my office asks people to work while they’re on vacation

A reader writes:

What’s the best way to manage work-related requests when you have time off, especially when holding onto your job seems more critical than ever?

I have worked for the same organization for several years. In the last couple of years, my boss has developed a habit of asking her direct reports to follow up on work-related tasks when they are on leave.

If I have dropped the ball on a specific task (which does happen occasionally), then I don’t mind following up on these requests. But I mind it the rest of the time! And I am becoming increasingly frustrated that it’s now the default for our team to contact staff members when they are on vacation, sick, or some other type of leave. For example, one of my coworkers was recently out on maternity leave and our office contacted her multiple times during her leave about tasks that the staff covering her work should have covered. Another time a coworker who was out sick with the flu was asked to answer a series of questions about some of her work, even though it easily could have been handled by someone who was actually in the office. In general, the pattern is that the requests are mostly time-sensitive, but nearly always could be managed by another staff member in the person’s absence.

I am sure that one of the reasons that reaching out to people on leave has become a default is because most of us feel compelled to respond when it happens. I know I do! So also, what are some good strategies to avoid the compulsion to respond? And then how do you manage the fall-out from not responding to what your boss feels is urgent (even if you don’t), especially in an economic environment where there’s extra pressure to do everything you can to hold onto your job?

You’re right that it’s not okay to continually bother colleagues who are out sick, on vacation, or on maternity leave, especially when there are others who can cover their work in their absence. Doing so pretty much ensures that people will never get to fully disconnect from work, which over time will lead to resentment and burnout. If they’re taking leave through the Family Medical Leave Act — FMLA, which people on maternity leave often are using — it can also be illegal, depending on how significant the requests are. “Where is the ___ file?” is usually fine. “Can you finish up this report?” is not.

In most cases, being on leave should mean that you can fully check out of work. There are some exceptions to this, like if you negotiate a vacation at a busy time of year and in exchange agree to be available for emergencies, or if you have a (rare) job where you know from the start that always being accessible is part of the deal. But for most people and in most cases, you should be able to take a sick day or a vacation without being peppered with demands from your office while you’re gone.

There are a few ways to handle an office that won’t respect your time off. The easiest is simply to be unavailable on the days you’re out. Don’t answer your phone, don’t return emails, and wait to respond until you’re back at work … at which point you can say, “I just saw this since I was on vacation/out sick until today.” This is actually quite normal! Many, if not most, people handle their time off this way. But since it sounds like your office has grown used to being able to reach you while you’re out, it’ll likely go more smoothly if you start warning colleagues ahead of time that you will not respond while you’re out. That means that before leaving for vacation you’d say something like, “I’m going to be pretty inaccessible while I’m out and won’t be checking texts or email.” And if it’s an unplanned absence like a sick day, you’d let people know at the same time that you call out sick — saying something like, “I’m going to have my phone off today while I rest.” Reinforce it in people’s minds by setting up an auto-response on your email (like “I’m out until December 5 and won’t see any messages until I return”).

You noted that you’re worried about repercussions from your boss if you do that, and I’d like to know more about what that worry is based on. Has your boss said or done things that make you think she would react badly to you fully disconnecting on your days off? Or does it stem more from an assumption that if she’s contacting you, she must expect an immediate response and it would be a problem not to provide one? If it’s the latter, it could be worth rethinking it. A lot of managers ask for things whenever the thought occurs to them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll hold it against you for being away from work (and thus unresponsive) when they ask. It’s also possible that because you and your co-workers haven’t been pushing back on these requests, your manager thinks everyone is fine with it but would be more considerate if she realized people objected. (Yes, she should be able to figure that out on her own, but sometimes people don’t.) In other words, unless you’ve seen evidence to the contrary, it’s perfectly plausible that if you set boundaries, your manager will make do.

But if your boss has reacted badly in the past when people don’t respond to messages on their days off, then you have a bigger problem. In that case, you probably need to have a more direct conversation with her about it. That means saying something like, “Recently, when I’ve been out sick or on vacation, I’ve been contacted with work questions, often multiple times per absence. It makes it hard to disconnect and really make full use of my time off. I understand in cases of rare emergencies, of course, but it’s been happening for more routine things that someone else could have handled. Could I ask that we try to make contacting people who are out the absolute last resort if there’s no other option, rather than doing it more as our default?”

Also, where are your co-workers in all of this? I’m betting that they’re as annoyed as you are — and possibly feeling similarly hesitant to push back against it. There can be real power in numbers, so if you can get them on board with a strategy (perhaps you can all plan to be unreachable when they’re out and/or collectively ask your boss to respect your time off), the message will carry more weight. (That doesn’t have to mean organizing a group meeting with your boss; simply encouraging everyone to decline to be reachable when they take time off could do it.) It’s going to be a lot easier to change this element of your team’s culture if everyone is on board with erecting — and maintaining — boundaries.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. TiffIf*

    The last two times I went on vacation I was out of cell phone reception most or all of the time and a lot of the time had no wifi access. Have EVERYONE pretend this is the case on every vacation. Especially a honeymoon. Say “I will be unreachable while I am out.” And then stick with it.

    1. CockrOPch*

      This is one of the reasons I picked a remote area for my honeymoon. And I uninstalled Outlook from my phone for the duration so I wouldn’t be tempted to check.

      1. MusicWithRocksIn*

        Whenever I leave the country (or mainland? I did this for Hawaii too) I always turn my cell off for the duration if I can. I like to have it in case of emergency, and I can tell myself it’s so I don’t get weird charges for being strange places, but it is also so nice to totally disconnect. Even for enjoyment it’s hard not to look at your phone all the time or play that little game or read your favorite web blog – but it can be so relaxing to fully disconnect and really embrace the vacation (ok, first there is a somewhat tense detoxing period, but after that…). But it is an excellent excuse for missing any and all things that come in from the office.

      2. Noodles*

        My father in law works for the US government, due to the secure nature of his work he’s not allowed to discuss work if he’s outside of the United states. So he simply doesn’t take a vacation unless he leaves the country.

    2. Anon 75*

      Ha, I plan my vacations to go to a different continent so the timezone issue means they have to deal with urgent matters on their own. Doesn’t work for everyone, but saying “I am out of the country and unreachable in until XYZ” worked pretty well for me. Of course, with pandemic travel restrictions, I’m not sure how to address LW’s issue other than just not checking phones and email.

      1. TiffIf*

        Yup! Did that–last year I went on a Mediterranean Cruise–I don’t have an international cell phone plan and only occasionally had wifi. And if someone had insisted I work–I would have absolutely filed for reimbursement for the ship’s satellite internet per minute fees.

        1. TiffIf*

          Also, this year I went on a responsibly socially distanced vacation to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. I have no cell phone reception in vast parts of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        I went on vacation for two weeks on a different continent. My employer paid for a rental phone that would work there, in case a technical emergency came up that was critical (I’m IT, and it was possible).

        On the other hand, I didn’t get a single call, because I work for reasonable people.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        It’s sad that so many people here seem to be letting the lack of boundaries at work influence where they spend vacation.

        1. Jen with One N!*

          It could also be knowing their own habits. I check my email constantly and have to move the app around on my phone and other things to encourage myself to disconnect. Going somewhere without wifi would force it. This is with a boss who yells (joke) at me via email if I reply. So I would totally do things like this if needed.

        2. Sasha*

          I have my tiny violin out for people forced, FORCED, to holiday in Hawaii or Yellowstone by their unreasonable colleagues!

          (I know what you are saying, but I am reading these posts as “here is a handy bonus of my favourite vacation destination”, not “woe is me, it’s the only place I can go and not be bothered by work”)

      4. Anon for this -- coworkers read here*

        Solidarity. At a former employer, pre-pandemic, I planned my first vacation after eighteen months of no vacation longer than a day off, working late every night, being expected to check email/work on weekends and being routinely hassled by my manager and other staff on the rare days I called out sick about “Can’t you just check email and do this one thing [aka work all day from home] even though you’re sick,” and etc. (Toxic culture, yes.)

        I was not in a human services job, medical job, emergency services job, or other job where 24/7 availability is legitimately necessary. As a mentor said in disbelief upon hearing about this, “Nothing in our world can’t wait a day! We’re not neurosurgeons on call!”

        I told my manager that since I was going to Europe, I would be putting an OOO message on my email that I would be out of the country and unreachable until X date — despite the CEO’s refusal to allow routine OOO message usage because “we need to be constantly available” — and would not be taking my work phone or a laptop or paying for an international data plan. I paid for the work phone myself as a way of separating work from personal life so it wasn’t like my manager could forbid me to leave it at home.

        His response was “But how will we get HOLD of you if it’s an EMERGENCY?”

        Again, there was nothing that couldn’t wait until I got back. I’d been working even longer hours to get ready for vacation and he knew it. I’d been telling him for six months my workload was untenable and he ignored it.

        “I don’t know, carrier pigeon?” I said without thinking because I was so fed up and burnt out. That…did not go over well. But the world did not end when I did not check email for five business days.

        And because of that and many other reasons, I now work for an employer that is much saner about work/life balance even during a pandemic where the CEO says “Take your vacation, people. Unplug even if you’re not going anywhere right now.”

    3. sofar*

      haha yep. I went “camping” for my vacation this year. I was not camping. I had full Wi-Fi access every moment and was in hotels. Did my coworkers know that? No.

      1. Mongrel*

        That also let’s you ‘leave your phone at home’. After all, if there’s no service you’re lugging around a lump of tech that’s vulnerable to getting wet and\or damaged

    4. Mel_05*

      Yes, on my honeymoon we had no cell reception. Didn’t matter for my job, they would never invade my vacation, but it was pure bliss to have my husband’s work unable to reach him.

    5. High Score!*

      I do this *every* time. “Oh I don’t check / don’t have company email at home” or “well, I work long days and need my down time, I always check email the minute I get in”

      1. Amaranth*

        I took the work email app off my phone and pushed back that I needed to be able to take a break from work and people can text me in an emergency. Legitimately, the app was eating emails instead of syncing properly, but I spent zero effort trying to solve that problem.

    6. Elizabeth West*

      Pfft, if it were my honeymoon, I wouldn’t even make an excuse. If a coworker said they might need to get hold of me, I’d just say, “Tangerina, I will be on my HONEYMOON,” and give her a blank stare until she slunk away in embarrassment.

      1. Luke G*

        I’m stealing that script. Including the part where I call the person “Tangerina.”

        I wasn’t quite this rigid for my own “honeymoon,” since the ‘rona turned it from a true getaway into some time off to relax at home. I may or may not have used the phrase “Can you reach me? Technically. Should you call me? Let common sense and fear inform your choices.” :D

  2. learnedthehardway*

    According to my parents, this is why they bought a cottage property that was impossible (at the time) to get phone service to (too remote and wild): ie. my father’s manager WOULD call during vacations.

    It makes sense to engineer things so that you’re completely unavailable, and to make your manager aware of it, if you have to.

    (The one and only time my father’s employer had to get ahold of him, they had to send people 3 hours out of town and then by boat across a lake. And the people who showed up said they understood completely why he was so far out of contact.)

    1. Juneybug*

      Ohhh, so many questions –
      What was so important that they had to get a hold of your dad?
      What did your dad do for a living?
      Did the employees that showed up have to spend the night cause of the distance?
      Did your dad stay with that company or left after this incident?
      What did your mom think of all this?

        1. Sasha*

          I am envisioning a kind of search party expedition – they sent three so that as members of the group faltered by the wayside, at least one of them would be able to carry on. “No! Leave me! Save yourself!”

          1. Luke G*

            “We can use the TPS reports to start a signal fire!”

            *SMACK* “Get ahold of yourself, man! We knew what we were risking when we came on this trek, those TPS reports have to make it in one piece!”

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        also, did the boss really send more than one person out to find your dad on vacation?
        Did they just expect to be invited in, or was there public lodging/food near by?
        what would the company/boss have done if your father was in another way unavailable — the proverbial hit by a bus?

      2. Xenia*

        Was it a screaming emergency? Because for a 3 hour trip including a boat I’d expect a screaming emergency and be very disappointed with anything less.

  3. Elenia25*

    How are they contacting you?

    If it’s email, stop checking it. Put an out of office.
    If it’s text, I flat out will say stuff like “I dont check my phone much on vacation. I really like to disconnect.” I HATE being contacted about routine mundane shit on vacation. Call me if someone is on fire, after you call 911.

    With Covid it doesn’t change it. It’s been a really stressful year! You are entitled to have some time off to yourself to relax and recover. Be assertive and polite and push back every time, or the job will happily eat all of your time.

    1. Letter Writer*

      By email, text, and phone call. By boss puts a lot of pressure on her reports to reach out to the person who can answer the information quickly. For example, for the person who was out on maternity leave (and it was not protected by FMLA due to the size of the organization) was contacted by one of their direct reports based on a request from the boss (so the direct report’s grandboss). It’s difficult for those people to push back.

      1. Jessi*

        Maybe you can fix that by just not replying quickly? Like if its a multi hour wait, then they will likely move on to someone faster

        1. Sleepy*

          Yes! The best way to train people to be more self sufficient. Maybe pre-prepare them while you’re not on vacation by replying more slowly. If you use GSuite, the “snooze” and “send later” functions are fantastic for this.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        Oh wow. It’s a shame the manager didn’t speak to the grandboss about not asking people to contact her during her maternity leave, especially if the manager had already designated someone in-office as her backup when she was out, because a lot of people are not going to be comfortable telling the big boss no and the manager should know that and advocate for her people accordingly.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Your boss sounds entirely unreasonable. If she thinks it is ok to disrupt someone’s maternity leave just to get what she needs more quickly, I do not think she has any real respect for professional boundaries. And based on this comment, it does not sound like it is a case where you are assuming she needs the answer right away just because she asked you right away. She is pushing others to contact you via multiple platforms during time off. I think you can talk to your coworkers and try to push back gently (be unavailable one sick day and then the next day, state that you took medicine that make you drowsy and you slept the whole time, did not even hear the phone at all, and see how she reacts, then escalate from there if she acts reasonable). But if she does react badly, and the organization is pretty small, you might not be able to do anything about it (except look for another job, if it bothers you enough, and it would bother me enough)!

      4. Loosey Goosey*

        This sucks, but I think Alison’s strategy still works. If everyone (or a critical mass of people) puts on an auto-reply that says “I am out of the office and not checking emails” and doesn’t pick up calls from work, then the boss will be forced to adapt. The direct report can tell the boss “X’s auto-reply says they’re not checking emails, and I got their voicemail when I called.” Boss can then figure out how to handle the issue without X, or wait until X gets back (if it’s a short vacation)…which is what should be happening in the first place.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’m sure we had a comment here recently (but might have been on Reddit) where someone quietly texted vacationing coworker to say “I’m about to call you because Unreasonable Boss doesn’t understand urgency or vacation – don’t answer”, then called and surprise surprise went to voice mail. This kind of malicious compliance may be needed when the management is unreasonable.

    2. WorkingGirl*

      I don’t like being contacted about work stuff at 5:30pm (I work 9-5 so I’m usually out of the office a few minutes past 5!) on a Tuesday! I learned that if my boss ever called at 5:30 I had to say “Okay, I’m not at my computer so I’ll handle that first thing tomorrow.”

  4. Staying Home*

    We have been warned in no uncertain terms that we cannot work while out of state. They told us they could be in serious breach of state tax laws if an employee works any amount of time outside of their home state. I would give anything to telecommute from my parent’s house, but my company does not have a tax nexus with the state my parent’s are in.

    1. Momma Bear*

      I actually had a job where I lost it due to living outside the tax nexus, so I understand why they would be so adamant.

    2. Magenta Sky*

      I suspect that, if push came to shove, California would consider a single email to be work time, which means you have to be paid for it, which means you’re not using vacation time. Get an email every day while on vacation? Congratulations, you still have two weeks of vacation time.

  5. Oh Snap*

    This could be self fulfilling. If everyone keeps responding, you are training them to ask. What happens if you just don’t answer or respond until 8+ hours later, on account of: of course you aren’t glued to your phone while on PTO?!?!?

    1. KateM*

      Yes – if you don’t want to be the jerk who doesn’t answer, just answer hopelessly late. Because you were on vacation and were doing vacationy stuff!
      That’s how I (quite accidentally) years ago got rid of my mother calling me every day to tell me how to raise my first baby.

  6. Momma Bear*

    With some kinds of leave, you are simply not allowed to check in at work. That might be a legal violation. I put in my out of office message that I am out of the office until x time and will respond when I return. An emergency can be directed to… and then IF I check my email, great. But if not, they have options. I’d remind the boss that “Susan is in the office and would be able to do that.” Or forward the email to Susan with a note that “Boss is looking for…but I’m on PTO today. Can you please field this and cc me if necessary? Thanks!” Sounds like Boss is either just contacting people out of habit or doesn’t trust that the back up can handle the work. Either way it’s problematic, but it might help to find out what the Boss’s problem really is.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We had an overeager team lead who called someone on their vacation when they were 1) an hourly contractor 2) not the lead’s report and not on the lead’s team (this person in fact reported to my boss, who was famous for being blunt and straight to the point) 3) out of the country visiting inlaws (not sure if that was important, but we work with PHI, so it could’ve been). The contractor called their (and my) boss to ask how to handle this strange request, and more importantly, how to bill the company for the hours worked while on vacation. Boss told the contractor to go back to enjoying their vacation, called the team lead, and ripped them a new one. But I’ve got to wonder how many people this team lead had called on their vacations, and convinced to log in and work during their vacation time, before they finally messed with the wrong person. The lead had a reputation of trampling all over the work-life balance, both their own and their reports’.

    2. snoopythedog*

      I think you make a great point about starting the practice of assigning who can handle your work when you are gone. The LW states that there are people to cover. In addition to adding an out of office signature detailing that you will not be checking your email (and not responding to your phone), you can always clarify who is taking over your work, giving people who make a request a specific place to go!

  7. I feel this one in my bones*

    I used to plan trips to places where I knew I wouldn’t be able to get internet/cell coverage when I had a boss that would routinely call people to actually cut their vacation short to come back to work. That’s extreme, but it worked for me because I could say “I’m not going to have accessibility, here’s a list of where my projects are at and who to contact about blah if something comes up.”

    One thing I’ve observed is that when people are expected to be “available” sometimes to respond to things, their brain isn’t fully engaged in work (because they’re on vacation!) and they might not have needed context, etc. One time an employee responded to something from the beach but he didn’t have all the info, and it set off a chain of events that ended up creating much more work for the rest of us, broken relationship with the client, etc. Other times I’ve had bosses that tried to work while they were on vacation and just ended up causing more confusion, because they would communicate with the client, but I wouldn’t be in the loop, and then I’d go to communicate with the client and there was some info I was missing. It just creates a completely avoidable communication mess, and made us look like we didn’t have it together. So it’s not only annoying to respond while on vacation, it can occasionally be not only unproductive but also potentially fraught with issues.

    Maybe emphasize how you need to recharge and disconnect to get fresh perspective so that you’ll be ready to re-engage when you get back? And set up an out of office message that sets clear expectations about your true availability. Don’t put your work email on your phone, and don’t bring your computer with you. That way you can’t respond even if you want to.

    1. Guinevere*

      I’m currently writing my doctoral thesis in labour law, on the right to disconnect. Your comment is spot-on with what different studies are saying: you NEED to disconnect from work regularly. Same goes for any vacation time. It makes for happier and more productive workers! And, (not so) fun fact, the mere notion that your boss/colleagues *may* contact you during your non-working time is associated with health problems. So please, bosses, managers and colleagues, respect your employees’ time-off!
      Alas, not everyone can put their foot down and say “I won’t answer between such and such hours/during my PTO/during my vacation, etc. without the risk of reprisals…

      1. I feel this one in my bones*

        I would be so interested to read your thesis one day! Sounds fabulous.

        The worst I ever experienced was a coworker who called me on Thanksgiving with something that really could have waited another day or two, when I was staying with family, in bed with the flu and high fever, on heavy medication. I had no social filter left at that point and I’m pretty sure I recall saying to my coworker “if you can’t figure this out without me then we have bigger problems” and hanging up the phone, then completely turning it off and going back to sleep. Needless to say, I moved on to another company a few months after that incident. I now have a rule that if I’m taking heavy meds, I don’t talk to people, haha.

        Fast forward almost 10 years and I’m now working for a company and boss that is much more understanding of time off. My boss never pesters me on vacation, and only very rarely when I’m taking a sick day. Really helps reduce stress knowing I can truly disconnect and not fret about what I might be missing/who is trying to get a hold of me, because that expectation isn’t there.

  8. Ash*

    Some people, maybe some of your coworkers, also enjoy the feeling of being “needed.” It can be an identity of sorts, like oh I can never just disconnect from work because I’m just so busy and no one else can do what I do!

    1. BRR*

      Oooph I had one of those at my last job. That behavior peaked when she emailed everyone that she would be stepping out for around 30 minutes for lunch. But you could reach her by cell if you needed her!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I have a coworker who legit puts up an out of office email when she’s on her fifteen minute breaks. Like, the auto-reply SAYS “I am on my fifteen-minute break and will respond to your email on my return.” Our official written expectation per the email policy is that one should check one’s emails twice per 8 hour shift. Nobody is panicking over a 15 minute email response delay. I don’t even know.

          1. willow for now*

            Could be that she has been burned on this in the past. I have a couple people who get cranked if they “can’t find me” – meaning they did not get an instant response.

            1. Luke*

              SAME. I was on the line with someone who’d called me when someone else tried to beep in. I committed the unforgivable sin of not picking up in three rings, so rather than leave a voicemail, try one of my co-workers, or send an email, this idjit immediately dialed my CELL. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t have waited five minutes for me to finish up the call I was on.

        1. Kelly L.*

          That reminds me of LiveJournal and how people would go “on hiatus” anytime they would be gone for a few days. I once saw a joke post in which someone “went on hiatus” because they were out of Diet Coke and went to buy more.

          1. Quill*

            Glad I made it there late enough that “this fic is on hiatus” meant people weren’t updating regularly anymore during the semester, and / or had writers’ block.

      2. WellRed*

        We are getting a lot of that now that we are WFH. It drives me crazy! I did’t know you were going to lunch when we were in the office, I don’t need to know now, I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t told me and if I need you, it won’t kill me to wait 30 minutes. We’re not curing cancer or covid.

        1. Amaranth*

          To be fair, I think a lot of people think they need to ‘prove’ they are putting the ‘work’ in WFH and so overreport their activities. I hope that is settling down a bit as this becomes more familiar to managers.

        2. JustaTech*

          Heck, I *am* curing cancer, and yes, I can totally wait half an hour.
          The people who need to be instantly accessible are, because they’re in the plant, working. And even they get to go to the bathroom.

          If it is genuinely that important, you would have built systems for coverage. If you don’t have those systems then it probably really isn’t that important.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Or they are afraid to disconnect. My early years in the corporate America (late 90s), I kept hearing h0rror stories (no idea how much truth to them) about someone who went on vacation for a week, and then upon their return was met with “We did just fine without you for a week, which made us realize that we’ll do just as fine without you altogether! Today’s your last day, go clear your desk.” I never took them seriously, but knew people who did.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      no one else can do what I do!

      Or they’ve seen the carnage from when others do think they can do it.

    4. Veronica*

      If you’re really “needed”, someone will drive 3 hours and paddle across a lake to ask you a question.

      1. Wrote This in the Bathroom**

        I would also totally spend my work day driving 3 hours one way and paddling across a lake under the excuse of “I need to ask Fergus a question”. PS I will bring beer. no worries, Fergus! PPS. as an alternate option, I can also paddle across a lake, completely fail to find Fergus even though I will have looked everywhere I could think of, and paddle back to my car. Not a bad use of a work day!

        1. Quill*

          Volunteered to get lost looking for a machinist at one job because of this. Me, my car, and NOT MY BOSS.

          “Sorry boss they work out of a random old airplane hangar that’s street address is miles away from their actual driveway, took all day.”

          1. TardyTardis*

            I spent one morning chasing down the very last batch of parts for Kaiser Trucks (when you call them and you get ‘pension department’ you know you have a task ahead of you). Finally tracked them down to a guy named Bill in Los Angeles (and he still didn’t have the one thing we needed, but the truck was old and we knew they weren’t going to buy a new one, so hey, more parts for later). I don’t know if it was a very good use of my time, but it was fun and by God I was going to hunt those suckers down. Ah, Air Force procurement, those were the days.

            And then there were the Titan II missile parts. Those were fun, too.

    5. Letter Writer*

      Oh, my boss definitely has that mentality. The biggest issue is that she pressure’s the more junior staff to do the reaching out the people who are out of the office. She’s not typically reaching out directly.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It’s time to escalate this problem to bosses boss then if she can’t be reasoned with about respecting people’s well-earned time off and sick leave.

      2. JustaTech*

        Oh I hate bosses who do that, forcing the junior folks with no power to say no to do the absurd in ridiculous things that the boss knows in unreasonable.

        I agree with Diahann Carroll, it’s time to talk to the boss’s boss about boundaries.

    6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I worked with someone who on “normal” time off (weekends, days off here and there etc) logged in anyway to deal with stuff because of the need to feel needed, or I assume that’s the reason. (The stated reason was along the lines of “they won’t know what to do without me!” etc).

      However… said person went on 2-3 trips per year (cruises etc) where apparently cell phone coverage was spotty. I say apparently because I know you can pay for satellite phone coverage on those trips, and even if you don’t … there’s free wi-fi in the places where you dock and go aboard on land – as I discovered when she posted numerous Facebook posts with photos etc, but clearly didn’t bother to check in to emails and so on!

      When I called her out on this apparent inconsistency she got a manager involved that I was trying to shame her about her time off or something or other. It seems that she needs to be needed until she needs to switch off!

      What about me being called back early from vacation, working Christmas Day because she had “family” and someone had to cover (for no additional money or time off), cancelling 7 periods of time off in a year, etc. All of those just conveniently disappear because she was needed when it counts.

      The last vacation I took was a 4 day trip 6 years ago, and I worked or checked in in some capacity 3 of the 4 days. Do I need to feel needed – no, but there’s a job to be done.

      1. TechWorker*

        Sorry but what was there to ‘call her out on’ here? She checked email on some days off (weird but not your problem unless she was expecting the same from you) but didn’t on holiday even though she (shock horror) dared to use Facebook? Tbh I’m kinda not surprised she complained about that.

        1. TechWorker*

          Sorry, I was so horrified by the first half I didn’t read the second fully :p

          I can see being angry that you’ve been asked to cut vacation short, work over holidays etc, but isn’t the right place to direct that anger your manager/company who either don’t have enough coverage or have unreasonable expectations? Getting angry at a coworker who took a ‘proper’ holiday seems bizarre – maybe you should do the same.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          This co-worker set the expectation with our boss, and ultimately across our department, that we would be available on “off time” and so on, so that it became expected of the rest of us.

          Then, because of capital or whatever, she was able to disappear when she wanted while the rest of us were expected to remain available on any and all vacations.

          My favourite was answering emails while traversing the Channel Tunnel.

          My second favourite was answering emails while away and paying around £200 out of pocket for internet access that I couldn’t get refunded (because the travel was ‘discretionary’). Costs of doing business… “shouldn’t have gone away then!”

          My third favourite was calling in to a conference call while recovering from general anesthetic for surgery and on morphine etc as I was the only person who could answer the questions being asked. Briefed beforehand “we haven’t told them you are out, so you can’t sound off your face or anything”.. I asked for cups and cups and cups of coffee.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            Oh, and when I was discharged they prescribed/dispensed some high dose morphine pills, “for the pain” I would feel ongoing — and recommended 2 weeks off work! Even gave me a note (which I filed in the round filing cabinet).

            But I knew it would also have an effect on my mental state (and that I needed to get back to work) so I filed those pills away and just took standard (acetaminophen, Aleve) painkillers, worked through the quite considerable pain.

            They recommended a course of physical therapy to regain movement. I went once, but not again as it was too much to leave work early.

            2 years later (I’m not even 40 yet) I have arthritis in the joint but hey, I still have a job!

  9. Nesprin*

    My last boss would call some of my coworkers between 1 and 4 AM. That’s when she was up and working, and some of my coworkers would answer their phones. She never called me between 1 and 4 AM: secret was that if you never answered your phone, she would learn to call during more normal hours.

    Moral of the story: if it’s 1x work to call OP on vacation and 1.5x work to ask coworker, OP will be called. if it’s 2x work to call OP on vacation, coworker will be asked.

    1. Jean*

      Outside of fields that deal with emergencies, where 24 hour availability is expected/the norm, this behavior would be worthy of a formal complaint. If my boss wants to be up and working in the middle of the night, that’s his business, not mine.

      1. Nesprin*

        Academia is a weird weird weird fishbowl of a field- you’re expected to work whatever hours you want as long as you work all of them.

        1. Jean*

          Understood. My best friend works in higher ed now but used to work in the private sector, and there’s definitely been some culture shock. Some of the stories she has told me about what she deals with in the academic sphere have been pretty hair-raising.

        2. Magenta Sky*

          Provided “you” is the boss, because the subordinates are – as you say – expected to work whatever hours the *boss* wants, plus whatever hours they want.

        3. Wrote This in the Bathroom**

          I had an ex in higher ed, and his work hours were a weird mix of a total of 5 months*/year vacation time+breaks+occasional conferences in destination locations, and working till midnight on Saturday nights.

          * their school does not have a publish or perish rule. So, instead of spending every school break doing research, they get to run and play. A lot of arguments in our relationship resulted from him being frustrated with me having “only” 3-4 weeks total PTO a year. But he did routinely work late at night and on weekends.

    2. Ama*

      Yup, at my last job I had one trusted coworker that, if she texted me, I knew it was a real urgent problem no one else knew the answer to and I’d respond — if anyone else texted (including my boss) I’d ignore it because they most likely hadn’t even bothered to try to find the answer themselves yet.

      In fact I used to “joke” that every time I flew out on a vacation I’d arrive to find two texts from that boss “Hey, where is X file?” and fifteen minutes later “Never mind, found it.”

      1. Mr. Shark*

        On the same subject, I have a backup when I am off work on vacation or sick, and I know that if he contacts me, then it is something important that he can solve (usually he can solve anything that I could). So I would definitely answer him. But other random co-workers or my boss, I would not answer any e-mails because they should go to my backup first to resolve any issues.

  10. Diahann Carroll*

    For example, one of my coworkers was recently out on maternity leave and our office contacted her multiple times during her leave about tasks that the staff covering her work should have covered.

    This should definitely not be happening, and your company’s HR department – if such a thing exists there – should be shutting this down. Heck, practically every place I’ve ever worked disabled an employee’s email account while on maternity leave precisely to avoid this kind of thing. Some even went so far as to cutting access to the employee’s login credentials so they couldn’t even access our internal site.

    1. JustKnope*

      Right?! During an all-hands meeting a couple years ago, a very senior leader “joked” about how much work a director did on her maternity leave while she was welcoming her back. I think it was meant like “look how essential she is” but it was in such poor taste. That should NOT be happening and it made me realize that the senior leader had very toxic expectations around leave.

    2. Schnookums Von Fancypants, Naughty Basic Horse*

      Since it was mentioned that they aren’t large enough to be subject to FMLA rules in this case, I’d suspect they might not have an HR department.

      1. Letter Writer*

        You would be correct. The organization has an HR person, but not a department. And the HR person is useless.

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      I got one call during one of my mat leaves and I let it go to vm, then called back while baby was crying. Didn’t get another call.

      Similar act: if you’re on vacation, fake bad cell coverage or pretend you can’t hear the person and keep having them repeat themselves. The end goal is to make it not rewarding to call you and not explicitly your fault.

  11. Jean*

    I’d just stop responding. If you catch flak about it when you get back from leave, just say “I was on PTO” and leave it at that. Act confused as to why they’re asking why you didn’t respond to a work request while you were on PTO. After all, that is pretty confusing.

  12. Rachel Greep*

    Like Alison said, the boss could be asking the question when it enters their head, not expecting an answer right away. I do that all the time. I will email a colleague or my supervisor even if I know they are out, not expecting an answer until they are back, because otherwise I will forget. In a large organization, if the worker who is out is not a direct report, the boss may not know they were gone!

    1. Sara without an H*

      So do I, but I use the “delay delivery” option in Outlook so that the message doesn’t land in the employee’s inbox until they’re back at work. I have some very conscientious people here and, if I sent the message immediately, they’d probably feel a need to respond. And I really don’t want to inspire them to write to AAM!

  13. Danielle*

    I’m guilty of checking email and such while I’m on PTO, just so I can stay in the loop about what’s going on with my projects. But I’ll only READ emails; I generally won’t respond until I’m back “in the office.” This saves me real work time because I’m not spending half a day catching up on emails after time off.

    I also lean in on “no internet/cell service.” Sorry Boss, my beach house doesn’t have wifi. Going to visit family in Rural Area, my cell service is spotty.

    And in my out-of-office message I use very clear language. “I’m out of the office, starting Date. I will answer emails when I return to work on Date. If you need immediate assistance please contact Contact Person.”

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I sometimes respond if it’s just a quick matter of forwarding another email with details, address, etc. That takes just a few minutes. But otherwise, you’re right. Just don’t answer.

    2. sofar*

      That’s usually what I do, too. I read emails so that when I get back to the office I’m at Inbox Zero and don’t have to wade through everything. Of course, I do always say that I’m “Still catching up on emails” for my entire first morning back.

      Also, it helps to keep apprised and step in when absolutely necessary — ie, if it’s clear someone is about to make a decision that will leave a raging wildfire for me when I get back, I’ll reach out to them directly and steer them in the right direction. Last time I was on vacation, I noticed (b/c I was reading email) that a HUGE compliance violation was made and was able to have the mistake-maker correct it before anyone noticed, thus averting a vacation-ruining influx of emails and phone calls about the violation.

    3. TechWorker*

      Lol, my colleagues ooo says ‘I’m away until DATE. In my absence please contact ALIAS or my manager, MANAGERS EMAIL. Please assume I will not read emails on my return so if you need something urgent please resend after DATE’.

      I think that’s probably going a bit far into ‘putting the onus onto other people’ and I wouldn’t do it but I’m sure it makes coming back to work quicker if you feel you can quickly skim everything vs needing to check whether anyone is actually waiting on your response!

  14. Djuna*

    Coming at this from a place where we’re encouraged to disconnect while on leave:
    Send a hand-off email that says where you are with current projects, and who you’ve briefed to handle any questions while you’re out (and ofc make sure those people are properly briefed).
    Set out of office on email that includes info on who to contact if something is urgent, and says when you’ll be checking mail again for anything less urgent.
    Set out of office in Slack using the vacation icon and include the dates you’re out.
    Turn off any and all notifications once you’re on PTO.

    This only works when people respect it, but if you’ve set yourself up as above there’s no real reason why people couldn’t respect it. Alison’s advice is great, this is just an example framework if OP needs it.

  15. Anonariffic*

    The default auto-response in my office is something like “I will be out of the office with limited access to phone and email until I return on X date, please contact Jane if there’s an emergency.” Doesn’t matter if I’m going backpacking in the mountains out of state or sitting on my home sofa two miles away from the office and two feet away from the wifi router with my cell in my hand, I have limited access to phone and email.

    1. TiffIf*

      Lol, yes.
      I am taking all of next week off and will be doing nothing more exotic than reading at home and baking rolls for Thanksgiving…I will still be unavailable.

    2. Anya Last Nerve*

      I say limited access and that “responses will be delayed” – that way if it’s something they need immediately they will go somewhere else. I make it a habit to only check email at one set time of the day when I’m on vacation (I get 80-100 emails a day so for my own sanity I like to clear out my box and feel comforted knowing that nope, nothing blew up at work today, I can enjoy my evening). I only reply if it seems imperative, but I will sometimes forward emails to my directs and ask them to assist with a response in my absence.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      This. Also, if you haven’t already, can you guys as a team decide who will cover whom? I mean, like Jane will be the go-to for anything you are working on while you are out on vacation. Susan will cover Jane when she’s out those extra days a T-giving, and you’ll cover Susan over New Years.
      That creates a very easy shift for your manager, instead of “ugh, OP isn’t here, I don’t know who else could do this… I’ll just call OP, it’ll be fast,” your manager will just know that Jane is the contact person for anything you are working on. And, look, there is Jane right across the room! Easy peasy. If Jane can’t handle it, she can ask someone else for help, but set up that waterfall so your manager doesn’t think finding a backup is more trouble than bugging you on vacation.

      Also, like others have said, make it clear you will not be available. I hate to suggest playing “hard to get,” but yeah, don’t answer right when she calls or texts. Give it a couple hours then if you think you really need to reply, “sorry, not home right now so I can’t look into that. Please ask Jane.” But seriously, I would set the groundwork in advance that you really aren’t available, but here is who to ask for things, then stick to that.

      1. allathian*

        My closest coworker and I have basically the same job so we try to not be out of the office at the same time and we sub for each other. Obviously sometimes it’s unavoidable that we’re OOO at the same time, if one of us is on vacation and the other gets sick. We’ve worked together for more than 6 years and I can remember this happening once, for one day.

        Other people on my team who don’t have exactly the same job sub for each other. One advantage of our long European vacations is that cross training is both essential and taken for granted. The managers in my department cover for each other, because they also have long vacations. Sure, the job of a manager requires some availability in an emergency, but so far, 15 years into my current career, I’ve never had to contact a manager when they’re on vacation…

    4. londonedit*

      Yes, mine always says ‘I will be out of the office until X date and will not be checking email during this time. Please contact Tangerina Warbleworth on blah blah email address’. I don’t have my work email on my phone and I don’t use my work laptop while I’m on holiday.

      The culture in my industry has always been that colleagues will cover for you if you’re away – obviously you try to get as much done as you can before you go, but if there are time-sensitive tasks that will need to happen while you’re on leave, then someone else in the office will always offer to pick those up for the time being. And you do the same whenever another colleague is on leave and you’re working. People routinely go on two-week holidays in the summer, or take the whole two-week Christmas period off, so it’s really normal for others to step in and pick up a couple of tasks that can’t wait.

  16. MissDisplaced*

    I have had this happen several times at my former employer while I was on vacation. Partially, it is because I was the only person in the job role, and there was no one to follow up. However, one time it was because of a VERY pushy executive admin who called me on my personal cell phone 5 times while I was on vacation at the beach in another state over something that was not even an emergency (recording a meeting – I mean come on!). She even tried to lodge a complaint and was very pissy because I didn’t respond. Sheesh! Another time it was over an order where they wanted to make a change to the order, but didn’t have the contact info. That one was easier to do.

    At my current job, I haven’t really had that happen as much, as there are generally other people who can at least answer and/or pull documents from Sharepoint if I’m out.

    1. On Fire*

      I was sitting on the beach and got a phone call from the office … wanting to know how to spell a word. Spousal Unit was Not Amused. (I was amused in an eye-roll way. To their credit, they only did it once.)

  17. Collette*

    I once “forgot” my work phone while taking an unpaid vacation. I had been planning on leaving the company when they asked me to be a part of a big project. So I negotiated time off in the middle when I had been planning to travel. I knew they wouldn’t honor the vacation, so the phone accidentally got left on the counter at home, which I didn’t “discover” until I was several hours out of town.

  18. JustMyImagination*

    Try being inconveniently available. If boss sends a text asking for information, respond several hours later at the end of the business day. You were still reasonably responsive but they’ve probably already solved the “urgent” problem without your input.

  19. Elenna*

    Aside from all the tips people have given for disconnecting yourself, could you maybe push back when you see this happening to other people on vacation? Like, if you’re cc’d on an email sent to someone on vacation, maybe respond with something like “Oh, let’s not bug Susan on her vacation – I thnk Bob might know the answer”? The goal tone is light and breezy, like of course the person sending the email just forgot about Susan’s vacation and will of course contact someone else when reminded. Of course this is harder (maybe impossible) if people are being contacted by phone or text rather than email.

    1. NeverNicky*

      My organisation is small and we’ve only just grown big enough that we have more than one or two people per team and yet we always respect leave/sickness – I once (in 10 years) did do a major and urgent press interview while on leave but everyone else senior had flu!

      However, now we do have teams we have a formalised acting in absence policy – it’s seen as professional development and cross training. I’m on leave this week and even if I wanted to I can’t check my email as they are on divert to my covering colleague. We had a briefing meeting before I went on leave, we’ll have a catch up when I return and they have full authority to act.

      And this has come into effect since Covid, when leave is being spent mostly on our sofas as we’re in the UK!

  20. Blister in the Sun*

    This is an interesting one for me. I’ve been working long enough to remember a time when getting in touch with someone out of the office (sick or on vacation) was somewhat difficult (which as a workaholic, made me not take many vacations, as my manager was a nightmare back then). Now that access is so easy, I’ve had difficulty staying away from work while at work, both due to my own insecurities and the expectations of previous managers. Now, as a manager myself, I’ve gotten slightly better at disappearing from work, but still employ a do as I say, not as I do stance for my direct reports and I try to adhere to not requesting anything from them while they’re out. (Though I may send them emails so they’re prepared for things when they get back). Even still, I recently had a semi-argument with one of my direct reports who insisted that they could handle a task while on vacation. I had to rather forcefully tell him that he should do no work on vacation and the task at hand could be managed by me or someone else. Yet, he kept saying it wasn’t a big deal and I kept reiterating that it, in fact, was a big deal, and I refused to let him do it. The spirit of the conversation was collegial, but I was quite serious about the intent. Almost to the point that I think he was a little surprised by my vehemence about it. At the time, I did wonder whether I was being a little strict, but I also felt it was extremely important to support a work-life boundary, even if my report wasn’t worried about it.

    1. sofar*

      You made the right move. I recently had to do this with a direct report, too. I’ve worked for managers whose default setting is to work on vacation, and it’s awful. I’m not saying I don’t do ANY work or email checks when I’m out. However, I make darn sure to NOT contact my direct reports while I’m on vacation or respond in group Slack channels because I do NOT want them to have the expectation they need to work while on vacation.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        It’s also better for everyone to have clarity about when someone is available or not. I find it hard to stay away completely, but I just lurk (read emails, catch up on Slack). If I pop into the group Slack channel for five minutes and respond to one thing, and then people start pinging me on other channels about other stuff, I’m going to miss that because I’m on vacation and not checking Slack regularly. That’s confusing and unhelpful to my colleagues.

    2. Sara without an H*

      You did exactly the right thing. I’ve had people offer to come back from vacation early if there was an “emergency.” I reminded them that this was a library, not a nuclear power plant.

    3. Public Sector Manager*

      I really miss the days when the second I got in my car, I knew no one could ever reach me.

  21. sofar*

    Getting bugged on vacation/sick days has definitely gotten worse since COVID, at least for me. In normal times, it’s clear when someone is out of the office. They’re not at their desk. Their light is off. Their laptop is not at their workspace. They are not present in meetings. You can see at a glance who on their team IS in the office and bother them instead.

    Now that we’re all remote, it’s not always as clear. Nobody checks the vacation calendar to see who is out. I try to make sure my out-of-office responder is on with an alternate point of contact, and that my Slack is muted with the “red x” symbol in my status. It’s not perfect. And the tricky part is to just not respond when someone is repeatedly pinging you. Or when someone is tagging you in a channel.

    Not responding while on vacation has always been hard for me, because, sometimes, people making decisions without you results in a TON more work when you get back, and it seem so easy to take 30 seconds to just respond to someone. But, if you respond, you’ve trained your coworkers that you are available on vacation.

  22. Birdie*

    OP says “our team” and “our office” contacted people on vacation, so I’m wondering if it’s just the boss sending these requests or if she made it a norm and others do it, too (or if she asks team members to do it for her). Regardless, I wonder if, when someone says, “I’ll just text Brooke about this,” anyone else jumps in to say, “Oh, no, she’s out sick. Let’s not disturb her rest. Bob should be able to take care of it – I’ll ask him.” If that’s not happening, I think it would be worthwhile to develop a two-pronged approach – discouragement both by those in the office and by non-responsiveness from those out of the office. Obviously this would be most effective done with allies, but I also suspect if OP starts setting those boundaries on their own, others will follow.

  23. Delta Delta*

    This happened to me a lot at a former employer, and was a big part of the reason I left. The boss had a bad habit of always working through every vacation, and created a culture that made it feel like that was also expected of everyone. This boss also used to tell people we needed to take vacations, but then was annoyed when people weren’t present.

    I recently talked to a former co-worker. She said she brought up to the boss that she wanted to take a couple vacation days. His response was, “didn’t you just go on vacation last year?”

  24. Justme, the OG*

    If my employer wants me to do a task when I am out sick or on vacation, then that time will be billed as regular hours and not sick or vacation time. They don’t get it both ways.

    Thankfully, my employer honors my time off.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This is where I land. I’d come back and remove any PTO off my time card and proceed as if I had been in the office all day because, basically, I was if I was working the whole time.

    2. Anya Last Nerve*

      So if you spend an hour running a personal errand during the day, do you take that as PTO? In my view as a professional, I think it goes both ways. I’ve taken 2 hours during the day to go to my kid’s school for an event and not taken it as PTO, so I’m not going to charge back 2 hours I spend on a day off working. Nickel and diming goes both ways IMO

      1. Justme, the OG*

        I don’t run personal errands on time that is not my unpaid lunch hour. If they run over, I work longer to compensate.

      2. Brisbe*

        For my work (exempt salaried programmer), that’s how it’s done — we’re expected to generally get in our 40 hours each week, and if something comes up for an hour, we just shift the time to either work that hour the same day, or at least during the same pay period.

        If we’re, say, called on a Sunday to do a couple of hours because of an error during the deployment to Production, then we’ll often be let out a couple of hours early that Friday as a way of paying it back.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had a pretty intense conversation with my former head of HR over this very subject because the lady did not understand why we had to give people their vacation hours back when they were “not working in the office”. This was one of the very first things that our current, reasonable head of HR corrected when they started (and I had to explain twice and get confirmation that, yes, this was even a thing).

      You absolutely cannot take people’s vacation time when they are kind enough to give that time up to help you with a work-related problem. I had no idea why this was even a question, particularly for hourly staff and in light of how incredibly inflexible former HR was on personal things on work time.

  25. Construction Safety*

    A coupla years ago I overheard the GM talking to our Sales Manager. He was laughing at our vacationing Operations Manager about him having to do payroll from the comfort of his beach chair. This, because we have an accounting manager and payroll admin who are unable to do the payroll by themselves. Srsly? WTaF?

  26. 2cents*

    I had a boss whose sole objective was to make everyone’s lives miserable. He held a recurring Monday morning meeting which he’d have us work all weekend preparing for – we asked him to move it several times to no avail. One weekend I simply did not answer the phone. When I got to the meeting, looking like shit, he started berating me because I didn’t help him prepare. I simply said “I’m sorry, I was busy getting divorced.” He shut right up but did not move the meeting. I moved to another role and he got fired not long after that.

  27. Anya Last Nerve*

    Just here to say not all people who accept or even encourage calls on vacation or maternity leave are insane. When I had my first baby, j made it clear I didn’t want to hear from work at all. I managed a team doing time sensitive work but hired and trained someone to cover for me. I came back from maternity leave to a hot mess of bad decisions by the guy covering for me and my team was in disarray. Good news was my manager and team welcomed me back with open arms, bad news was that I had to adjust to being a working mom and also clean up the mess. For my second maternity leave, i got an exception from the policy to shut off my access and would check in on emails (I came back to 4,000 emails after leave 1!) and I would periodically talk to my coverage folks to make sure things stayed in order while I was out. My manager strongly discouraged it but I knew it would make for a smoother return for me – and it really did. Same for now – I will check my emails once a day while on vacation and respond if necessary to avoid a big mess that needs to be cleaned up when I’m back that could be avoided with a 5 minute email or call!

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I once had to loop my boss in while she was on FMLA (I emailed her to ask if she would mind if I called) because the person she’d left covering for her did the same thing, but with an added heaping of bullying, and it was a disaster.

      I felt really bad, but she did get that person to cut out most of the bullying.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s pretty much how I approach PTO. 23½ hours of PTO are infinitely more relaxing than 24 hours, long term.

    3. virago*

      To me, this sounds they should covered you with a person who actually knew how to do your job.

      I’m sorry that your employer is so piss poor at covering for you that you spend your vacations and leaves actually working instead of getting the time off that you need.

  28. IT Employee*

    I had a similar situation where I was camping at a festival over the weekend. I wasn’t on vacation but had weekends off and wasn’t on call. My boss was trying to get a hold of me on Saturday evening in order to come in and fix something. Well, I couldn’t receive that call or text because a lot of people were at the festival and the towers were overloaded. I got a call on Sunday morning berating me for not answering my phone. He was even more irritated when I told him I was 4 hours away and wouldn’t be back until that evening. I was written up when I returned to work on Monday for not being available when he needed me over the weekend. He said that I still wasn’t on call (this was a public sector job where that wasn’t part of the job description) but I had to let him know my whereabouts each weekend in case he needed me. I also had to coordinate with a coworker so that one of us was always in town over the weekend. Not surprisingly, I left that job soon after this incident.

    1. Quill*

      Sounds like the “reason” I got fired from pig lab from hell, aka not responding to a work call within an hour on a sunday, a day that I allegedly had off in its entirety.

      This is the same boss who nearly stopped me from going to my brother’s graduation because “we need you to help move the office” that weekend, after 1) swearing that he would honor my previously negotiated time off on the FRIDAY before that to travel to my brother’s graduation day events 2) canceling that and telling us we had to come in on saturday and be there “until it’s all done.”

  29. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    I absolutely resented my boss for making me feel “on-call” like this. I could never shake the feeling I might get a call from work, they didn’t respect me enough to try and solve things themselves. That’s why I love jobs with hard stops.

  30. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Do people at your work like to empire-build when someone is on PTO? Like, they’ll tell the person to unplug, and then interfere, meddle, and destroy that person’s work?

    Because I worked somewhere where that was common, and it was really hard to take time off or unplug when you knew someone was lurking through your area looking for an excuse to fire your employees and break your projects.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Do people at your work like to empire-build when someone is on PTO? Like, they’ll tell the person to unplug, and then interfere, meddle, and destroy that person’s work?

      Not intentionally, but I often deal with ignored instructions & coverage notes, or coworkers applying SOP indiscriminately. The net result is almost the same.

      E.g. I take care of the diabetic llamas. It’s harder work and less margin for error. After my first vacation, I come back to half the diabetic llamas dead from being fed the candy feed and being told “we always give the llamas candy feed as rewards!”

    2. irene adler*

      Yep! If I’m out, there’s QC stuff that won’t get done until I return. There’s no one else to do it (small company).

      The production manager encourages me to take time off. Before I do, I make sure there’s nothing anyone needs.
      When I’m out, production manager goes right to my boss and complains about how X and Y are not getting done. X and Y are things I was never told about-and they are my responsibility. Usually they are things manufacturing builds that I have to test.

      So I come back to a lecture from boss. THEN he designs some convoluted new “process” I have to follow to assure things like X and Y are not over-looked ever again. It makes things 10 times harder to complete.

      And production manager enjoys the upset he’s caused me.

  31. Helen J*

    The first few times I was on was vacation at my current employer, I would get a call every single time. Nothing was time sensitive I checked the vm’s and texts). I just stopped taking the calls or answering them. The first couple of times it was hard and I felt a little guilty. Things plugged along just fine until I returned.

  32. Spicy Tuna*

    I took a 2 week vacation that involved a cruise (no connectivity on board). I was working on a project before I left that did not have a hard deadline; however, my boss took the project away from me while I was away and gave it to someone else on the team so he could have “experience”. Message received! I never took another vacation again!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’ve been there, too, and can commiserate. I actually washed my hands of a client and refused to resume working on it when I returned from my honeymoon because it was screwed up so badly while I was gone that I’d never be able to trust the code in the project again.

  33. Orange You Glad*

    Stop responding quickly to questions that can be answered by someone else in the office. Make it inconvenient to just ask you when you are out. When you do respond, reiterate who these questions should go to. You could even forward these requests to the person you’ve delegated and have them deal with it entirely.

    1. Picard*

      “You could even forward these requests to the person you’ve delegated and have them deal with it entirely.”


  34. Springella*

    Think of it like this. Nobody is indispensable and good manager knows how to organise work without disruption. When you answer/ work on your days off, doing things others could have easily done, you’re encouraging bad management practices. You’re employees, not indentured half-slaves. FGS!

  35. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    To answer OP:

    What’s the best way to manage work-related requests when you have time off, especially when holding onto your job seems more critical than ever?

    Your PTO is a benefit; optimize it to your benefit. If a total disconnect provides you the most refreshment and rejuvenation, put the cell on DND (or even turn it off) and unplug. If that’s a partial disconnect, contribute what you feel comfortable with on your timetable. If that’s temping for the competition… well, I’ve been there mentally, so I’ll say just enjoy the fantasy from your couch.

    Don’t let others bully you on how you use your PTO. Your PTO is about *you*.

  36. NotAnotherManager!*

    I work somewhere that higher-level personnel rarely get true time off, but it’s clearly stated from the outset and pay is commensurate with inconvenience. Some days, the best I can do is tell people I’m only checking email at X and Y time and to call my cell if it’s a true work-related emergency (and work with people who know what constitutes an emergency and what doesn’t). In our case, it’s not dearth of staffing it’s institutional knowledge of a client/project that you can’t replicate in short order and people approved to work on a client project. Many times, it’s avoidable by having a good out-of-office summary, but sometimes people write crappy out-of-office instructions and sometimes unforeseeable things come up. (Or my favorite, when everyone schedules time off after a big deliverable, and the deliverable date gets moved at the last minute because of the client.)

    But my industry is an outlier and a known quantity with a reputation for being life-eating, so no surprises. Sadly, my organization has a better quality of life than a lot of others in the professional services sphere.

  37. NurseITMgr*

    As a manager, I exhaust every other avenue I have if a true emergency comes up and no one else knows enough about an analyst’s build to answer a question. I have had to break my policy a couple of times in the last month and I absolutely hate it, but COVID and healthcare IT are happening.
    I keep track of time spent and either reduce the PTO taken by that amount or make up the hours when they are back in office.

  38. LizM*

    The thing is, my work includes some actual emergency management. Like, literal fires, among other things. And because of this, we have a system where if someone is going to be on leave, they designate a back up or “acting” manager to handle emergencies. This is why I always kind of roll my eyes when people say that they can’t possibly disconnect, because what if an emergency happens?

    If an organization cannot function because a person is on vacation, or sick, or whatever, they’re likely understaffed, or they haven’t sufficiently cross-trained employees, and it’s a recipe for employee burn out, and you run a major risk if an employee becomes truly unavailable (major medical emergency, wins the lottery, quits, and throws their cell phone in a river, etc.).

    Now that I’ve gotten off my soap box, I’ll share a story from early in my career, I was less than 3 months into a new job, and I took a couple days off around Thanksgiving. I got an “urgent” call the day before Thanksgiving from a peer who I didn’t feel comfortable pushing back against, even though no one else was in the office, and no one would be there on the Friday after Thanksgiving. I ended up spending about 6 hours at my aunt’s house trying to get this done, so when I got back, I submitted the paperwork to get my leave back. It didn’t even occur to me not to – I had so little leave because I’d just started the job, so if I spent 6 hours working, I felt like I shouldn’t have to use 6 hours of leave.

    My boss was so mad at my coworker, mostly because of the amount of paperwork she had to file to restore the leave (our organization requires justification for canceling leave), and she made sure that everyone else understood that only a supervisor can cancel leave, and it has to be for a true emergency, and not just because someone didn’t want to wait until people got back from a holiday weekend. It was honestly a good experience for me, because it taught me to be very explicit when I get requests during my time off, and getting people to say out loud (or in email) that they feel like their request is important enough that I need to stop my time off to deal with it. Most people don’t actually feel that way when they actually stop to think about it.

  39. Tina*

    You shouldn’t have to leave the country to be able to actually take time off from work!
    I have no problem ignoring texts, emails and phone calls on my days off. I am not obligated to respond and often don’t. We put our personal lives on hold every day, ignore calls from family and tell them to wait so why wouldn’t we do the same to work when work tries to invade our free time? If you have a boss who insists you answer calls on days off then you should not have to use leave for those days….because you aren’t really off.

  40. Anon for this...*

    I think it very much depends on the position. When I ran my own business for more than 20 years, I was on/available 24/7 due to the nature of my clientele. One reason I transitioned to a “regular” job was the insane hours. That said, I am still a C suite exec in a very small company so not only do I wear a lot of hats, I am also the ONLY one to wear some of them (looking at you payroll) I HAVE to be available – the difference is, I can control it much more readily. On vacation I check emails once a day and typically only respond if a brief reply will take care of the issue. otherwise, I forward it to my associate or put it in my pending list for my return. This does two things – I know if something blows up while I’m out and it also helps me manage the PILES upon my return. Cause face it – it’s not much of a vacation if you just have to do all the work that piled up in your absence when you return.

  41. Lumio*

    Not being available is easier when the point of contact is strictly via work equipment.
    Like my anybody but my boss would have a very hard time getting their hands on my private number or email, and I’m not sure the HR webpage for me would tell my boss either. So, they have to use email which goes to the work laptop, which stays off or my work smartphone, which is of course also not in reach, because why would I take it with me when I have my private phone with me and of course it’ll run out of juice eventually when at home.

  42. Tryinghard*

    IT peeps here use going hiking/coming or to the beach to be away from reception or unsafe to take equipment. And if they don’t go there, well plans change.

  43. blink14*

    A lot of this is about training your fellow colleagues and managers to your work style. While I was in college, I started working part time, remotely, for a small company. My portion of the work was all back end and didn’t require customer interaction, but the owner made it very clear from the start that once work hours were over, for everyone except them (as the company owner), no one was allowed to check email or voicemails. The point was that staying firm on work hours and availability “trains” the clients to realize you are only available during set hours.

    I’ve taken this with me to my other jobs since that time, and right from the start, I set my expectations for how and when to be contacted by sticking to it. I don’t check email after work or on weekends, except for very specific circumstances a couple of times a year, I don’t have any calls forwarded to my personal phone, and I don’t work beyond my normal hours. Some of this is the nature of my position and the level I’m at, but a lot of it is just sticking to my own rules and my colleagues and boss learning when I can and cannot be reached.

    All that being said, being in a higher level position and/or having a company owned phone makes things more difficult. Stick to what works best for you. For many industries, an emergency isn’t TRULY an emergency. Force your colleagues and upper level management to be self-reliant and rely on others.

    Contacting someone on vacation or any kind of PTO, and expecting a response in the time they are out is a big no for me. My boss often checks email on her time off, and I try to send as little as possible, holding on to items until she gets back. I also do this for anyone I know will be checking work email and will feel compelled to respond. If it isn’t a true, the building is burning emergency, just don’t do it. People work hard, respect their time off.

    I always use an out of office message when I will not be online or in the office. Occasionally on a sick day I will monitor email, but most of the time I alert my department that I will be unavailable and put up an OOO.

  44. PlumGaga*

    I loved the time that I was asked to be available on my first day of vacation and I was able to reply that “normally that would be fine, but I’ll be on a flight to Istanbul.”

  45. Freed From Management Hell*

    Maybe someone mentioned this already, but I would stress the financial impact of interrupting a day off: in many jurisdictions ANY amount of time worked on a day off requires the employee be paid a minimum of 4 hours reporting time. Even if the law doesn’t require it, if a company’s own policy says they do, then the law requires them to abide by their own policies.

    So if it was an unpaid day off they were interrupting I would say to Boss “how would you like me to record this? The law requires employees be paid for any and all time worked” If it was PTO then I would tell her that I expected half a day of PTO to be credited back to me for every occurrence.

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