my office contacts me CONSTANTLY while I’m on vacation

A reader writes:

I’m sitting here rage-typing during what’s supposed to be my vacation.

I work at a public health government agency as a department director in a highly visible position. Obviously the last two years have been hectic, and I haven’t taken much time off. I have great bosses who repeatedly encouraged me to take time off. After I realized I hadn’t taken off more than two days since summer 2019, I took off the week off.

Yet, five people contacted me separately, asking me to do things: a 30-minute meeting, approve an invoice, edit materials, a 60-minute meeting, etc. All of this contact began the first day I was out of the office and continued the whole week. They contacted me on my personal cell (which is fine as we often did this when Covid-19 started), and almost every time, I was tied up. During one attempt, I was meeting with my child’s doctor! I replied via text it was going to have to wait, and the response I got back was that I should call back as soon as I could!

Everyone who contacts me is either at or below my level on the org chart so this is not about my bosses. I let everyone know several weeks prior when I will be out of the office in the zillions of meetings I have. I also let them know who fills in me for me (she is lower-level and doesn’t have the director-level authority and approval that I do). When you start typing an email to me, Google will let you know I’m out of the office before you hit send. If you hit send anyway, you will get my out of office reply that says how long I’m out, when I’ll be back, that I won’t be checking email, and to contact the person who is filling in for me. (I’m guessing the last two are why I get calls on my personal cell.)

For so long, my agency operated in emergency mode. I guess we still are. I’m part of the problem because for two years, I was responsive on nights and weekends, but that’s because the situation and my superiors often demanded it. Now I have to start living my life despite the pandemic or else I will never have time to myself. If everything is an emergency, then nothing is an emergency. The people with whom I work are on DEFCON 1 all the time. To them, they really DO think that budget meeting requires me to talk to them while I’m about to get on a plane. It’s bad enough I get meeting requests for 7 am or 9 pm that I’ve been declining for the past year. It’s even worse that I have to schedule blocks of free time on my calendar or I’ll spend the whole day in meetings with no break. God help me if I forget!

A lot of people at my agency really think that pandemic justifies these unrealistic meeting times or contacting someone on vacation. They do mean well, but they’re not finding a way to adjust to our new normal. There will ALWAYS be some Covid-related thing going on at any time of day! Do they read my automated response or do they not care or both?

Please help me! I’m hellbent on turning off all my phones next time lest I say something I’ll have to apologize for later.

I wrote back and asked, “What would happen if you just … didn’t respond at all while you’re out, and it waited until you were back? Is it the kind of job where that’s simply impossible to do responsibly? (There aren’t many of those, but I could see yours being one.)” The response:

I could just not respond at all, and I would suffer no repercussions from my superiors. You’re right about that. But given my line of work and Covid-19, there’s always a chance there could be something really, REALLY wrong like a huge increase in cases or deaths or a major outbreak at a nursing home. Both of those incidents have happened, but the chances of me being needed are far less now that Covid-19 is becoming pretty normal.

The problem is the people who keep contacting me don’t really understand what constitutes an emergency, and maybe I don’t either? I guess I could give them a list of instances when to contact me when I’m off, but that seems too paternalistic and controlling. There’s no way I could cover everything.

Just before I went out on vacation, I had one of those same people ask, “But can you make the meeting on Monday anyway? It’s the ONLY time that everyone else can make it. Can’t you just take this one 30-minute meeting while you’re out?” (I made up a lie about not having cell service. I told her she could have the meeting without me, which she disagreed.) I’m at a loss for words. When my time is blocked off, doesn’t that mean no? Am I out of line here?

You are not out of line. You are, however, up against a culture that really, really doesn’t support you in disconnecting.

That doesn’t mean that you have to be constantly tethered to work though. There are a few things you can do:

1. Most importantly, deputize someone to handle all attempts at contacting you while you’re out, and require that anyone who wants to contact you needs to go through that person. That person will be the gatekeeper to you and should be the only one with the means to contact you. They will field requests from people who want to reach you and will decide whether or not a request truly necessitates interrupting you. To make this work, you need to train that person really thoroughly in what you should and should not be interrupted with (a flow chart might be warranted), and it needs to be someone who’s assertive enough to tell people, “She’s not taking calls on this while she’s on vacation, but you can do X instead.”

That alone might solve nearly all the problem if you enforce it.

2. If you do #1 and people go around your gatekeeper and call you directly anyway, you might need to get creative about how to prevent those calls from coming through. For example, could you give everyone a “new” number for you, but have it be a Google Voice number that you turn off when you’re on vacation (while your designated gatekeeper knows to call you on a “real,” still functioning number)? You could also temporarily block the numbers of the most common offenders, if it tends to be the same group of people. Or you could indeed just turn off your phone while you’re away, as long as your gatekeeper has a private way to reach you for true emergencies.

3. Change your auto-reply when you’re away to include the words “I will be unreachable by email and cell phone until (date).” That won’t necessarily stop all the calls, but by preemptively announcing it’s not an option, it’ll discourage some of them.

4. Consider whether you can/should delegate more authority while you’re gone. You said the person who fills in for you doesn’t have the director-level authority and approval that you do. Is there a way to have that authority temporarily transfer to her in your absence? If she doesn’t have the expertise or judgment to exercise that authority the way you’d want, can you start developing her (or someone else) to be able to do it down the road? That would likely pay off for your and your team in additional ways beyond just protecting your vacation time.

5. Continue those lies about not having cell phone service if it helps.

6. Counterintuitively, it might help to take time off more regularly. Right now people are trained to always have you available; it’s not a bad idea to give them more experience with you being away and inaccessible, and to re-train them in how to function when that happens.

Will you be able to fix it entirely? Maybe not 100%. But by doing the above — and especially #1 — you should be able to get rid of a significant portion of it.

And also, do this without guilt. You’re far more useful to your organization in the long-term if you get real time off where you can fully disconnect so that you don’t burn out; it’s in their best interest to give you some uninterrupted time away. Plus, you’ll be modeling much healthier time-off practices to the staff below you.

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Dust Bunny*

    I also let them know who fills in me for me (she is lower-level and doesn’t have the director-level authority and approval that I do).

    Can you appoint someone else who does? I can’t approve some things for my boss but my other superior can, so he’s the go-to when she’s out. Part of the problem here might be that people are getting redirected to somebody who doesn’t actually have the authority to help them.

      1. Pomegranate*

        I think there are two options here, Dust Bunny. Alison hit on one and you hit on the other.
        Alison is saying, “can you give this lower level person who is filling in for you temporary director-level authority?” and what you are saying is “can you designate a person who already has director-level authority (peer or somebody higher-up) to cover”?

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          Or have the designated fill-in handle 90% of the issues and send the things she can’t handle up to LW’s boss.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Yeah, this is pretty much how we work: I can handle a lot of stuff but the other 10% have to go to Other Superior.

        2. Fran Fine*

          The latter’s usually what we do at my company. I say usually because my manager will put me and the other program leads on her Away messages if people have questions that relate to those. For director-level questions (of which my manager is), she puts her own manager as the contact (and her manager is C-suite, three levels higher).

    1. Nom*

      I think this is an important point. Alison addressed it but I think it may be the main driver and should be addressed with haste.

    2. Fleur-de-Lis*

      Yep – I am an administrator with budget signature responsibilities/rights, and whenever I’m away or someone else at my level is away, we seek coverage from one another for the one-offs that can’t wait for the return of the primary budget officer. And we all CC each other with the signed forms when we substitute! It works very well and keeps the emergencies from becoming even more urgent.

    3. KR*

      There also might be someone else director level who is one of OPs peers who may be willing to handle director level approvals, if it’s an issue of giving authority to someone who isn’t at that level in the org.

  2. Salad Daisy*

    Your employer is not your family. Your coworkers are not your friends. However, they will take advantage of you if you let them.
    When the Pope quit, the Catholic Church did not go out of business. They can get along for a week without you. Don’t reply to emails. Don’t answer your phone if it’s from work. They will still be there when you get back.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Good answer! When any head of state passes away the organization continues to function. If only you could say in your voicemail, “I am not the Pope, the world will continue without my presence”. I once got an emergency call on my day off and after asking a few questions my co-worker admitted that the person who could solve the problem was sitting one office away.

    2. Esmeralda*

      I love this! Literally no one is indispensible.

      My son’s original oncologist took vacations. We emailed him questions, but didn’t expect answers til he got back. There was always someone who could fill in, even with life and death issues (real life and real death)

      There was an emergency number for evenings and weekends, with a pediatric oncologist on call. Which we used all too often. When my son’s oncologist got to work on Monday, or returned from vacation, he got in touch.

      My son’s current oncologist is out of the country periodically (runs a clinic and education program in a third world country). We try to schedule to see her in person, but there’s always a backup if she is not in.

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        This 300000%.

        This is actual life and death and yet people absolutely need to have time away sometimes. As long as there is a clear port of call in genuinely serious situations (as with oncologists), then that’s fine.

        All the best to you and your son, you’ve obviously been on quite the journey.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Well, Dante wasn’t too happy about how things went. We were talking about Celestine V, right?

        1. indubitably*

          Pretty sure Richard was joking, IrishEm — like if someone said “I’m a big fan of the Beatles” and someone else said “what kind do you like best, ladybugs”?

          Richard, I love your sense of humor, and also your wealth of knowledge!

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Thank you. And for back story, Celestine V was one of those rare popes who seem to have also been religious. The church elects a guy like this every century or two, and immediately regrets it and resolves not to make that mistake again. (See also: Pope Francis.) He was only pope five months (the second half of 1294, for those of you keeping score at home) and then resigned. It is not entirely clear whether this entirely of his own volition, though it could well be. He clearly hated the job. His successor, Boniface VIII, promptly imprisoned him to make sure that he stayed resigned, and he was conveniently dead about a year and a half later. (In fairness, he was 81 years old at the time, but still…)

            The thing with Dante was that he really hated Boniface and blamed Celestine for resigning. He placed an discreetly unnamed waverer in Limbo. This is traditionally identified as Celestine, though you can find people who disagree. By way of contrast, Celestine was canonized as a saint in 1313. So take your pick.

            If the church canonizes Benedict I will arch an eyebrow at them. But I’m not Catholic, so it’s not my circus.

            1. Nanobot*

              Isn’t being religious somewhat in the job description for a pope?

              Interesting story, thank you.

              1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

                Traditionally, religiousness has been leavened with acumen/an ability to engage politically, though this is less important now than in the Mediaeval period, when everyone and their greyhound was rampaging across Italy with an army, and the Pope was the one saying things like “I will not allow you to appoint your own Bishops” and “I will place your country under interdict for X” or even “Now both of you put the swords down and play nicely”

    4. Cait*

      Yes! People will often say what if you got hit by a bus (or ‘won the lottery’ to be less macabre)? Will your business completely shut down? Will someone die? If not, you can turn off your phone, close your email, and enjoy your vacation.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        In my office we call it “hit by the lottery bus”. We actually found that covid was more like a bus than a lottery win because you can go from fully functional to unconscious within a day, and that doesn’t allow for much contingency. As I passed out, I dictated my passwords to be given to my boss if necessary.

    5. Orora*

      Let all calls from work go to voice mail. If it’s an emergency, they’ll leave a message. Listen to it at your leisure. Then you can decide if it’s *really* an emergency. If it’s not, ignore it.

      1. SixTigers*

        But when OP answers, IF OP decides to answer, s/he should do it by e-mail. Tomorrow. And in most cases, the answer should be, “We’ll talk when I get back.”

        Yes, it should sound a little menacing — before OP left, s/he left instructions and an in-house contact to deal with issues. And they’re STILL beating on OP’s door, yammering at the top of their lungs!

        I’m not rage-typing, but I am STRONGLY irked on OP’s behalf. That sort of behavior is ridiculous! And the sooner OP puts a stop to it, the better.

    6. Olga*

      In software development (I don’t know if people in other professions use that expression) we call that “the bus factor”, as in what are the risks if the person in posession of certain information or competences gets hit by a bus.

      This is awfully European of me, but when I am on vacation I am pretty much dead to everyone at work. I don’t check my email, I don’t pick up my phone. If people need me that bad, they can escalate their matter to my boss.

    7. Somebody blonde*

      Some jobs are also unique in an organization and it doesn’t necessarily make sense to designate only one person to cover. When the VP of my department went on paternity leave, he actually split coverage responsibility between 3 people- two were his subordinates covering different department areas, the other was a peer who had the same authority as him. His out-of-office message was more complicated than what you normally see, saying stuff like “for escalations issues about x, contact Jane, for escalations and issues about y, contact Greg.” He told his direct reports to contact the other director for stuff only a director could handle, but figured Jane and Greg could screen on his behalf for anyone other than the direct reports.

      He got 2 months off without anyone contacting him at all. It was a bit messy at times but it worked fine.

  3. lex talionis*

    Don’t forget to add up all the time you spent working while on vacation and put it back into your vacation pool. Including typing your letter to AAM.

    1. Hornswoggler*

      I second, third and fourth this!

      And while I’m at it, I’ll fifth, sixth and seventh it too!!

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      So much this – and make sure your supervisor knows you did this too. That way they are aware of how much sneaking around protocols around time off is happening (as i suspect the higher-ups are unaware of the severity of the problem).

      And OP you are so right, when everything is an emergency – well, nothing is an emergency. I suspect some of those people reaching out on your vacation are just as burned out as you are, but are less willing to acknowledge that burn out and start working on a solution to the burn out.

    3. Pants*

      I’d also add all that time up and have a meeting or send an email to everyone in the whole free world (or not, maybe just the offenders and their bosses) that here’s how much time you spent working on your vacation and that this is unacceptable.

      I’m practically PUNCHING my keyboard right now, I’m so angry.

    4. Junimo the Hutt*

      My brother, whose managers don’t seem to understand that he’s not actually on call, has made it clear to his work that a) employees should contact his supervisor while he’s away and b) IF anybody contacts him, every phone call will mean a minimum of 2 hours charged to the company. He’s still going to get called because his supervisors don’t ever seem to remember that he’s over several hours away, but at least he gets something out of it.

    5. RCB*

      I ALWAYS do this! If I work an hour on vacation then that is an hour less of vacation time that I take off my PTO bank, which makes it a lot more palatable to be interrupted.

    6. PJH*

      and put it back into your vacation pool

      While my workplace isn’t as dysfunctional as the OP’s appears to have been, I have actually had occasion to do this.

      The most recent – granted it was an ’emergency’ (it actually wasn’t – it could have waited until I got back after New Year,) but I made it known at the time to my line manager that that’s what I’d be doing.

      Given he’s much of the same mindset as me when it comes to these sort of shenanigans, he fully agreed to it beforehand – if only to teach others in the business ‘a lesson’ (mainly the even higher-ups. “Don’t expect to intrude on holidays without any repercussions.”)

    7. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Any day on which you are obliged to do any work is a working day. Don’t add up hours, note days.

      1. Teapot Wrangler*

        100% – you’re not able to fully relax and get your mind off work if you’re taking work calls/meetings/emails

  4. Colette*

    In conjunction with #1, I’d suggest replying to contact with “Please contact Sally, she’s filling in for me”. Don’t reward direct contact.

    1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      Yep. They need to follow the process. I also don’t think it’s patronizing to tell them clearly “Things like invoice approval can wait until I return” Having spent the early part of my career in accounts receivable, I promise any late fee incurred because the sole approver was on vacation for a week would be waived with a simple call/email to the vendor.

      1. Rose*


        If someone is actively doing a thing they shouldn’t, I don’t see how they can reasonably feel it’s patronizing to tell them to stop. If people feel you’re patronizing because you tell them things they don’t know, that’s on them, and they can work those feelings out in therapy.

        OP is wayyyyy too concerned with everyone else’s needs and feelings, whereas her junior colleagues seem to feel pretty empowered to inconvenience her.

        1. Fran Fine*

          OP is wayyyyy too concerned with everyone else’s needs and feelings, whereas her junior colleagues seem to feel pretty empowered to inconvenience her.

          Yup. OP needs to return the energy.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is it exactly. OP is wondering how to train staff to triage messages. You can’t. We all at some level or another believe that our question is “the one” or “only needs a minute.” We are wrong. You can’t teach people how to judge their perceptions; you can only stop rewarding them.
      What if OP didn’t answer and it was a matter of worst case scenario?
      Well, if the organization can’t function with one person out, there’s a bigger problem and should they be handling crises at all? Not being sarcastic. I’m quite serious. People were on vacation when the first Covid lockdown happened. Hell, people were trapped in other countries. People were on vacation when natural disasters hit their home city or the city where they were vacationing. Those in the office figured it out or made due or got by until the “one person who couldn’t make that half hour meeting” got back from vacation.
      Enjoy your vacation, OP.

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Exactly this. If that one person (OP) is so indispensable to the company’s day-to-day functions, what happens if OP gets hit by a bus one day? Now their go-to is incapable of doing much of anything, never mind solving the company’s problems!

        There needs to be some form of cross-training done so OP can completely disconnect from work, with proper delegation and clearances given to people to handle these “emergencies.”

          1. If you drop everything when you win the lottery, you're just a jerk*

            I understand wanting to frame in much more positive terms, but if you win the lottery and just stop responding, that’s a choice. If you’re hit by a bus, you are not going to have a choice in the matter – responding just is not an option.

          2. AnonInCanada*

            I can see you wanting to think more positively. But at least after winning the lottery you’d still have to at least give some notice that you’re out of there and can be there for the transition. Being hit by a bus, while obviously being traumatic for the victim, also means the company’s going to be scrambling.

            Hence the reason why companies should be working out these contingencies before they happen.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Someone in a recent letter offered “abducted by aliens” as both not as negative as hit by a bus (after all, they might not be evil aliens, but you are definitely out of cell service) and not as possible to come in to work to close out affairs as winning the lottery.

      2. Amaranth*

        I’m not clear from OP’s letter if any/some/all of the people who called their phone even bothered with email in the first place, it sounds like cell access has also become the norm. Their coworkers might not have even seen the out of office message or calendar, requiring them to do their own gatekeeping –“I’m on vacation this week, please take this to Linus/Patty for approval.” I understand the frustration, but it sounds like OP just sighed and did the work rather than redirecting.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          It looks like they *did* see the message that OP was out of the office, which is why they went to her personal cell.

              1. penny dreadful analyzer*

                Yeah, I think it’s time for OP to get a new personal cell number and never give it to coworkers. Maybe they can wrangle a work cell out of the company and leave it at home when they’re on vacation.

    3. TiredEA*

      I came here to say something similar. Every time OP responds and gives an answer, it tells the person calling that they are an exemption to the rule of ‘don’t contact me while on vacation.’ OP should push boundary setting and redirect those contacting them during no contact times. If OP feels they must answer, after reminding them about Sally, OP should say they have to go, and then politely hang up.

      Don’t reinforce negative behavior.

    4. ferrina*

      More than that, I just wouldn’t pick up the phone unless it was from Sally. She would literally be the only person I would take calls from.

      1. Colette*

        In a world where true emergencies can happen, I’d rather answer and redirect them – otherwise you have to listen to the voicemail and call back if it could be an urgent issue.

        1. Asenath*

          I don’t think it is usually necessary to answer in case there is a real emergency. I worked with people in health care who handled life-and-death emergencies on a regular basis. When they were off, they were off, leaving instructions on who would handle emergencies while they were away. And that’s what happened – there was no way they could have handled a local emergency if they were out of the country anyway. I once (and only once) had a sort-of and non-medical “emergency” come up, and it never occurred to me to contact the person in charge of it who was off who knows where on a much-deserved holiday. I found out who further up the hierarchy had the authority to sign off on the issue, presented my solution, and got my approval.

          1. Colette*

            Ideally that’s the case, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how the OP’s organization works – it’ll take time and boundaries to get there.

        2. Elenna*

          I think the intent is that LW should set things up so that if there was a true emergency, it would be Sally calling.

          1. Colette*

            Yes, but that’s not what’s happening, so either she’s going to be bothered by calls throughout her time off, or she needs to be very dedicated to making sure that contacting her doesn’t work.

          2. SnappinTerrapin*

            If there is a true emergency that Sally can’t handle, she should talk to LW’s boss. It’s that manager’s job to handle issues that need to be escalated.

            1. TrixM*

              This exactly. Sally runs interference in conjunction with a boss that has a higher delegation in case something can’t wait ONE WEEK. If it’s a budget matter outside an emergency, someone isn’t doing their job properly, let’s be real.
              Sally and other bosses are the only people LW needs to respond to. Of course, the “delegate boss” needs to be the kind who won’t run straight to LW when someone realises the monthly teapot paint invoice is overdue and needs sign-off for disbursement, etc.

      2. All Het Up About It*

        I think this would be the case of where you ignore all phone calls and voicemails from anyone who isn’t your boss, or at their level.

        Because here’s the thing, yes, as someone said above people are awful about triaging emergencies when someone is on vacation, but oftentimes are better at it when it comes to climbing up the chain. If there is a true emergency, and someone can’t get ahold of OP – then they’re going to go up the chain. If they don’t feel like they can or need to, then it’s actually something that can wait.

        If OP’s boss is awesome as they say, then perhaps making this arrangement with them would work. “Last time I took time off, individuals kept calling my cell for non-emergencies. This time I’m just going to ignore those calls until I’m back, but wanted to let you know that if or someone else on the leadership team call me, I know it is an emergent situation and I’ll of course answer and do what needs doing.” I’d really highlight the meetings and the signing an invoice as examples of absolutely not emergencies!!!

        1. Gail Davidson-Durst*

          I think this is exactly right. Making the triage person a boss will cut down on the frivolous attempts in the first place, and a good boss will only let through a true emergency. I do this and I’ve never had my boss contact me while I was out.

      3. Lily Rowan*

        Agreed — to be fair, there are no real emergencies in my job, but I never answer the phone if it’s not a good time. They can leave a message! Most of the time they don’t.

    5. Person from the Resume*

      Yes! It sounds like you’re still responding to them. Do not answer; let phone calls go to voice mail and then check VM to determine if it’s that unicorn of a true emergency that requires a response. If it isn’t an actual emergency, do not even respond to them. You’re fighting a culture of “always available” and right not you’re still rewarding people with a response.

      When you return have a discussion with the interupters. They’re junior to you. Give them feedback about not contacting you or anyone else when they are on vacation or out sick. Specifically give feedback with examples saying this incident should have been handled by my fill-in or this was not urgent and could wait until I returned.

      Also announcing a new google voice number replacing your personal cell phone number is a great technical solution.

      1. another Hero*

        you can even change the settings on the phone so it only rings if it’s Sally or someone else you want to hear from. and you should!

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Also, VMs that say only “please call me as soon as possible” get returned after you’ve returned to the office. If you don’t give me details in the VM and you aren’t my doctor, I assume it isn’t actually an emergency.

        1. Rose*

          This and IMs that say “hi.” or “are you there?” with zero follow up are my #1 office pet peeve. It’s like saying “Put down whatever you’re working on right now and prioritize what I want/need. I’m not going to tell you why, just do it.”

          1. Anon Supervisor*

            I work with someone who does this and I just wait until they say their question. If they don’t send it, then it either wasn’t an emergent question, or they figured it out on their own. It didn’t take very long for them to stop doing that.

      3. irritable vowel*

        I don’t know anything about Android phones, but on an iPhone you can set up a Do Not Disturb that only lets specific people through, and you can specify that a text message be sent to everyone else (or maybe specific people?). You could have this say “I am on vacation and not responding to any work-related calls or texts. Please contact Sally until [date].”

        1. Observer*

          Same on Android, at least on a phone that’s less that 3 years old. Probably on older ones too but I can’t say for sure.

    6. anonymous73*

      If contacting Sally is covered in her OOO, answering the phone to tell someone that is not necessary. Because one they get her on the phone, they will insist she answer.

      1. Colette*

        They don’t get to insist.

        Telling them to go to Sally reinforces that other methods won’t work. And then the OP hangs up and goes about her day. If they call back, she can ignore them (or block their number).

        1. anonymous73*

          It doesn’t matter if they “get to” insist or not. The second she picks up the phone she sets herself up to keep being taken advantage of while out on vacation. She is opening the line of communication by answering the phone.

          1. Fran Fine*

            This. It’s best to not even engage because OP has already proven she doesn’t stick firm to boundaries, so as soon as one of the junior staffers starts in on their request, OP won’t be able to say no.

          2. Colette*

            I don’t see her ignoring the voicemail – which means she’s going to listen to it and probably call them back. It’s better to answer, say “oh, I’m out this week, contact Sally” than it is to drag it out.

    7. SnappinTerrapin*

      When I was out with covid, every call or text was answered with: While I am on LWOP due to illness, X is serving in my place, with the same authority I had. She can be contacted at xxx-xxx-xxxx. If an issue can’t be handled at this level, our manager is Y. He can be contacted at yyy-yyy-yyyy.

      When X called, I told her she had all the authority I had, but she could call Y for guidance.

    8. Agent Diane*

      +1 on this. I once took a work call whilst on maternity leave as I didn’t recognise the number. I managed to redirect them to my cover because I’d memorised my cover’s number.

      Set your outgoing voicemail on your personal cell to say “for any work enquiries inside working hours, please contact Sally.” Ignoring the subsequent voicemail messages that ignore that will be hard – especially in your role – so maybe give yourself permission to listen to them at your leisure and see if any really can’t wait. Even for things like outbreaks your team should have a regular process by now so should at most need you to say you’re aware (assuming part of the process is “notify the DPH”). If there really is something you think you might need to do – contact Sally first and see if they’ve solved it without you!

      But invoice guy doesn’t get a callback, or you logging in to approve it. Nope. No way. They need reassurance and training into knowing that the work will get by without you.

  5. Just J.*

    LW, welcome to my world. I have been senior level management in a deadline-driven industry for ages. Here’s how I coped and handled this:

    SET BOUNDARIES and don’t break them. As one of my coworkers once said, the more you respond while you are on vacation, the more people will think it’s okay to contact you. Stop replying to emails and phone calls.

    I had to check email at least daily, because like you, there might be an emergency. It didn’t mean I needed to respond. Things that could be deferred until I got back, got deferred.

    I never answered the phone. Ever. Same as email, I’ll check the VM and if its an emergency, I’ll get back to you. Plus if its an emergency, I assume you will text.

    And, no, I will never, ever, ever be available for any meeting during time away. I’ve never, in 30 years of experience, had a meeting that couldn’t wait. Yes, I’ve had emergencies at work while on vacation where emergency meetings have been called, but I’ve always had a delegate at the office who could cover for me. And, for the true catastrophies, then yes, I’ll step in but seriously, I have never had to do that.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      This is good. I have been having this ongoing conversation with my coworker who is a director and manages managers and we’re having similar issues to OP. I say “we” because stuff often gets held up waiting for him.

      I think it needs to be an ongoing process well before vacations. I don’t think employees are overstepping and I don’t think this is purely about “setting boundaries” in the traditional sense since someone asking work questions isn’t them doing something wrong.

      However people need to be given more autonomy and clear direction on what they can and cannot do, and you need to practice saying “you can make that decision” or “you can approve that without me” well before you actually need it to happen.

      I think it also helps to explain your current role. Using my coworkers case it would be something like “I know I used to approve invoice and sit in on your meetings but I need to focus on growing the business now and can’t do that when you’re including me in all of these small things.”

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I like your idea of reviewing who has authority to do what. OP writes a few time about the Covid mode they are in and how it’s over. Someone needs to talk to all the staff, thank them and then explain that we are not going to do that now. OP’s managers all feel that they are out of crisis mode. They need to share that. Maybe talk about returning to core hours for work, meetings, messages and anything else.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          The Incidence Command System (used in emergencies, including COVID-19) can be instructive here. In day-to-day work, a specific person is imbued with the authority to make decisions, attend meetings, etc. In the ICS structure, a specific *role* has that authority, and there must always be a person in that role—but who is in that role often rotates between multiple people over time, especially in lengthy emergencies. OP, you and your team need to lay out what is day-to-day work and what is emergency work, and make sure to operate/delegate authority accordingly.

          Also, don’t let regular work become emergencies due to poor planning. If something needing your approval is due while you’re on vacation, be explicit with the team about setting interim deadlines and planning ahead to get it approved before you head out.

          1. KatieP*

            I haven’t heard a reference to ICS for a long time (used to have to maintain a basic ICS certification in a previous life)! I think a lot of workplaces can benefit from at least a familiarity with ICS, especially how it handles the hand-off between individuals filling a position.

            Granted, it’s designed around the ability to maintain 24-hour emergency response operations indefinitely.

            I’m glad I don’t need to maintain a 214/incident log anymore, though. :)

        2. quill*

          Yeah, the whole workplace needs new, clear guidelines going forward about who contacts who for what and what is / isn’t an emergency. If you deal with a sustained emergency for long enough EVERYTHING feels urgent, and that’s probably contributing to OP’s subordinates having no sense of scale about what they should be bringing up during a vacation.

      2. ferrina*

        If you need to delegate tasks to multiple people, I like to prep a document that lists who to go to for each task. That way 1) you don’t have folks going rogue (a problem I ran into) and 2) there is a clear line of who to go to. Only if you exhaust that line and it can’t wait, then you can contact me. I did have a boss skip that line- even though I took that call, when I got back I sat down with her and said “It was interesting that you had to call me about X. Indira was in charge of that in my absence- what did she say when you asked her?” My boss had to sheepishly admit that she had skipped that step, and she never interrupted my PTO again.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        I don’t think employees are overstepping and I don’t think this is purely about “setting boundaries” in the traditional sense since someone asking work questions isn’t them doing something wrong.

        But they’ve been told what to do and they’re not doing it. I’m willing to consider that wrong. Not egregious, but definitely something that calls for boundaries.

    2. Rolly*

      I am in not quite as demanding a position, but do something similar. I typically check emails several times a week on vacation, but don’t respond to 90% or more of them. Only true emergencies. Some vacations I might not respond to any. I’m checking for emergencies, not checking to respond.

      I don’t use my phone/texting for work. If I really needed to, I’d get a second work-only #.

    3. LaFramboise, Snowbelt Academic Librarian Who Needs Spring NOW*

      Absolutely agree. My boss (a dean, I’m in academia) has given us a bright line for approving timesheets, and then has started saying that we need to contact another dean if we have an issue. A workaholic who sets boundaries is a good example for all of us, especially since remote classes have meant that there is no distinction–for some poeple–between the start and end of work. Highly endorse @Just J.’s response!

  6. ThinkQuicker*

    This might not be feasible but is there any way to feedback on this pattern with more junior staff. As in: “hey you contacted me when I was out on vacation recently for something that wasn’t an emergency. You will have seen my out of office messages and who to contact in my absence. Can we talk through what your thought process was in contacting me why going to Jane didn’t seem like a viable option?”. You might get back that it’s habit which you can push back on or you might here that Jane actually can’t handle what you thought she could handle or that she’s always unable to be contacted in which case you could either address that with Jane or find someone else to deputise?

    1. Kes*

      I was thinking this about the person who was asking them before they left to join the meeting during vacation – something like that is probably a good opportunity to dig into why they don’t think they can do the meeting without you and make sure that they can do so, whether it’s just explaining why you aren’t needed, making sure they know who’s covering for you, delegating more of the authority to the person covering, or getting someone else (your boss?) with more authority involved to help cover some aspects that require it

      1. Software Engineer*

        It’s also a good opportunity to make sure they understand that when THEY are on vacation they are expected to not join any meetings.

  7. What She Said*

    It really is okay to say “that’s not an emergency either leave it for me for when I return or ask so and s0” and end the call. I sometimes have to reach bosses on vacation and I only interrupt them if it means someone will not get paid unless we here from them. Even then it’s via email or text. I never call them. Otherwise someone else handles it as best as they can or we wait until they return. I do this because I have years of experience that allows me to identify a true emergency. You will need to train this people to do the same. At some point the calls will slow down and eventually will be very rare. Good luck!

  8. mli25*

    Where are your boss(es) in all this? Can you bring this issue to them to help with solutions (approvals maybe?). If nothing else, they should know you are getting contacted multiple times while on vacation.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Wondering this as well. Instead of delegating everything to a direct report, I’d make sure that everyone knew to go to direct report about basic stuff, and to my boss about director decision-level stuff.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Yes, this is how I handle my vacations. In an emergency, my boss can approve for me, and she knows who on my team or other teams to consult. Before I go, I make sure she’s briefed on any issues I know of that might require her at some point.
        She is VERY protective of my time off, and this is a key element.

      2. Ellie*

        Yes, this is what we do – we set our delegations to either a peer or a direct report, then have our out of office refer to the next up the chain in the hierarchy if they’re unavailable. In the examples the OP has provided, surely your supervisors would contact you about something as serious as an outbreak? No-one else needs to have that power.

        As for the meetings, just push back. So what if its the only time when everyone else can make it? You can’t – is their time really more important than yours? Hold fast and say you are on vacation (and maybe mention that you’ve received 5 such requests that day already and you will not cancel your first vacation in 3 years for a 1/2 hour meeting).

    2. Green great dragon*

      Yes! Everything Alison said, but also the gatekeeper should have the authority to escalate to a boss (or nominated peer?) for approvals, or where someone in the team knows what to do but doesn’t have the authority. If your bosses are actually supportive of you taking leave rather than paying lip-service, then they should be very willing to pick up these things.

    3. Goose*

      Yes! And what about the supervisors of those below you on the org chart? Loop them in that you are being harassed by their employees while you’re on vacation

    4. Jam*

      If the bosses are supportive and understanding that you need time off, it seems like you might take this experience back to them and see what can be done at an org/department level to reset these boundaries. It sounds like people do need to have some explicit guidance, and this could be framed in terms of ‘moving into a new phase’ to help avoid that paternalistic feeling. If you need motivation consider that this does not sound like a workplace where ANYONE is going to get to take any time off.

  9. Spearmint*

    I really want to second point #6. Speaking as someone who is more entry level, most people below you will follow your lead when it comes to contacting people on vacation and what constitutes a genuine emergency. You say they are always treating everything as an emergency, but you have a lot of agency in changing that. If you consistently act more “normal”, and directly set boundaries around that, then over time people will follow your lead. It may difficult at first, but that’s part of being a leader: you have to be a trailblazer if you want things to change.

    1. Elsa*

      Agreed – in my first job in academic administration, my boss would brag that she answered the President of the college’s work calls when she was still in the hospital after delivering a baby! That took a lot of unlearning and it has informed how I speak about time off to people who report to me.

      1. Ukexacademic*

        Also academia had a senior manager who wrote a blog post about a friday evening elevator chat with colleagues about how much work they had planned for the weekend. This sets the culture for junior and admin staff …

      2. COBOL Dinosaur*

        I remember hearing a VP at one firm I worked at bragging about how she missed all of her children’s sports events, plays, concerts etc. She was actually proud of this fact!

        1. Ellie*

          One of our VPs bragged that the doctors had to take her laptop off of her as she was going into labour… everyone else in the room was appalled, you could read it on their faces. She didn’t get it.

    2. Smithy*

      I want to second this.

      When there are letters about people sending emails at 11pm from supervisors who say “this is my schedule, but I don’t expect you to answer then” – if you’re trying to change a culture, it’s really worth taking the time to set in place systems for those late night, non-rush emails to get sent out at 9am the next day. When someone else more junior has taken a meeting on vacation, as someone more senior it’s important to be more assertive on whether the meeting can be pushed back or their presence isn’t critical. I also think it’s often more effective to push back on either early morning or late night depending on the nature of your work and team, but not both. For an “all hands on deck” team, trying to squeeze into 9-5 too quickly can be doomed – but acknowledging how often a team starts at 6/7am and therefore putting a hard stop on meetings at 5pm is often easier (or reverse that as appropriate).

      I will also note that during emergencies, a lot of internal capacity building/management work can really slack. So the fact that the people right below the OP might not be as deputized as they need to be may require some reflection on the OP’s part for internal efforts they’ve been deprioritizing over other response efforts. It may require a lot more significant time blocked off to address those gaps – but will be critical.

      1. Observer*

        it’s really worth taking the time to set in place systems for those late night, non-rush emails to get sent out at 9am the next day

        That’s not going to shift things. What DOES shift things? How you deal with people who are out of the office. How you try to contact them when you are working after hours (like NEVER EVER call someone after hours or when they are on vacation.) How you respond when people treat your email like it was sent at 9:00am rather that 1:00am.

        When someone else more junior has taken a meeting on vacation, as someone more senior it’s important to be more assertive on whether the meeting can be pushed back or their presence isn’t critical.

        *THIS* is the kind of thing that shifts culture. The senior person should push back on allowing junior people to take meetings while on vacation. But it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t penalize the person on vacation.

        1. Smithy*

          On point #1, I’d disagree.

          When a culture like this grows it erodes team member’s ability’s to differentiate when they’re on emergency mode and when they aren’t. Or if emergency mode has transitioned to “we now always work like this”. And for more junior colleagues there often isn’t the experience or professional confidence to differentiate the difference between a more senior member of staff sending an email at 11pm as part of their actual sane work-life balance vs being on-call all the time.

          For more senior members to make a greater effort to demonstrate when they are off the clock and expect other staff to be off the clock, that is going to sink in more if it’s done around the regular work week/weekends and not just vacation which inevitably happens more infrequently. And, some of that effort will take more work by leaders to set that example.

          Transitioning from legit professional emergency mode for two years is gonna take effort to demonstrate genuine change because a lot of people’s norms and standards have been entirely thrown.

    3. Blisskrieg*

      I was looking for a comment that says this. I understand there are some workforce cultural issues at play here, as well as the need to be reachable for true emergencies. However, the OP is really the one who can drive the culture for her team–ESPECIALLY since it is not her higher-ups that are pressing her to be available. This situation is partly the nature of her position coming out of the pandemic and all those extenuating circumstances, so some of this has been unavoidable.

      However, I regard it as her responsibility to change it for her team. In addition to naturally being irritated with her team, I would honestly feel very badly that I had (at least partly) created the circumstances where no one can unplug. I would wonder how many of my team believe they cannot take time off (or true time off where they are completely unplugged) because of my example. After my initial irritation, that honestly would be my key takeaway–concern for those reporting up to me.

      1. Publix health*

        So much yes to this one !!! I’m public health as well .
        I’m mid level but see my supervisors send messages on weekends and night so feel I need to as well . We are told every quarter that we can’t take days off and we need to greatly increase workloads ( forced overtime / work weekend).
        My biggest question is how much are your lower ranked employees working .
        Do they have the capital to not work or not respond ?
        I was a little annoyed to see that OP is annoyed with those under her rather than with the entire culture.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      I got the impression that due to the pandemic, for the past two years almost everything has been an actual emergency. So I think it’s that these employees are all conditioned to be in panic-mode at all times and sort of have forgotten how to stop and evaluate what actually is or isn’t an emergency. Not saying they don’t need to, but I think the approach is different when it’s something conditioned by a real thing that happened for a very long time vs normal “entry level people taking cues” type situations.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Seconding and thirding Alison’s comment about deputizing. Vertical deputizing for pieces of your functional workload, horizontal deputizing for things like payment approval where laws & policies require it.

    If you came down with Covid and were hospitalized, what would your organization do? Your organization is a prime example of a government agency that needs contingency and continuity-of-operations plans.

  11. V*

    I would also look at how those who report to you are being contacted on vacation and available outside of normal business hours. I’m thinking this is a company wide issue, and making sure that others get to take their vacations un-interrupted should normalize it.

  12. I should really pick a name*

    But given my line of work and Covid-19, there’s always a chance there could be something really, REALLY wrong like a huge increase in cases or deaths or a major outbreak at a nursing home.

    What would happen if you were unavailable when this happened? (for example, in the hospital). I’m guessing they’d contact your boss instead.
    That’s exactly what could be done while you’re on vacation.

    Be as upfront as possible before you leave that you will not be reachable. Only answer your phone if you recognize the number and know it isn’t a work call.

    1. Off-call is off-call*

      This is the key point. There are a lot of things that you usually do, but surely you’re not the only one who can do them! (And if you are, then your org needs to look at that – surely by now the pandemic has taught all of us that we can’t, in fact, rely on having a specific person always available to do a specific thing!)

      Identify who the other people are who can do the things that need doing, enlist them in advance to handle those specific things, tell the person filling in for you which person will be handling what, turn off your phone and don’t check your email.

      Think of it from the service delivery side of healthcare – if a patient on the floor has an urgent need, do they call their primary physician? No, they call the physician on call for the floor.

      Also I really encourage you not to make excuses. Can you go to this budget meeting since it’s the only time that works for everyone else? No, you can’t, because you aren’t available. Frances is covering for you, she can field future questions, thanks, goodbye.

    2. Double A*

      That line struck me. That is…not actually an emergency that the LW’s presence or absence would affect. I don’t know the details of the LW’s job, but them being on vacation is not going to change Covid cases, and the LW doesn’t mention anything actionable that would fall through the cracks in any of those events.

      So I do think the LW needs to get straight in their own mind what is an emergency that they are uniquely positioned to handle right that second. Then deputize other people to handle it. Because no one should be the single point of failure for anything crucial, because there are lots of reasons you may need an unplanned absence and people will need to function in that circumstance.

    3. Claire W*

      Exactly this. I’m not at LW’s level but I am the most senior person of my role in my team (and in the company) – when I had Covid at the end of last year, I went from “Yeah I’m picking up, should be back WFH tomorrow” to getting aan ambulance to A&E and being told I’d be there at least a week.

      My boss didn’t go “Oh can you *just* do X and Y while you’re in”, they looked at the work and picked what could be pushed, what could be compromised on or done in a temporary way until I came back, and what he could pick up himself. And that was with no notice, whereas the LW’s team are getting notice! There’s no way they don’t have any possible other options here, and if they do, the place is way too fragile.

    4. bookends*

      I was struck by this too! I’d imagine that if there were truly an emergency that merited the OP working during their PTO, their bosses who respect their time off would contact them. Anyone else isn’t following the proper channels and can be ignored. (Though the OP shouldn’t have to do so much work to ignore them – definitely not their fault!)

  13. Junior Dev*

    OP, Alison has excellent advice on how to actually do it, but I want to re-emphasize that you really do need and deserve time off. First, you’re a human and nobody can be “on” all the time. Second, the work you do is important and you’ll be much more effective at it by avoiding burnout and taking care of your health. And you’ll model the same for those who work for you.

  14. The Cosmic Avenger*

    If you aren’t already, block off your schedule by putting your leave on your calendar and set it to “Out of office”. This is different from OOO message, this puts the whole block of time as unavailable for meetings. And don’t put anything descriptive, just put “On leave” or something similar, only your gatekeeper needs to know how to reach you!

    One thing I say to people who take their jobs a bit too seriously is, would your whole industry/company/agency cease to work if you were hit by a bus tomorrow? Because that can and does happen, and if it’s true (like a small business owner), you should think about crosstraining people — as a benefit, it will make it easier for formerly essential people to go on leave! But in most cases, the remaining people would figure it out. Let them.

    1. sofar*

      Yep. The moment my time off is approved (even months in advance), I’m putting myself as OOO on the Google Calendar and setting that time to “decline all meetings.”

  15. Estyle*

    I always look for a vacation response for text messages that I could use for everyone I work with. A lot of them text when I’m out because they just don’t know i’m on vacation. An auto reply would help so much

      1. JR*

        Looks like Estyle is suggesting it would be helpful to have text auto replies. OP had auto replies for their email.

  16. anon NY*

    Every summer, we spend a week at a house my relatives own on an island. They don’t have internet or TV at their house, and cell service is spotty on their property. However, there is definitely internet on the island and in fact we always see people with their laptops at the little library in town doing work. But my husband has always just told his office there is no service on the island. It’s not really that obscure of a place, it’s a fairly well-known and popular vacation spot, but so far no one has called him out on it. It really simplifies things for him and allows him to truly disconnect. I recommend this strategy, even if you have to tell a bit of a white lie.

    1. Beth*

      Even though there may be internet service in some part of the island, you can always maintain that your relatives’ house is located in a blind spot where there is no service at all.

      For many years, our fave vacation spot had cell phone service outside the cottage but not inside. Best of both worlds!

    2. sofar*

      This is why, for every vacation for YEARS, I’ve told my coworkers I’m camping. Everyone has poor boundaries when it comes to time off, and people frequently join Zoom calls from vacation.

      They all think I am this big camping person. I have never camped in my LIFE. I worry that, one day, we’ll hire someone who is super into camping and will try to talk to me about it, and I’ll be caught in my lie, but it hasn’t happened yet.

      We tend to go to outdoorsy places, so if they ask to see pictures, I show them a picture of me and my husband on a hike. They don’t need to know that we’re staying at the Holiday Inn with full internet access.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        My parents have a cabin on the edge of the boundary waters. Because it’s a wilderness area, it is widely understood they will be totally unreachable. In reality, the internet up there is so much faster than what they have at home, but their offices sure don’t need to know that.

      2. Elle*

        I love the idea that you will actually hire someone else with the same mindset and the pair of you will be avoiding each other in the halls and thinking “don’t ask about camping, don’t ask about camping”, while your co-workers valiantly try and get the pair of you to discuss your favourite tents!

  17. Delta Delta*

    When OP returns, I’d suggest having a meeting or other blast (email/zoom/whatever as needed) that this can’t happen anymore. You are allowed to take time off, and it needs to be respected. Since this is a government agency, maybe loop in HR for them to say, “no, do not work on your vacation and do not expect other people to do that.”

    The other part of the problem is that by responding to everything, you’re modeling that everyone else needs to do that on vacation, as well. I worked at such a place, and it was terrible. The top person worked all through all vacations, and that implicitly told everyone else we were required to do the same. This isn’t sustainable for anyone. I guarantee none of the people who called you want their phones blowing up with budget meetings on their vacations. They need to stop and you need to enforce it.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I really like the idea of doing a group email addressing this issue – not calling anyone out in specific, but letting the entire team know that work/life balance is important, and interrupting people while they are taking time off is not acceptable.

      Let the team know “When you are out of the office, set your email Out Of Office message to identify who should be contacted in your absence. If you are trying to reach someone who is out of the office, use those contacts that they have identified. When someone is taking time off, they are TAKING TIME OFF and it is important that be respected.”

    2. Jacey*

      I like this idea in theory, but addressing the group is really hit or miss. Or, more accurately, hit AND miss, as in the people who would never contact someone on vacation for less than a true emergency that required that specific person’s skills will be hit by the accusation, and the people at fault are likely to miss that it’s directed at them.

    3. Smithy*

      I think why these group emails about work life balance don’t work is that honestly…..the concept that these types of people don’t want their phones blowing up on their vacations is also hit or miss. I’m in the humanitarian response space, and while it’s not 100% true about everyone – there certainly are people in these sectors who get emergency response highs. They get that adrenaline rush around being needed and feeling important, and showing up during an emergency as a time to critically contribute. And while I get that 99% of us in these sectors are not in true first responder jobs, it’s a culture that permeates to those budget meetings.

      So stopping it requires being a lot more thoughtful and deliberate than a group email. It’s no different than if you have a work toilet that is continually getting trashed by 2pm. My employer (who I joined during COVID) is reopening the office next week and I just realized that our floor is meant to house over 120 employees and has one women’s toilet with 4 stalls. With hybrid schedules still being huge, maybe they can get away with the current cleaning schedule – or maybe not. But a group email won’t fix that potential increased bathroom usage in keeping such a space clean.

      This culture is just too ingrained and pervasive for a group email fix.

      1. Batgirl*

        I think this is all so true. People are different, and those who are fuelled by work and drama and importance won’t necessarily think “Phew, now I can balance my life”, some of them are actively avoiding their life.
        However I think that it might be a great first step to resetting the culture. If it’s done without blame, and just letting people know that they are allowed to take vacation, and that they personally get to decide how engaged they stay with work. OP should be open to suggestions from people who are struggling with this. There must be other people like OP who have less power to say something.

    4. Texan In Exile*

      Yes, this. At an old job, some people wouldn’t even block their calendars or set up an auto reply when they were on vacation. If you’re on vacation, not only do I not want to bother you, I also want to talk to the person who is actually available to help me.

    5. Asenath*

      I think the problem with group emails is that the wrong people are targeted along with the offenders. OP needs to simply stop responding. That’s the only way the offenders will understand there’s no point in contacting her, and will stop. There’s someone in place to cover for her while she’s away, she’s ensured everyone knows who that person is; there’s no reason for her to respond to any phone messages, texts or emails until she gets back – although she might make an exception for her delegate in case there’s a genuine emergency – which shouldn’t happen. If there is a genuine emergency, she STILL isn’t available, and the people on the job will have to deal with it, just as they would if she were unavailable due to illness.

    6. Gan Ainm*

      This feels more heavy handed than what’s needed. This situation seems similar to how Alison says when managers feels frustrated and lash out with subordinates it’s because they don’t realize they have the power the simply require different behavior.

      OP has the ability to simply…. Not respond. There is power in just waiting til you get back to deal with this stuff. Going overboard with “this is unacceptable” scolding meetings with a bunch of junior staff and hitting a broad swath of non-offenders as well, would strike me as a manager who lacks power and control over even basic aspects of her work life, I’d find it very strange, and kind of embarrassing for her.

  18. Elenna*

    Since LW’s bosses have been supportive of LW taking vacation, is it worth looping them in on this? Something like “Hey, I know you’ve been encouraging me to take some time off, and I appreciate it! As a heads up, I took a week off recently and several people tried to contact me for non-emergency purposes. Because of that, I will no longer be reachable by cell phone while on vacation, except for [deputized person], who will be in charge of letting me know if there’s an actual emergency.”

    1. Eye roll*

      It’s not just that they tried contacting her. They did contact her. And insist she attends meetings. And it sounds like it happened daily! I’d hope LW could say, “While I was on vacation, I was contacted regularly for non-emergency purposes. I ended up working at least part of the day on every day of my vacation. After the last two years, I really needed time to disconnect, and I never received it because I was constantly contacted and invited to meetings. We need to establish better policies on making people work on vacation because constant work without a break is not sustainable.”

    2. Everything Bagel*

      And also she needs to have someone else be delegated authority to give the approvals that her lower-level employee doesn’t have. There’s probably no reason someone else at the office with authority can’t do this in her absence. Verify who that person will be before vacation.

  19. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    I wonder if the LW can start nudging the office culture back off of “Emergency!!” It’s understandable why it’s there, but that is stressful and unhealthy for everyone. A couple ways I can think of to do that is to encourage people to take time off. Start those sentences and as many other sentences as possible with words like, “now that things have calmed down a bit…” Start transparently prioritizing things and say why (eg in my work, we have deadlines and we have other stuff that needs to be done responsibly but not in a super specific time frame). If people call at home, don’t answer non-emergency questions. Tell the other person you’ll deal with it during work hours, and if appropriate, encourage them to step away from their job (if it’s their off hours also).

  20. Drew*

    At a director-level position, you are responsible for setting the expectations and creating the culture.

    Yes, you should be able to take a vacation, get sick, deal with family emergencies, etc. without being barraged with work. Everyone should.

    Work with your peers and superiors to set expectations throughout the org. Make sure folks junior to you aren’t also experiencing the same behaviors.

  21. my experience*

    In these situtations, a reasonable goal might also be not that no one contacts you, but that you don’t do any non-emergency work. For me, I am going to get emails and calls when I am out. I let them all go to voicemail. Most of them get no response until I return. Some get a quick message – I’m out until X, move on without me or we can meet then. Urgent situations I’ll reply.

    It’s hard to control others (if they contact me) but if I control my own response (not crossing my own boundary) then that’s 100% within my own power. (Of course, this works because I have the backing of my leadership, like the LW). It also trains people for the future.

    1. Turanga Leela*

      When I’m on leave, I sometimes turn off my voicemail so that I don’t come back to a million voice messages (which stress me out more than emails). I switch my voicemail to not accept messages and record an out-of-office message telling people when I’ll be back and whom to contact if there’s an emergency.

    2. anonymous73*

      But how is that a vacation? Even people at the director level and above need to unwind without ANY interruption of work. I get that some people get a ton of emails or phone calls, and it can be stressful to come back to a ton of them, but everyone should have the ability to completely unwind and forget about work for a week. If she were out for a prolonged period of time (for any number of reasons), they would have to figure out how to manage without her. This should be treated the same. There should never be a single point of failure.

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    I would also suggest starting with your direct reports. Make sure they are crystal clear on your expectations regarding your vacations. They can help hold the line, especially if they know you’ll have their back on pushing back.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      This past summer was also the first summer vacation ever where I turned off my email on my phone and didn’t check it at all. Like not even once. It was the BEST! My staff knew how to find me if I absolutely was needed for something but even then my boss was on deck to do whatever might need to happen.

      My sister is a nurse manager and even she gets to disconnect. Not fully because in her job lives are actually on the line but what can you do from 1000 miles away?

  23. Anon for this*

    Several years ago, I was working for a specialty retailer that got hit with a rather large EEOC claim while I was on vacation for a week. I work in HR and typically I would handle claims like this. It was time sensitive, but not so time sensitive that it couldn’t have waited until I returned. This was my first vacation in a long time, and I had taken my young children to the beach to enjoy some family time together after my divorce from their father. My manager knew all this. Yet, instead of just dealing with whatever preliminary stuff needed to happen before I got back, she called me right away in a panic, and proceeded to take up much of my vacation time with meetings with lawyers, investigators, etc. The lovely beach vacation I had planned ended up being my kids sitting in a hotel room watching TV while I was in endless meetings.
    Saying all this to say, I learned that *nothing* (except a natural disaster) is so urgent that it should interfere with your personal time. The LW told everyone that they would be out and unreachable. They set up an alternate point of contact for urgent matters. They did everything a responsible person would do. So I think it’s fine for LW to send calls to voice mail and just…conveniently not respond to messages, texts, whatever.

    1. sofar*

      I agree! LW needs to play dead.

      So many commenters are suggesting ways LW can delegate “better.” But LW DID delegate and communicated that and still she got contacted. Her coworkers know she’s the Best Person to get Answers from. They don’t want to contact her designated point of contact, because it will be less efficient than reaching out to LW directly.

      So, LW needs to make it massively inefficient for them to reach out to her while she’s on vacation. By not responding until she returns.

      I also think that, for most jobs, everyone needs to get used to the fact that a person being OUT means that fewer things will get DONE. It’s not fair to expect that a person can delegate to the point where everything runs smoothly. In fact, vacations are perfect stress tests for a company to discover when one person is carrying too much.

    1. COBOL Dinosaur*

      Or just tell people you are going to be somewhere without cell service… I always put something to the effect that I will not be checking emails or voicemails while on vacation because I will not have internet access or cell phone service. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not.

      1. sofar*

        That’s exactly what I do. It’s almost always a lie. I am NOT really the “remote adventure” traveler my coworkers think I am.

  24. Heffalump*

    “Can’t you just …” is one of the surest ways to infuriate me. My response is, “If I could` just do X,’ then I would just do X. If I could just do X, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” LW, I feel your pain.

    1. Jacey*

      Agreed. In my experience, the “just” in that phrase is a code word that means “I am not am not acknowledging the time and effort this requires of you.” Sometimes that’s from ignorance (assuming a task you don’t understand is simpler than it is) and sometimes it’s from self-centeredness (disregarding the other person’s situation because of your own).

      1. Heffalump*

        Often it’s prefixed with “well,” as in “well, can’t you just.” My response is, “Well, no, I can’t just do X.”

      2. Heffalump*

        Sometimes people’s response to my “no” has been the equivalent of “but it’s only a 30-minute meeting.”

        My answer to that is, “I heard you the first time.” Grr.

  25. animaniactoo*

    Are you rewarding these contacts with information/success? If so, part of the issue is that you are rewarding them with success, so they are going to keep trying no matter what you say otherwise.

    If, instead, you said “Did you check with X about this?” or “I will handle it next week when I am back”, you will begin the training that results in their understanding that calling you is not going to solve the issue, which is a LARGE chunk of getting them to stop wanting to call you.

    1. TrixM*

      Yes, classic operant conditioning is in order here. It’s amazing how people behave like dogs when you’re trying to retrain them, down to the extinction burst when they’re really pushing for things not to change.

      I hope the LW can power through with ignoring emails and calls – if it really is an emergency, they will call back or leave a voicemail – and next time will be easier, especially if the training is reinforced at more regular intervals (no, one week in two years in a high-stress role is not enough!)

  26. Enn Pee*

    “But can you make the meeting on Monday anyway? It’s the ONLY time that everyone else can make it.”

    This was NOT true. YOU were not available. If you had a good relationship with that person, I’d ask her whether she asked any of those other people to reschedule that meeting so that YOU could make it. Seriously. Ask her to find a time when everyone (including you) but one person is free and ask that one person to move their appointment.

    In some workplaces, vacation time looks like “free” time. It’s not; it’s no different than if you had time blocked for a doctor’s appointment.

    Someone who works with a guy who blocks off 12-1pm every day with a meeting called “Preserving my lunch” – a true hero!

    1. ArtK*

      Our whole team blocked the noon hour for lunch since we were constantly fighting fires or just being scheduled to the point where we couldn’t eat lunch. I have a “tentative” all day appointment on Friday so that I can get more of my heads-down work done. I’ll still take meetings, but that has kept my Friday much more open. I’ve worked at places where they actively discouraged scheduling meetings on a Friday.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Regarding the meetings – if people believe you should at minimum know what is happening in these meetings, can they record them for you to view when you’re back in the office? For meetings where some/all of the participants are virtual, there are options in both Zoom and WebEx to record the meeting. I’ve used this as a way to share information when some of the invitees had a schedule conflict (whether that’s another meeting, vacation, picking up kids from school, anything).

      Of course, whether you watch the recording when you get back is up to you…

    3. SarahKay*

      I do the lunch-time blocking too, although to anyone else it’s just visible as booked – they can’t see details of my meetings and appointments. I’m willing to give up that blocked time for something I deem important enough, but otherwise I just decline saying that I already have a meeting at that time. (No need to mention it’s me meeting my food!)

      1. Agent Diane*

        I stopped making my lunch and personal appointments private in outlook when I became a manager. If I’m telling people to make time for lunch, or doing school things like sports day, I need to be visibly doing that myself.

        It felt a bit odd at first because we’re conditioned into the idea that we need to be super committed to work, and that women need to hide family time to show that work commitment. But now I’m comfortable modelling the idea that making time for food and family is normal and acceptable.

    4. old curmudgeon*

      The problem in my organization is the worst culprits for meetings totally ignore everyone else’s calendars. You can set your calendar to reserve a lunch break or desk time or a vacation, but the Powers That Be (PTBs) will blithely schedule right over those appointments, and woe betide you if you dare to not appear as commanded.

      What has been an absolute godsend for me was a recent requirement in my state agency that we must download some kind of multi-factor authentication app on our personal cellphones in order to access our work email from any non-work computer.

      And why is that a godsend, you ask? Because I DON’T HAVE A CELLPHONE! There is literally no possible way for me to access work email when I am on vacation, and if I don’t have a cellphone, then nobody can reach me that way, either.

      I know most of the world can’t imagine life without a cellphone, but I find it surprisingly easy. And it definitely has advantages when I need to disconnect from all the PTBs at work who think their lack of planning should be my emergency.

  27. lunchtime caller*

    I just acted as a gatekeeper for my boss’s vacation and I agree it’s the most useful solution on a few fronts. First of all because it automatically discourages people when they know they have to come to me and explain the situation and then I decide if it’s an emergency (because of the extra work involved), so you’re getting requests cut already. And second of all because then my boss had the peace of mind to enforce their own desire to log off–it would be so tempting for them to read messages every once in a while, but since they knew “anything with lunchtime caller on it = emergency, anything without = not important” they were able to ignore work more thoroughly.

  28. Elsa*

    What would they do if you actually couldn’t be reached? Every office, especially public health, should have back-ups and not be dependent on one individual. They need to be able to figure it out in an emergency. If you feel like you can’t not respond, I would recommend ignoring these messages for a few hours or a day. If you respond at all, they think they can expect a response. Once they see that none is forthcoming, they will likely have moved on to someone else by the time you get back to them. It’s a gift to them if you demonstrate confidence in them and that you model good work/life balance.

  29. Kittykuddler*

    I’ve had this problem too. But Sunday I leave on a 1 week cruise, without WiFi. I have given everyone 3 points of contact for things that come up. One is someone management adjacent who can do/approve ect 90% of what I do, then someone who does my job but also oversees multiple locations, and finally my direct boss. And my husband is basically doing the same. We’ve never gone on a vacation without someone from one of our offices contact us. But we’ve decided it’s time to start setting some boundaries. Neither of us work in professions where there will be major repercussions if we don’t respond in a week. It’s a matter of changing the culture and setting that expectation that, we are unavailable and sticking to it.

  30. Where are my AirPods*

    Ah, no offense to the LW, but you said it yourself when Alison asked “just go no contact”: but it *could* be an emergency!!!

    You’re modeling poor behavior and staff is following you. You have to stop replying, stop answering, just say no!

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yeah, I agree that you train people to treat you this way.

      When I was a teacher, some of the best advice I got was to wait 24 hours to respond to parent inquiries (unless it was a safety issue, of course). A friend of mine would try to respond to parents within minutes or hours. What did it get her? Not gratitude for her responsiveness, that’s for sure. She got angry emails if she didn’t respond the same day, even in the evening.

      1. Nesprin*

        Ditto except it was my former boss, who did all her emailing between 1-4 AM. If you ever responded to email during that time frame, she’d take it as acceptable to start calling you in the wee hours.

    2. Governmint Condition*

      At management levels of government, this is sometimes required. Certain types of emergencies can only be addressed by the individual with authority, and they are sometimes not allowed to delegate that authority. We have certain specific types of emergencies that you have to respond to no matter what, but at least everybody is clear that managers on vacation are only to be contacted for those specific emergencies.

      Part of this is due to the practice that government usually uses to decide how many people to hire for a department based on the amount of work – and they assume 100% attendance every day. “You only need one manager for that because there’s not enough work for two. And we don’t pay for people who are only needed when somebody else is sick.”

      So, it may not be as easy as we think for the LW to control this.

      1. Alexis Rosay*

        It sounds like OP is fine being contacted in a true emergency. I think most people would agree that’s a reasonable ask of a high-level employee. But they aren’t being contacted about emergencies right now.

        1. Governmint Condition*

          Agreed. I was responding to the idea of going no-contact. But that would mean you can’t respond to the true emergencies. Where I work, we can’t do that.

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        The person with the authority to appoint a decision-maker generally has the authority to make those decisions herself in the absence of that officer, or to appoint someone to act in her stead.

        Alternatively, that person in the higher position has the authority to call her while she is on leave if it’s a question of having the uniquely situated person with knowledge and expertise to address the emergency.

        If it’s not urgent enough to loop in the person above LW, it’s not urgent enough to interrupt her time off.

    3. Rolly*

      At a management level in public health, and in other industries (particularly if well-paid), there can actually be emergencies. That level of person should have a means of being informed of actual emergencies that can interrupt a vacation. The trick is to figure out how to do that in a way that sets all non-emergencies aside.

      1. Where are my AirPods*

        I can appreciate that but how many instances of crying wolf will or should you allow before you realize these are non emergencies?

        There must be a way for the person reaching out to state the reason so OP can sus out if it’s true emergency or someone that needs their hand held.

    4. Jean*

      Yup. “Well what if there’s a spike or a rash of deaths?” What if there is? You’re not the president, OP. No one is going to come looking for you to hold a press conference about this while you’re on vacation. The people violating your vacation time are all people below you in the org chart, so you’re completely empowered to push back and tell them in clear, unequivocal terms to stop.

  31. Nick*

    Not to browbeat OP, but you are rage typing about a problem that you created. Delegate. Inform. Ignore. I am sorry you are upset, but as the director, you created this culture and now you have to deal with it. How many of your employees dealt with this crap during time off before this? Because it is almost certain that this is commonplace, and I would bet money you have done this to someone. And you are only seeing it now that you are the recipient. You need to have an all hands when you get back and re-establish a baseline with your entire department. That culture needs to stop. Get your folks back to a work life balance. You will think everything is a priority because you have been operating that way for a while now, but you too need to only work during working hours, not more late nights, no more weekends, etc.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      I agree with this. If the OP were an entry level employee then I would have more sympathy but this is something that is within her power to fix.

    2. generic_username*

      I agree. Also, this shouldn’t just apply to vacation – they also need to start setting precedent and expectations that people are only expected to work during their standard business hours as well

    3. Courageous cat*

      Yeah. This can be nipped in the bud pretty easily by being assertive and confident about boundaries. As a manager, there’s no reason to have hesitated to do that for this long.

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I agree that this is OP’s problem, and OP is enabling the problem. OP needs to set clear expectations before going on vacation, then *stop* responding to work emails and calls while on vacation. OP will not be able to stop people from emailing and phone, but can ignore it! I mean, doesn’t this happen to almost everyone that goes on vacation? You just keep getting requests while on vacation, but you do not respond.

  32. Budgie Buddy*

    OP Writes: “The problem is the people who keep contacting me don’t really understand what constitutes an emergency, and maybe I don’t either? I guess I could give them a list of instances when to contact me when I’m off, but that seems too paternalistic and controlling. There’s no way I could cover everything.”

    I want to push back on the idea that having a list of instances that constitute an emergency and those that don’t is “paternalistic and controlling.” Not necessarily! Especially as OP admits that they themselves aren’t always sure what constitutes an emergency. It’s not a stretch to think other people might be confused too and would appreciate some kind of guideline, even if it can’t cover every single circumstance.

    Definitely don’t write a guide with the tone of “Why don’t you know this already–it’s basic common sense??” and instead stay in a neutral tone of “Here is our policy on this matter with some examples” then it’s not patronizing.

    And it’s not controlling either to set a clear boundary if people are currently stomping all over your boundaries. If they were being more respectful, then yes telling them so explicitly would be overkill. But they aren’t.

    1. Hippeas*

      The military does this – Commanders Critical Information Requirements.

      They outline exactly those elements. This is what I need to know within 72 hours; this is what you need to tell me at first light, this is what you wake me up in the middle of the night for.

      1. Ellie*

        Yes, and they have a well defined chain of command, so if X isn’t available, then it gets escalated to Y, and so on up the chain before some petty officer has to decide if its really worth bothering the 2 star general with, or if it can wait until Monday.

        I get that it takes time to set these kinds of systems up though, and that time is hard to find for a busy person, but you have to do it, to preserve your sanity. And one day there might really be a true emergency which you genuinely can’t be available for.

  33. Alexis Rosay*

    Before I start a new job, I create a new Google Voice number. If people at work ask for my cell phone number, that’s what they get. When I go on vacation, I delete the Google Voice app from my phone. Any other work-related email or messaging apps also get deleted from my phone for the duration as well.

    If I expect there may be a true, legitimate need to contact me while I’m on vacation, I may give one or two people my real cell phone number. But those will be people I trust to understand what constitutes an emergency.

    It’s also not too late to start this in the middle of a job. At my last job, I told people I changed my cell phone number, switched most people (except for a handful I trusted) over to Google Voice, and blocked their numbers on my regular cell phone.

    1. TrixM*

      I really wish we had the Google Voice option in other countries.

      I’m especially peeved about it right now because I need to provide Instagram with a phone number to sign in – I rarely use it, but a friend has organised something there – and Zuckerberg will have my actual phone number over my dead body.

      Also for work contact info, as you say – not for HR, but the semi-routine stuff where a vendor wants your phone number etc. For the Instagram issue, I’m going to get a burner phone SIM and use that number instead, but it’s a pain in the butt.

  34. Turanga Leela*

    Do everything Alison said, and if someone goes around your deputy and calls you anyway, let your irritation show. You don’t need to be mean, but you can say, “I’m on vacation. Liz is handling this for me. I have to go.” and get off the phone. Don’t soften it. People are interrupting you on vacation, and if you make them feel uncomfortable, they might do it less.

    1. Nesprin*

      Agreed- Worth also making sure voicemail message + out of office message have all the relevant details: will be out until X date. If you need a signature, contact Y. If you need thing A, contact B. If none of these apply, please contact Liz to determine the fastest way to contact me. I will respond to all messages on date X, when I return.

  35. NewYork*

    My sister works for the federal government, and she is required to appoint a deputy when she is out. Yes, this helps a lot with internal requests.

  36. Sarah*

    My spouse says he always starts training his replacement from day 1. That way: A) Nobody can say “we can’t promote you because you’re too valuable where you are”, and B) he’s free to take time off and know that things will go smoothly in his absence. Everyone needs to be cross trained and have procedures in place for some aspects of someone else job – what if you get hit by a bus (or win the lottery if you like the bright side, although statistically less likely)?

  37. Heidi*

    The OP has listed a lot of things, and I can see how the stress of this past couple of years could cause all of these grievances to be conflated into a giant rage bundle, but I think it might be worth picking apart what’s really problematic and what is less so. A few weeks ago, there was an OP who was unhappy that anyone would email them at all while they were out, and I think the consensus ended up being that it’s fine to send someone an email with the expectation that the recipient will get to it when they’re back. The weird meeting times also should be managed separately from the vacation thing even though they also fall under the work-life boundaries umbrella. The OP should just turn the phone off while they’re at the doctor – the coworker doesn’t know they’re at the doctor; just let them leave a message. It seems like the primary issue is that the OP does kind of feel that something bad will happen if they don’t answer the call in real time or if they just say no to the meeting. It could be that other people will be mad at them or they’ll feel like they’re letting everyone down somehow. The OP may find it helpful to think about how they managed when other coworkers at an equal or senior level to them went on vacation. Things might have not been done quite as efficiently, but I bet it turned out fine in the end.

  38. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    so, if you can set up a gate keeper, and need to cut out other offenders – Do Not Disturb mode on your phone, with the gatekeeper’s number on the list that is allowed to go through, is a great intermediary between turning the phone off and being unreachable by family/the dogsitter/emergency services and leaving it on and accepting all calls.

  39. Essentially Cheesy*

    >They contacted me on my personal cell (which is fine as we often did this when Covid-19 started),<

    No. It's not fine. At all.

    OP, you definitely have a right to disconnect. You have delegated your responsibilities to other people while you are gone. You would be in your full right to ignore all calls and texts from work during your genuine vacation down time. It's difficult to uphold those boundaries but it will get better with time.

  40. Omnivalent*

    OP, I mean this kindly, but you’re like that meme of the guy on a bicycle sticking a spoke in his own wheels and then being baffled that he fell on the ground.

    You already KNOW what the solution is (turn off the phone, ignore the emails) but you can’t bring yourself to do it because you’re talking yourself into ‘but what if there’s a real emergency…..’, and then you’re displacing your conflicted feelings about that onto your co-workers. You can’t expect them to care more about your time off than you do!

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      This. The solution is quite simple – stop responding – but OP doesn’t want to do that. OP, for whatever reason, feels the need to respond. So instead of OP drawing the line and ignoring these requests, OP expects everyone else to change their behavior and stop making requests. Um, good luck with that. OP is just enabling all the behavior by responding.

  41. Don't Call Me Shirley*

    Separate cell phone or at least number for work. I have a separate cell for work, and it make the division so much clearer. You can make a specific voice mail message explaining who can cover for what, and only let your substitute who understands what is a real emergency make the phone ring, others go to voice mail. You can check messages or not but you control how accessible you are.

    An out of office message with explicit people who can handle specific subjects helps too. Alice can handle basic admin and set up meetings for when you’re back. Bob can answer questions about your main work. Charlotte the boss for decisions that Bob and Alice can’t handle, and she will make the decision to call you in when it really is needed. But that only works with people whose judgement you trust.

  42. Sunny*

    Lots of excellent ideas here already, and I’d that OP, you have a lot more control here than you realize. You’re a director! Have you talked to your reports yet about shifting back into non-emergency mode? At my workplace – health related, so knee-deep in pandemic stuff – we have very clear messaging about where we’re at in the cycle, that gets sent to the entire organization. Things like whether we should come on-site or hold in-person meetings. Whether people can start taking vacations again, and so on. You’ve correctly identified that it’s hard for people to adjust back to normal. Part of that is telling them clearly where you’re at, what things they need to do differently, etc. Lead by example, be very clear, even if it feels like you’re back in grade school, and then stick to it. Good luck!

    1. Sunny*

      Adding that I had to also retrain my coworkers to stop calling me during non-work hours. It takes time and patience, and sometimes a lot of repetition. One thing I did was, besides not answering calls/messages during the evenings or early mornings, was to say things like ‘sorry I missed your call, I was dropping my kids at school’ (I’d literally call back at 9:01, in those cases) or whatever other reasonable thing I was doing at the time. It’s a small reminder/reset for people that you’re doing normal, non-work, life things and are unavailable. Or even, a few times, I very cheerfully said things like ‘sorry, my phone was upstairs’ or something similar, when it was a weekend interruption I’d missed (/ignored). Not giving excuses, but just reminders that you’re living life.

  43. BlueBelle*

    I would be very honest with everyone. “The last time I was on vacation I got a lot of calls and texts that were not emergencies and could wait until I returned or be handled by someone else. I am asking that we all respect each other’s PTO and that we all need a break. Please think carefully about how and when something could be handled before contacting someone on their vacation.”
    You may also add “For the past 2 years we have been working in panic and stress mode, it is time we take a step back and see if that level of action is still necessary. It isn’t good for any of us to be working in that mode for this long. It takes a toll on all of us.”

    1. Jacey*

      I really like that wording. It lays out clear boundaries while acknowledging that there’s a BIG adjustment going on.

  44. MeghanByt*

    Consider an outgoing vacation voicemail that also mentions the person covering you: “Thank you for reaching out. I’m on vacation/ out of office/ on PTO until x date. For urgent matters, please reach out to [Cover Person Name] at [phone or email]. For all other inquiries, leave a message and I’ll return the call once I’m back at the office. Cheers!”
    Btw, that Cheers at the end is my favorite indicator that I’m on vacation.

  45. Director of Public Health*

    Hi! I’m also a director level public health professional in a public position in the US. I totally know what you are experiencing.

    Do. Not. Respond.

    The more you respond, even to say “I’m busy, can it wait”, the more you normalize the fact that you are available while on vacation. It perpetuates the cycle. Don’t respond at all. It will stop.

    We dealt with this on my team when I fist started and I quickly shut it down. Some things that worked for me:
    -Let people know who is in charge of what while you are out. Spoiler alert: it’s never you. You’re on vacation. Make sure these people are well aware of what they are in charge of and properly trained to do it.
    -Don’t contact your team while THEY are on vacation. I like to say we’re France. When you’re out, we don’t bother you. If we do try to get ahold of you, it’s only because something REALLY IMPORTANT happened. The last time I contacted an employee on vacation, it was one of my managers, to inform her that one of our C-level executives had just resigned. Model the behavior you want to see from your employees or junior colleagues.
    -If COVID case counts start going up, you will hear about it, even when you’re on vacation. I took my first vacation last summer and it happened to be the week that the Delta variant exploded. If something like that happens, YOU can proactively check in. Or not. COVID will still be there when you get back.

    I think it’s also important to remember that while the work we do is very important, we aren’t doing it alone. Neither of us is solving the pandemic alone. You’re part of a team that is working as part of a larger community. Your team needs you to lead them, but they should also be strong enough to function without you for one week. It’s only one week!

    Also, I highly recommend you take more than one week off and totally unplug and do not respond. I feel like when it gets to the point where you feel like you need to do work while on vacation, that’s when you need the vacation the most!

    1. Director of Public Health*

      Oh and about the meeting that you “have to” be at. This comes up for me, too, and these are my 3 suggestions:
      -They have the meeting without you
      -If you “have to” be there, they have to move the meeting to the week you get back. Don’t be flexible about this.
      -Have someone attend the meeting in your place (do you have a deputy director? Mine attends meetings for me when I’m out. If not, whoever makes sense to go).

      1. Jacey*

        These are wonderful suggestions, and I’d like to really highlight number 2: if you MUST be at the meeting, they MUST hold it when you are available. On vacation is not available.

  46. ENFP in Texas*

    “I replied via text it was going to have to wait, and the response I got back was that I should call back as soon as I could!”

    “I’m on vacation this week – I’ll call you when I’m back at work on Monday. If you need something before then, please contact Sally, who is taking care of things while I’m out.”

  47. Esmeralda*

    My dad was a principal at a very large public high school. On weekends and vacation, he took calls from the head custodian (always, because that person only called in a true emergency), the police, child protective services, or his secretary (because she only called if it was a true emergency).

    Anyone else calling, including the superintendent or school board president? He ignored it. And then had a pointed conversation with the caller when he got back. Unless it was the superintendent or board president — no pointed conversation there, just a statement that he’d been on vacation/it was the weekend.

    It was nice. When we were on vacation, we got to have a fun time with our dad. We had his attention.

    1. Properlike*

      This is what I was going to suggest. Your superiors are sure to get in touch with you if something *really* bad happens, like the things you mention. It seems like the things you mention are something of an excuse for not enforcing your own boundaries. “But what if I do this for myself and things go badly and it’s my fault?” On that note: What if any of those things DO happen? Surely other people, including your superiors, are able to take care of those situations? They’ve had lots of practice. There are systems in place.

      I’m not trying to browbeat you at all, but I think you, a frontline worker who has been SO important and “indispensible” to your community these last two years is having trouble shedding that responsiblity. It is okay to do this. Even mid-outbreak, it is okay to do this. You’re no good to anyone otherwise. Please take care of yourself, OP!!!!!

  48. SomebodyElse*

    It took my coworkers a shockingly long time to realize I picked vacation destinations by their lack of cell service. It was the best thing I could have done. I will take calls if needed for most of my time off, but I get one week a year where I have no contact. The beauty of this is, I very rarely actually get called on days I’m willing to take calls because I’ve trained everyone how to function without me. The other thing is that I’m not shy about protecting the days I want to protect. “Nope, sorry I can’t make the monday meeting, but I’ll send Wakeen” “Text me if something comes up, but I won’t have access to my phone at all times, so expect delays” “I won’t be checking emails” “I will be completely unavailable on X days”

    I have backups, designees, escalation POCs, and relatively autonomous team. I don’t need to be in the middle of everything. *this may not work as well in heavily bureaucratic work environments

    Good luck OP, start changing the culture!

  49. Leenie*

    It’s true that LW is up against an existing culture, but she also has tremendous power to shape that culture, which isn’t often the case with people in similar situations. LW should not assume that this is only happening to her because of her position, while others are having their time off respected. I would bet that many people in her agency are having their boundaries trampled. So I hope she controls this not just for her own well being, which is important, but also to improve the culture for everyone in her agency.

    1. Nanani*

      This is a very good point.
      LW is in a helping field, so maybe frame it not as “selfishly” (air quotes!) wanting a break but at helping everyone develop healthy work life balances.

    2. Jacey*

      Big thumbs up to this! I’ve worked in environments where high up people took real breaks, and places where they don’t. It makes an astonishing difference in how people further down the hierarchy treat themselves and their work.

  50. Nanani*

    You probably need to be literally unreachable, so they can’t even try and you won’t know that they did.

    That might mean a vacation that really has no cell service, a device-free holiday of some sort, meticulous use of productivity software to block your work email, temporary blacklisting all work numbers, something.

    They will find a way to deal. The world will not stop turning. You deserve a break that’s a real break.

    1. Becky*

      If you want a vacation where you really disconnect and don’t have service go on a cruise! No cell service. And only very slow very expensive charge-by-the-minute internet access. And yet still a luxurious vacation with all the amenities.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I am in favor of backwoods trips – canoing or hiking in the spring/summer/autumn, dog sledding in winter. I don’t use GPS (laminated topo maps are far more useful and don’t need batteries to read) and never take a phone with me. The most connected I am on my vacations is an avalanche or marine personnel overboard beacon attached to me.

        1. Becky*

          That’s the type of thing most people think about for a way to disconnect, but I don’t like camping so I don’t do more than day hikes (I have some medical problems that make camping challenging, not completely impossible, but not really worth the hassle). So just suggesting an option people often don’t think of to disconnect but that includes all the luxuries.

          Though, I did do a trip to Grand Teton/Yellowstone a few years ago–and discovered that there are just large parts of Idaho and Wyoming that I don’t have cell service in! I stayed in a hotel in Teton Village (it was spring so no skiing at the resort meant it was cheaper to stay there than somewhere closer) and I only had spotty cell connection in Teton Village/Jackson Hole area and then mostly no connection in Grand Teton or Yellowstone.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            No, no…there’s loads of ways to disconnect!!

            I like being remote in woods or a desert or similar OR going on an international trip and leave a trusted individual with the contact information of my hotel. Cruises (or any boat, frankly) work for that, too. I don’t know if it is still possible to travel this way, but, passenger berths on commercial vessels are/were even more restrictive than a cruise ship since all radio transmission was really reserved for the business of the ship.

            Heck, further down here, commenter “Aaaaargh” described a coworker who went to North Korea. That’s not a place I would immediately think of for a vacation; but, I agree that they would have been unreachable!

            Seriously, tho’, we should all be able to stay home, lounging about in the garden or living room or neighborhood and be Off Duty. Without calls, e-mails, texts, coworkers knocking on our doors or even carrier pigeons landing at a bird feeder.

  51. generic_username*

    LW is a better person than me – I just simply wouldn’t answer. I would ignore phone calls and maybe forward voicemails (but more likely, I’d make sure it wasn’t a real emergency and then fully ignore it). I’d respond to texts at least 2 hours later with “just seeing this since I’m on vacation! Please contact Jill!” Literally refuse to handle anything that isn’t an emergency. If someone calls and it isn’t an emergency (and you picked up) say “This can wait until I’m back on Monday or Jill can help you” and refuse to answer it, even a simple yes or no question that I could answer in a second. Eventually, you’ll train them out of this.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Having boundaries doesn’t make you a worse person! Clearly the situation isn’t working for OP, and I think everyone agrees “don’t answer” is the smarter, more strategic, more effective move!

  52. Massive Dynamic*

    I tend to favor the “friendly but unhelpful” response, where you answer or call right back but oh shucks, you’re in a busy restaurant, on a busy street, have (alleged) bad reception, need to make the person repeat what they need from you three or four times, need to keep telling the person to hold for a sec (but don’t mute the call) while you have quick side conversations with kids or traveling companions about immediate trip logistics like someone wants to go back into that one store, someone needs to go potty, etc. etc. The key is to always be friendly but make it theatrically unrewarding to call you on vacation.

    BUT this might not work for you given the volume of contact in general and the large group of folks doing the contacting.

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      ETA I like generic_username’s approach above – it’s a firmer way to drive home the same point, since what you’re dealing with is way beyond a normal collective lapse in judgment re: what’s urgent when someone’s out.

    2. Rolly*

      ” The key is to always be friendly but make it theatrically unrewarding to call you on vacation.”

      This is f’cked up-behavior in a public health agency that the OP cares about.

      Just ignore people or tell them you’re on vacation and hang up. The problems are in part due to the OP’s behavior, and there is not point in being nasty about it.

      1. Rolly*

        The OP is not dealing with some spammer or even single person or handful of problematic people. It is systemic cultural issue within their organization that deserves a professional response, not BS games like that.

  53. Not really a Waitress*

    I work at a 24/7 site. A team I work closely with is having trouble with a night time supervisor who calls the entire chain of command to discuss non urgent/important things. ( at like 2 am) One of the things I suggested was creating a decision tree to help determine what can be an email, what can be a text and what can be a call. Even though vacations are not being interrupted the idea is your team s hould be able to function without you for almost everything BUT the most direst emergencies. This might also be a useful tool for when you are actually in office. Do they go to you for stuff, they don’t need to?

  54. straws*

    The gatekeeper option will help immensely. Even if that person doesn’t have their own authority, they can be trained to identify who does in your absence and forward to them. Additionally, they can make sure true emergencies DO get in front of you while you’re away, so you won’t feel obligated to check in on your own just in case – and then end up sucked into less important items.

    In my case, my gatekeeper is my boss and not a direct report – she oversees even more than I do and has the context to quickly filter things off to the correct person. On my past 2 maternity leaves, and what I plan to do while out for my upcoming baby, we did the following and it worked well:

    1) My boss was my gatekeeper. Everyone was told multiple times beforehand and it was in my auto-response that only she was allowed to contact me, if she decided it was necessary (she never did).
    2) I temporarily filtered all my emails to a “read later” folder, with the exception of emails with a single, unique code word in the subject. Only those emails would go to my Inbox and ping my phone, and the purpose was to make sure important information was available to me in a timely manner when it wasn’t an emergency – so I could see it and make my own decision. This occurred once in 2 maternity leaves – it’s probably overkill for a week off, but maybe not in public health?
    3) I didn’t have this for my other leaves, but I currently have a very trusted direct report and I intend to allow him to contact me in addition to my boss/gatekeeper, since he’s still learning things and he’s very very good about trying to figure things out before coming to me already. This will be our secret though, and it gives me a back channel to check in on things if I feel like I need to.

  55. Doctors Whom*

    Alison’s advice was spot on.

    One thing I would add in to this arsenal, while trying to re-set these expectations, is to have the deputized person send email to a list on the first day the boss is out, and reiterate “Hey, Boss is on vacation and we all need our downtime. As she said in her email on Friday, any urgent matters must be directed to me in her absence. She won’t be taking calls/emails/texts. We have worked out a delegation plan and I can reach her in an emergency. Thanks!”

    And then aggressively do not reply to ANYTHING except outreach from the deputy.

    For some things I have to delegate *up* when I am out, and whichever team lead I deputize knows what needs to go up to the division if needed and involve my boss.

    I do all the things Alison said and it has gotten good results. We have in the past had managers with a long history of just not taking their PTO and rolling over a bunch, and I had some old expectations to re-set when I accepted this promotion.

    If I am gone more than a few days I do a little triage – I scroll through email on my phone and delete anything unnecessary and make a list of things that need to get the earliest attention when I get back. I don’t reply to anything. I only address things that Fergus reaches out about.

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I like this approach a lot.

      It gives the panicked masses a direct path to answers, and then Fergus can do as much triage as required, and ONLY IF IT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT EMERGENCY EVER can give you the short summary. The problem with letting everyone have all of their ordinary access is that they’ll want you to be in the meeting where all of the ideas are being hashed out, rather than looking at the notes where the two proposals are described and need a simple yes/no.

  56. Oakwood*

    This is an old problem and it’s easily solved.

    Designate someone to handle anything related to your duties while you are gone.

    If you get a call or text, reply: Bob Smith is handling that while I’m on vacation; contact Bob.

  57. TweedleDee*

    Is there an admin who could assist while you’re out? This is something that falls within their responsibilities. If there isn’t, I would make a case for hiring someone that can assist two to three people in your tier on the org chart.

    In my previous admin experience, I’ve been the one to say no my director is unavailable and I’ve been the one to help people understand what an emergency actually means.

    It may be worth looking into.

  58. Observer*

    Alison’s advice is excellent, and the comments I’ve read so far are good, too.

    The main thing you need to do is to start not giving people the response they want, and do so without guilt.

    When someone calls, you can not pick up the phone. When someone texts and says “call as soon as you can”, feel free to consider “as soon as you can” the day you get back to the office.

    When someone says “That’s the only day everyone can meet” you could point out that this is obviously not the case, as YOU are not available that day.

    Be cool about it, but do NOT be apologetic. Totally matter of fact. With a touch of puzzlement when people push. Like “I’m NOT IN THE OFFICE. Why would you even expect me to be in the meeting?” kind of puzzlement. That should, over time, help reset expectations.

    1. 653-CXK*

      I like these responses.

      Panic-calling during a vacation with a passive aggressive attitude (that one with the “this is the only time we could meet” should be countered with “That’s not my problem”) shows lack of consideration and incredible selfishness. They want their needs met and satisfied right this second, and won’t let you go until it’s done.

      The most important part – saying No is the most important part to finally get it through their skulls that you’re not going to drop what you’re doing just to get them ahead. It may require being much more forceful and blunt, but soon enough they’ll realize you’ve put in boundaries that they might think twice of crossing.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Excellent point that Monday isn’t the day that everyone can meet because *you can’t*.

  59. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Hit a similar point last year when I realised I hadn’t taken any time off for over a year and was starting to burn out but honestly didn’t know what the team would do without me since I was covering some of their work as well as my own (people with kids at home on less hours etc).

    Got some great advice on this site! Firstly I worked out who could be my deputy, then let them know the only situations where they could call me/text me while I was on leave – basically it had to involve a major system outage or potential loss of life if things weren’t back up quickly. That was it.

    I set my out of office to say when I was out, that I would NOT be reading emails or taking calls during this time and to contact X if they needed a response sooner.

    And then I did still have my personal phone on, but I always ask my staff to text me over phone calls (I am not a fan of the phone) so if I saw a ‘major system down – help!’ from X I’d call her (I trust her with my personal number) but the work phone was turned OFF.

    There was one incident where she had to call me (more to do with someone giving her abuse than a system) which was handled (do not shout at my staff) but aside from that I had a lovely 2 weeks sewing, playing dragon age and such.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      And yeah, I did reassure her that while ‘someone called me a worthless (slur)’ wasn’t a major system outage or loss of life she absolutely did the right thing in contacting me if needed. I don’t mind standing up for my staff.

      (The person who did badmouth her is now banned from calling IT. If he gets a computer issue his manager has to call on his behalf)

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        (The person who did badmouth her is now banned from calling IT. If he gets a computer issue his manager has to call on his behalf)

        That’s great. Almost poetic in its justice; if the individual doesn’t value the IT staff as individuals, the individual isn’t entitled to their efforts.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Yup. That’s my standard for anyone who acts in an offensive manner to us in IT. My most favourite blocked one is a guy who asked to speak to a man – on the day that only me and the women techs were in. Total dingbat.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Not for one slur, no. I did tell HR that person is banned from calling us and why though.

  60. Quinalla*

    #1 should take care of most of this. That person who is supposed to handle things while you are out? They should decide if something is a REAL emergency that no one else can handle. Anything else should wait or be escalated to your boss(es). Very few people are not able to disconnect in this way. It is ridiculous that people think you should attend meetings on your vacation time (!) and if your designated contact person can’t approve invoices, have someone they can contact to get those signatures or yeah see if you can get them temporary authority while you are out.

    And stop answer your phone/email unless from your boss(es) or designated contact person. If you need to check email once a day for emergencies, I get it though again I’d try and just let your contact person handle it, but DO NOT respond.

  61. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Lots of good advice from Alison and in the comments.

    Chiming in with my personal metaphor for management: I try to make sure I and my projects are part of a system like military field officers and infantry. If (as a leader), I’m out of commission, there’s a deputy/lower rank with initiative who can coordinate with my boss/higher rank and step in.

    No, never been in the military. But, in combat, decisions have to be made, mission has to continue and sometimes people are cut off from leadership. The last couple of years have kind of been like that.

    Then, your “out of commission” = on vacation.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      During the march to Baghdad, MG Mattis ordered all officers to schedule time to sleep, and to get their rest. Their Marines deserved to have them capable of making sound decisions.

      One colonel, commanding a RCT, tried to get by with less sleep. The fatigue impaired his ability to lead by making sound decisions. He was relieved of command and re-assigned to another billet. After he got some rest, he was able to contribute to the Division’s success. But he lost the leadership position he started the war in because he didn’t heed his commander’s order to conserve his own decision-making capacity.

  62. Purple Cat*

    IMO, you need to delegate UP and not down while you’re out.
    And if your team is “too scared” or “doesn’t want to bother” a higher level admin then that answers that if the problem was actually so urgent that it required your immediate input. They are using you as a crutch at the expense of your mental health.

  63. E*

    I’m in public health too and I totally feel this. I’m in a much more junior role but one of my bosses is out on parental leave and he has also been unable to unplug (partly due to the nature of the work and that it’s a longer leave where we can’t operate without certain approvals from his level or above, and partly because he makes himself available).

    I think the commenters here are being too hard on you for not enforcing boundaries. It’s been hard shifting out of emergency mode, and things that in the past would have been a true emergency are now things that actually can wait, which I think makes it hard to train staff. The pandemic has caused a lot of turnover and role creep and lots of people truly are the only person who knows X, because they happened to be there and everyone else has moved on or there hasn’t been time to train. We also tend to care a lot about our jobs and want to help solve problems when we can.

    That said, it’s still okay to let things go. All of my business unit’s leadership was out at the same time a few weeks ago, and we were fine. Even though my one boss is available during his leave, I’ve always felt the culture supported being OOO and doing our best to protect that time for others. My director has outright told me to move meetings due to her vacation (meetings with other directors that were difficult to schedule for a project on a short deadline!) and I do it without complaint. You have more space to push back on these things and I think if you treat your staff’s personal time with the same respect it will get better.

    1. Director of Public Health*

      I get meetings moved all the time because someone is out, and I never think anything of it. I also feel like, at least at my agency, directors and higher are supportive of their peers taking time off because everyone has been in emergency mode for so long. I do agree that it’s been hard to shift out of emergency mode, but as a senior leader, it’s all the more important to demonstrate what that looks like. You don’t have to be perfect, but showing junior staff what the new normal looks like is part of the deal with being a director right now.

  64. Ama*

    When I am out of the office for an extended amount of time (I am in a senior role that is the only person who does quite a lot of things here), I leave for both my boss and my reports an extensive written status report for any projects I think we might get an email about while I’m gone, usually divided into categories like:
    Things Jane (my admin) can handle
    Things Liza (my boss) should review before we respond
    Things that can wait until I’m back

    I also make it very clear that I will not be answering my work phone (which is currently forwarded to my cell, I just temporarily block the number while I’m gone) or looking at work email but if it is a real honest to goodness emergency they can text me and I will look at my email to see the full details. I am lucky in that I currently have a boss who understands that I need to get away and who probably wouldn’t allow my reports to text me unless it really was a true emergency.

    I realize OP doesn’t seem to have this luxury, so I would suggest what I did at a previous job, where I had a boss and a couple coworkers who would text me about completely unimportant things (inevitably I would get off a plane to find two texts “where is X file?” and 15 minutes later “never mind found it”), so I told a trusted colleague who knew what a real emergency was that unless she also texted me to say “this is actually an emergency we need your help with” I was just going to ignore any texts from work.

  65. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    I was going to say the same thing as Alison about delegating authority. I also work in public service and it’s standard practice to delegate authority when someone is away. Including signing paperwork that Jane is acting for Joan on [dates], with full signing authority.

    If there are things that you don’t feel comfortable fully delegating to the person stepping in for you, it sounds like that would just have to go through your boss while you’re away. Hopefully your colleagues will re-evaluate whether these things are truly an emergency if they have to contact a senior executive. And/or she will be better at shutting unreasonable things down, possibly through an EA.

  66. JB*

    This was an issue for me for a while and two things that Alison mentioned worked VERY well:
    1. Totally blocking the numbers of the worst offenders. At some points, I just blocked everyone on staff.
    2. Taking time off/being unavailable regularly. It helps to force folks to get used to you being away, or working with you asynchronously. You’re basically training people to work with you the ways that you need.

  67. cwhf*

    LW, I had to double check with myself that I did not write this letter. I remember a “vacation” (pre pandemic of course) I worked 6 hours a day for the entire week and weekend (which granted compared to the normal 12-14 was really like a vacation…but still). I was also trying to avoid coming back to literally 1000 emails(!).

    I am still a work in progress on this but what really woke me up to work on it with myself was my team and seeing them model my not truly taking a time out for vacation. That is not acceptable and if I want to do better, I have to model better and follow through. Also, assuming you have a competent (though intense) team, honestly if they can’t reach you, they will figure it out. Be sure you are building their confidence, giving them independence and delegating so that when you are gone they feel capable of doing what they need to.

    I now do not open my work email on vacation and have an out of office with all the resources/contacts they would need in my absence. (I admit I occasionally slip and just want to do one thing, but my lovely husband takes my phone from me). I don’t answer calls I don’t know and want to take (and have an appropriate voice mail set up). For true absolute emergency I have my primary co-lead who can reach me—he’s never needed to in the last 3 years.

    Amazingly, nothing has fallen apart or gone badly at all; I even had a urgent scenario brewing with a scheduled vacation in summer 2019, and I laid out what needed to be done, had faith in my team, had one short call to check in and they handled it beautifully (and gave my then junior co-lead a ton of confidence). That was relieving and now I could model and help my team truly unplug too. You can’t go until you break, taking an effective true vacation will renew you and make you happier and better at your job and a better leader for your job.

  68. Sunny*

    The flip side of all this boundary setting is also thinking about how you treat your team when you get back – as in, how are you responding to the decisions they made? Do they feel like they’ll get in trouble if they do something wrong? Or do you thank them for stepping up, discuss issues, and generally foster a culture of growing and learning? That will also go a long way in training your team to respect your downtime (and each other’s).

  69. NetNrrd*

    My standard format for an out of office message is this:
    “Hi there – I will be out of the office until [date] and will not be checking email or voice mail before that. Please contact [person] if you need assistance before I return.”
    I use this even if I am likely to be checking email while I’m out, both to keep people away and to help normalize a culture of “no, don’t expect people to answer when they’re out.” I’m a senior individual contributor, so I usually refer people to my team lead. My team lead has my personal contact info and I’ll usually provide them info on how reachable I am likely to be and how interruptible I am. (Taking time off to go on an actual trip? Not very reachable, please don’t try unless you really need to. Taking time off to deal with errands or projects around the house? Easily reachable and I can swap a day in the office for a different day off if circumstances require it.)

  70. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Trade jobs with me?

    My coworkers would seriously watch the building burn down and open a ticket to have me rebuild it rather than drop me a text asking me if I know where the Fire Extinguisher is.

  71. Policy Wonk*

    Like you, I am in government. There are a very small number of things where one cannot delegate authority while on vacation, which is the crux of your issue. Everything else can be handled by your employees or delegates. I agree with the many commenters about not using your personal phone for work. You need to change that -use the personal phone for personal stuff only. Regarding the work phone, most people here, when going on leave, will advise their key person (deputy, chief of staff, whoever) that they will check their work phone once per day at a designated time just in case there really is something that only they can do. So you advise that person that you will check work e-mails at e.g., 2:00 PM each day. Then follow through. Only check at 2:00. If the e-mail is about something that someone else can handle either ignore it completely or forward it to [cover person]. If there is that odd item that only you can approve, approve it. Do not respond to anything else work related. (Including do not respond that you are not available for a meeting! Just ignore.) And stick to it. Your staff will learn.

  72. Student*

    One thing I didn’t see in AAM’s response that I’d add:

    Have an open-ended talk with your reports to find out why they treat everything like an emergency. Maybe there’s something from their perspective that you aren’t considering that is driving this behavior. Since the behavior is so widespread, I think there’s probably some root cause you aren’t considering.

    Sometimes this has to do with ground conditions you aren’t aware of; maybe they’re interfacing with external people who have tight timelines, or maybe there are bigger consequences to delays than you’re aware of because they fall on somebody else. Maybe they’re just incentivized to act like this via how they’re evaluated in job metrics, or how they’re compensated in work hours, overtime, bonuses, etc. Do they report to multiple bosses? If they’re matrixed, it may be that someone else at your level is driving this.

    Last, consider making this your boss’s problem. Tell your boss that you need to be able to get back to some sort of new normal for undisturbed vacations, talk about what you’ve tried, and tell your boss to find a solution to fill in for you on absences, because delegating to your direct reports isn’t cutting it. Maybe your boss needs to delegate someone at your level with your full powers to fill in for you over a week, if there’s this high of a need for emergency responses.

  73. Software Engineer*

    I also wonder like… do you need to give people more independence and authority even when you ARE there? Is it clear to people what kind of decisions they can make without your input and just informing you later? Are the boundaries clear on what is ‘totally normal solution to this problem let’s do it’ and ‘this is something that has to be run past leadership’?

    As a manager your team SHOULD be able to survive without you for a week and you should be trying to arrange things so that’s possible. You don’t want to become the blocker who has to be in every meeting! If you’re underlings understand the important context, the priorities,etc they should be able to handle a lot of things without you I would think

    1. Alice*

      I read all the way down to find this perspective. If your team is relying on you to do all this when you are on vacation, and presumably there are more things that they expect you to do when you are not on vacation — how do you have time to do anything strategic as a leader, even when you are not on vacation?

    2. Anonymous Koala*


      I was also wondering if OP’s staff need to feel more independent even when she’s around. OP, if your stuff don’t feel confident hosting a meeting without you even after you told them to have it without you, I think it’s a sign that your staff may generally lack confidence in their own authority and decision making skills. Is that something you could develop in them?

  74. anonymous73*

    If you provide everyone with a backup plan, there’s no reason anyone should be contacting you. And do yourself a favor & stop the “they mean well” justification. They don’t. By contacting you when you’re on vacation, they are being rude and disrespectful. But if you continue to respond, they will continue to bug you. Period. You need to set a plan in place, follow it and don’t back down. This includes ignoring all communication unless it comes from one of your bosses (which hopefully means it IS a true emergency).

  75. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

    The problem is the people who keep contacting me don’t really understand what constitutes an emergency, and maybe I don’t either? I guess I could give them a list of instances when to contact me when I’m off, but that seems too paternalistic and controlling. There’s no way I could cover everything.

    To me this is the root of it. If you’re hazy yourself on what’s okay to interrupt you for, it’s gonna be hard to train anyone else.

    Even though you can’t list every possible thing, you can have categories & examples. And for the categories which don’t warrant an interruption, thinking this through is also a chance to plan where people get signposted instead.

    So yeah, this clarity & the associated planning is where I would start.

  76. Gawaine42*

    Yes to everything Allison said. For me, it was my problem as much as the team’s problem – I enabled them by responding. One thing that helped me break both other people and myself of the habit was taking vacations where the pain of responding was shared.

    * Hiking – I can get texts, but if it needs a phone call, it’ll probably be after we set-up camp at after 8pm local. Sure, it’s when you’re not working, but you’re calling me when I’m not working.
    * Cruises – Call me all you want. You’ll only reach me in the room. The cruise line charges $12/minute, and the company won’t reimburse it, but if you can’t figure it out and are willing to pay for it, go ahead and leave me a message.
    * Europe – I’ll set up a daily call with you at 5am Eastern, we can queue up all your issues then.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Sure, it’s when you’re not working, but you’re calling me when I’m not working.

      *chef’s kiss*

  77. Single White Deer*

    OP, I sympathize with this so hard! In addition to the many excellent suggestions, since #1 will take some time to set up, perhaps make a cut-and-paste response that says, “I am out of the office and will be able to address this on X date.” Also make it your voicemail. and just never vary that and keep copying and pasting it into every text/email you get. I have a feeling that if there is a HUGE emergency like the ones you mentioned, you would get multiple notifications and/or find out some other way.

    Another higher-maintenance but higher-reward option- unfortunately only if you have an iPhone (not familiar with recent Androids). The new “focus” feature (AKA Do Not disturb) allows you to have your DND interrupted only by certain contacts. So let’s say you only want to hear from your family members, etc and it amounts to maybe 5-6 people. You can keep your phone on DND and add those contacts as able-to-interrupt. Everyone else gets sent to voicemail. It might take a few tries, but could be worth it.

  78. ErgoBun*

    I’m in a similar sort of situation where my organization consolidates decision-making authority in just a few people at the top of the organization — and if those people are out for any length of time, approvals and decisions grind to an absolute halt. No one feels like they’re allowed to make any progress without the express sign-off of the few who have been definitively given authority.

    I’m really curious to hear if anyone has been in a workplace that overcame a similar situation, and if so, how?

    1. Bobina*

      That sounds like a bad workplace.
      Most companies I’ve worked at handle this by delegating authority if someone is away. Some places had more formal ways of doing it (including for example, updating software so that automated approvals didnt get stuck) others were less formal (an email with a list of people to get in touch with). But places where all the decision making power is stuck in a few people? Usually a good sign that other things dont work well…

  79. learnedthehardway*

    Perhaps take your vacations where there is no cell phone service?
    Back in the day, my dad chose our cottage vacation property specifically in an area with no phone service and over 2 hours away from town, so that his boss couldn’t contact him on his vacations (because he would have). Only once did anyone come out to the cottage to get him, and it was actually an emergency – they had to cross the lake in a rented motorboat to find us.

  80. SpecialSpecialist*

    My department was super responsive during the first year and a half of Covid, available way past 5pm and on the weekends. When things finally settled down (and we were edging sooooo close to burnout), we started giving ourselves more time to respond and finish stuff, sticking close to 8am-5pm work days and 40-hour work weeks. We also published service level agreements for our standard tasks (“please allow 3 business days for teapot paint jobs”, “please allow 10 business days for teapot design”) so that people know up front how long it might take us to do something. We still get most things done within 24-48 hours, but at least now they don’t hassle us after only 12 hours.

    Not a single person has complained that they can’t get hold of us on the weekends or after 5pm or that we’re taking an extra day or two to do whatever. What we’re doing is still being done in a reasonable amount of time by other people’s standards; we’ve just allowed ourselves to relaxed our own internal standards a bit.

    It’s ok to give yourself permission to not answer or not do something right away. And, I concur with deputizing somebody to handle things for you. That’s great succession planning for a manager.

  81. Cheap Ass Rolls>King's Hawaiian Rolls*

    A few years ago I worked for a place with a similar culture. One year, I went on a cruise and was quite literally and physically unreachable. It was awesome. And the people I worked with learned to work out whatever issued they had without me. It also really helped to reset expectations of my colleagues for what to do when I was out. Not to say you HAVE to go on a cruise to do this… but wow, it sure helped being completely out of pocket.

  82. BBB*

    I seem to have a different take on this than most of the comments….
    while there’s definitely a cultural issue at your work, this problem is like 99% on LW to fix. your upper management is already in full support of your taking time off and being unavailable. You’ve drawn the boundary line with your out of office reply. all the pieces are in place, you just aren’t following through. so while it’s annoying and inappropriate for coworkers to bug you while you’re on vacation, you are the one violating your own boundaries by responding! by responding your signaling that you are reachable and willing to engage during this time. if you don’t even respect your own boundaries, how will you ever keep someone else from crossing it?
    I think you should have a good long talk with your upper management about the culture and unreasonable expectations in your org and work to correct that going forward. if the pressure is that extreme for you, imagine how it is for those working under you? as a director, you should have the ability to curb some of that behavior and set a better precedent for others to model.
    and having a gatekeeper for yourself or more robust cross training is a great idea. that will keep everyone away while allowing you the peace of mind to know that if a true emergency arises, you can still be in the loop.

  83. blink14*

    My direct manager went down to 4 days a week late last year, and as part of that process we have a triage process. She puts my contact info and another coworkers contact info in her away messages, and between that person and I we know how to handle most incoming messages. If something major happens, we consult with others in our office, and bring it to our manager’s manager if needed.

    The first few months, my manager would come in to a deluge of emails on Monday. Over time, that’s gotten better, because people have been “trained” that she is, in fact, out of the office on Friday and not responsive on that day.

    In my own life, I’ve long made it a habit of not taking work calls or emails outside of work hours unless there is a serious emergency, or very occasionally if there is a program deadline that happens overnight. Otherwise, on vacation, I am not checking email and my office knows not to contact me. Now, we have a structure in which there are people my level and above to take incoming messages, but it’s also about managing response expectations in advance. I leave as much information as possible for people to refer to in my absence. I also make it very clear in my away message that I am unavailable and who to contact.

    Ultimately, you have to set the boundaries with your team. Be specific about what constitutes a true emergency, and what can wait until you return. If you have to check in, select a time of day and an amount of time to do that. This will over time train people to your communication habits while out of the office.

  84. Rosie*

    I totally understand the sentiment of some suggestions that a good way to avoid this is to go somewhere remote where you can’t be reached. However, a vacation should be spent doing something that you enjoy. Some (myself included) love getting off the grid for a few days but others prefer to travel to different countries or big cities where having internet access and their phone significantly helps navigation, keeping track of flights/hotels, etc. Also, some like to stay home in their time off or may have health issues where going somewhere remote is too risky. I guess what I’m saying is I think it’s better to keep the focus on taking measures to stop the constant contacts than to feel the need to hide just to get away.

    1. Elenna*

      There’s always the option of just pretending you couldn’t be reached. “Oh, I got a cheap international SIM card, it doesn’t have enough time on it to be constantly calling”. “The sights were so amazing, I wasn’t going to spend my time looking at my phone!”. “Yeah, I usually ignore my phone when I’m on vacation.” These can be said regardless of whether or not they’re true.

      That being said, I definitely agree that LW shouldn’t need to be uncontactable (real or fake). But sometimes it’s easier to enforce “I can’t be contacted” rather than “don’t contact me”.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree. Every time I see “you should go camping!” as a solution to this problem, I think I’d rather stay in the office. (Nothing against camping, but there’s a big difference between “conveniently, I enjoy a thing that also solves this problem” and “this is the solution to your problem!”)

    3. Koala dreams*

      Yes, flight mode works everywhere, no need to go to a remote area or on a cruise. The off button works great too.

      Although I guess those suggestions come from an idea that you need the symbolic action of traveling to keep from falling for the temptation to answer the email/phone, similar to how people cut their credit card in pieces when deciding to pay off debt.

    4. penny dreadful analyzer*

      There’s also the part where LW doesn’t necessarily say they want to be unreachable by phone. They just don’t want their employees calling their phone. It’s their personal phone; actually going off the grid means LW wouldn’t be able to use their phone in the course of, say, scheduling a nice mimosa brunch with some friends they haven’t seen in a while, either.

  85. GeekCyclist*

    In my experience, this is the primary argument for insisting on an employer provided phone and keeping your work email account off of your personal phone.

    It can be a hassle to manage two cell phones but the trade-offs are truly worth it. My co-workers and subordinates only have my work cell number and email. My boss has my personal cell as well, but understands that it is only for emergencies, and even then I may not be available unless we have a prior agreement for availability during a particular time period.

    When I go on vacation, my work cell is turned off and left in the desk. If I feel like it, I will check my work email account on my computer or tablet. We are much too connected to work in our modern age. If employers want 24/7 access, or responses during previously negotiated down time, they need to pay for that additional availability

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In my experience, this is the primary argument for insisting on an employer provided phone and keeping your work email account off of your personal phone.

      I just upgraded my phone in January and kept the old Android phone somewhat dedicated to work (Google Voice # for VOIP, Google Messages for texts, 2FA app only on that phone, data-only SIM card, etc). If your employer won’t provide the work-dedicated phone, it can be DIY’d. (It’s a 5 year old phone; the trade in on it was <$20).

  86. JTA*

    Before going on vacation, I used to tell the people on my team, “If the place catches on fire, don’t call me, call the fire department. Then call the insurance adjustor. Then call contractors so you can have the place fixed before my return.” Now, none of those things directly pertained to the kind of work we did, but they got the point and were empowered and equipped to handle emergencies.

  87. imtiredyo*

    Forgive me if others have covered this, but one thing I found really helpful being in a similar position (VP of HR and Business Operations for a large regional brand) while out on maternity leave. Leading up to my absence, I prepared an extremely thorough document of exactly who would be responsible for what while I was out. I made absolutely NO reference to me being available, even in emergencies. (i.e., if there is an emergency and you cannot solve it using this document, contact our attorney @ # or our head investor and advisor @ #.) – note, I did check with these people first and briefed them on 1) DONT CONTACT ME and 2) They will try to find every excuse to contact me, so please help them.

    I also thoroughly briefed my subordinates in how to handle MY job. This was scary, to be honest, because I think a lot of us feel that if we train people on how to handle our work when we’re out, someone will suddenly realize that they don’t actually *need* us and we’ll find ourselves without a job. As it turns out, my experience was exactly opposite. The VP who handled my tasks while I was out, and the rest of the people of my team, had a renewed appreciation for how many balls I was juggling and were eternally grateful that I equipped them in my absence and returned when I said I would.

    Good luck OP. It’s rough but you can (and SHOULD!) take time for yourself!!! It’s essential. And it shows other people that they can (and SHOULD!!!!) do the same.

  88. GreenDoor*

    It’s good that you had out of office alerts and made general comments about being off….but maybe next time be more empathic. My director makes very pointed announcements that are either:
    “I will be taking next week off but I will be available by phone…but I will check emails after 3:00…but I will respond to text messages”
    “I will be taking next week off. We all need time to unwind and not have to think about work so I will not be returning calls, emails or taking my work phone with me. If there is an emergency, contact Gatekeeper.”

    It’s super clear to us when we need to scramble to get approvals, direction, etc. from her before she goes…or if we know we might not hear back ASAP but we still have her semi-available.

  89. Res Admin*

    I have a very hands on boss… or, should I say, she has her hands in pretty much everything for our very large department (she is the chair) as well as her specific research. She also loves, loves, loves her work (lots of reasons, but one of which is she gets to help sick children). Her husband finally got smart and started just booking vacation time and telling her that they were going. And he nearly always picks a place with no wifi. To be clear, they have a very sweet and loving relationship and work closely together in their research work. She always complains that it is a bad time because she is SO busy…but she has a wonderful time and comes back relaxed and ready to dive back in. She just delegates signatory authority to the appropriate people and makes herself let go for a little bit. And you know what? Nothing traumatic has ever happened. ;p

  90. Anon attorney*

    I found it interesting that your response to the question of a lack of clarity about what is an emergency (which is a really good question in this context) was to worry that giving them a list of things that were and were not emergencies would be prescriptive. To me that suggested that there is a lack of capacity in your team to exercise judgement in your absence. What I think you need to be aiming for is not a checklist which staff can use to decide whether or not to call you about X, but a situation where your team has enough of a handle on what isn’t isn’t a genuine emergency to be able to make decisions about where to redirect questions if you’re not available. Sounds like you yourself don’t have a great handle on that either, and that’s understandable given what you do and the world over the last 2 years. Rather than just being a question about your vacation I wonder if this is a question about what your agency’s priorities need to be at this point, and whether everybody working in your team has a shared understanding of what they are?

    It’s easy to say that you should set boundaries. It’s harder to do that if you’re worried that your organisation will burst into flames when you’re not there. Vacations can bring up issues about being needed and indispensable etc as well. I’m an attorney and I’ve seen a lot of other attorneys work through their vacations because they hoarded information so that genuinely nobody else could help the client in their absence, they were too busy to to brief anybody before vacation, and/or they were too anxious about not being considered indispensable for a week to switch off. Not suggesting you do any of these things, just that it’s not always as simple as saying “switch off your cellphone.” But ultimately if you don’t have trust in your staff to make decisions in your absence and/or clear arrangements for them getting help in your absence then people will ignore your absence and by responding to that you’re enabling them. This isn’t a good long-term situation for any of you.

  91. nnn*

    Building on the question of your replacement not having the necessary authority, think about what would happen with your authority if you were, like, in a coma. Would things truly be stuck until you woke up out of your coma, or would there be an alternative pathway?

    If things would truly be stuck, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed. If there would be an alternative pathway, look at how to enact that alternative pathway while you’re on vacation.

  92. Possumcoffee*

    This is such a problem in healthcare right now. I even did a double take and wondered if this was my boss.

    I want OP to get the time they need for themselves whatever it takes! It’s hard to watch my boss in this situation! I have no valuable insight beyond this is a far reaching problem that I really think healthcare needs to start addressing!

  93. Koala dreams*

    The normal thing is to put an out of office in your email and on your voice-mail, set your phone (or just your work number if you have both numbers on the same phone) directly to voicemail and perhaps check your inbox on set times during your vacation if you absolutely need to. If you insist on bringing your work phone to the doctor and answer emails/calls while there, that’s on you. It’s not only disrespectful towards the doctor but also sends the message to your employees that you expect work to come first no matter what, and that you don’t value a work-life balance.

    It sounds like perhaps your company hasn’t valued a work-life balance the last few years, actually, so it might take quite some time to change that. However, as the manager, that message needs to come from you, not only in your words, but also your actions. People won’t trust your words if you keep doing the opposite.

  94. Boof*

    LW – consider not answering your phone while on vacation UNLESS you know the number AND you know it’s a social call – never answer any calls you know are from work (except for the person you’ve deputized to reach you in case of an actual “LW and only LW can handle this and it needs to be handled asap” emergency)! I understand you are nervous it is a Real Emergency but if it is then whoever it is better leave a voicemail about it and then you can call them back if you deem it necessary. Do not answer things that are trivial even if it seems easier unless you want to always be doing that while you are on vacation.

  95. doreen*

    OP, I’m not sure how much of this is your agency’s culture and organization and how much is the staff and/or you, since you say your superiors don’t contact you and you wouldn’t face repercussions from them if you didn’t respond. I’m going to explain how I was able to avoid this problem when I worked for a government agency. First, only my two direct reports had my personal cell phone number because I trusted them to only call if there was something I would want to know even on vacation* – and also because I trusted them not to try calling me if there was a true emergency that needed immediate action. Everyone else had only the government one – including my superiors. I was required to answer that phone and monitor email on it unless I was actually on vacation. You’ve already given people your number- I would get a Google voice number and tell them all I’ve changed it. All of my vacations were to places with no cell service as far as they knew – which was easy after I got a reputation for taking cruises (which I started to do in part so I couldn’t monitor the agency phone). Second, my agency’s policy was similar to ICS in that there was always someone in a role – there were parts of my job that my subordinates were not legally authorized to cover , so there was always someone who did have that authority covering, either one of my peers or my own manager. This went all the way to the top of the agency, so that if the deputy commissioner for my area was on vacation, another deputy commissioner would cover. What would you actually do if there was an outbreak in a nursing home while you were on vacation – and is there really no one else who could do it? Why does the invoice have to be approved or the materials edited while you are on vacation – why couldn’t they have been submitted before you left or wait until after you return? My guess is that they could have – but the people asking for this have learned that you will respond when you are on vacation and therefore don’t make an effort to submit far enough in advance for you to take care of it before you leave.

    * There are a few things I would want to know even if I was on vacation – for example, if any of the staff was seriously injured at work, I’d want to know so I could call them ( not calling wouldn’t have gone over well)

  96. Mehitabel*

    Alison said: Consider whether you can/should delegate more authority while you’re gone. You said the person who fills in for you doesn’t have the director-level authority and approval that you do. Is there a way to have that authority temporarily transfer to her in your absence?

    The LW’s manager *does* have the authority, and very likely they may have a peer with the same level of authority who could also step in. I like the idea of having a gatekeeper and a list of what to do with specific kinds of requests, but let’s not forget that anything someone needs the LW to do that requires a level of authority, LW’s manager (or possibly their peer) can, and should, handle.

    When one of my team goes out on PTO I have them send an email to the entire staff that says, in effect: “I will be gone from DATE to DATE and will not be checking emails or voice mails while I”m gone. In my absence, please contact the following people for the following things (and add a list). If something urgent arises, or if you are not sure who to go to with your request, contact EMPLOYEE’S MANAGER. I will reply to emails and voice mails when I return to the office.” Then the same message goes on the internal out-of-office reply.

    A step further, if needed: the only person allowed to contact a vacationing employee is that employee’s manager, in the event that something does come up that needs immediate attention and that the manager does not know how to handle.

  97. LK*

    This may have already been suggested, but can you change your voicemail greeting to contain the same information as your email away message (adding that you won’t be listening to voicemail until you are back), then let every call go to voicemail, unless it’s from your designated replacement. If someone has a real emergency, it’s only one extra step to have them go to her and her to decide if it’s worth contacting you.

  98. A Kate*

    This is so annoying, OP!

    I think Allison is right, though, it’s all about boundaries. The stuff she mentioned is good, and I’d also recommend seeing if you can set your calendar to automatically decline any invitations that fall during your time out of office. And turn off your phone’s access to your work email while you’re away. In a true emergency, your boss can call you; otherwise even seeing the emails come in is likely to stress you out (I know it does for me).

  99. Aaaaargh*

    I work for a law firm. One year a lawyer vacationed in NORTH KOREA on the theory that no one could expect him to answer emails if he was there. (He was perfectly correct.) It didn’t sound like a fun time, but it certainly sounded like an experience.

    In short: maybe vacation in a place that plausibly *doesn’t* have wifi/cell service that ISN’T North Korea?

  100. Anxious one*

    Really – the world won’t end and the company won’t close if you just – don’t answer the phone. Really. Stop telling yourself it will and just don’t answer the phone when you’re on vacation. Really

  101. raida7*

    If you’re a manager – what can you do to bring this clear issue of “emergency mode” being in place still, where staff clearly need a reset?
    A simple agreement on what are expected work hours.
    A clear message that when you are on holidays you aren’t contacted.
    Support to work through the “everything is urgent/important” mindset towards “These things can wait and these things are urgent but not director-level important.”

    Do you have an EAP, and if so do they have, essentially, therapy available for what would end up as burnout? How much does that cost? This is a good way of showing the value in getting the culture back to a reasonable level of urgency, that won’t drive staff away or skew their perceptions in other work environments on what is acceptable.

    I’d suggest you get a work phone number that redirects to your personal phone, and set the out of office message when you are unavailable telling callers who to contact.
    Also, it sounds like there’s too many meetings – can the meetings start to be five/ten minutes shorter? Do they have agendas and outcomes? Do staff get trained on how to run a meeting well? When you are in a meeting do you feel that you’re helping it to finish faster, get outcomes, clarify the people that don’t need to be in attendance on the subject in future unless something changes, etc?
    Honestly, I’ll do a 9pm meeting (twice, ever) but it’s gotta be urgent and important and if it doesn’t get moving at a fast pace I’ll interrupt to nail down the important thing we need to deal with. Hell, I had a 3:30 meeting yesterday and I hammered some clarify on outcomes and emailed the attendees because there was to much talking!

  102. Teapot Wrangler*

    I thought this was interesting:
    I don’t think this is purely about “setting boundaries” in the traditional sense since someone asking work questions isn’t them doing something wrong
    because I completely disagree and I wonder if this is why you’re struggling. If you contact someone on holiday and you didn’t know, that’s not doing anything wrong but if you *on purpose* contact somebody while they’re on annual leave, you are doing something wrong.
    My advice
    – check in with people the week before you’re off e.g. “As you know, I’m on annual leave for two weeks after Friday so is there anything we need to cover off before I go?”
    – block their numbers / do not answer the phone. If it is a real emergency, they can leave a voicemail or talk to your boss
    – make sure you’re not sitting on anything that will become urgent whilst you’re away
    – Ensure that every part of your work that could have an emergency has someone contactable. For me, that’s the person directly below me in the hierarchy for most things, my manager for the rest and everything else that I do can always wait until my return.
    – stick to your guns. Warn people that you think you’re setting a bad example by being contactable on annual leave and so you won’t be doing it any more, if they contact you, don’t answer, if you accidently pick up the phone or similar tell them to drop you an email which you’ll pick up once you’re back and/or talk to your proxy then say that you have to go and hang up immediately

  103. Elizabeth Bennett*

    My family operates a seasonal agricultural business. Sometimes people get pushy about really needing to see the owners, very urgently, for… sales calls. My grandmother would push back and say that we’re too busy to field sales calls right now. With one particularly pushy salesperson, she asked, “What would you do if I told you that my husband was on a two month long cruise and wouldn’t be back until October 1st?” The reply was, “I’d wait until October to call him back. She replied, “Then you can wait until October for us to finish our business.”

  104. Turtles All The Way Down*

    I find in companies where people aren’t really allowed to have real time off, it’s a systemic issue, not a “you” issue. Encourage your reports to really disconnect and not check their email on their vacations either. See if you can encourage others are your level to do the same. Don’t contact others who are on vacation if at all possible.

    Since you haven’t taken time off since 2019, it sounds like in general this is a job/department/agency where people like to work, are used to working, feel lost without working, or are just so used to the “new normal” that they have trouble adjusting. Try to encourage people to use their vacation, too, though I understand it’s not 100% up to you, and can’t be, to change the culture.

  105. Public Health Colleague*

    Boy oh boy, I really hope you get to read this as I’m commenting late. (I usually save up my reading of the blog for a few select days and am not a daily reader.) I feel like this letter could have been written by me. I’m also in governmental public health (LHD) and am also a director (data and epidemiology) in a role that has been made more prominent both internally and externally due to COVID. Overall, I think Alison’s advice is solid. However, what it unintentionally neglects is the framing that you are in a public health agency coming out of a pandemic. Your specific issue is a symptom of an overall root problem. I don’t have a lot of advice for you, but more an empathetic ear. Right now, every single public health agency I know is off-kilter and off-kilter in a variety of ways. Ours 100% is. While I don’t have your specific issue (I’m more likely to get a call from an outside partner on a vacation day and then I simply decline the call), we are off-kilter in many other ways. I think that it is going to be the Herculean lift of public health leadership over the next 2-5 years to gently, yet firmly work to get their agencies back into a normal operating mode. And some of it will be easy, technical things! (Example: priority disease investigations, reducing the number of data offerings, etc) But far, far more of the work is going to be adaptive, difficult work. For example, something like re-orienting our staff to a strategic mission that focuses on the social determinants of health or racism as a public health crisis, when most of the community knows us for a mass vaccination campaign. And also keeping in mind that while everyone has been through a traumatic event, public health has been through an amplified traumatic event. (Check out the new deBeaumont Foundation report on PTSD in public health workers.) My advice right now (and 100% feel free to ignore) is to (one) focus on the things that excite you about public health. What made you get in this career in the first place? What work can you do that firmly places you in that realm? Two, spend time thinking from a strategic level on what it’ll take to get your agency back to normal. It sounds like you are a highly respected leader within your agency and that likely only grew during the pandemic, so you’ll likely have a lot of influence. Three, be firm but offer a lot of grace. Our staffs have been through so much these past two years. I know personally I experienced death threats, threats against my children, public shaming, lawsuits, and the list goes on. And I can say with relative confidence that you and your staff have been through something similar. There’s whole bucketloads of grace that need to be shared with yourself and your staff on a regular basis. So firm with grace–it has to be both right now. I hope you see this so that you know YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I’ve included my email, not sure how that works, but if you can figure it out, you are more than welcome to email me, even just for a gut check or an open ear. And if you don’t want to email than know there is someone in governmental public health in the midwest rooting for you!!!

Comments are closed.