. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

      One of our staff goes on a cruise, and is very specific about how there is no internet or phone access on her cruise ship.

      And to be fair to my employer I’ve rarely been contacted while out on PTO. I do have some co-workers who ignored critical deadlines who have been reached while out on PTO, but to me that is different.

    4. Bea*

      I almost wish I didn’t hate camping but thankfully I can fall off without going that deep.

      Thankfully I can just go to Canada. Reception is garbage and I’m okay with it.

      1. IL Jim P*

        could always say you were going camping, take a couple pictures of trees and got to a 4 star hotel instead :)

      2. Mmmm S’mores*

        You can just imply camping.

        One mention of smores and flannel, people will draw conclusions. Doesnt matter that its just looking at picture of lumberjacks while eating smores ice cream in a Radisson Inn somewhere in the same state.

      3. Chinookwind*

        Or…you can just tell people you went camping and just camp out in front of your tv.

      4. FunAndGames*

        I take a week in August and head up to the middle of nowhere Ontario where my phone gets spotty at best reception, almost never 4G, and “the internet” as far as WiFi is a good 45 minute drive away, if the place is open that has it at that point in the day and they don’t want you there all day long using their WiFi, just for 10-15 minutes maybe as you enjoy a coffee or are buying bait.

        So I warn them that other then things I can rattle off of the top of my head they are on their own, as I can’t get a good enough signal to VPN in or anything of that sort and things will time out on my phone if I try to use the internet via the cell carrier.

    5. Beatrice*

      “Going to a water park” is another good one for a day without contact. You can’t very well bring your phone into the wave pool.

      1. fnom*

        Oh, waterproof cases are a big thing now. I’ve just gotten back from a SUP tour where about half the people were taking pictures of the sunset with their phones.

        1. ThatAspie*

          I wouldn’t trust a “waterproof” phone case to be actually waterproof. Maybe water-resistant, but not waterproof. I may be wrong, but I am probably right. And anyway, the water-resistant cases in question are probably way expensive.

    6. Admin of Sys*

      Hah, definitely! Tent / no reception – or even tent / no battery, since mountaintops may have signals but I’m not hauling the extra weight of a charging system, even one of the water-boiling based ones. Also, beach trips = no place to have phone on self, etc.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yup. I have a lot of folks who are “hiking the Appalachian Trail” or the equivalent. The other way to get around it is to go abroad on vacation and say that you’re on a plane…. all the time.

        1. fnom*

          My experience has been that most transatlantic flights do not have wireless. I was pleasantly surprised last year when my Icelandair flight did…but only from the East Coast to Reykjavik. The second flight to continental Europe did not. It seemed strange!

    8. Snack Management*

      Oh yes! I love vacations with no cell coverage and as someone early pointed out it’s not hard to do in the Western part of the US. Doesn’t have to be camping either – rental cabins in the woods, off the grid resorts with no cell coverage, silent yoga retreats (you literally won’t be able to talk for a week!) or road tripping through remote areas (dirt roads around the North rim of the Grand Canyon = no cell coverage for meetings, bummer).

      1. PhyllisB*

        There is a state park like 30 miles from us that has NO WIFI!!! I love it. The grands will grumble a bit, but after they start fishing, visiting the splash pad, doing S’Mores in the fire pit, they forget.

        1. DArcy*

          As long as there’s things to do. I hated “family camping trips” as a kid purely because we weren’t provided with anything to do, weren’t allowed to explore on our own, and yet were expected to stay out of the adults’ hair. They pretty much wanted it to be their no-kid relaxation time, but also wanted have us around for “family bonding” on demand.

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        My family goes to a tiny little fishing village in Cornwall (south west England) every year, and one of the best things about it is that there is incredibly limited phone reception. The only place that consistently has signal is the village pub, which does at least give you an excuse to quench your thirst if needed…

        1. Ankaret Wells*

          I live in the ankle strap of Cornwall! The local MP campaigned on ‘I will improve mobile reception ‘ in 2015 and won. He’s still here, but I haven’t noticed the signal getting any better.

          1. Marion Ravenwood*

            I love the phrase ‘the ankle strap of Cornwall’ and am now trying to work out where that is! I always refer to the bit we go to as ‘the thumbnail’ (if you think of it as looking like a hand reaching out), so I guess in this analogy it would be the heel?

    9. Horsing Around*

      When I go on holiday I spend most of my days on horseback in the middle of nowhere with little to no signal. I’ll maybe be reachable in the evenings, but unlikely to respond to anything as I’ll be resting up for the next day in the saddle.

      For all intents and purposes I am unreachable by the office, so if anything comes up they’ll just have to cope without me. Which, given this is my vacation time, is how it really should be. If your organisation cannot cope without your function for a week or two that seems like a serious flaw in how that organisation is run.

    10. Fibonacheese*

      This. I’ve gone on more “remote mountain vacations” than I can count. I also have an unreasonable boss who thinks because he’s “available on vacation” we all should be. You own the company, sir, and you make eight to ten times more than me. I do not begrudge your salary, but I’ll be available accordingly. Especially because my vacations are unpaid.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    Wishing I knew where this is so that I can be certain to never work there.
    Been there, done that. Zero stars, do not recommend.

    1. BeenThere*

      My BIL used to be available all the time… right up until he got laid off. So all that checking email and voice mail while he was on vacation didn’t count for much. I checked my email once a day while on vacation (from my phone) just to clear out the junk. If it’s urgent my boss has my personal cell. She hasn’t used it yet.

      1. A. Schuyler*

        I tend to vacation in the same way. I did hear from my manager a few times on my last trip – she wanted to know if I’d tried her restaurant recommendation yet.

    2. London Calling*

      I once had a manager who wanted me to have a mobile so I could be contacted ‘in an emergency.’ Now I was doing balance sheet analysis and reporting, which while important, does not involve life and death situations. I countered by saying that as I was clearly indispensable perhaps we should discuss the upward adjustment in my salary to reflect that.

      Guess what I never heard another word about.

    3. DoneThat*

      My boss at OldJob announced that the company would be giving me an allowance to pay my phone bills (I did NOT ask for it and I wasn’t given the option to turn it down; this was my personal phone which I had way before joining the company) and therefore, I would have to be available to take calls and messages at all times. Weekends, vacations and 3 a.m. included.

      Never again.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Being “ready for the 3 a.m. phone call” is supposed to come with $250k/yr and a really nice white house….

  3. beanie beans*

    I walked away from an interview process not too long ago when the person I would have been replacing told me how much he worked while on vacation, which sounded like it was an expectation and very much part of the culture of the organization. No thanks!

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I will never forget when I was in grad school for accounting and people from the big companies came to talk to us for recruiting events. One guy got up and talked about how late he worked and how little he saw his kids–and I think clearly this dude was just a workaholic who WANTED to work that much and it was probably not the case that everyone at the company did like him (he was a partner) but I will never understand why they sent him to recruit or why he thought that would sound compelling to us.

      1. CMart*

        I went through the accounting recruiting process not terribly long ago, and the flags I watched out for when chatting with the people sent to events were things like “touting all of the catered dinners Firm provided” or how cool it is that Firm pays for Ubers home after Xpm, or if they stated that “busy season” is all year round.

        I was a career changer with my first child on the way and other children on the mind for the near-term. I was super not interested in staying at the office until 9pm on the regular, even if it meant “free” burritos.

        1. Tax Nerd*

          Going into public accounting can appeal to those who want to jump up an income bracket (or two or three) from their parents. If you are smart, and work hard, you can succeed (if you define “succeeding” as “making a lot of money”). It doesn’t require genius-level brilliance, or connections that go back to nursery school or the Battle of Hastings, though they don’t hurt.

          My first boss had been fairly poor as a kid, from what I gathered, but he was very smart, and worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met. He made it to a point where he was very financially comfortable. It came at the expense of one marriage, a minor substance abuse problem, and 80-100 hour weeks, but he was well into the six-figures from work, and then even more from investing. I personally wouldn’t find that kind of sacrifice worth it, but some people do. In fairness though, they never sent him to recruiting events.

  4. Early Annie*

    My idea of vacation involves fly fishing in remote locations.

    My out of office message notes that I will not have access to cell service, internet service and often electricity. It works as long as you have a clear plan for people to step in when you are not there.

  5. Elizabeth H.*

    This sounds like a boundary nightmare. Does anyone wanna guess what other boundaries they’re violating?

    1. H.C.*

      Actually, all of today’s letters (incl most of the short answers) seems to be boundary nightmares (except it’s not just bad dreams.)

      1. Emelle*

        Husband had a calls in the middle of the night job. He was IT, and I promise not one call that he got in the middle of the night needed his immediate attention.
        My favorite call he got was opening night of a Star Wars movie. We went to the midnight show, came home to 12 hangups on the answering machine, and the phone ringing. Where I come from, someone is dead or dying for that level of panicked calling. Nope. It was his boss, who didn’t like how something looked on a teapot and wanted to know if there was an upgrade in the machinery that husband could get.
        Boss the next day cracked a joke IN A STAFF MEETING about how he had called so many times and then I answered and sounded so awake, wink wink nudge nudge. (Husband’s response, “uh, she thought someone was *dead*”)

        I have never been so happy about a company closing as I was for that one to close.

  6. LW*

    I definitely thought this just came with the switch to corporate, so thanks for your response Alison!

    Beyond direct instructions to be on calls, etc when there are crises, “joking” comments are definitely made when people go fully off the grid when on vacation. There are also some team member who I think are just really type-A and go so far as to schedule calls on their vacations.

    I’m used to senior team members setting team culture so I really appreciate the external reality check.

    1. Antilles*

      It is absolutely not “just a corporate thing”. No, no, no. There are plenty of corporate workplaces, even Fortune 500 places, where a vacation really means “vacation” and you’ll only get contacted in case of a building-on-fire level emergency. You might need to work a few extra hours ahead of time to get things really locked down and provide some written documentation on stuff, but it’s completely feasible to take real vacations in the corporate world, even in the biggest of Big Corporations.
      Beyond direct instructions to be on calls, etc when there are crises, “joking” comments are definitely made when people go fully off the grid when on vacation.
      I worked in a place like this. You absolutely want to pay attention to joking comments like this, because it usually does reflect reality. Why? Because if you worked in a sane place, it wouldn’t even cross someone’s mind to make a “haha, we’re so dedicated that even a honeymoon in remote Costa Rica doesn’t make people miss conference calls” joke.

      1. Sarah*

        Yep. My old boss loved to tell stories about how he’d take calls from anywhere and everywhere – and they were jokes! So funny! Haha! Until I was driving back from lunch on a day he’d told me to work remotely and he called and yelled at me for not responding immediately to an email that had been sent while I was on lunch and threatened to take my remote work privileges away.

        Current boss is more than understanding of lunch breaks and PTO days and, when I have volunteered to be on a call while I’m on PTO, has told me to enjoy myself. (I normally don’t even make that offer but we have a Really Big Client Presentation coming up so if the meeting was going to be critical I would have called in. Luckily I’m not so important to the team that I had to do it.)

    2. infrequent commenter*

      I’m in a similar situation in a new role. While I’m not junior, I am one of the newer people on the team. Once I saw how workaholic the culture was, I gently let my manager know that I firmly believe in work/life balance. Meaning – I use my vacation time regularly and am generally unavailable during vacation.

      It helps that I don’t have a work cellphone. That means I do not check e-mail at all while out of office unless I’m on business travel. While some people do have my personal cellphone number (on a need to know basis), I generally don’t respond to non-urgent calls/texts outside of work hours and certainly not while on vacation. That said, pretty much everyone else does work on vacation but that’s their business, not mine.

    3. Anonymeece*

      Even at some non-corporate places, this is the norm. I work in academia and still routinely got calls/emails (that really could have been taken care of while I was out) on vacation. I ended up on the phone with my boss one time outside of a wedding reception trying to handle things from five states away.

      I agree with checking with other team members. After I had been here for a while, I asked around and sort of built a consensus where we all pushed back and started saying (and sticking to) “I will be unavailable during vacation” and it was accepted. It’s just no one ever pushed back before.

      The type-A people here could just be setting a bad precedent and everyone is kind of afraid to go against the norm. Unfortunately, it also may just be the culture.

      1. A Username*

        I worked at a service-sector nonprofit that definitely does not have its own disco song, and that was also the norm. The idea was that we were always responsible for everything that went on in our area. If something bad happened when we were not there, it was assumed that it was your fault for not being present/easily accessible, and you were also expected to come in and fix it.

        If something in your area went wrong when you were inaccessible, there was hell to pay. And “inaccessible” could mean anything, from sleeping so deeply you don’t hear the phone ring to in a doctor’s appointment to visiting a friend who lived in a different town to going to the movies. This meant that you could be called on the carpet for being “inaccessible and not responsible” for anything that went wrong outside of your normal work hours, including early mornings, evenings, overnights, weekends, holidays, and PTO, and you would need to explain where you were and why you were unable to alter your schedule to come fix the emergency.

        It was awful.

        1. On Fire*

          Heaven forbid you’re in surgery!

          A friend was once in a job where he was standing outside his stepfather’s funeral, handling phone calls that “nobody else could take care of.” (According to the callers. And knowing some of those callers, there would have been fury to pay had he not answered.)

      2. What's with today, today?*

        Yep! I know that feeling. I handled a death report while touring Pearl Harbor, with a five hour time difference.

      3. Cristina*

        “The type-A people”
        I don’t know. I’m a type A person like the best of them, and I apply the same zealousness to my free time as my work time, not that work takes over my life. Holiday is Serious Business.

    4. Ann Perkins*

      I work for a Fortune 500 company where a lot of work is highly time-sensitive and working on vacation is definitely not the norm around here. Before someone goes on extended leave, we just make sure their duties will all be covered and their out of office directs them to who to contact.

      1. Autumnheart*

        Same here. Fortune 500, highly reactive industry, but when someone’s on vacation they are Not Available. It wasn’t always that way, but in recent years, we’ve hired more and more people in leadership who recognize that a good work/life balance helps prevent burnout and employee disengagement. Same with actually having enough people to provide coverage.

    5. Specialk9*

      Nope nope nopity!

      You want to know when else people better not be expected to work? Maternity leave. It’s breaking the law. (May depend on company size, but at a big US corp, it should be applicable.) I had to remind someone of that today.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      So unfortunately, this is both normal (for a minority of employers) and completely abnormal.

      In my field, it’s basically assumed that you’re always on call, even on vacation. It’s not good practice, and it doesn’t let people recharge as they should when away. You can reschedule or delay meetings and strategic calls. But if someone needs information on a case while you’re away, they’re going to call you, and you’re expected to respond. The only way to get around it is to go on sabbatical, which of course is not an option for junior/new-to-the-employer folks (seriously—you have to take a long-term working vacation to get people to leave you alone). Once you start building up your experience and cred, you can start going off the grid, but it can take years to get there and still depends on the status of your caseload.

      It’s not right or fair, but I wanted to offer the note that it is common practice in some fields, or for some employers, to never really let people go off the grid for vacation.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        I’m pretty happy working in finance; in my field we must take a mandatory work-week vacation where we cannot call in, check email or be contacted, so that our work can be audited. Some people push back on it but I thank my lucky stars :D Audit away while I forget your existence for 9 days!

      2. AnotherHRPro*

        I agree. Part of it can be company culture but a lot of it is job dependent and level dependent. In my industry, the higher you are the more you are expected to always be available.

    7. MLB*

      When people “joke” about those that go off grid when on vacation, I would make a comment along the lines of “I don’t expect them to be available while on vacation”. Unless you’re on the management level and being paid to handle emergencies off hours, you shouldn’t be expected to be on call during your time off. I turn off my Outlook notifications when I take a day off.

    8. Silicon Valley Girl*

      #NotAllCorporate … but some crazy ones! I’ve worked for 20 years in high tech in Silicon Valley, California, big name-brand companies that everyone’s heard of & small start-ups that burned up fast & died. Most places let employees unplug during vacation. Sure, you had to make sure your work was covered, but you weren’t expected to take calls or handle email (unless you specifically were a bigwig on some major super important project; but then, you probably wouldn’t schedule your PTO during a launch, now would you?).

      I worked at one place, however, that sounds like this LW’s company. It was horrible! They also claimed to have “unlimited PTO,” in that it wasn’t tracked. What it really meant was each manager determined how much time you could take off, & my dept. reported to Mr. WorkityWorkWork so if we did try to take time off, we were always still expected to be on call, available by email, etc. I only stayed there a year, basically, as long as it took to find a better gig.

    9. Dr. Doll*

      I remember the moment I decided “F this, not doing it” as a young padawan environmental activist. We were trying to plan some summer meetings. One person had written unavailable dates on the flip chart with a notation “Personal commitments to music festivals and time with family” and someone else said “OH MY GOD, WHO HAS A LIFE???” and they weren’t joking. I veered in a different career direction within 2 years.

      No…no. It’s not a religious vocation, it’s a job. If it becomes a vocation, you are screwed.

    10. What's with today, today?*

      It varies I think. I work for a small family-owned media company, and while we certainly don’t call into meetings, we are expected to handle a few emails and calls.

  7. Bea*

    Hell no. I’ve never seen this happen. I’ve been on call for pressing matters and I’m happy to check emails when I’ve been managing teams where I’m the one who signs off but routine crap will wait.

    I don’t even like vacations and only take long weekends. This is still absurd!

    1. En vivo*

      Really want to know if you don’t mind answering! Why don’t you like vacations? Do you get bored with the location easily/quickly or what? :)

      1. Bea*

        My hobby is my job. I get bored after a few days. I’m also a creature of habit, I like the work week.

        I now have a much less high pressure job so I don’t even have to come back to a desk full of crap or emails stacking up. I appreciate my time off more but I’m done by day 4!

        And I do love travel. I just don’t like being places long. I’ll fly 2000 miles to turn around and come back 3 days later.

  8. RG2*

    I have a similar problem. I can’t get mid-level/junior people to stop calling in while they’re on vacation! They know they don’t need to. I/their bosses are telling them they don’t need to, but they do it anyway. It’s frankly not something I’m willing to make an escalating discipline issue, since our work is high stakes, but I make it super clear they don’t need to do it and don’t have to. And then I just schedule all of my vacations so that I’m unreachable no matter what and suggest they do the same.

    1. Midlife Tattoos*

      Have you asked them why they feel a need to? Do they feel like they’ll get left out? Or important decisions are being made in their absence?

      1. Jadelyn*

        One too many articles about Showing Gumption In The Workplace, probably. They’ve been told that in order to move up in the world, they need to show they are Committed, and this is how they’re trying to do that.

        1. designbot*

          I think it’s a real legitimate question to ask. That may be a contributing factor, but there may be more direct issues, like if they don’t think the people who’re supposed to catch them up when they get back would actually do so, or if they think it’ll just create a bigger pile of work to dig themselves out of when they get back. There’s a possibility of real local concerns that could be addressed.

        2. Marion Ravenwood*

          I’d guess this. Or they’ve been told something similar by someone (apparently) well-meaning, or experienced this behaviour in a previous workplace. (I’ve mentioned this before but where I worked before the senior staff worked all hours yet insisted the juniors leave on time, and whilst by and large I did it felt like I was skiving or not fully committed somehow. So I can see how easily you could develop a similar mindset if this was your previous job’s attitude about holidays, and then you took that into your next job assuming all organisations work the same way.)

    2. Antilles*

      That’s an interesting related issue. I’d think about a few things – note that I don’t mean any of this to be criticism of you; I’ve experienced similar issues with my staff and these are a few things that were suggested to me:
      1.) Are you and your fellow managers really following through on your verbal expectations that people are expected to unplug? It’s fine to say it, but there are a lot of companies who say it’s fine but then show by their actions that they don’t really believe it.
      2.) If you know someone’s vacation is in a place where they’re easily reachable, do you still avoid contacting them? This is a subtle thing, but even if someone says “oh, my vacation is just visiting some family and watching Netflix, it’s fine to call me”, you shouldn’t contact them, because it sends a quiet-but-noticeable message.
      3.) How straightforward are you on the issue? “It’s not required” is a different message from “Don’t think about work at all, enjoy Cabo”.
      4.) How are you handling their workload during their absences? Many times if people come back to an endless pile of work on their desk, they get the impression that if I don’t do some work from my vacation, nobody else will, so I’ll come back to a mess of delayed projects and crises. This is kind of a feel thing – obviously there will be some stuff that slips, but ‘a few emails and items to fix’ is hugely different from coming back to a tire fire.

    3. Anonsy*

      Ask why they’re doing it. Set the expectation clearly and seriously ahead of time. Tell them you’ll kick people off calls if they call in on vacation. Then kick them off the call.

      “Hey Jane, its always nice to hear your voice, but aren’t you in Aruba? Please drop off, I’ll have notes waiting for you when you get back.” Hold the meeting while you wait for them to hang up. When they get back, bring up that they wasted the beginning of the meeting by calling in and needing to be kicked off and that you don’t want them to do it again.

      Its like having hourly staff who put in hours “off the clock” to be “helpful” or show gumption or whatever. Show them that they are being detrimental to the business with those choices and reiterate that they need to stop. It isn’t just about not having to, its that they should not and there is nothing to be gained from it if they do.

      My boss won’t allow people who are driving on calls with him. He held up a staff meeting while I drove 3 blocks once. Its the difference between “its against company policy to drive while on the phone” and “this meeting will not progress while you are breaking this policy”

      1. Doe-Eyed*

        FYI, if this happened to me I’d immediately start looking elsewhere. I’ve called in on occasion while on vacation mainly because there are some projects that just move along easier with me there. I work multiple freelance gigs outside of my regular job that don’t stop while I’m on vacation, so calling in for 15 minutes to put an oar in is easy, not invasive, and doesn’t bother me.

        Being talked to like a recalcitrant child and then scolded for taking 15 minutes of my own time at my own discretion to call in is WAY more problematic to me. My company allows me the discretion to leave 15 minutes early when I need the time, become a nanny because I call in for 15 minutes is really offputting.

        1. Massmatt*

          I think you misunderstand Anonsy’s comment, the boss is not prohibiting people from calling in, or scolding them for taking time off, he is forbidding them to call in while driving.

          Ask any cop how many accidents involve people talking or texting while driving and you will get an earful.

          1. limevodka*

            I think you may have missed the first half of Anonsy’s comment, which is what I think Doe-Eyed was referring to.

          2. Doe-Eyed*

            Yes, sorry, I was specifically referring to this:

            “Hey Jane, its always nice to hear your voice, but aren’t you in Aruba? Please drop off, I’ll have notes waiting for you when you get back.” Hold the meeting while you wait for them to hang up. When they get back, bring up that they wasted the beginning of the meeting by calling in and needing to be kicked off and that you don’t want them to do it again.

            To scold me in a meeting in front of my peers and then wait for me to drop off a call before starting, to then later call me into a meeting again and lecture me would put me off working with someone forever.

    4. Okie dokie*

      Heh me too – 5 days I start getting antsy. 10 days I’m dunzo. I went on a 3 week vacation to 2 countries once and never again. And I’m retired :)

      1. Okie dokie*

        Oooh s that was supposed to post under the person who hates love my vacations :)

    5. mark132*

      I wonder if it is a generational thing. When I joined the workforce cell phones definitely existed but they were much less common and capable. So when I was out of the office and didn’t have a cell phone (it was moderately common back then), unless I told you where I was staying and left a number, there was no getting around it. I was unreachable. So I have experience with being unreachable so it’s normal to me. Newer entrants into the job market have always lived in this world of constant connectivity, so their experience is always being reachable, so connecting in is normal?

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Eh, I think it’s just a personal thing. I’m an older millennial; when I graduated, cell phones were everywhere but smart phones wouldn’t be ubiquitous for a couple more years. I’m an hourly employee and am 100% disconnected out of the office; my fiance is salaried and checks his phone every once in a while if he knows there was an issue earlier that might need attention.

        My grandboss is a boomer and responds to emails immediately when he’s “on vacation,” and sometimes calls about things going on. We have a pretty laid back office environment, though, so we just yell at him for checking emails when he’s supposed to be relaxing.

        1. babblemouth*

          I’m a mid-level employee and a millennial. I don’t ever check email on holiday, and don’t pick up the phone when colleagues call unless it’s my manager. I do send back a text a bit later with something along the lines of “I was at the beach when you called. Anything urgent?” That usually weeds out the not urgent stuff, and means I have to respond to work thing at the most twice every holiday.

    6. Rezia*

      I think you might need to actively kick them off. If it’s the norm, mid-level/junior folks may be worried about being the first person to break the norm, or seeming “lazier” than their colleagues even though it’s sanctioned.

    7. RG2*

      Thanks everyone! I think it’s a combination of feeling too much ownership of team projects, of being really committed to our mission (we’re a non-profit that works on life/death issues), and of wanting to be involved in EVERY decision that gets made.

      I’ve thought more about it in response to Antilles’ questions and realized that it actually has gotten much better over the past year since I’ve been more aggressive about telling people with upcoming vacation to unplug, really, I mean it, it’s important. I think the problem grew out of one employee doing it and then the rest of that team following that employee’s lead. Their manager thought it was strange, but sort of went, well, if they want to work, who am I to stop them? That first employee’s still doing it, and I getting his manager to explicitly make him stop is, frankly, not the hill I’m willing to die on, but I’m much more proactive about making it clear across the org that’s not the expectation and I would really rather everyone didn’t.

    8. Nanani*

      Is there one outlier boss/department head/team lead that is saying a contradictory message?

      One instance of catching hell from one among 20 senior people can push people to dismiss all the messages that they don’t need to call in.

      If it was just one person, they might just be quirky, but plural people suggests a message problem

    9. bonkerballs*

      Is it really an issue though? I mean, do you think they’re burning out, are they pressuring others to act similarly, are they not giving you the space to audit them, etc? If it’s not an issue, maybe don’t make it into one. You make it clear they don’t have to and you lead by example by being unreachable when you’re on vacation. That’s enough. Because maybe this works for them. I know for me, you will not ever get me to go on a vacation where I 100% divorce myself from work. You just won’t. At the very least, I’m going to be going through my emails. I *hate* coming back to work after a vacation and having to spend half a day just wading through the email backlog. I *hate* when projects I am involved in take a major turn while I’m out for a week or two and I’m blindsided when I get back. Forcing me to not to check in when I feel I need to or keep up with my emails would be the opposite of relaxing for me. So just make sure there actually is an issue with their behavior, and it’s not just different from how you would act.

      1. pleaset*

        Good points.

        For me I might take a look at emails every 3 days or so, but generally only the subject lines. If something looks especially important, then I’ll take a look.

        And about every third week-long vacation I’ll call in to one meeting – not a normal team meeting or meeting with peers or even just my boss, but something involving the chair of our organization who’s schedule is complex, or something like that.

        Regarding phone calls or texts, I don’t use a phone for work, so people at my job don’t contact me that way in general. So if someone does then it’s an emergency of extreme proportions, so I’ll definitely take it.

  9. NoLongerSleepDeprived*

    Camping and backpacking. They can’t reach you when there isn’t any cell service.

  10. Maddie*

    Cruise ship. Even if you’re not. It’s next to impossible to have reliable e-mail and phone service is out of the question.

  11. Midlife Tattoos*

    I worked in an environment like that, where it was frowned upon to have a life outside of work. I never took vacations — hell, they wouldn’t even give me the day off when my father died. I was so burned out from never having any downtime, but couldn’t see the dysfunction when I was in the middle of it. It took getting laid off and experiencing other companies to open my eyes to how messed up that is.

    Thank god I work for a Fortune 10 company that not only gives generous PTO, they expect you to use it. And this is modeled by senior leadership. We have a very awesome culture.

    1. The Original K.*

      They didn’t give you the DAY – one day! – off when your father died?!

        1. Specialk9*

          I hope for a piano to fall on whatever manager made that decision. That’s monstrous.

        2. Taco Tuesday*

          Jesus, I would have walked out then and there for at least the day, if not the whole week. F them.

      1. Massmatt*

        That was one of the rare instances where the Bad Boss was the one writing in! I remember she phrased it as wanting to “help” the employee she’d just lost. And at least one other employee got time off for a concert. Whew, it was hard to remain kind to that LW.

  12. Mediamaven*

    I have an employee who does this – camping etc. I don’t believe in the entire time she’s worked for me that she was ever actually “on the grid” when she travels no matter how long she’s away. As a senior level staffer vying for more leadership it actually does bother me because she doesn’t put a contingency plan in place so emails don’t get missed and it’s happened. I never bother people when they are on vacation but we simply do not enjoy the luxury of being in an industry where urgent things don’t happen. I respect that she wants to be left alone when she’s out but no one has ever actually contacted her so this isn’t an issue. Regular conference calls – no way. But checking email once a day? Yeah, that’s to be expected.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Checking email once a day on vacation actually isn’t a normal expectation, unless you’re in a very unusual job in a very unusual field! Most people wouldn’t be able to fully unwind if they had to do that.

      But if you want her to have a contingency plan in place, why not just tell her to do that?

      1. Mediamaven*

        I meant this to be a reply to the camping comment above- oops! It is very normal in our field though, and pretty much understood if you enter the field. If something hits someone’s inbox and no one else is copied, it can be catastrophic in a worse case scenario if no one responds for a week. I have actually told her but figure it’s being taken care of at each vacation and sometimes it’s still not. We offer to check employees emails during their time off if they can’t be online, but naturally, they don’t want that. So that’s went things get hairy.

        But – we do have the most generous PTO policy of any likeminded company that I’ve heard of and we very much encourage the staff to take it!

          1. Sarah*

            Yep. I once sat down with somebody and showed them how to trigger Outlook to automatically forward emails with specific subject lines/senders/trigger words to specific people. It takes a little time to set up, but sounds like it could be a really good thing for you to encourage employees to set up!

        1. raktajino*

          Does your email program allow for auto-replies? If the person going on vacation sets up an autoreply with “I’m out of town and will not be checking email, for X please contact person Y etc” then your email concerns are pretty much dealt with. If someone fails to read that autoreply and react appropriately, then that’s on them.

        2. Observer*

          I think that at this point you need to have the conversation that Alison recommends. I’d go further, though. I’d insist that she document exactly how she is planning to handle this issue. And, if she doesn’t give you a plan that you are comfortable with (eg auto-forwarding or giving someone her credentials to check email) tell she has two choices – either she cancels her vacation or YOU have IT set up an autoforward for her email. Don’t depend on her to do it.

          1. Specialk9*

            You can’t really yank away someone’s employment benefit though. Paid time off is a benefit, not a gift.

            Agree about needing a better solution though.

            1. Observer*

              Right. I’m not really suggesting that she not be allowed to take her time off, but that it needs to be crystal clear that she MUST allow her email to be checked if she wants to go off grid. Given that Mediamaven is able to set that up, it’s not just an empty offer.

          2. Mediamaven*

            I agree but realistically I think the options are 1. She lets us check her email and we actually do it! or 2. She checks it. Those are both very doable.

            1. J.*

              Expecting someone to check their e-mail every day when they’re on vacation is not “doable.” That’s not what a vacation is.

              1. Peaches*

                Agree 100%. I highly value unplugging during my vacation, and would be pretty pissed if my boss told me it was “doable” for me to check my email once a day. Mediamaven, you say it’s to be expected in your field for people on vacation to check their emails, but what happens if they truly are “off the grid” every vacation they take? Cruises are my thing, so I’m certainly off the grid when I’m on vacation. And guess what? That’s okay. It’s up to the employee how she wants to spend her vacation time.

                1. bonkerballs*

                  Then, as mediamaven suggested more than once, the employee needs to give them access to her email so they can check it while she’s gone. Between those two options, the situation *is* very doable.

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              This seems strange to me… If these emails are so time sensitive and crucial, why wouldn’t the senders of the emails just respond to whoever was listed as the out of office contact? Otherwise, what–you’re monitoring your vacationing employee’s inbox constantly throughout the day? Seems bizarrely inefficient….

              1. Tax Nerd*

                And why is anything that is so apparently life or death being done via email? True emergencies call for a different mode of communication code.

                To: Dr. Jane Brown
                From: A. Smith, RN
                CC: ER Rotational Intern
                Subject: URGENT – Mr. Johnson
                Code Blue. Patient’s has no pulse and is unresponsive. Please report to Room 407 ASAP.

        3. WellRed*

          This is what out of office messages are for. Frankly, I will check email once or twice but usually regret it because it puts work stress in my head.

      2. soon 2 be former fed*

        Alison, there is a poster Sara who made a very rude totally uncalled for comment to another poster at about 8:45 pm. I know you can’t monitor everything, but I think you should address this, it was very off-putting. What’s the best way to notify you about thing this?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t always see comments but I always see email: alison@askamanager.org

          You can also reply to the comment you want to flag by including a fake link (like AlisonLookAtThis.com), which will send it to moderation, which I will also see.

          (I saw the one you’re flagging and removed it. Thank you.)

    2. Caledonian Crow*

      I agree that your employee should have some kind of plan in place to make sure things that are her responsibility don’t fall through the cracks while she’s out. But I think it’s not reasonable to insist that she check her work email daily on vacation. I’m assuming that means she needs to reply as well, otherwise she could just catch up when she got back.

      You’re essentially saying that she has to think about work every day; that she doesn’t get a break. It’s basically saying that she still has to work on vacation, just fewer hours than normal. That’s not healthy for her, or for anyone.

      1. Breda*

        Yeah, it sounds like she needs to arrange with someone else to cover urgent matters, then put that person’s email address in an out-of-office response. This is really common in my industry, which doesn’t often have emergencies (No One Is Going To Die is my motto) but does occasionally have unexpected deadlines crop up.

      2. Mediamaven*

        I should have clarified – we are more than happy to check their email for them if they can’t “or choose not” to check it. But as it be expected, no one “really” wants that to happen. So if you turn that down, then yeah, you need to check.

        1. McWhadden*

          Why can’t you just insist that you be copied on anything important during that time?

          It’s not like two unreasonable options are the ONLY two options.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            How do you announce to the world that they need to cc you if they’re emailing your report?

            1. McWhadden*

              You have to know who you deal with that may have critical communication. Telling people you communicate with regularly to cc your manager combined with an out of office should work.

          2. Mediamaven*

            But… if they aren’t sending emails because they are out how can they cc me? We work in both client facing and a sales type function so that isn’t feasible.

            1. LQ*

              Auto-reply with a note. Or a rule set up that all emails that come in from…address book or whatever get autoreplied to with a CC to you. Or just forward all emails to you during that time. I’d say this is a technical problem easily solved once it is correctly framed.

            2. Rezia*

              Outlook and most email services should have autoforwarding that can be set up for a short period of time. That way you can get all her email while she’s out, without her having to hand over her password.

            3. babblemouth*

              It’s a bit crude, but try to think of it as a “what if this employee was seriously incapacitated tomorrow?” What would be your plan then? Realistically, you’d ask IT to either set up an auto-reply letting emailers know they need to contact you, or you’d have her emails forwarded to you. You should also set up preventive measures – ask employees to keep logs of their current work in a way that is accessible by the whole team in case they are not available.

              Now, this is a happier variation on the “completley unavailable” situation, a vacation and not anyone getting hit by a bus – but the solution is the same.

              I used to be in a job where I felt the need to check in all the time, in case something went wrong. Someone I considered a mentor then told me “no one is irreplaceable.” I was offended at first – I was TOTALLY irreplaceable as far as I was concerned. After a while, I saw it for the gift it was. I can go away and have someone else cover my work – because if I had to go away for medical reasons, the organisation would just have to find a way to deal.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Can’t she set up an auto-forward or somesuch instead? It just seems like this is a solvable problem, but expecting people to check their email daily while on vacation does not seem like a good resolution.

        3. Peaches*

          Why is “or choose not” to in quotations? It makes it seem like you think an employee would be making the wrong choice by choosing not to check their emails during vacation, when in fact, they should absolutely NOT check their email during vacation. That’s not a vacation.

        4. Mad Baggins*

          When I worked in an industry that absolutely could not have email not checked for several days, we set up mailing lists for each issue. We would set groomers@llamamama.com as our outgoing email and CC it on all responses, so anyone replying or reply-all-ing would hit that mailing list. Can you set up something similar/institute a similar practice so that information is shared regularly and your staff can have a real break?

    3. ragazza*

      The problem is that even “just” checking email brings work back into your consciousness when you’re trying to unwind from it. Even if there’s nothing that needs to be done, it (and the expectation) prevents you from completely relaxing, which is kind of the point of vacation. I’d be really irritated if I was expected to check email every day on vacation. Maybe you need a better coverage plan for when she’s gone.

    4. Bea*

      Normal practice is to throw up an away message and include the contacts the person may need. Why isn’t she doing that? Nobody should be checking email unless they are like me and want to so it’s not piled up or rotting long term.

      1. Mediamaven*

        She does do that but sometimes it’s not enough if a critical, time sensitive issue happens. I mentioned above and should have clarified that we offer to review peoples email when they are out but most don’t want us too – for likely obvious reasons. So, the onus is on them in that case.

        1. Bea*

          I’m squicked out by people not wanting others to monitor their boxes. That sounds like they’re hiding things when it’s a company email system…as a boss I would just check the thing.

          1. Mediamaven*

            I actually don’t blame them – a micromanager could go in and uncover all types of things to make an issue of. But then they need to check it!

          2. Jadelyn*

            Would you be happy if your boss decided to literally sit behind your desk with you all day and watch every single thing you do? Even if you’re not doing anything to hide, nobody likes feeling like they’re under surveillance.

            “Cheery was aware that Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’, believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like ‘The innocent have nothing to fear’.”

          3. Elemeno P.*

            I wouldn’t want someone to read my emails despite not having anything to hide. I am a silly person and have a lot of joking relationships with people, and an email that has a few jokes and a question about xyz might come off wrong to someone else.

            Example: a system I manage gave someone an error message, and he forwarded it to me with just the image linked in my username. Nothing untoward, but my interpretation of “Hey, friend, would you be able to fix this issue for me?” might be very different from what another person checking my emails might think.

            Also I have a very particular flagging system and I wouldn’t want someone to mess it up.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Genuine question – if she has an out of office with contact information, how is it her fault if the people emailing her with “critical, time sensitive issues” don’t use that info to contact the correct person?

          1. Oxford Comma*

            Exactly. What if she were on medical leave? Or maternity leave? Would it be her fault then as well? That’s why you have an out-0f-office message.

            1. WellRed*

              Apparently, it would be her fault. You were in surgery? Too bad! The client was getting bad press and you should have been able to manage it.

          2. Marion Ravenwood*

            My guess is people are emailing the other person (whoever that is) and that person’s not picking them up. In that case, it might be worth including a phone number as well. But yeah, if the other person’s not using the alternative contact details then that’s on them, not the person who’s on leave.

        3. mark132*

          Honestly if one person is the only one getting critical time sensitive emails then your processes are pretty flawed already, vacation coverage aside.

          1. Mediamaven*

            We are very much a knowledge is power organization and we require that multiple people are on all communication for that reason. But, we can mandate outside people do it and they do it allll the time.

            1. mark132*

              What is a “knowledge is power organization”?

              And if it really is a critical time sensitive email going to a single person this is a broken process, and it’s broken even when people aren’t on vacation. If it’s really that way, you have to funnel emails through something like a shared alias/web form etc.

        4. LizM*

          I’m curious why it’s her responsibility if others are sending urgent emails but not forwarding them upon getting an out of office reply?

          That said, if that won’t work for your office, I think you need to insist that you have access to her inbox while she’s out. But I would implore you to see if there is another solution, because I don’t think it’s reasonable to have your employees having to check email daily, and they seem to object to others having access to their email, so you’re really putting them in a position where they have to give up some of their privacy to have a real vacation. I work in an environment where we have real emergencies, and I think that’s an environment where it makes unplugging even more important – I have a really hard time relaxing if I know I may get pulled into a crises. We’ve had to develop systems that allow people to go on vacation and actually unplug, and expectations and a shared understanding about what decisions can and can’t be made when the primary point person is unavailable.

          1. Mediamaven*

            I am very hand’s off of my team’s email – I can think of very few times in the lifespan of our business where I’ve actually looked at it and most of those times were after they left the company. That said, business email is not subject to privacy. We work with highly sensitive client work. And rest assured she has never been brought into an emergency on a vacation. Not once.

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              It doesn’t matter though, you are requiring her to work while on vacation when there are other options (more so than the one other option you seem stuck on).

              Trust me I get it. But as a person who goes on vacation off the grid and as a person who has IT policies that would absolutely not allow a manager to have access to emails in this circumstance. There are other ways to meet the same end. I’m also a manager who has other managers reporting to me so understand your concerns.

              Please step back and talk to your IT people and ask them what your options are. Talk to other leaders and ask how they handle it.

              You are really coming across as controlling in this situation

            2. LizM*

              I think what people are saying here is, checking your email once a day during vacation is not a reasonable expectation, and if your employees are balking at the accommodation you’re offering (giving someone else access to their email), then you either need to work with them to get them to accept that that’s an expectation of the workplace (and come up with a way to protect sensitive information that comes through email, like communications with HR or one’s supervisor) or come up with a different accommodation. But shrugging your shoulders, and saying, “well, no one wants to do this, so they have to work on their vacation,” seems to be giving your employees two bad options.

              If giving someone else access to email is really, truly, the only option, then it shouldn’t be an option. It should be standard procedure when people are out of the office, and you should work with people to figure out a way to protect any sensitive info they have in their email (like communications with HR about benefits – stuff that is work appropriate, but people still wouldn’t want to share with their coworkers).

              1. LizM*

                Sorry, there’s a lot of repetition – I had an interruption half way through writing that, and I now realize I didn’t delete some things from the first paragraph that I thought I had. I wish there were a way to go back and edit.

              2. Mediamaven*

                I don’t think we need to make unreasonable accommodations. This is a business. There doesn’t need to be a variety of different options. They should not be using work email to send private emails – that’s on them. No one would have the opportunity to sit on someone’s computer for the hours needed to uncover sensitive information, and it would be only management checking it. I think you might be overthinking it. I had a senior level associate out as well and I said should we check your email daily and he said no, I’m planning to check once a day or so and that was that! It’s pretty straightforward. To pretty standard options.

                1. A Username*

                  “We work with highly sensitive client work”

                  Based on your name and what you’re saying, I’m guessing you’re in a celebrity or high-profile client adjacent job, like agents, managers, PR, crisis PR. Is there a chance that people don’t want you checking their email because they do not want any of their clients’ “highly sensitive” information being read by someone else in the organization and used in an inappropriate or cutthroat manner, to privilege another employee’s client? Or leaked, to undermine their coworker’s efficacy at his or her job?

                2. Khlovia*

                  There is nothing unreasonable about setting up an auto-forwarding procedure. If your vacationer doesn’t know how to do that, have an IT person do it. What *is* unreasonable is expecting someone on vacation to check their email every day. That makes it nothing remotely resembling a vacation. The word “vacation” means “I have vacated from my office chair, and thus also from my office activities.” The fact that you have a senior person who *volunteers* to check his email daily is simply not relevant to the fact that someone else might *not* want to check email daily. Since for most people auto-forwarding would be preferable to letting someone else rummage merrily through the in-box ad libitem, why the intense resistance thereto? The in-box rummaging is actually *less efficient* than the auto-forwarding thing would be, since it adds an extra step to the process: Would not the result of the in-box rummage be, essentially, to send on each urgent/important message to the same colleagues that the auto-forward would have sent them to? Meanwhile someone in upper management has just wasted a lot of their presumably valuable time wading through somebody else’s spam and other quotidianities.

        5. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          Yea, this is weird. Out of office notifications or auto forward rules based on criteria. Not ‘hey here’s my inbox go nuts’.

          I think you have skewed expectations here.

        6. Peaches*

          But if the employees out of office message read “Please contact Mediamaven for time sensitive issues” in it, how is that not enough for a critical, time sensitive issue? On another note, though, I do think it’s weird that people would decline you checking their emails.

      2. Cerridwen*

        I agree. When I’m on a vacation that I’ve earned, I’m not checking emails everyday! I did think it was a standard practice to have an automatic out of office reply with details on who to contact during my absence. I’m surprised that it isn’t part of company policy, especially if problems are occurring and being missed.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      I think the answer to urgent things is cross-training and covering, having clear back-ups in place – not checking your email on your honeymoon. What if your employee were to have some sort of accident tomorrow and be unable – not unwilling, but unable!- to come in? There’s seriously nothing you could do? Then you need to pay that employee a lot more money, if your entire operation falls apart because she takes a vacation and considers it a vacation.

      Emergencies are emergencies, but probably most of her daily emails can be handled by someone else or wait until she gets back. And if they can’t, you’re seriously understaffed.

      1. Mediamaven*

        To add clarity, we DO offer to check their emails but they really don’t like that. I think I just need to insist on it. Back up plans are pretty easy here because we have a lot of people doing generally the same job.

        1. Observer*

          I think I just need to insist on it.

          Exactly this. To the point that you need to put that in place whether she likes it or not. Tell her that either she deals with the problem or you WILL put this in place.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          I wouldn’t like someone else checking my emails. I don’t have anything to hide, but that feels squicky to me. I would think an out of office message saying “I am unavailable from x date to y date. Please contact Fergus if you have an issue that needs to be handled before I return” would be sufficient. Or even auto forward emails with a specific subject or from a specific client to Fergus.

          1. Observer*

            Well, Mediamaven has made it clear that the auto-response is not sufficient. It’s all good and fine to argue that it SHOULD be – that’s clearly not the case here.

            But, if she doesn’t want someone checking her mail, she needs to set up an auto-forward. That is eminently doable.

        3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          When you go out of office do you hand your emails to someone else to check?

        4. Teapotty*

          In my Old Job, we used functional mailboxes so more than one person could access and reply to email. We also had personal email but most work-related stuff went through the functional mailbox. You can add access to managers as necessary.

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      If you don’t have the capacity to cover for your employee when she goes on vacation, you’re understaffed. Your business needs to be able to handle someone being completely unavailable due to being seriously ill or having some sort of family/personal crisis, so why can’t it handle a vacation without her? This is why at least 4 other people all know different parts of my job, and so while no one person could do it all, they could all pick up parts of it, which works out better anyway by spreading out the extra work. And I do the same for them.

      1. Mediamaven*

        To clarify, we aren’t under staffed and can definitely cover for her. See my comments above.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Fair enough. I don’t know how your business is structured, but we have a lot of alias accounts on our corporate domain that go to multiple people. One goes to me, my boss, my backup/peer, and a project manager. Usually the other three can ignore most messages that come in to that alias, as I handle them, but those three people know that when I’m out, if they can’t handle the request from the client, they at least can figure out to whom to refer the request.

          When I’m unavailable, I put an OOO (Out of Office) message that reminds external senders to make sure their request went to [alias] to make sure someone will see it and get back to them. It sounds like your employee needs to do something like that, at a minimum (although she would tell them to forward their request to your address instead of what I do).

          1. Mediamaven*

            The alias concept is a good one and works for clients but not for all the other people she’s emailing. But yes, she does the out of office note.

            1. Jadelyn*

              In that case, the problem isn’t her not checking emails while on vacation – the problem is people ignoring her out-of-office. That’s what needs to be addressed, not an employee very reasonably using her PTO as actual PTO instead of reduced-hours remote work.

              1. NW Mossy*

                It’s also entirely possible that the email might seem time-sensitive based on the content, but the sender got the out-of-office reply and was completely fine with hearing from her after her return. I see way too many email exchanges that literally say “this is not a rush” and then see a flurry of hasty responses as people jump all over the issue like a 4-year-old on a trampoline.

                Generally, when people need something quickly, you’ll hear about it – they’ll call, they’ll email someone else, they’ll send smoke signals, whatever. That’s normal business behavior, and very few people will be so indignant at an out-of-office that they’ll refuse to pursue an urgent matter on principle.

    7. Wendy Anne*

      The thing is, if she’s putting up an out of office with instructions and details on who to contact, why is still her responsibility to make sure something is done about whatever the email is about? She’s covered her bases, it’s the other person who contacted her and failed to follow the instructions who let things fall through the cracks.

      1. Mediamaven*

        That’s just not the nature of our business. I can’t scold clients or worse yet, the outside contacts that may reach out with an urgent need.

        1. Peaches*

          No one said you should scold clients, but you sure as heck shouldn’t be scolding her, either if she has an out of office message with clear instructions on who to contact in her absence. That’s not on her if clients ignore that.

        2. Jadelyn*

          No one said anything about scolding. It’s not “scolding” to respond to anything that falls through the cracks due to a client’s failure to pay attention to the auto-responder by saying, very very politely, that you’ll do your best to fix [whatever thing], and in the future if they want to be certain that they receive a timely response please make sure to forward their emails to the recipient specified in the auto-response they get back from your staff member’s email account.

        3. Leslie knope*

          No offense, but I really just don’t buy this unless you work in emergency response, and I’m guessing you don’t. Blaming your employees because clients can’t read auto replies is nonsense.

    8. Jadelyn*

      Is it really not at all possible to set up email forwarding or some other kind of contingency plan? I just don’t understand the mindset that someone should never, ever be allowed to do anything that would take them solidly off the grid, like camping. I get being concerned about emails being missed, but there are other ways to deal with that than to expect people to not take vacation, ever – because functionally speaking, if someone is being expected to check in at least once a day, they’re not actually on vacation. Vacation is a time to unplug, which you can’t do if you know you still have to check in daily.

        1. J.*

          Requiring someone to work every day that they’re out of the office is not a vacation, so yes, you are.

        2. Jadelyn*

          As I said in the second half of the sentence you’re responding to: “because functionally speaking, if someone is being expected to check in at least once a day, they’re not actually on vacation.”

          If you’re expecting them to work every day during their “vacation”, then that’s not actually a vacation. So yes, having a blanket expectation that someone “on vacation” needs to be checking their email every day is functionally suggesting that no one ever take a vacation.

    9. OtterB*

      I have two email addresses with my company. One is myname@whoever.org and the other is jobfunction@whoever.org, which is normally routed to me. Most of the time people just email me directly at myname, but the other address reaches me as well. When I was out for surgery in a part of our job cycle where emails from external users were expected, we arranged for one of the other staff to provide backup, and then I put up an autoreply that said I was away and would not be checking email, but for help with JobCycleIssues please re-send the email to jobfunction@whoever.org, and had our IT person re-route that address to my backup person. My backup got the things that were time-sensitive, and the other stuff that normally comes to my email was undisturbed.

      Re overall unplugging during vacation, I have some time off when I want to fully unplug, and for those I usually tell my boss and our office manager that if something urgent comes up, email my personal email or call my cell. They have never needed to reach me. But I have other time off when the family is just hanging out at the beach, and I don’t mind a quick scan through the email once a day while my spouse is out running and the kids are sleeping late, so I do.

      1. WellRed*

        I really hope Mediamaven takes these comments to heart. Otherwise, she risks having fed-up employees writing to Alison about never being able to unplug.

  13. Ferris*

    Assuming you use Outlook or something like it, make sure to use:
    (1) out-of-office automatic email reply (e.g., “I will be on PTO and unavailable from June 10-18, inclusive, and have only spotty phone/internet coverage. While I’m awya, for area X, please contact person Y, for area Z, person Q, …>)
    (2) block off your whole calendar as OOO

    1. Turquoisecow*

      I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning in their OOOs that they will have “sporadic” or “very little” access to email – translation: don’t expect me to answer you, I’m ACTUALLY on vacation! (And these are directors and VPs, fwiw)

      1. Beatrice*

        For where I am, the subtext is also “don’t use email to communicate anything urgent.” If something urgent comes up (something literally caught fire), we call or text.

        1. LQ*

          It’s always funny when someone mentions fire. If something catches fire, call the fire department. I’m of no use to you. And I know people mean it as something extremely dire, but there are people who have jobs of handling extremely dire things. And we mostly aren’t talking about that.

          All that said, I really hope that someone who just started work at a fire department used this as a casual colloquialism once when going on vacation and it was really funny, it is to me at least.

          1. LizM*

            I work in an environment where we have to deal with actual fires, not just metaphorical ones, and we don’t call people who are on vacation when something catches on fire. They’re on vacation, there’s nothing they can do from the beach in Cabo. We have contingencies in place because no one should be irreplaceable and we need to be able to respond quickly.

            At most, once we’ve gotten the situation under control, we may send a text just so the person knows what they’re walking into when they get back, or in case they start seeing media reports.

            1. LizM*

              As an aside, I recently moved for a more strategic role to a more tactical one, and I was joking that the pace here is weirdly more consistent, and even though we’re just as busy, it feels less frantic – fewer last minute requests and manufactured crises.

              I told my coworker, “It feels like there are a lot fewer fires to put out.” Then I stopped myself, and added, “Except for the actual fires.”

              1. LQ*

                This is really funny and absolutely made my afternoon. (I mean, fire bad and all but…)

          2. Beatrice*

            I did mean literal fire! We actually have a protocol for any kind of incident that involves emergency services, fire is a possible hazard in our line of work, and my boss would expect a text after the fact if we had to evacuate for a fire, even if he were on a beach in Cabo.

            1. Lily*

              yeah, but afterwards, and it’s for the convenience of your boss and not for him to do something urgently. Basically it would be fine if he only saw the message after returning to work.

          3. babblemouth*

            Now I’m very tempted to set my auto-reply this summer to “I’m on annual leave and won’t be checking my email. If something is on fire, please call the fire department.”

      2. PSB*

        I’ve started adding “…and will not be checking email during this time” to my OOO.

  14. Pebbles*

    Had a similar situation over this past weekend. Got a text from manager while I was driving to another state for a daytrip, which I didn’t see for another hour until I got somewhere that had free wifi. Emergency job, other two team members are 1) in the middle of pouring concrete for a new patio and 2) camping with no available signal. “Did you see the emails?” No, because this is a personal phone and I don’t check work email on it (which requires an app to be installed and then company could remote wipe my phone if needed). Told him I wouldn’t be available until later that evening when I returned. Thankfully my company is semi-understanding.

      1. Pebbles*

        Right? Especially as manager was able to grab aforementioned patio-building team member to do most of the work before he shuffled off to bed (different time zone) and I was able to make it in. But, I like my team members and we do look out for each other when these emergencies pop up such that no one is inconvenienced a lot more than the others.

  15. Tangerina*

    Managers take note: you set the example.

    Since I’ve started working at this job, my manager has cancelled so many of her PTO days and worked half days for the PTO days she was able to “keep”. Without fail. And it makes me extremely uncomfortable with taking time away and remaining unavailable during my time off.

    Yes, she “says” that we shouldn’t expect to be contacted during our time off, but based on her behavior, I expect that taking more than one day off at a time will result in my vacation being interrupted when I finally do get around to taking one.

    Plus, her refusal to take a full day off is giving her team the impression that we aren’t trusted to handle the work while she’s out.

    Managers: take your vacation time and get off the grid. It’s important for you, your family, and your staff!

    1. Kate*

      This x 100. I want to put your first sentence on a plaque and send it to every manager in my company.

    2. BRR*

      My grandboss behaves like this but for her it’s because she doesn’t manage her time well. It’s just snowballed over time because she can’t recharge.

    3. Marion Ravenwood*

      This this this! I mentioned further up that I’d worked under bosses who were really bad at setting examples when it came to things like finishing on time, and it trickled down to making the junior employees feel very uncomfortable about working their set hours (within reason, obviously there are times when you have to stay late or come in early but it shouldn’t be every day) despite encouragement from managers. I can imagine things would have been much the same if they’d been that way about holiday. It’s not enough just to say, ‘oh you don’t have to do that!’ – you have to do it yourself to almost ‘give permission’ to junior employees that it’s OK not to spend all their lives at work.

    4. Gotham Bus Company*

      And, if she doesn’t trust the team to handle work in her absence, then she also doesn’t trust the team to handle things when any one team member is out.

    5. Star Nursery*

      That’s for sure! When the manager is setting an example of not taking vacations and always still checking their emails while on vacation and still joining conference calls or cancelling part of their vacation days, responding to emails late at night, often the junior employees think they are expected to follow that example. Even if the boss really doesn’t expect their staff to work as many hours as them or respond to emails in the middle of the night like they do, I have seen junior team members think that to show they are dedicated that they need to do the same thing.

      I do think a manager who trains their team to handle routine issues while they are in vacation and takes time to train them so they can handle various issues will be able to buildup the growth on their team. While it’s more work initially to train someone else is eventually easier in the long run.

      I had stay at work to meet a deadline that meant I was still at the office at midnight once. My department team leader was also there that night almost as late but by the end only I was needed to finish and it couldn’t be done by her so I stayed a bit longer finish. My team bragged on me for staying so late to finish and working hard to meet that annual deadline. My grandbosses heard their praise and being sensible humans did not want that to ever happen again and so made sure to hire extra help during the next annual deadlines. The company created a second position for my role.

      My department has a lot of hard workers who are very dedicated and committed to doing a great job for our clients and they work a lot of long hours, weekends or evenings if they need to for meeting client deadlines. Honestly I think some of the team is choosing to work more weekends just because they are watching our boss.

      I’ve opened conversations with my boss on expectations and confirmed she’s honestly not expecting me to be reading her emails after work. Sure, she is sending me emails at all hours but she doesn’t expect me to read and respond to them until I’m back in the office to work.

      If she has an urgent question she will text me (that’s happened less than several times a year). Oh sure, I might peek sometimes at my work email to clean up junk emails and have an idea what I’m dealing with when I get back in to the office.

      My boss often uses the delay-to-send email function in Outlook so that her emails go out the next morning. She doesn’t really want clients to see what time she is working during the late night and she doesn’t want her team to be caused anxiety by thinking that they have to read it and respond to it while off the clock unless it’s an emergency. She has to take several extra steps to do that delay send for each email she sends. I told her not to worry about using delay send when emailing me because I know she wasn’t expecting me to read it until I’m back in the office and I have all alerts turned off for my work email account on my smartphone all the time. Nothing ever notifies me or wakes me up. I can open the email to look if ~I choose to for my own sanity~ but it’s never disturbing me or interrupting my sleep. I keep email on my phone for my convenience.

      I know she’s got a higher level of responsibility, makes a lot, lot more money and receives tons more emails. It just works for her schedule and email keep up system for her to go back through her inbox late at night. I know she will always respond to my emails and I can count on a response by the next day.

      If I have a more urgent email I’ll either out URGENT in the subject or send her cell a text or call her or go to her in person.

      Now do I personally think she overbooks herself and has a calendar with too high percentage client load and maybe but a realistic time built-in for emails and other non client side of work? Hmmm… I’m keeping my thoughts to myself. She knows her limits and how she is doing. I could never do that number of hours per week without getting worn down physically and emotionally. I find I can tell when I’ve worked too much lately because I start noticing various signs to the health of my body and mind. I start to feel more stressed and anxious. Having more issues with insomnia etc.

      But not everyone is the same. Maybe I have a lower threshold to get sick and not as strong of an immune system as her. Maybe I’m still not back to 100% physically from when I was in a more stressful job and had regularly longer hours.

      I have decided not to worry about her and just worry about me.

  16. Ros*

    Oh, I had a previous job like that, and a boss who was Very Very Perturbed that I was going to be somewhere with no cell reception (my basic offer had been: I’ll be in this spot with no cell reception, but I’ll be in a nearby town WITH cell reception for 2 days during that week, so I can check my emails then – no more than 48 hours delay). I distinctly recall a conversation:
    Him, in a panicked tone: ‘but what will we do if it’s an emergency??!’
    Me: ‘well, I’ll be a 90-minute drive away. So either you can wait a day or two for me to check my emails, or I’ll give you the address and you can send someone to get me.’
    Him: ‘but that would take an hour and a half of someone’s time!!’
    Me: ‘Well, if you can’t fix the problem in less than an hour and a half, then, that’s a sensible option, no? Otherwise, problem solved!’

    I was surprised that it worked, but honestly, the 70+ hour work weeks were killing me and I was already job-searching, so. :)

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Sounds like everyone there felt the need to be indispensable, when really hardly anyone is indispensable. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, my team would have a rough time adjusting, but eventually they would be fine, even with no transition, and the company certainly wouldn’t go under. And I’m fine with that, because I do plan on retiring early!

      1. Tangerina*

        I was training under a woman who had been in her job forever. She was literally the only person at the company who knew how to do certain important processes in the home-grown software. I joked once at her “oh man, we’d be so screwed if you left.”

        She knew she was super important and leveraged that.

        But her response sticks with me. “Everyone is replaceable. If I left this Earth tomorrow, Teapots Inc would find someway, somehow, for this work to get done.”

        (The only caveat to that is small businesses. I left a job that was just the owner and myself. He called me a lot, basically daily, after I left because I was the only one between the two of us who knew how/where/why things were. Heck, I left 6 years ago, and I got a call from him last FRIDAY about something.

        That company would have certainly gone under if I hadn’t made myself available to him, especially in the early days.

        I only put up with it because he’s my best friend)

  17. There All Is Aching*

    I used to work at a place where one manager yelled at his team for not working over xmas break. It was a breaking news joint which mitigates that *somewhat* but it was a weekly publication that didn’t print over the holidays. Morale was bad anyway because of the 24/7 grind with fewer bodies due to layoffs, but it was super extra bad after that.

    1. ExcelJedi*

      Dude. I don’t even expect the major 24/7 news networks to have new or interesting content on Christmas! Who’s looking to their weekly magazine for new content when the big leagues are serving them fluff or the yule log all day?

      1. There All Is Aching*

        Right? I wish we could go back in time and show him this comment from you.

    2. Tangerina*

      Yep! I quit a job (after finding another) because my manager bitched me out for not seeing an email that was sent on Christmas at 9pm. I was out at my mother’s house where there was TERRIBLE signal and I didn’t ever bother to figure out the Wifi. Her solution is that I should have driven a few times a day, on Christmas, in the ice, into town where there’s signal so that I could check email.


      1. mark132*

        I don’t even know what you can say to crazy stuff like that. “My apologies for not risking my life to check my email on Christmas.” I could see a complaint if you were on call but otherwise no.

    3. Bea*

      The final straw of my first job was being given Xmas Eve off by my direct supervisor. Then I got a call asking where we all were from the owners assistant…

      I drove in. Heavily medicated. And gave my two weeks. The others didn’t show up and eventually quit as well. Thankfully the owner still adored me and I got out without too much mess. My direct supervisor though, she was destroyed and he wouldn’t give her a reference…so she couldn’t get into the temp agency even due to that blackballing.

  18. Burnett*

    My boss gets a bit angry with people when they answer emails on vacation, which I actually appreciate. Unfortunately, despite the team’s prompting, she doesn’t give herself the same treatment. She’s on PTO this week and I’ve seen her on at least 4 different email threads I’m cc’d on.

    1. LSP*

      My boss is very explicit about her availability during her vacations. Sometimes it’s, “I’ll try to check emails once or twice.” Other times it’s, “I’m going to Thailand and will not be available at all.”

    2. Bea*

      My boss is always remotely dialed in while out. He wouldn’t want anyone else to be because like he says “it’s my job to be available even when I’m away.” But my bosses are always owners or directly related to them so their investment in the place is forever. They don’t expect anyone else to go that hard. Which could be your bosses thing.

      I’m overly invested too but my life goal is executive level in a micro company because I’ll shrivel up and die in a much bigger scale setup. Sigh. So many feels.

      So yeah, your boss is good people. I like to leave mine alone and wait if possible but I know his priorities and what can shuffle to next week and what I need him to approve before his return. So just don’t take advantage I say :)

    3. Mediamaven*

      As a boss, sometimes it’s less stressful to be relatively in the business when out. That’s how I feel.

      1. WellRed*

        My boss is like this. It made her feel better to check in via phone with me once a week and check her emails while on maternity leave. She didn’t HAVE to, but…it made her feel better.

  19. LSP*

    If I’m on vacation with my family, I’m doing it to spend time with my husband and son (who, as a mom working full time I have little enough time with as is). If I’m going on vacation just with my husband, well, we tend to plan vacations around wineries, so… yeah. I shouldn’t be doing any work then anyway. ;)

  20. BeezLouise*

    My boss takes vacation days A LOT, and almost always does it the days leading up to a big event (we work in fundraising, but there are often events with alumni or donors, etc). This means I’m always having to call her or email her on her vacation day trying to get some urgent answer. And she gets very frustrated that we’re bothering her when she’s not here, which is also true when she’s on a work trip and gone for most of the week, as well.

    Any advice on how to manage from below, as it were? I’m new to this position but not to the industry, and these are events that my boss has the ultimate responsibility for, though there are two of us who are lower level and making them happen.

    1. BeezLouise*

      Clearly this is someone else’s question I’m adding to in the comments, but I guess I’m wondering what you should do when you don’t want someone to have to work when they’re on vacation, but you’re in a tough spot otherwise.

    2. Beatrice*

      Think through the event before she leaves and make sure you get as many answers in advance as possible. That includes thinking through predictable problems and their solutions (like having a tracking number for that shipment of rice sculptures for the table decor, so you can track it down in case it doesn’t show up.)

      And talk through with her how much leeway you have to problem solve on your own if she’s not available. Maybe she’d like you to exercise more initiative in her absence than you are.

    3. AlleyCat74*

      It doesn’t seem like your boss has appointed anybody to act in her role when she’s not in so maybe suggest a second in charge who has authority and training to make decisions in her absence.

    4. AdminX2*

      Stop covering. You make your calls but if people are waiting, just say “John is on PTO Wed-Fri, I’ve left him a message. If there’s something else I can check let me know. I will update as soon as I hear back.” Keep everyone informed, let them know exactly what the score is and let it go.
      Frustrating? Very. But that’s how it is. I make sure I am covered and that people know I am there, active, working, communicating.

  21. Observer*

    Alison, the OP says that their director actually asks them to be engaged while on vacation. I think that that is totally not OK. But, does that change the rest of your answer?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not really! It might be the kind of expectation that you can push back on easily, or it might not not. So I’d still follow the steps I outlined in the post.

  22. A.*

    If I have to work on vacation, I am subtracting the hours I spent working from the PTO I use when I submit my timecard. I’m not using my vacation time when I was actually working. I guess this is not an option for some people but it would work for me. When I fill out my timesheet, I would just include whatever time I spent working.

    1. Bea*

      You should. And anyone who is hourly needs to stop working unpaid time, you’re a ticking timebomb in the system. It only takes one salty former employee to get in the right ear for that audit.

    2. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I do this, and I’m exempt salaried. If I spend an hour working on a vacation day, then I only used 7 hours of vacation time instead of 8. (That works if you earn and track vacation in hours.)

  23. Cait*

    I could have written this letter. On my last vacation, my boss called me 3/5 days I was out, emails everyday (NOTHING URGENT)…. and yet when he’s out, he rarely checks in (which I think is great) and when he’s back, spends 2-3 days “catching up on emails”. Yet I’m expected to respond to emails within hours. Drives me bonkers.

    I had tried to set the boundary of “I’ll be unavailable during the day but will respond to urgent messages in the evening”… still didn’t stop the calls.

    He literally called one time to ask me to update salesforce.com …. I shouldn’t have answered my phone, it put me in such a bad mood for a solid 20 minutes which was so unfair to my family not to mention mentally completely distracting.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      You have your solution right there. Don’t answer your phone when he calls.

      1. Cait*

        You’re 100% right. I was kicking myself after that and promptly put my phone on silent and away from sight.

    2. LQ*

      Strong agree with Rusty on don’t answer. I think you can mute or set rings (depending on your phone) for specific people. Set his to …not ring, just silence. Or if you can block the number while you’re on vacation do that. (I don’t know what blocking the number sounds like to the user on the other side so you may want to test that first.) Alternatively set the “name” to “Enjoy your vacation Cait” so when you look at your phone and it’s ringing that’s what you see, you know to dismiss the call and deal with it later.

  24. Wine not Whine*

    Some time back we had an…let’s call her “over-aggressive” HR exec who sent round an all-hands memo stating that we were expected to check voicemail and email once a day and return all messages daily.
    Support staff was specifically included, not just the sales and marketing folks.
    When the analysts and admins stopped laughing at the idiocy of the memo, we all agreed that from then on our out-of-office messages would include “without phone or email access” whenever we were out for more than half a day.
    Seven years later, I’ve never been challenged on it.

    1. Tangerina*

      Hopefully she’s brushed up on her FLSA knowledge since then. That’s a risky little memo to send out in light of the fact that the government can come down HARD on a company for making workers check email and VM (and return them!) off the clock.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Eh, that assumes the support staff was hourly, which they may or may not be; it also assumes the company isn’t paying them for the time. As long as the company pays for the time spent checking email and voicemail and returning messages, they’re in the clear to require it be checked once a day or whatever.

        It still has the potential to create a mess (how do you confirm when they were or weren’t working if they’re out of the office? Time tracking becomes on the honor system, etc., or you have to rely on email timestamps, which is not great because the email only notes when it was sent, not the half hour spent researching and writing it) but it’s not inherently an FLSA violation to require staff to check their voicemails while they’re out of the office. As long as you pay for the time, you can require what you like.

    2. WellRed*

      I don’t work for HR, therefore HR best not be dictating this sort of crap to me. Wow.

  25. Sara without an H*

    I’m deeply skeptical about most workplace “emergencies.” I don’t know what industry you work in but in my experience, most “emergencies” can be avoided with good planning and cross-training.

    1. Nita*

      I’ve had legit emergencies only twice while I was on vacation, in more than ten years. YMMV by job, of course, but planning ahead can usually head these things off.

    2. Bea*

      Yeah, in my line of work there’s no real emergencies unless you count needing a medic, anyone here can dial 911 tho.

      Cross training is critical but more so is giving people proper authority or having authority on hand. My biggest emergency is a payroll error and someone needs the money they were shorted and the only check signer is out of town.

    3. A Username*

      I’ve had a few where I was the one bothering a supervisor on PTO (or in one case, FMLA.)

      In both cases, the “emergencies” were caused by other people behaving terribly, using the supervisor’s absence as an excuse to mishandle things, bully other people, and meddle in someone else’s department. In both cases, the supervisor was thankful I clued them in before the damage was fully done.

      An appalling number of people will use other people’s absences as an excuse to play politics.

    4. WS*

      I’ve had maybe 6 in 18 years that were real, genuine emergencies. Two of them involved unexpected deaths, two serious injuries and two natural disasters.

  26. AnonMurphy*

    Agree you are not crazy. I work in a one-of-a-kind role, and while it gets annoying and slow for the other 200 people in my office when I’m out, I do have a couple people designated as partial backups.

    I just got back from a week away; I checked my email once or twice out of boredom, and my team/backups had instructions to text me if there was anything urgent. No one did. I was also designated as on call for one day (since my main backup was also on PTO) and didn’t hear a word.

    That being said, we had a mega-massive-major implementation happen about 2 years ago; I was on the way home from an out-of-state funeral and my boss did have to call for an issue only I could fix – but she also flexed me some generous time in return.

  27. Secretary*

    I hope they’re being paid and not losing vacation days if they’re doing work. Whether they’re exempt or non-exempt they legally have to be.

  28. Sammytwo*

    My workaholic boss (whom I directly support) sets the example by working through all of his seldom scheduled vacations. He will email/text his next two in command throughout his vacation and/or theirs. I once had one of them call me from a beach in Hawaii asking me to email a file to him that he needed because she didn’t have access to the server FROM THE BEACH. It’s expected that you keep up with email while out of the office. I don’t often check it on the weekends, but occasionally will because my boss works through the weekend, too. I sometimes feel like I’m not a “team player” because I’m not “working to their level” by being constantly connected.

    1. Rey*

      This is about them, not you. This has nothing to do with whether you are a “team player”. I think this is the current version of the last generation’s requirement to be the first person into the office and the last person out of the office, and the thought that because the boss always sees you in the office, they give you raises, promotions, etc. instead of objectively evaluating your quality of work. Your boss may have personal reasons to be constantly connected (maybe he just isn’t good at relaxing or is trying to distract himself from annoyances in his non-work life) but that doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable for you. Just keep repeating, “It’s not me. It’s definitely you.”

  29. Tessa Ryan*

    This has been a problem for me as well. When I went on a vacation last year (hiking trip in the Boundary Waters of Canada) my boss actually called me while I mountain-climbing to make minor changes to our website. I told my boss before I left that I would be out in the woods, and when she called I was shocked my cell phone even had (spotty) reception, and that I had no access to wifi out in the mountains. So I verbally walked another coworker through how to make the changes. This year I took a two week kayaking trip, and created a 100+ page guide to answer any and all major questions, and giving certain daily responsibilities to other people. That way, each angle of my job was covered by someone as backup who had already been cross-trained. I had a wonderful trip, was not contacted by my boss, and did not think about work or social media or any web stuff for sixteen days. Utopia.

    1. Bea*

      They know how to read at your job…my God you must work with unicorns. I’ve always had procedures written down and FAQ…I’m still bothered with questions with easily accessible answers.

    2. Tabby Baltimore*

      100+ pages! The mind boggles (O_0) contemplating your daily/weekly work load.

  30. AnotherAlison*

    I have vacation/vacation when I’m gone and not answering any emails or phone calls, and then I have vacation/time off when I’m at home and will chime in for a call if it’s easier than passing off the work to others. When I have a big vacation where I don’t want to be reached, I have been able to coordinate with my management to not have any critical assignments with deadlines during the vacation. I’ve managed to work this out for the past 4 yrs. (My previous role was unimportant enough that I could take two weeks off with no coverage and nothing would fall apart.)

    I can understand expecting people to call/email when they’re on “day off here and there” type of PTO that may not be really important personally, and may not have been scheduled and planned for in advance, but companies can find a way to give everyone a true break for at least one week per year. The OP’s company is just wearing this as a badge of honor, & it’s ridiculous.

  31. Sad obliger*

    This morning a more senior coworker asked me if I’m taking tomorrow (July 4th) off :( This makes me so sad (this should be a default!) and is definitely one of the reasons why I’m considering leaving. It’s also a bit specific to my department/office culture, since another coworker who works in a different department from a different part of the company was telling us today that her department often lets people leave at 2 pm the day before holidays if nothing urgent is on the calendar.

  32. BlueWolf*

    This makes me glad I’m non-exempt with no connection to the office when I leave. We have a buddy system for backup coverage, but most of the time I just try to get anything done before I go or handle it when I get back. I never have any kind of emergency to deal with. My parents, however, would often work outside of the office or while on vacation (depending on cell/internet access). They were in more managerial positions, so obviously a different situation.

  33. CR*

    I just came back from two weeks off where I did not check email once (luckily, my boss didn’t expect me to). It. Was. Glorious.

  34. LDP*

    My boss is super guilty of contacting me when I’m out of the office for super unimportant things. I’m hourly, and she literally texted me at 9 a.m. on Christmas morning to ask me a completely ridiculous social media question. She also routinely texts me on weekends or when I’ve taken sick time, so I was really nervous about the week-long vacation I took last week. I totally fibbed and told her that there wouldn’t be cell phone service where I was going, so I wouldn’t be able to respond to her. Luckily, the rest of the office totally has a culture not bothering someone when they’re out of the office, so I knew that no one else would be expecting me to respond. And I’m happy to report it actually worked! I had a ton of emails from her when I got back about really basic things (that she should know how to do, but that’s a different story), but I got to enjoy my vacation. I’d say definitely push back a little and see where it gets you.

  35. Rat Racer*

    I wonder if I work for the same company as the OP – I have a 2% chance of being right (ha!)

    At my company people tend to work weekends and on vacation because of our remote/national office culture. People on the East Coast are expected to take calls at 6:30 pm; people on the West Coast take calls as early as 5 am. Since many of us work from home, it’s all too easy to check email late at night, on weekends, and I guess that extends to vacation as well.

    Personally, I would not trade the ability to work in my PJs all day, or the flexibility to go for a 7-mile trail run at 2:00 pm in the afternoon, for the downside of 5:30 am conference calls and habitual work on Sunday afternoons. However, it’s not a lifestyle that works for everybody. Also, I’m going abroad this summer where I am forbidden by company policy to bring my phone or laptop :)

  36. Bookworm*

    I’d also question the organization. It’s one thing to ask people to check in or at least check their emails but if people work through their vacation then that’s not vacation. I’ve had a few jobs that were like this and they were dysfunctional or never knew how to properly delegate or clearly didn’t hire quality employees to do work to the level of being able to cover others.

    Good luck! I hope it works out.

  37. Jam Today*

    My favorite (lol) on-call event happened when I was working in a call center for a medical scheduling and billing company. I got an “emergency” call on a Saturday that the client’s internet had gone down, and they didn’t have access to their schedules so wanted us to print out their schedule and fax it to them. This was not our problem, and *technically* I didn’t have to deal with it, but I am a conscientious human being and this was a doctor’s office seeing patients, and the patients certainly didn’t want to be at the doctor on a Saturday so I’d do what I could to make the day not terrible.

    I didn’t have a car, nor did I have a printer or fax at home, so I walked two miles to the closest Kinkos, printed out all their schedules and faxed them (on my dime), and they got what they needed about an hour after the call (allowing for time for me to get dressed, walk two miles, log into their system, print, and fax everything).

    I came into work on Monday to a complaint that my customer service was unsatisfactory because it took took long to respond.

    1. Lison*

      This reminds me of a situation a friend of mine was in as a food server, a customer told her this long list of foods they couldn’t eat and nothing on the menu would have been suitable but my friend went to the kitchen and asked the chef if they could do anything and the chef kindly agreed to work with the many restrictions and produced an improvised dish. The customer didn’t tip and complained to the manager that they didn’t like the dish. That had been created at no notice and cooked just so they could eat! Meaning that chef is unlikely to try help people in the future because they might complain to his boss but if he sticks to the inedible to the customer menu items it’s not his fault.

  38. Jay*

    Back in college we had things called ‘weed out courses’. These were classes where the difficulty in the subject matter took an exponential jump compared with the previous iteration of that class (for example, Bio 102 would be massively harder than Bio 101). This was done as a sort of wake up call to students so as to waste neither their time or money on a path that they could not really follow all the way to the job market. They could be brutal, reducing good students to tears. However, I have to hand it to this approach. You get way fewer graduates who suddenly find themselves with a degree that they can’t actually use, or as Seniors who suddenly discover that they can’t stand even the thought of their major.
    In the 30 years I’ve been formally in the full time work force, I have seen this mentality used over and over again. Jobs that are nightmares intentionally just to see if you have what it takes to survive them. Sometimes it’s not so bad, AKA, you last a year, and it opens some really nice doors because everyone now trusts your capabilities. You last long enough you are looked at like a living legend. Sometimes it’s Management making use of the Official Company Sadist to burn through cheap, disposable employees. The Great Recession saw quite a lot of the former transform into the latter, sadly.

      1. Jay*

        As in, they put said sadist in charge of people they really don’t care to have around for all that long. It saves money on things like vacations, raises, benefits, 401k matching funds, etc. Sadly, my industry came under the influence of one such company. It allowed them to underbid everyone on everything. It all ended with massive (like 50% or more in some cases) paycuts and layoffs industry wide.

    1. neverjaunty*

      You get way fewer graduates who suddenly find themselves with a degree that they can’t actually use, or as Seniors who suddenly discover that they can’t stand even the thought of their major.

      You also get way fewer graduates who would have done well in the field and enjoyed their line of work, but dropped out because they didn’t enjoy being hazed.

  39. Hannah*

    I’m one of those annoying coworkers who checks/responds to email when on vacation (if I am not camping, which I sometimes am).

    I actually find it a lot LESS stressful than not checking. I’d rather not come back to 500 unread emails, half of which are “Does anyone know where the Llama Feeding schedule is?” when I could have just quickly replied with “it’s in the polka-dot folder!” I also just like to delete and sort emails so I’m not overwhelmed upon my return. Doing this doesn’t make me feel like I’m working on vacation. I actually find it really freeing to be able to just take care of things while I’m also doing something fun.

    My boss has made it clear that this isn’t necessary, but I prefer it. Your coworkers might prefer doing things that way as well, and may be totally fine with you handling your vacation time differently.

  40. Addie G.*

    As another Fortune 50 employee – this is also an expectation at my company too. A majority of the problem lays with extreme cost cutting measures that streamlined departments to the extent that there is no overlap in positions anymore. As a result no one has a back-up that can fill in for vacations or leave because that would be a redundancy and therefore waste which needs to be eliminated to make the shareholders happy. There is a high level of burnout among the employees but we are routinely told that we should be grateful to be employed at said company and that there are many waiting in line for our jobs which unfortunately is true.

  41. TeresaS*

    I intentionally plan vacations to locations that are as inaccessible for contact as possible… not because our jobs require either myself or spouse to be available, but because my spouse will stay in contact with work, and not get much-needed rest.

    After our last cruise, where my spouse’s employer agreed to reimburse about 8 hours of internet charges at something like $3 a minute, we changed to vacationing in northern Maine. There’s pretty much no cell service and very limited internet. The entire family gets a much-needed mental recharge.

    Since the OP is junior and it’s obviously part of the office culture, I recommend setting reasonable boundaries: Only call in for the most important meetings, not the routine ones that can be covered by a back-up; check email and voicemail once per day and only respond to urgent messages that can’t wait; turn your cell phone off when you wish to be unavailable, checking for messages when it is convenient to you; and ensure that your boss is aware how many hours you’re working so you’re being paid appropriately (don’t use PTO to work).

  42. ZK*

    At my ex-job as a department supervisor, I couldn’t even get out of the parking lot before the calls started. “Oh, did you order X?” You mean that big white box sitting right in front of you? I finally told them we were leaving the country for vacation and since it was expensive to use my phone, I wasn’t even taking it. Of course, the crap show I came back to made my quiet, relaxing vacation moot. Finally decided to save what little was left of my sanity and quit.

  43. Anna*

    I wish there was a solid way to assess this type of culture before joining a company. Sometimes it casually comes up, but often there’s no real way of knowing if this is the expectation until you actually experience it.

    My last company wasn’t really like this, but my current company is and it’s part of the reason I’m looking to leave. One of the VPs was responding to emails while she was at her own destination wedding, and others will just not take PTO they have scheduled so they can instead take client calls that they scheduled themselves and were not urgent. There’s been many instances of someone being out on PTO but saying “oh I can still join that call” when they really don’t need to or the call can be rescheduled.

    When I was on vacation in Curacao, with no cell service, I told my boss where I was going to be and still got an email from her (which I saw on the beach since the resort had wifi) saying she “had called me but got no response” and for someone to “let her know when I get in touch.” Obviously, she wanted me to respond immediately, however the email was not urgent (I didn’t bring my laptop with, but the deadline was after I got back and could’ve waited until then). Once someone else on the email chain said they’d cover it (why I don’t know, since I could’ve handled it when I got back) my boss backed off but she still seemed annoyed. That email chain ruined the next 30+ minutes of my vacation at least. I am not someone who likes to be demanded that I respond to phone calls or emails during vacation, and while I may if it is actually urgent or is a simple response that was definitely not the case here.

    I also had a coworker email me when she was on vacation in Hawaii asking about details for the event she was going to in a week (the event was happening while I was on vacation, but I was setting up everything). I had explicitly told her I’d send her all the details she needed before I headed out on vacation and I wasn’t gone yet so hadn’t wrapped everything up and done so. Maybe that helped her relax more on her vacation, but it just felt like she didn’t trust I’d send her the info she needed before I left even though I’ve done so before. She never acted like this before our previous company merged with the one that has these vacation expectations.

    Anyways, totally agree with Alison’s recommendations to push back a bit and at least try to set the expectations for your own vacation.

    1. AnonWidgetMaker*

      I, too, wish there was a way to find this out before joining a firm (ok, so I ignored the 2 star Glassdoor rating, but I was unemployed at the time….) At my welcome lunch, new coworker says “My family thinks I work too much” and she’s on vacation now with her laptop. Another coworker explictly announced that she was NOT taking her laptop on vacation. My boss is always accessible, even on other continents. Since we are sales and quota and metric driven, there are no off-weeks for anyone, so you work like crazy before you do go away. And you work nights and weekends here, but you have to burn up vacation hours for doctors appointments. It’s frustrating. And HR wonders why they have high turnover.

  44. AB*

    My 6 week European vacation 5 years ago saw me still working remotely from wherever I was. I had only been in the job 6 months and there was no one else in the organisation who could do my job. I am taking an 8 week European vacation later this year and I still have no backup but this time I will be in remote areas with no cell coverage so I have told the bosses they will need to hire a temp. If they don’t I will be pre-scheduling 8 weeks of pay and no-one will receive their overtime or Xmas bonuses until I get back. That is not likely to make the employees happy.

  45. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Sadly, this type of expectation of always being available for work, and always checking email, has become more and more common. I assume it’s primarily because of technology. Even if only a subset of people in a workplace agree to these conditions, it does tend to create cultural pressure on the entire workplace to do it. Small companies and companies that are understaffed may not have any coverage for folks on vacation. An “emergency” at work does not mean life or death or even materially serious consequences anymore. Instead, it has unfortunately come to mean (in some workplaces) that only one person has the particular knowledge or authority needed to take care of some matter, and if that one person is on vacation, he/she must still take care of that matter. I wish it weren’t so. Times have changed.

  46. IO_BIO*

    A work culture where people can’t unwind on vacation is toxic, and frankly a work policy where people don’t have sufficient vacation days/Paid Time Off to really unplug is also frustrating, stressful, and unhealthy.
    I work at a company that gives below-U.S.-average PTO for salaried employees. The PTO policy is so stingy that I’ve negotiated for double the company default and it’s still hardly great e.g., significantly below normal EU PTO. I’ve tried to go to bat for people I’m hiring to get them more PTO officially, too, but it has been basically impossible –apparently when exceptions were made for me, it created all kinds of waves.
    Anyway, one of my direct reports wanted to go on a well-deserved week-long vacation recently but was up against his saved-up PTO (had 3 days left, not 5). I told him to send a check-in text on two of the days and do absolutely nothing else work-related during the 5 work days he was out…and only charge 3 days in our PTO system. It was technically legal and within the scope of my discretion. (I also knew that if I texted him with something so-urgent-that-everything-would-break-if-he-didn’t-respond, he had his work computer and would take care of it, but I didn’t because almost nothing in our industry is that urgent.) From what I can tell, only about half the managers in my company will “find” this kind of wiggle room for their direct reports, which is unfair for conscientious people stuck adhering rigidly to our default miserly PTO.

  47. Noah*

    This really seems like the norm at very large and very high growth companies. It maybe crazy, but it is the situation.

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