employee insists on working on vacation, rejecting resumes that include pronouns, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My employee insists on working on vacation

I have been the director of a small library staff for a little over a year. I have a good rapport with my team, and I am grateful for them.

One of the people I supervise checks their email every day while they are on vacation. They say they spend about an hour or so going through and responding to email each day. I am trying to create a culture where folks are not getting burned out, and I encourage my team members to fully and truly take a break while they are away. I tried to set a good example by not checking my emails while I was away for a recent vacation. However, this teammate insists that they need to check their emails because otherwise they will be too anxious that something is being missed and too overwhelmed when they return. I’ve had a brief conversation about how they can set up their out-of-office emails to direct urgent inquiries to other people, but they still insist they need to check their email daily. On other issues they have been open to change and feedback, but they are more insistent on this.

They have a vacation week coming up, and I am considering pushing back a bit. I am thinking of proposing a trial compromise where they would check their email twice while they are away and then reflect on it together at our regular check-in meeting when they get back. I think it would be good for them to see that things do not fall apart if they don’t check their email for a few days and, even if something major does happen, to be able to identify gaps where cross training is necessary. While not overstepping into the position of a therapist, I also would like to learn more about why they feel so nervous about things falling apart when they are away.

Does this seem reasonable? How insistent should I be on this? I don’t want to cause further stress by trying to help them destress, but I also feel like they would benefit from a true break.

An hour a day is a really significant amount of work when someone is supposed to be disconnected! If they found one quick daily check (like five minutes) helped them be more relaxed while they were away — fine, I don’t think it’s optimal but it’s also not something a manager should micromanage. But an hour a day is a problem.

The question to start with, though, is whether it’s a problem on their end or a problem with the workload. Can you find out more about that side of it — are they right to think they’ll be overloaded when they return if they don’t do this? If so, that’s the piece to work on, whether that means finding more coverage while they’re gone, lessening what you throw their way before and after a vacation, or something else. But if that’s not the case and this is more like free-floating anxiety, then it’s reasonable to say, “Vacation days are part of your compensation and I can’t in good conscience let you work an hour a day when you’re supposed to be fully disconnected. Moreover, vacations are an opportunity for us to spot holes in our systems — and if you’re always stepping in to handle things while you’re out, you’re denying us the ability to do that.” (In fact, if this person works with money at all, you should insist on them fully disconnecting. Financial positions often require people to fully disconnect on vacation for one or two weeks a year because that’s a good way for companies to detect fraud.)

Beyond that, whether you should try the experiment you’re thinking of depends on the specifics of what you learn about what’s driving this, as well as your relationship with them (and also things like how senior their role is). But the more you can frame it as “this is about what’s healthy and sustainable in the long-term for us a team” rather than “I know better than you do what’s good for your mental health,” the stronger ground you’ll be on.

2. Can a hiring employer reject resumes for using pronouns or mentioning DEI?

I recently saw a Twitter thread from someone saying they automatically reject resumes with he/him or she/her, as well as any references to DEI. Obviously, it’s not surprising that bigots would do that. But are any of these practices actual discriminatory in a legal sense? Is the person who says they throw out resumes that mention pronouns or DEI opening themselves up to a lawsuit in a real way?

In some ways, it’s a blessing, because I wouldn’t want to work for any company that reflexively trashes resumes that mention DEI. But I’m wondering if there’s any kind of remedy for these hiring practices.

Yes, it opens them to huge legal liability. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity just like it does race, sex, religion, disability, and other protected classes. I suppose this person could argue that they are discriminating not on the basis of gender identity itself, but based on a reference to gender identity existing — but either way, if you could show it has a disparate impact on a protected class (likes trans and non-binary candidates — and you almost certainly could), it’s illegal. Also, if they’re really “throwing away” resumes, that itself is illegal since federal law requires employers to keep resumes on file for at least one year.

Plus they’re violating the law of “don’t be an asshole,” so there’s that too.

3. My coworker suggested we assign work based on senior and junior status … but we all have the same job

I work in a team with less than 10 people where everyone has the same title. While there are some variations to our assignments, to others in the organization, we do the same work. We have one team leader and one boss, who is very much absent in our day-to-day.

I am in my early 30s, the youngest, and started two years ago. One other person is a year older than me and has also worked here for less than five years. The others are a mix between 40-60 years and several of them have worked here for 10-20 years. I recently found out that one of my coworkers with ~15 years of experience suggested to our boss that we assign areas of responsibility based on who is “senior” and “junior.” While I recognize that I have the least amount of experience, since I began working here I have been described as a rising star. I get amazing feedback on my work and get along great with both my coworkers and leadership. I have grown so much in my role, much because I am pushed (and supported) by my team leader to take on more advanced assignments. I love my job and wouldn’t like to be assigned “junior” work after everything I’ve accomplished so far.

What really are the criterias for junior and senior roles? If it’s experience, then I would be the only “candidate” for her suggestion. Wouldn’t that be a demotion? If it’s age, would it be ageist? The other 30-something is a specialist in a specific part of our work, and she would 100% leave if she got labeled junior. How do you even determine whether someone is senior (insert job title)? For clarification, there are no senior or junior roles at all in the organization today.

Typically a “senior X” type job is based on both experience and skill — both, since someone could have a lot of experience but still not a lot of skill. Sometimes it’s based just on skills, so someone really talented but inexperienced could come in at a senior level based on the strength of their work … but more often it’s a mix of both.

If your boss wanted to pursue this, it might make more sense to have “llama groomers” and “senior llama groomers” — no need for anyone to suddenly be labeled “junior” when they weren’t before. But I also wouldn’t assume your boss will go for the idea, unless the coworker who proposed it has a good argument for it and/or lot of influence. Still, though, if it’s something that would affect your assignments, there’s no reason you can’t offer your input too, particularly if it’s along the lines of “having my assignments restricted like that would make me much less satisfied with my work.”

4. Manager made a superior-sounding comment about an employee’s father

Can a supervisor who is teaching a class make a statement about a student’s father in front of other students, making her look superior over another employee in the company? Example: “I am four levels higher than your father in the company’s chain of command.”

She can, but it would be obnoxious and call her judgment into question (assuming I’m understanding correctly that she said it as a way to try to establish some sort of superiority or dominance, as opposed to a less snooty context). And it wouldn’t be surprising if someone above her heard about it and developed concerns about her professional maturity and general sense.

5. Can I hide a new job to get more severance?

I’ve been furloughed from my company for a defined period. Ideally, I will be brought back before the period ends, but if not, there is a severance agreement. If they don’t need to bring me back at the end of the period, I get the full package. They understand anyone impacted will be looking, so if I get a new job and resign before the furlough ends, I get half the severance package for my tenure.

If I get a new job, do I have to resign? I hadn’t intended to be looking for a new job, and the furlough kind of just seems like a delayed layoff, with the hope they won’t have to pay out the full package. Plus it may line up that I end up underemployed/otherwise in a situation I’d have left for my old job, but still technically would have a new position. Is it legal and/or ethical to not resign and get my full severance package, even if I’m otherwise employed at the end of the window?

Whether it’s legal will depend on the exact wording of the severance agreement (although it’s most likely not — you’re presumably going to have to sign attesting to the circumstances), but no, it’s not ethical since you’d be accepting money under false pretenses. Of course, some people might decide they don’t care about that (especially people who have been left with no paycheck while waiting for the company to decide whether to bring them back) but I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with an argument for it being ethical.

{ 622 comments… read them below }

  1. nivia*

    Letter 4– you get these a lot! Very brief letters that summarize to “Can someone be rude/mean/unpleasant to work with?” I suppose occasionally they include an element of actual discrimination, but mostly not– mostly, they might be reportable, in a bigger company, but rarely illegal

    1. Smithy*

      Yeah, I think a lot of the time the “can someone do this” questions have a bit of a hope that there’s a black and white response which creates somehow an easier resolution to the conflict. I.e. It’s against US employment law to do this, and thus the behavior stops.

      Unfortunately, for those who are even in situations where labor law is quantifiably being broken, just informing your employer doesn’t mean the situation will stop and a remedy will resolve it either. Getting a lawyer to resolve those issues can be a whole other level of work that is or is not worth it.

      All to say, I think this desire comes from a place of hoping there are magic sentences to make problems go away. I remember being on an overnight bus where something problematic or illegal was happening – maybe smoking weed in the bathroom? The driver pulls the bus over and says to stop this behavior immediately, and then the person in question yells back “what are you doing to do about it.” A minute or two pass, and the driver continues driving and the behavior doesn’t stop. So with anything illegal or unprofessional or just rude there always needs to be a will to stop it.

      1. Selena81*

        i think there’s also an element of commiserating: the writer knows the answer will be ‘yeah, that is legal, but the person is a jerk’, but it still feels good to call it out and get confirmation that they are right to feel miffed.

  2. Greg G*

    Letter 4: I’m not as sensitive to the superiority thing as most people, but I’m stuck on the sounding part of superior sounding. Did they say oh I know your dad. He works for my correct report’s direct report? Was the person in your class continually saying “well my dad said” until the speaker lashed out? The second one is not okay at all, but I don’t feel like you would have said sounding in that case.

    1. Polly Hedron*

      Was the person in your class continually saying “well my dad said” until the speaker lashed out?

      That’s my guess. Any other circumstance would be weirder.

          1. MassMatt*

            This is neither kind nor taking the letter writer at their word.

            If comnentatirs snark on the people writing in for advice we will soon run out of letter writers.

            1. doreen*

              I don’t see how it’s not taking the letter writer at their word – the letter writer didn’t say anything about the circumstances and there is nothing about what prompted it ( maybe the student was being obnoxious) or whether the comment was about the LW’s father or another student’s father.

            2. L-squared*

              Context matters. The LW didn’t say they weren’t the student in question, just asked about it. And how it came up is important to how bad the action looks.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                In fact, I initially read it as the OP was an uncomfortable bystander in the training.

                But if the context was “my father says you should always use the blue TPS cover sheet” then you’d get a similar response to “my father,” “my friend who used to work in Llamas,” and “someone I rode the elevator with this morning.” If a trainee tosses out “And who are you to tell me what to do?” citing some random person who is not their boss, then they risk getting an answer to that that makes the other person’s position in the hierarchy clear. (Whereas if the employee’s team lead had instructed them to always use blue TPS cover sheets, then “well I’m four layers up from your team lead” would be pretty normal, as would a brief sidebar to “Is there some special regulation that would lead Spouts to think this?”

                1. iliketoknit*

                  This comment is so helpful because I was racking my brains trying to think what on earth would have prompted the statement in the letter. What you describe makes sense – how would it even come up otherwise?? – and also makes the statement actually a reasonable response. Not that there’s a poll, but I definitely vote that the above is what happened, and the reason there’s so little context is that it’s the offspring who’s writing in and they’re leaving out information that would make the teacher look more reasonable.

                  That said, it’s possible the teacher got defensive about a statement that wasn’t intended as a challenge. It’s possible that the offspring said something like “oh hey, you work for X company, my dad works there, do you know him?” and the teacher got huffy and gave the response described in the letter (or the teacher said something more neutral about not knowing the father b/c the teacher is 4 levels up in the company, and the offspring took it badly).

                  I tend to find your scenario more plausible, but it also might depend on the context. If this teacher is an actual teacher at an educational institution (an adjunct maybe?), it seems weirder to talk about a student’s parent’s job in relation to their own, in part b/c it seems less likely (though not at all impossible) that a student would be saying “well my father says…” about a specific job/specific tasks. If we’re talking about a training internal to a company, it seems much more likely for an offspring to bring up “my dad says…” about procedures etc., but it seems less likely that you’d describe the participants as teacher/student rather than trainer/employee.

                  Ah well, poorly-contextualized letters often lead to interesting discussions!

                2. Selena81*

                  Since we have no evidence to the contrary i read it at face-value, which to me means the letter-writer is an awkward bystander (and not the child) and the snooty comment was unprovoked (maybe the teacher asked whether anyone knows anyone at his company).

                  It would be a different situation if this is the child writing in and/or the child had been obnoxious about their father.

            3. KateM*

              I can’t disagree that it wasn’t particularly kind of me. But as to LW’s word – the fact that LW didn’t include any context at all even though it pretty clearly would matter I consider as good as LW’s word that they can’t afford to write about context without making their side sound bad, and it is also pretty clear what their side is.

      1. Ink*

        Ditto. I struggle to picture the intentionally superior version- it’s a bit cartoonish! Real “I will confront you by Wednesday of this week” energy

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I wish I’d never encountered classism. “Do you want to be a janitor like your dad?” is just one.

      2. Harper the Other One*

        +1 – this reads to me as likely a response to something like “my dad says the most important thing is X” when that’s not really in line with strategic priorities for upper management.

      3. Lexi Vipond*

        A comment on the extent of bureaucracy is the only other thing I can think of – I’m four levels above so-and-so’s dad, but he’s four levels above you new people, and there are another three levels above me, so you’re going to have to get used to navigating it. But it’s not even clear whether this is a training class within the institution, or somewhere else.

    2. Cmdrshprd*

      I really think Letter 4 needed and had a lot more context. It is the lack of context that makes me think a person wanted to get a ruling on the specific comment in. a vacuum, and makes think it was more along the lines of second one, and I actually disagree that it is not okay for the teacher to bring it up.

      If manager/teacher is saying “this is how XYZ should be done” and student says “well my dad middle manager at abc Inc. says it should be done 123 way.” I don’t think it is out of line for manager teacher to say “well Iam a senior VP.” or “Iam 4 levels higher than your father, so you should listen to me.”

      this is all assuming it is occuring in a 3rd party setting class.

      if this is actually for a class/training all occuring by abc Inc employees for abc Inc employees, I think it makes it even more okay.

      “I a person 4 levels higher for the company we all work for say things need to be done this way, so this is how they should be done.”

      taking the father part out of it, just replace it with manager. If a person says my manager told me to do things way 1, and senior VP 4 levels higher is saying to do things a different way and you push back it is totally reasonable for them to remind you that they are 4 levels above your manager in the food chain.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, I actually had to read it two or three times to figure out what exactly was being asked.

        I also think context about the teaching would help. It’s a lot different if this person is training interns and is explaining hierarchy (still a bit obnoxious if they did “we follow a strict hierarchy here, for example, the managers report to me, the deputy managers report to them and x’s father is below them” but I can imagine situations in which it might be reasonable) than if the supervisor was teaching a class in her spare time, perhaps related to the area she works in and brought up how one of the students’ fathers worked below her.

      2. abca*

        Sure, if in the context of work a senior VP says “we’re going to label the oranges as mangos because we have found that that sells better” then as an employee you have to go along with that or risk losing your job. But in the context of a class, if someone says “my father has a PhD in fruitology and actually, mangos and oranges are very different kinds of fruits” it would be obnoxious of the teacher to point out that they are actually several levels above said father in some company. The VP can mistakenly argue that the father is wrong, but just the fact that they have some higher up position is completely irrelevant.

        This example is really not that far fetched in my field. PhDs enter at mid level in large corporations and there are four levels between them and senior VPs, and VPs generally do not have expertise on all the topics (nor would that be expected of them). Just the fact that you’re lower level does not at all mean that your answer must automatically be wrong.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is actually an example of how citing your dad is usually not the way to establish unquestionable credibility, and most especially if your dad works in this company four levels down from the person you are correcting.

          Leave your dad out and make your point about how oranges and mangoes are different.

          1. abca*

            Of course. I would never suggest someone bringing up their family in these kinds of situations at all. But people are speculating (for some reason) that IF this is how it went the response by the very senior person would be acceptable/good. And I disagree with that. And sometimes when you make an argument based on facts people ask “what makes you think you know anything about oranges”.

            I’m surprised how people think “four levels down” means someone automatically has less credibility. Even if the father is an assistant janitor it still doesn’t mean that of course the CEO of the company would know better about any particular topic. I can’t think of a specific example *in a teaching situation* where “well, that person is 4 levels below me, so….” would not be obnoxious. Even if the discussion was fully about company related things, like the father is a janitor and the person in the class said “my father worked during the fire in that basement, during that time they didn’t know yet that mixing X and Y was dangerous and that was what caused the fire to spread” and the VP disagrees that the company ever did anything wrong, you expect the VP to answer that investigation has shown that … and not mention their high rank as if of course a lowly janitor must be wrong.

            1. doreen*

              “I’m surprised how people think “four levels down” means someone automatically has less credibility.” I’m not – sure , the janitor probably knows more about the chemicals than someone four levels up. But factual issues like that are not the only place where this sort of thing comes up – where I used to work this sort of issue would come up either regarding policy or discretionary decisions. For example, someone at Level 1 would say ” My father says we should do X, not Y” in a context where it matters that the person is four levels above Dad. Not because they know more necessarily, but because they had the authority to override Dad’s decision.

            2. Allonge*

              I don’t know if it’s about credibility or just decision-making power.

              In a bunch of cases the person on the ground (could be a manager themselves!) and their manager four levels up will both have relevant, important and correct information about the current situation – and in many cases these two sets of information will have some overlap but will not form a circle on a diagram. They are both credible! They just don’t have the same powers to make a call.

              But the fact that we just don’t know what is going on is the issue with this question.

        2. Cmdrshprd*

          if it is a class on the scientific properties of fruit sure, but if it were say a marketing class on fruits than the levels can make a difference.

          But if it is an in company class/training and the instructor says here at ABC Inc we believe the sky is green and student/trainee says my dad says the sky is blue, it is understandable for person to cite their rank for their position.

    3. Adam*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of missing context that matters. Were they at a function for that company or something else? Who brought up the father first?

      It would be super weird and obnoxious if it was just said out of nowhere as a display of dominance, but it seems totally okay if it was in response to the person appealing to their father as an authority figure in the first place.

      1. Allonge*


        As it’s quoted here, it’s a fact and to me at least does not sound that bad but that definitely depends if it was the trainer who brought it up as in ‘oooh, I know your father, he is a minion waaay below me’ or it’s a reaction to the student in a different context.

        I suppose the answer is also: why does it matter what a bunch of strangers think about this? What was the real-life consequence? Is anyone thinking about this still other than OP?

    4. LondonLady*

      My thoughts entirely! How would the supervisor know, unless the student had raised it?

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I guess it could be something like a group of interns, one of whom was hired partly because his dad worked for the company and said, “hey, my son/daughter is interested in llama grooming. Are there are internships available?” And the supervisor is responsible for giving introductory classes to the interns.

        Even if the class is outside the company and unrelated to it, it could come up in a neutral context, like “oh, you work for such a company? My dad works there too.” Admittedly, that would still be the student raising it, but not in a problematic way.

      2. Antilles*

        That was my thought too. In every company I’ve ever worked at, “four levels higher” is enough separation that the trainer probably isn’t interacting with the dad regularly and likely not on any real social level. At many companies, “four levels higher” wouldn’t even be in the same city.

      3. Allonge*

        Eh, some names are rare enough (especially in context) that the question ‘are you related’ is going to be asked.

  3. HumaneResources*

    The email on vacation is a very subjective topic. I find that if I personally take 30-60 minutes a day on vacation to answer emails, whether late at night or early in the morning, I am much more relaxed all day. While I understand my team has it under control, it is a personal choice for me to do so. I generally hold myself to 40 hours a week though, and do maintain a solid balance. You could approach the issue, but it genuinely may help that employee to relax the other 23 hours a day, if it is overwork or they are burning themselves out though, you could recommend an EAP or seeking help, but I wouldn’t push to hard. Everyone has their quirks, some quirks are 30 minutes of email a day on vacation.

    1. Anonynonynony*

      The problem though, is that this is not “your quirk” – it’s visible to all. Your colleagues can see that you are on vacation, and yet still sending emails. They can see that your bosses have not shut down this behaviour and stopped you in your tracks.

      Both of these things together strongly signal “this is a workplace in which you are expected to answer emails on vacation”. You are creating and actively participating in a culture of answering emails on vacation, and setting that as the standard. Even if you, or your bosses, say differently in public, we all judge people on their actions more than their words.

      You probably don’t intend this to be the case, but people will see what you do and accept that as the appropriate standard and hold themselves to it. This goes double if your position is in any way senior – but even if you are not, the fact that this is happening without being questioned or challenged will leave people with the impression that it is, in fact, OK. And really, it is not OK.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yes, when I’m on vacation, I generally take 5 minutes every day or two to delete all the sales and junk mail so that I don’t have hundreds of emails to wade through when I get back. I’ll do a quick skim to see whether anything is a real emergency; otherwise I let my OOO message speak for me.

        1. Greg*

          Same here – I take about 20 minutes in the morning before the kids get up to just scan the emails that hit my box simply so I’m not spending the first day back buried by my inbox. I don’t answer any though – my team knows that and they’ll send anything important via text or call if it’s a real 911.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Agreed, an exempt employee checking email is invisible enough that it falls more squarely in the realm of personal preference, it’s the answering emails where you need to consider optics. I manage employees and consider it important to set a good example by not sending email on vacation (or with rare exceptions, on weekends or the strange hours of the night that I was up because my dog peed the bed and by the time I finished dealing with cleaning it up before it ruined the mattress I was wide awake).

            But I usually check my email 2-3 times a week on my long vacations, just to file emails that don’t need action, delete the junk, and be able to come back to work knowing that there are 30 emails I need to answer, and 2 of them are the most important to prioritize my first morning back. Otherwise, I might come back to 90 emails and it could take me until the end of the day to whittle those down to the 30 that need responses, and the 2 important ones might not get read until fairly late in the day.

            It’s not so important that I worry about absolutely needing to find time and internet connection on my vacation for it, but my job is fairly collaborative so if people have already been waiting 2 weeks for me to weigh in on something, being able to get an answer to them at the start of a business day instead of the end of the business day can effectively be giving the people who need to act after me nearly a full extra day to do their work before an external deadline. If 15-20 minutes of email management over a 2-week vacation can give my colleagues almost an extra business day to get work done, and my vacation plans don’t make finding that time especially challenging, then I’m generally happy to do it.

            1. Greg*

              100%. The division I manage is about 70 people and my managers are very, very strong so that helps. The guy I took over from was very different than me – absolutely every decision had to go through him and there was hell to pay if they didn’t. So when I took over and came back from my first vacation…nothing had been accomplished because I wasn’t answering my emails. I had a frank conversation with my team that I trusted them and they didn’t need my sign-off unless A) someone’s life is at risk or B) it was going to cost $1M (two circumstances that just don’t exist in my line of work). So my next vacation was a learning experience for everyone ha.

            2. CanadaGoose*

              A very reasonable alternative, for those who do prefer to unplug completely, is to actively plan for that first day back to be devoted to catching up. And set the out of office to turn off the day after that. People don’t need to have responses within the first hour you’re back.

            3. Michelle Smith*

              I just book time on my calendar the day after my vacation to catch up on email and administrative matters. I don’t believe in working on vacation. I think if people are waiting on me for approvals and pushing up against deadlines because I took time off, then the management structure needs to be changed so that doesn’t happen.

        2. Baby Yoda*

          I do that too. I get so many emails that just need to be filed away — much less overwhelming to come back to 100 emails vs. 1000.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I took a two-week vacation recently and spent 90 minutes doing this kind of inbox cleanout the afternoon before my first day back. Technically that meant I was handling email on vacation, but it was a reasonable thing to do in the context of my workplace and meant I wasn’t walking blind into chaos my first morning back.

            Very different than actually answering email mid-vacation.

            (I did answer some that afternoon, but did a schedule send on most of them so that people got the response when I was back in the office. Some people got meeting acceptance notices and such and would have been able to tell I was sorting through email, alas.)

            1. BlondeSpiders*

              I do the same thing, spend an hour or two sorting my inbox the day before I am scheduled to return. Mainly because trying to get through week-old emails on your first day is hard when your Teams is constantly pinging with “You’re back! Quick question for you.” I can’t get caught up on a Monday, but Sunday when no one else is working? Perfect.

            2. SpaceySteph*

              I also do this, and in one case if I hadn’t I would have been late to a meeting the next morning which I’d been invited to while I was out that started before I usually arrive at work.

              I also try to schedule one extra day of “recovery” from longer vacations when possibl–, a day to be home and get laundry and grocery shopping done before the week starts, so inbox management is part of that recovery for me.

            3. Emmy Noether*

              In my world, the inbox cleanout happens on the morning back. Doing it the afternoon before just means one is walking blind into chaos half a day earlier, if that’s what is waiting (and then one can’t do anything about it because one isn’t supposed to be working).

              Also in my world, people know to leave colleagues alone to get caught up on their first day back.

              1. Nebula*

                Yes, it’s the same at my workplace, it’s generally acknowledged that someone’s first day back in the office after a holiday is them catching up, and don’t bother them unless it’s really really urgent.

              2. Michelle Smith*

                This exactly! I even put a block on my calendar for time to catch up so I don’t accidentally schedule a meeting during that morning back.

        3. Kristinyc*

          I did that a week before returning from maternity leave – deleted HUNDREDS of emails that were junk/projects I was copied on that we complete, etc. I returned to less than 20 emails I had to read and deal with, which made it a LOT easier after being out for 12 weeks.

          My current job uses Slack a lot more than email, and I keep notifications muted when I’m not sitting at my desk working.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            It took me a day to clear maternity leave emails – maybe a month or so of actual work emails while external people found out I was OOO, then thirteen months’ worth of “Friday drinks will be at the Dog & Duck” and “has anyone seen Sally’s second screen?” that could be deleted immediately, mixed with law changes and official updates and similar messages I might need to refer to.

            For my second maternity leave my account was autobounced to my cover.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            Each maternity leave I created a folder and dumped all email older than 2 weeks in there. I figured most of the things older than that either got resolved or no longer applied. If someone referenced a previous email I could go find it, but otherwise I figured it was unnecessary.

            I cleaned that folder at my leisure (deleting things which were clearly irrelevant, filing some things as FYI, etc) rather than try to get through it all at once. But I also know some people who NEVER cleaned their maternity leave folders at all or just deleted everything and were just fine.

        4. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Clearing out your inbox is fine. Especially because you mentally don’t have to worry about the hell you will come back to.

          But spending an hour actually answering emails is not actually relaxing. Because you aren’t disconnected from work if you are actively involved. Just let it go. Things are rarely that urgent that you MUST deal with it. And on the rare ocassions that something IS that urgent, well someone in the office is probably better placed to handle it anyway. You are on vacation, you don’t have good access to your files, notes, context, etc. Unless you are are the CEO or Owner, someone else can handle it.

          1. Sunflower*

            And it also prevents people from keeping work in perspective- if you’re never able to mentally disconnect and take a step back, it has an outside hold over your emotional life.

            1. Susan*

              We are all different, and what works for you may not work for everyone.
              I don’t leave my personal life completely behind when I walk through the office door. My wife calls. My kids call. My dog-sitter calls. I’m still me, and siloing and extreme compartmentalizing does not work for me. Likewise, I don’t leave my work when I walk out the office door.
              I’m very ADD, and I thrive on consistency and routine.
              The idea of disrupting my life and schedule and routine, going on vacation and not checking email (or not getting up to work out…or not showering…or not going to bed on schedule…or eating very differently…or drinking more, etc.) is very unsettling for me. It’s the sort of thing that would possibly take me a month or two to get back to normal.
              Does that make me “boring”? Do you think I should be different and be like you? Okay you are entitled to your opinion. But just let me be, please.

          2. Stephanie*

            Yeah, there’s a culture of that in my group and it’s just like “What am I really accomplishing with just my phone from across the country?”

          3. I am Emily's failing memory*

            For the more senior roles on my team, it’s common for each of us to have one designated person – usually a direct report or manager – who is authorized to escalate to you when you’re on vacation. They have your cell number and are listed in your out of office to handle things in your absence, and it’s 100% at their discretion to know when something genuinely rises to the level of needing to contact you when you’re on vacation.

            The person you choose for this is someone who knows your team’s work intimately, and knows that their function is to be a gatekeeper, identify true emergencies, and err on the side of not contacting you. They’re trusted to be more discerning about it than any random coworker might otherwise be if you had just listed your cell in an out-of-office message “for emergencies,” while still giving those other random coworkers a way to have their issue escalated to the person on vacation in the rare case it’s deemed truly necessary.

            Most of the time I’m out, my designated person does not contact me at all, and I don’t think I’ve ever been contacted more than twice in a single vacation, and the one time that happened I was out for 3.5 weeks right after our busy season, and they were both time-sensitive questions that I could answer with a 1 or 2 sentence reply.

          4. Greg*

            And even if you are the CEO or owner things should run just fine for a week or two without you if you have the right systems, processes and people in place. Emergencies are a different story…but even then if you have the right people in place who are empowered to make decisions things should be fine.

        5. WantonSeedStitch*

          I did that a few times a week when I was on maternity leave, and flagged anything that looked super important at a glance to review when I started working again.

      2. Former_Employee*

        I’d be more concerned if it weren’t for the fact that the LW said that they are “…the director of a small library staff…”.

        I think it’s easier to allow for more individuality, more quirkiness, than if this were a department within Mega Corp.

        In a case like this, I would just make sure that anyone else who might see the emails is aware that this is simply co-worker’s personal preference and not only is it not a requirement of the job but in fact I/we encourage employees to disconnect from work completely when on vacation.

        The only caveat is the one Alison raised, which would apply if the person had anything to do with the financial end of things.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          As someone in libraries, hard disagree. There is a lot of pressure in libraries to do more and seeing someone checking their email on vacation would absolutely highlight that expectation. I could very easily see people assuming that checking their email on vacation is expected because they see so-and-so doing it.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            As a former librarian, I absolutely agree with you. I left the field partly because I hadn’t worked in a library that was adequately staffed since the recession. It was way too easy to fall into the mindset that if I didn’t do it then nobody would do it, and if nobody did it the public would lose out on services and it would be my fault. Library staff are incredibly overworked and deal with a lot of feelings of guilt when they’re not working. Library administrators/directors need to be dealing with that if they don’t want their employees to burn out.

            The LW needs to address two things, the working while off the clock/outside the building, and the workload that makes people feel like working off the clock is the only way to keep on top of things.

          2. megaboo*

            There’s enough job creep in libraries as it is. As a supervisor librarian, I don’t check anything while I’m out. It’s expected that people can handle problems in the week I’m out.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Interesting I feel like it is the exact opposite–in a larger company you can allow for more quirks, but on a small team if you’ve only got 3-4 people and one of them is always working on vacation then that is a high percentage of your team that is working on vacation and that does a lot more to impact the tone for the team as a whole.

          1. Selena81*

            The wisdom of ‘in a small company/school there is more room for individuality’ annoys me, because i feel it is the exact opposite: big organisations make it possible to pursue *the exact thing* that you like to do (either a very specific or very generalistic interest) instead of being confined within the limited offerings of a tiny organisation.

            also in a big company:
            -you can easier check your mail without anyone noticing (a lot of mail comes from people outside your team who don’t know you are supposed to be relaxing), and
            -there are usually a lot of people doing the same job so it is rare to have a situation of ‘i am the only person who can do this, if i am not around the task does not get done’

        3. Princess Sparklepony*

          Even before reading Alison’s reply the fraud alarm rang in my brain. Not saying that it happened, but if the person was involved in the money aspect… I’d be worried. I feel like I’m paranoid that no one else addressed this.

          Most companies don’t have time sensitive emergencies that often. Once in a while yes, but not all the time. Things can wait or be handed off to the second in command with out causing a problem. Especially if your backup team is good.

      3. David*

        I’d say what it signals is that this is a workplace in which you are allowed to answer emails on vacation. It may or may not be expected, but it takes more information to determine that than the mere fact that one person answers their emails while taking time off (which is a piece of evidence, sure, but not a conclusive one).

        1. JB*

          If someone is working on their vacation, they’re doing more work than can actually be done in the hours they’re contracted and paid for. This inevitably raises expectations.

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          It’s a bit murkier than that. A common piece of career advice is to emulate successful people in senior roles if you aspire to reach the same level. If you see senior colleagues answering emails on vacation, sure, you may not jump to the conclusion that it’s a hard requirement for you now, but you could very easily get the impression that answering emails on vacation makes you more promotable, or that perhaps you don’t have to do it at your level currently but you might think that you’d have to do it if you accepted a promotion.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            It can also cause problems if you’re in any way public facing. Not PTO, but when I first started in my current position, my co-teacher would always tell parents and students that she kept her phone on her while breast feeding and found it the perfect time to answer evening emails. Now, technically speaking, if my colleague could answer emails in that context, there was really no “good” reason for me to draw a hard line at no emails in the evening, other than that obsessively checking my email all night was not good for me. I worried so much that the school community was going to build better relationships with my colleague because she looked like she was “going the extra mile” for her students and here I was, Humble McSlackerson telling everyone they needed to have teacher email freak-outs before 5 if they wanted me to help.
            Much later, I found out that that issue for my colleague was more medical memory-related stuff and she tended to forget if she didn’t answer emails right away, so I do have more understanding of where she was coming from, but it was hard for the first few years (changing parent meetings to more of a meet and greet and less of a presentation helped a lot too).
            Now, all that being said, while I never send emails on vacation, I do use rainy no-plan days in the summer to organize my in-box. It bothers me that I have to, but during the school year everything is triaged by 1- does this help my students? and 2- does this help my teaching in the next few weeks?. There’s just never any time to do the step back, big picture stuff (or the dull but needed info purges). It’s a major frustration I have with my career.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              Any chance that her mentioning when she would be answering those calls would dissuade people from actually calling her? Knowing that she would likely be involved in bonding/feeding time with her baby? Plus the whole vulnerability of the operation… Knowing that people might think, ehh, this can wait….

            2. Selena81*

              …she looked like she was “going the extra mile” for her students and here I was, Humble McSlackerson telling everyone they needed to have teacher email freak-outs before 5 if they wanted me to help…

              i really don’t like it when people wave that away with ‘you are allowed to work but you are not required’, because our culture and workplaces are full of these kind of unspoken expectations, and *especially* concerning shows of motivation. Which is in turn a big contributor to promotions, oftentimes more than knowledge (the thinking being that knowledge can be acquired but motivation is intrinsic and unchangeable)

        3. Katara's side braids*

          If this were happening in a vacuum, then sure. The issue is that (at least in the US) the greater work culture is only beginning to evolve toward boundaries and away from unlimited availability. That’s especially true for nonprofits, including libraries. Workplaces and managers who try to set a norm of not working on vacation are still very much swimming against the current. As a nonprofit worker myself, these attempts at new norms still feel very fragile.

          That’s why many employees will take the “option” of plugging in on vacation as an obligation – for decades, our culture has been that “optional” opportunities for extra work are actually not optional. It is MUCH more difficult for a manager to create a culture where these things are truly optional than it is to overcorrect a bit and take away the option.

          1. Selena81*

            Yeah, ‘optional’ is too often code for ‘we will look at you sideways if you do not jump at this chance’.

            Pushing back against that kind of mandatory volunteering often involves awkwardness towards old-style employees who (seem to) have internalized the demand of always being ‘on’, always taking on more work

      4. Jackalope*

        This is one of the concerns that I have as well. Having someone who checks emails every day while allegedly on vacation is messaging to others that they don’t *really* get to disconnect fully while on leave; they still need to keep checking in. And an hour a day is a significant portion of your day! If something comes up that you feel like you should deal with, whether you take action or not, it’s going to take your mind away from your leave and back to work, which isn’t particularly healthy.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It’s also just — kind of annoying. When someone is off, it’s much easier to think, “oh, so and so is off til next Tuesday” and work around their absence than, “Sarah’s off but she’s still answering emails so we should probably take her opinion into account, she might have answered by tomorrow, so should we wait for that or just get on with it?” I can’t think of a time whe I’ve appreciated a colleague who is supposed to be on leave weighing in— it feels like unnecessary interference when YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE OFF.

          1. Zoe Karvounopsina*

            Someone I work with is ‘off’ but answering emails, and it has created such stress around deadlines, because she’s off! But she’s emailing! Do I remind her about a deadline she missed and said she’d reply to at the start of her holiday? When do I just decide that this ain’t happening? (And she’s doing this because she’s overworked, bad at delegating, and incapable of shutting off, is my judgement)

          2. Nebula*

            I agree, it can throw me off if people answer emails while they’re on leave. I also think if managers have someone on their team who does this, they need to make it clear to other people that it’s not expected, especially new people. I was once on a team where we had four new people join us at once. One of my colleagues was someone who worked late into the evening/at weekends/on holiday, and a couple of the new people picked up on this and started working late, clearly thinking it was expected. I let them know not to worry about it, but that shouldn’t really have been my role as a peer – their manager was clearly happy to let them do it under the guise of that being ‘a personal choice’ as it was for my original colleague who worked like that.

          3. londonedit*

            Yeah, I’ve worked with people who would check email on holiday and it is just really annoying for the people trying to cover their work while they’re off. Either I’m in charge of dealing with the things while they’re off, or I’m not – it’s frustrating when you do something as per the holiday notes you’ve been left, and then Sally pops up going ‘Oh thanks, but it’s fine, I’ve already responded to this’. Makes you look foolish and makes you think Sally doesn’t actually trust you to keep things ticking over.

            I can understand wanting to keep an eye on your inbox just so there aren’t any horrible shocks when you get back, but once you start wading in and responding to stuff it has the potential to just cause confusion and irritation.

            1. Despachito*

              If this is the case this would be perfectly actionable by OP because it is interfering with the actual work.

            2. Selena81*

              Exactely: it’s not helpful, it’s obnoxious.
              People who have a habit of butting in might feel that they are riding a wave of productivity but they are really just disrupting everybody else’s workflow

          4. WellRed*

            THIS! My boss used to be so bad at this. She’s finally gotten a lot better and if feels she must weigh in, she weighs in to me and I proceed from there. Also, for those of you who must spend time every day doing thus, do you want your coworkers to think you don’t trust them to do the work?

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Yes! I sent maybe 4 emails while I was on a two-week vacation recently, and they were all side notes to either my manager or the senior member of my team who was covering for me. Except one where someone asked a scheduling question for the week I got back that really did hinge on my schedule and I wrote back to just her.

              Even if you’re keeping half an eye on your email for your own anxiety, don’t make it obvious to everyone!

              1. Lily Potter*

                Yes, the trick is to monitor one’s email without letting others know you’re doing it. Delete “donuts in the kitchen” emails. Flag items for follow up as appropriate. But for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T let others know what you’re doing! If you absolutely must answer someone, answer them alone (NO CC’s!!!) and swear them to secrecy.

                Like Guacamole Bob above, I once took a two week vacation, in a place seven hours ahead of me. I did not want anyone thinking I’d handle ANYTHING while I was gone, so while I checked my emails at night, I answered exactly one the whole time. I answered that one because I knew the answer off of the top of my head and it would have taken my colleague hours to find it. I swore her to secrecy, and she took me out to lunch when I got home.

          5. Seeking Second Childhood*

            We’ve had people on vacation send WILDLY off-base emails because they weren’t at a quickly called crisis meeting, or simply didn’t read the follow-up emails. That can reopen EVERYTHING and feels like a criticism of the solution implemented. So frustrating and such a time waster.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Oh my goodness, this! When an issue is significant enough that weighing in from vacation might feel warranted, in my office that means there’s a mix of in-person conversation, Teams chats, and emails going back and forth. Someone responding to something 5 emails ago without having been in the in-person meeting is just going to create a ton of confusion.

              There were email threads that looked like this kind of thing had happened when I got back from a recent vacation, and I generally asked someone for an update or if it had been resolved or if something was still needed from me, rather than trying to sort things out entirely based on the emails.

          6. Turquoisecow*

            Yes! I always found it super annoying when a coworker or boss was off and I would email them, get an out of office, go on to solve the issue through other means, and then later get an email from the person on vacation anyway! It was especially annoying if it was my boss who designated me to handle X task while they were away and then would log on to check their emails in the evening and forward me emails I had already gotten because people had seen boss’s out of office and correctly gone to me.

          7. Stephanie*

            Ha yeah, I remember when I first started in my current role, my boss had vacation on the calendar and I thought I’d have some time to breathe. NOPE. He’s the type that works through his vacation, so it was just like he was never off. We all learned that he’s only *really* off if he assigns a delegate.

        2. Shannon*

          This was my feeling as well.
          I have another coworker who does this (checking and sending emails during vacation), and decided it was okay to start calling ME on vacation for something that definitely could have waited when I was definitely not on board with working.

      5. LobsterPhone*

        I’m one of a two person team and my colleague refuses to disconnect while she’s on leave – she’s called me multiple times from all over the world, answers emails but has to loop me into complete the task if her remote access doesn’t work…she once logged in remotely so many times from so many places one of the executive team commented on it to me because it was so weird to basically see my colleague’s itinerary through Europe. She’s been asked many times not to do this, asked to put her OoO on and stick to it but she can’t help herself. All this to say, not only is it visible, it makes your colleagues look like they can’t be left to manage in your absence. It also creates work for your colleagues through double handing when the issue can’t be resolved by you remotely.

          1. PotteryYarn*

            My company blocked an employee’s email access because she was continuing to send email after email after email while she was AT THE HOSPITAL IN LABOR.

            1. Phony Genius*

              I’m curious if these e-mails were work-related or just updates on the birthing process. (Or both!)

              1. PotteryYarn*

                They were definitely work emails, although there were probably some status updates in the mix too. I imagine labor was going slow-ish and she was looking for something to keep her busy. We have a ton of people that have zero work-life balance at our company and answer emails at all hours of the day and night and on vacation, so it was honestly surprising that IT stepped in for this one, but props to her manager or whoever that finally pulled the plug on her.

          2. Observer*

            ask IT to block her cause she may be hacked

            No need for that. She’s creating a problem, and that’s enough reason to block her access till she comes back.

        1. Observer*

          She’s been asked many times not to do this, asked to put her OoO on and stick to it but she can’t help herself.

          IT could almost certainly set an OOO message for her.

          Also, if it’s really a problem, I would consider having IT block her access for the time she’s supposed to be out.

      6. JayNay*

        yes, I agree. You’re creating a culture that will lead to overwork and burnout. your teammates will feel pressured to never truly log off either.
        You’re also sending a message to your team that you don’t trust them to handle whatever comes up in your absence. That’s something that would annoy me.

      7. GrooveBat*

        I disagree with this. If the point of taking a vacation is for someone to relax and recharge, it is up to them to determine what they need to do to feel fully relaxed. My vacation isn’t about other people’s comfort. It is about what I need to do to feel physically and mentally better. If spending a little bit of time in the morning making sure I won’t have a giant mess waiting for me when I return, I’m going to do that. How other people choose to respond to that is their business.

        1. Snow Globe*

          It’s their business if you left others to act in your absence and then your responses end up interfering with their ability to make decisions/move things forward or otherwise end up creating a lot of confusion. Check email if you need to, but it’s a good idea to avoid jumping in and responding unless you can see something is on fire and you know you are the only one with a fire hose. In which case, someone would probably have texted you about it.

          1. GrooveBat*

            Where did I say that was happening? Where did I say I was jumping in and interfering with others’ decisions or responsibilities?

        2. Voguer*

          With respect, it is not your company. If there’s a risk of a giant mess waiting for you, then maybe you should be asking (a) what processes/systems failed for the mess to occur, (b) why it could not be dealt with by others, (c) why your employer does not have steps in place to manage things while you are away. But (a) is the important one because it flags a lack of risk-mitigation in business operations.
          As for catching up on things, it’s usually been assumed in my work that the first day back is the catchup day.
          And if you are the owner, you should still step aside from time to time and let the people you employ do what they are paid to.
          Regardless, one day you will retire and your employer will quickly forget all the extra time you put in. But your loved ones will remember the times they missed out.

          1. Selena81*

            That last part should really be required reading for anyone who is obsessed with their job: sooner or later you will move on, someone else will get your job, and their memory of you will very quickly fade away.

        3. Gerry Kaey*

          actually I’m pretty sure as a manager, how your direct reports respond to your behavior is very much is your business. this is the kind of mindset that leads to managers confused why they can’t retain anyone.

          1. GrooveBat*

            My team does just fine, thank you very much. They are treated like grown-ups. They take as much time off as they need to/want to (we offer unlimited PTO, and, unlike a lot of other organizations that only pay lip service to the policy, we don’t begrudge anyone their time off). That means if they want to take a nap in the middle of the day, they can. If they need to run an errand first thing in the morning, they do. They know they are trusted and valued, and that extends to letting them manage their PTO in whatever way makes them comfortable and relaxed. I wouldn’t dream of micromanaging their time off in the way some folks here are suggesting.

            1. Spearmint*

              See, that’s great that you feel that way, but team culture is determined as much or more by what people see their manager and coworkers do as by what they say.

              If the manager is answering emails on vacation everyday, people will start to think it’s normal or even expected to be available while of vacation. Coworkers may start to think it’s ok to expect responses while people are on vacation, and this start to see those who fully disconnect as slackers. Or even if they don’t, they might worry that the boss will see it that way.

              1. Old and Don’t Care*

                Well, they may. Or they be thinking “That’s why the boss makes the big bucks”.

                I’m in the GrooveBat camp.

                1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                  Also in GrooveBat camp. The team I am on has a pretty firm line: the lawyers answer emails at all hours (or not, if they prefer), the paralegals and assistants do not and are presumed totally unavailable until their official start times.

                  Having said that, we use our out of office messages to more clearly indicate the level of engagement we will have. “Checking email periodically and will respond to any non-urgent requests upon my return” vs. “Will respond to all emails upon my return” sends a clear message about the level of responsiveness from the person and that it is completely acceptable to just not look at emails at all until after one gets back.

                  To be honest, if I was told I couldn’t look at emails on vacation, I would probably never take a vacation.

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              I agree, it’s often not as all or nothing as is being described. The people I work with are adults and we trust each other’s judgement.

            3. Selena81*

              Maybe it’s my autism speaking, but i would go crazy trying to figure out the ‘rules behind the rules’
              (and don’t tell me there aren’t any, that you would not look sideways at someone who suddenly decides they work half-weeks now or that they can party all night and sleep at the office)

        4. Observer*

          My vacation isn’t about other people’s comfort. It is about what I need to do to feel physically and mentally better.

          That’s true on the individual level. But if you are a manager, that changes things, and you do have an obligation to think about how this affects others.

          When it’s an hour a day and *responses* that others can see (as opposed to stuff that others don’t see, like clearing out the junk), that becomes especially important.

      8. Ex-workaholic*

        To add to this, there will also be people who will take the concept of working during vacation as an opportunity to show how they excel. “Look at me. I’m such a hard worker and a real go-getter that I will even work when I’m on leave. I should be promoted.”
        Then there’s others (with anxiety? imposter syndrome?) who are so afraid of letting the team down, being criticized or even fired that they will give 200% anyway they can, even if that means working while on vacation. I used to be in the latter group and didn’t start to break out of it until I had a breakdown.
        Employers need to signal that an employee is merely paid to provide a service. They’re not “part of the family” or “one of the team” there to help the company “achieve goals” and “help the business grow”. An employee owes nothing more than the skills they are paid for.

        1. GrooveBat*

          Okay, so here’s another take.

          I took time off while my mom was dying of cancer. It was a horrible, upsetting, deeply traumatizing experience. And you know what helped? Checking email. Talking to my manager about work-related things. Disconnecting, even briefly, from the grief and trauma I was surrounded by. It was a touch of normalcy that I desperately needed during a decidedly abnormal time. I cannot tell you how much I would have resented anyone telling me how I *should* or *should not* have managed that time.

          And before anyone says, “Well, of course, that was different,” my point is, it’s not. You have no idea what people are going through or what their lives are like. The only thing you can control is how you respond to their behavior, and dictating how they spend their time off is beyond the limits of that response.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I actually think it is different. I went back to work very soon after my mum died because it was helpful to me to be in a different space and have something else to concentrate on. I was also, frankly, useless, and it would not have been OK to be at work in that state for more than a couple of days.

            As a manager, I would work with someone who needed work to perform that normality-function in their lives in a short-term crisis situation like a bereavement or a serious family illness. But as a long-term situation or a status quo, I think it’s a really disruptive attitude to have to work and you can’t ask that of your colleagues or your manager.

            1. Mr. Shark*

              I agree. When my father was in the hospital, I was working part days because it not only helped take my mind off of things, but I didn’t know how long I would be not available full-time. Once he passed, I was more than willing to get back to work.
              But I do think it is very different. You should not be focusing on work during your vacation. Also I don’t know if there’s any issues about compensation, since Alison didn’t cover that. If you’re on vacation, but are hourly, do you have to get paid separately for your “actual” work vs your PTO?
              I also agree that it would be confusing for your coworkers who are covering for you on when you’d be available, what you could work on and how much value you could add if you’re on vacation but answering emails.

          2. Kaiko*

            There’s a big difference between dictating how someone spends their time off (like the manager who wouldn’t approve an employee’s request to compete in a videogame tournament) and a culture that expects/encourages/promotes people continuing to work during vacation (which is, of course, different from bereavement, stress leave, medical leave, or compassionate care leave). Vacations are designed to unplug, recharge, refresh, and remind people that they have full lives outside their jobs.

            If I was a manager to the OP, I would gently but firmly remind that vacation = no work. Not a little work, not work to stay ahead of work, not work to help out. And if that made things harder for my employee when they get back, then that’s a separate conversation about coverage, communications, or whatever else was a barrier to slamming that laptop shut and keeping it shut.

      9. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The problem though, is that this is not “your quirk” – it’s visible to all.

        Where does this logic end. Isn’t any above-and-beyond visible to your peers?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Working on vacation should not be considered “going above and beyond” that’s kind of the whole point.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I didn’t say it was.

            If you start stamping out things that are visible to all and are (nominally) optional, sooner or later anything that is above-and-beyond is going to going to end up in those crosshairs.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              This seems like the “sandwiches” argument, and to be honest is a bit over the top.

              Above and beyond at work, *within normal workplace parameters*, is not being discussed here. “Above and beyond” tasks that are unnecessary and outside of the office norms are being discussed here. These are two different things.

        2. Pescadero*

          The problem isn’t “above and beyond” being visible to peers.

          The problem is “working on vacation” being rewarded, and/or “above and beyond” being visible to _reports_.

      10. Sunflower*

        Yes, this isn’t just a personal decision (and frankly a bad one) that you’re making which hampers the non-work part of your life (and mind!). It has an impact on your whole team, and there are plenty of work places would also take advantage of it to start pressuring others to do the same. It’s also just not how vacation is supposed to work, so it messes with a dynamics if you never take a normal vacation and no one ever has to work around, not finding you.

      11. BatManDan*

        I’m not responsible for other people’s boundaries, and what messages they INFER from MY choices. Probably why I’m self-employed. Although, in a similar vein, I have had to explain to my wife more than once that it’s not a choice of checking email on vacation or not checking email on vacation, it’s a choice of checking emails on vacation or checking emails from work. This vacation is possible ONLY because I will be doing SOME work each day.

        1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

          I think you may not be accounting for the ways power dynamics in workplace relationships necessarily differentiate them from other types of relationships, or that many workplace rules and expectations are never spoken.

          In an ideal relationship, it would all be explicit and clear so we could all just be responsible for ourselves, but that’s not really how workplaces function in practice.

      12. The Original K.*

        My boss emails on vacation and I loathe it. And it’s usually stuff like “did anyone handle xyz?” and yes, we did, because we’re adults doing our jobs. It sets the expectation that we work on vacation, and also says that she doesn’t fully trust us. I do NOT email or respond to work texts (I have a work phone and a personal, and the work phone is left at home when I’m off) but it definitely feels like I’m doing something wrong. It’s created a cultural fit issue. I have a coworker on maternity leave and she emails all the time.

      13. DisgruntledPelican*

        This feels odd to me. If one person on the teams acts a certain way (answering emails on vacation) and everyone else including the boss acts another way (NOT answering emails on vacation), why is your takeaway going to be the odd person out is the standard?

        1. Katara's side braids*

          Because we live in a larger work culture that is only just deprogramming itself from an expectation of constant availability. As a manager, OP is trying to create a space where that is explicitly NOT the norm – and it has to be explicit and, imo, fairly rigid to work in an environment like a nonprofit. There are decades of cultural momentum pushing constant availability as the “default,” and it’s very hard to feel secure NOT going along with that standard if it starts to creep back into the bubble OP is trying to create.

          Some will argue that it’s your problem if a coworker’s decision to email on vacation makes you uncomfortable disconnecting, which I would agree with if these decisions were made in a vacuum, but they’re not. I do agree with commenters who say OP shouldn’t bring their employee’s wellbeing into it, or claim that they know what’s best for that individual. The focus should be on avoiding the precedent (or the appearance of a precedent) for working on vacation.

    2. allathian*

      Another compromise would be to *check* email if you absolutely have to do so for your own peace of mind, but not respond to routine emails. If there’s an urgent emergency that genuinely requires your input and you’re senior enough for that to truly be the case (at least a manager, more probably a director, certainly if you’re in the C-suite; your manager, coworker, or EA will undoubtedly call or text to let you know).

      To avoid contributing to an IMO toxic culture of even implicity expecting people to check their email while they’re on vacation or sick leave, you can write drafts to routine emails if you want, as long as you absolutely do not send them. Just writing them can help ease the anxiety a bit because you get whatever it is written down and can hopefully stop thinking about it.

      All this only applies if you’re exempt in the US, as I assume you are. If you’re hourly, your employer has every right to object to your doing any work at all during your time off because AFAIK you’d be breaking the law by not reporting hours worked and your employer would be breaking the law by not paying you for those unreported hours.

      It might be worth investigating exactly why you’re so invested in your job that you think your employer can’t survive a week without your input.

      1. Editor Emeritus*

        I always told managers they could call me in an emergency. As far as I remember no one ever did. It was so liberating to realise I worked with competent adults who could handle whatever came up, as I would for them. I also realised I wasn’t indispensable, which is an important lesson.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          I agree with you. Because both of our chemists (of which I am the more experienced one) are out tomorrow, I’ve giving two persons permission to text me, if needed. I am working the election, and we are not allowed to talk on the phone. But in my position I have to be wearing my phone should the Board of Elections need to get a hold of someone.

          Do I think I will be contacted, no, but I feel better having given permission

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, I think I am the only person on my team who has refused to installed the Microsoft Teams app on my phone. (I think there was one other person but she left last year). I always tell my boss if something truly urgent comes up, she has my number so she could call or text and ask me to get online if necessary… and she has never once taken me up on that.

        3. Lily Rowan*

          I’ve been called on vacation in an emergency ONCE, and I was actually at the spa without my phone for a few hours, so by the time I got the voicemail they left, the workday was over and they had figured something out.

          It was fine. It will always be fine.

        4. SarahKay*

          Same here. I know I can trust my manager and a couple of people who are leading different projects I’m on not to abuse it, so I give them my home number in case of emergency.
          In ten years I’ve been called / texted twice (and I’m in the UK so that’s 50 weeks’ worth of absence).
          The most recent was earlier this year and the person who texted me was very apologetic but actually, if he hadn’t done so I’d have come back to a missed deadline that would have significantly added costs. I told him that I was very grateful he had texted me, because it meant that on future holidays I knew that if I didn’t hear anything then I could be confident everything was fine and I could relax.

        5. ThatGirl*

          I’m in marketing. There are no true emergencies. This isn’t life or death stuff. I work with three other people who have the same title as me and can make calls in my place. I don’t want to be indispensable, and I’m glad I’m not!

          We had a young woman on my team who was fresh out of college and was taking a day for some kind of family thing and sent us all “if you need me/in case of emergency, call my cell” type messages and I told her nicely that there was nothing we would ever need her for that urgently nor should she ever expect someone to call her on her day off or while dealing with family matters.

      2. amoeba*

        Yeah, that would be my suggestion as well. For the anxiety, it should be enough to have a quick 5 minute look into the inbox and see that there’s actually nothing bad in there?
        I also check email on holiday sometimes, for similar reasons and also sometimes because I’m just curious for updates on something! But that generally takes only a few minutes, I already delete any obvious spam, and never reply to anything unless it’s a) very quick (like, a one-liner) and b) urgent. (Like, I wrote one email on my last holiday that said “no, please don’t use that phone number for the delivery, that’s my work phone and it’s off – use my colleague’s instead, thanks!”)
        Actual responses that require work and take more than a minute are different story and should not be necessary to relieve anxiety!

        1. Selena81*

          i imagine that for some people it can help extend the vacation somewhat: type the answer in your vacation, and have a very relaxed first day back as you fire of your answers while everyone assumes you are busy catching up.

      3. Snow Globe*

        Whoops, I just said something similar upthread. I agree, no reason to jump in and answer emails, especially if there are other people who can make decisions and respond back in the office.

      4. learnedthehardway*

        Agreed. I check my email when I’m on vacation – I’m self-employed, so it’s necessary, because there’s nobody else to do so. Also, staying on top of my email means that it’s not such a chore when I return home.

        However, I have my email OoO message on – and it says something along the lines of “I will have limited access to email / voicemail”, and I only respond to urgent / important emails.

        I also foster the belief that I vacation in very remote places that do not have reliable internet / mobile service. That ensures that my clients only email if something is important and they can’t find the answer out themselves.

    3. Allonge*

      I answer (some, limited) emails on vacation but an hour a day is a lot for this.

      I check my email on leave when it’s reasonable to do and only answer when a 1 simple answer can mean 2 that there is significant progress in a 3a important process or 3b in a process where others will be on leave when I am back.

      Also, I am well paid, in a management position, and we are in Europe, so in some cases it will be a X will be out for 4 weeks once I am back and my answer here will enable them to close [project].

    4. Thistle whistle*

      Even if it makes you feel happier, it sets a very bad example for your staff/team mates.

      It says
      1. I don’t trust you to cover for me properly,
      2. the place can’t function without me
      3. logging on is implicitly expected,
      and possibly
      4. my ego rests on me being too important to disconnect

      I worked for a boss who took their laptop to the poolside and worked every day on holiday. Even although they said it wasn’t something we needed to do, it put pressure in people when they took holidays. When I changed jobs it was eye-opening to see how a company can survive perfectly well when a boss completely disconnects for a break.

      1. Thistle whistle*

        Everyone comes back from a break with loads of emails, but most can be triaged quite quickly. It can be a good way to see how unimportant you are as suddenly the other people copied in step up and deal with stuff.

        I have colleagues who boast about how many emails they have waiting on them (1000+ in a week,) as it flatters their ego. But I’d put money on it that a lot are like hat everyone else gets, spam and getting copied in on things ‘for imformation’ purposes.

        I always block off a few hours on my first day back to triage things into three groups:
        1. flag to actually deal with (usually the smallest number),
        2. delete (usually over 70% of what I get as you get copied in on a lot of things that become ancient history by the time you get back),
        3. on hold (very slight chance I might need so dump in a folder and recycle in a couple of weeks if nothing arises).

        I’ve found that being ruthless with the delete key allows me to process 300+ emails an hour.

        1. Sasha*

          I do get copied into >1000 emails a week (big institution, I would happily change this if I could but not going to happen), and personally I’d rather clear them day by day than come back to that many emails in my inbox – I don’t have time to put multiple hours aside to go through them when I get back, as I have my actual job to do.

          I have my out of office on, I don’t respond to anything until I get back, and I just turn my email on for an hour each night to delete things I don’t need to deal with. Works better for me, personally.

          1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

            I think that’s why the part in the response that talked about identifying gaps is so important. If your workplace isn’t giving you time to catch up on what you missed during working hours then they’re giving you too much.

            There’s plenty of managers/orgs that won’t care, but I think it’s still helpful to be clear that expecting you to hit the ground running when you return from a vacation is another way of saying we expect you to work while on vacation.

        2. J*

          As soon as I put my vacation on my calendar, I mark off about the equivalent length by half in hours on my calendar for re-acclimating, including email. A single day gets a half hour block first thing the next day, 2 weeks in Europe means my calendar is blocked until after lunch on my return day. Since I book days off way in advance, my calendar is blocked long before meeting invites roll in. If there’s a recurring meeting, I just shift it. I hold firm on that boundary. I always come in under time on it but don’t tell anyone. Usually what takes the longest is identifying repeat email sources that I can set up newsletter/industry news filters or set up spam filters for so my inbox isn’t as crazy in the future. I always use my vacation as a way to reset my inbox in a variety of ways.

          Part of taking a vacation is also taking the time to get back up to speed. If you are doing that while on vacation, it’s basically punishing people with boundaries because you are setting the bar for your company about expectations on returning to work.

          1. Selena81*

            My work doesn’t have much meetings, but most of the colleagues who do have meetings seem to use your method of blocking off ‘catching-up time’ long in advance.
            It’s certainly not expected that you are at full productivity the first day after vacation.

      2. EllenD*

        I was once told by a manager that if a team operates smoothly when the team leader/manager is out, that reflects well on them, as it shows they’ve trained well, put systems in place to keep things ticking over in their absence and given everyone the confidence to cope with what happens. Perhaps OP1 should put this to the e-mail checker, as it’s prevent the rest of the team to show their skills/knowledge/experience or identify any gaps. I think some insecure people worry that if the team can run without them, it means they’re not needed and so they control information, and fail to build skills of their team. But a good team leader is the one who gets the team working well and ensures they have all the tools to do so and then fine tunes.

        1. Awkwardness*

          This does not only apply to team leaders. One could argue that a good colleague is somebody who prepares their peers to do their job to 80% during PTO, not the person who is irreplacable. And management can do a lot to foster this attitude!

          In order to avoid miunderstanding about the 80%: It could mean that the process takes a lot longer, but the problem was solved/data might not be filed correctly, but was remembered to be secured during the process/the discussion with stakeholders was chaotic, but the intended decision was brought through etc.
          Any organisation with only one peson having exclusive knowledge on processes or equipment/where to find information/whom to contact is doomed.

          1. Selena81*

            When i think of ‘irreplacable’ i think of the guy who holds the computer passwords: they aren’t especially talented, they just lucked into a position of power and manouvered to keep that power all to themselves.

            This kind of behavior seems to be encouraged within the consultancy industry: to ensure vendor lock-in with their customers.

        2. Paul Pearson*

          that’s a hugely good point
          like HumaneResources, I also check my email when on leave for my own peace of mind. But that’s not because I want to – it’s because I don’t trust my manager not to leave an absolutely FUBAR mess if left without my input. The fact I have to plug in for my own peace of mind is an indictment of my manager and employer more than it is anything else.

          1. Allonge*

            Yes. And it does not even need to be a totally incompetent manager, in our team we have almost a dozen different sets of expertise. In most of them, we have a backup (or backups) but not, like, 3 levels deep for everything.

            So it would be 100% impossible for boss to manage them all if for whatever reason we are all out, even if boss was the most competent person on Earth (they are not).

            1. Allonge*

              Just to add: this is not a reason to oblige people to work on leave! But in some cases, it’s an explanation of why answering a few emails is not the worst choice.

      3. FashionablyEvil*

        Yes, all of this. Also, when people tell me “the email just piles up” I tell them to take longer vacations. Seriously. If you’re only out a week, people do the “eh, Matt’ll be back on Monday, I’ll go ahead and cc him,” whereas if you’re out for two or (better yet) three weeks, people do the, “oh, he’s not back for two weeks. Better figure this out ourselves!”

    5. münchner kindl*

      I think it’s less subjective, and more depends on context.

      I think if individual people feel they can’t disconnect from work (subjective) that is a problem and manager should adress and company should have a policy that doesn’t allow it.

      Exception is (context) if the position is very senior – if you’re not llama groomer, but director, and the place is burning down, then yes, boss must be called (though that would be a phone call, not an email).

      In my country, union-aware people would bring up that working while on vacation would need to be paid, and thus make a lot of trouble for payroll, or run into legal problems if not paid, if the argument of “you should unplug and with a good cross-train system, you should not need to check” doesn’t get through to the employee. (But then, we have a different attitude towards vacation and employee right laws to start with.)

      As for the time needed to go through a big bunch of emails when returning – you could look at all the articles in respectable economic newspapers about big companies like BMW implementing a new out-of-office message for vacations (longer than 1 week)
      “I’m on vacation from x to y. Your Emails will not be forwarded or read later. If urgent, please contact Mr Smith instead. If still relevant after y, please email me again”

      Because they noticed senior managers spending several hours wading through emails when returning, most of which were no longer relevant, so they instituted a new policy that all emails will be deleted during vacation, with the above message.
      At first, employees and managers were very wary and worried that important mails buried in automatic notifications would be affected, but then they were surprised how very few emails were re-sent, and how much nobody missed.

    6. Teapot Wrangler*

      I’m very anti- people replying to emails on holiday. Suggests to me that I (as a team member) am not trusted. Maybe if you were waiting for something specific to come in or wanted to delete things as you saw they were being dealt with but replying doesn’t feel like a good idea to me!

    7. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      As Alison said, having someone disconnect is important. Let’s say something is missed. Now the director knows a procedure is needed in case the vacationer is hit by a bus.
      Also, there’s the wage liability. Hourly people would need to be paid for those hours. But an exempt employee could also trigger a need to pay them for the whole week.
      The employee would do well to handle their anxiety in another way– good for both physical and mental health.

      1. Selena81*

        Yeah, it’s kinda like with fraud but well-intended: no company should have processes that rely on 1 specific person pushing a button every day.

    8. User 456*

      Honestly, my colleague (Brenda) on my small team does this and it’s truly a terrible thing to do. She made herself ‘indispensable’ by ensuring the rest of us on her team remained incompetent at certain tasks that only she knew how to do. It also gave a massive signal that no-one should relax during PTO.
      It was only when Brenda was hospitalized for covid that we had to truly handle tasks for ourselves. It was a revelation. Our training was rapid and we realized we could manage things without her. She used to tell us that the work she was doing was too complex to explain to the rest of us so we had a small panic every time she’d go on vacation because it felt like the sky might fall.
      Now we know we can manage just fine without her and one employee has been found to actually be superior. I think her ego is a bit wounded by that. If someone can’t have a week off without inserting themselves in a workplace then there is something systematically unsound about the entire structure of the job. I honestly think this isn’t a quirk, it’s a system flaw.

      1. Generic Name*

        I’m not at all surprised that Brenda in fact isn’t the best at handling all the “really complex” tasks that she says no one else can learn.

    9. SheLooksFamiliar*

      HumaneResources, I agree – this is a VERY subjective topic. I’m in corporate talent acquisition; on an average day, I get at least 200 emails in my focused Outlook inbox. My direct reports can get far more, depending on what they’re sourcing for and the status of their projects. Some of our peers in other corporate functions don’t get nearly as many; some get more.

      If I don’t check my email while I’m out of the office – for a day or for a week – I stress about the avalanche of emails I’ll face when I get back to my regular schedule.

      1. J*

        That’s an immediate sign of a process issue. You’re just putting a bandaid on the real underlying problem.

        1. Observer*

          This may be true. But for most people dealing with this, they simply don’t have the power to change it for one reason or another.

          When I go out on vacation, I have an OOO message directing people who to contact for the time I’m out. But there is a TON of stuff that evades our spam filter and / or is ignorable even though it’s not spam. Clearing that out every day or two makes my life a LOT easier. Also, there are some things that have to come to me, because I’m the only one that does what I do.

          Occasionally something comes in on an emergency basis that does show a flaw in our process, and if it’s possible, I bring it to the people who can fix the issue. But not everything is a process issue. And not everyone is in a position to fix underlying issues.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘That’s an immediate sign of a process issue.’ No, it isn’t. It’s being a people and function leader in my particular organization, and it’s what I choose to do – my boss does not expect it.

    10. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Have you considered that checking emails/always being available could be holding your team back from growth? Sometimes being a constantly available resource holds our teammates back because they always have someone to ‘fix’ the issue; but when we take those guardrails away, our teammates get the opportunities to think more critically about how to approach the task.

    11. theletter*

      I have to disagree as well. It’s a pretty quick jump from ‘well that’s just their thing,’ to ‘everyone should be answering emails on vacation’ and then the rest of us don’t get to have vacations anymore.

      You’re also undermining the idea that your team has it under control, if you are constantly weighing in on upcoming concerns, especially at odd hours of the day, when the issue may have been resolved outside of the email chain hours before. You might even end up looking out-of-touch if you respond to situations without the appropriate information, which you would have only received if you were not on vacation.

    12. Anonymous 75*

      I agree. assuming this person is exempt and an adult, how about let them manage their own vacation they way they want to. I’m sure the employee doesn’t need anyone to tell them “but you’re not vacationing the right way!!”.

      1. somehow*

        Part of a manager’s job is to mitigate burnout. Checking email – and worse, responding to it – while on vacation puts people at risk for burning out. As a manager of four employees, I’ve seen individual email messages here and there on their vacation days, but it’s not enough of a pattern for me to explore further. But I have let them know explicitly that I’d be concerned if I did see such a pattern, and that I’d want to privately discuss what’s driving such behavior. They want to check email? Nothing I can do about it. But to engage with email robustly while on vacation – replying, initiating – is a whole different matter that is for me to MANAGE.

        Besides, what’s the point of taking a vacation if you’re just going to work during it? Makes zero sense, and speaks to an inability to have a work-life balance, which should concern anyone who needs their employees to be refreshed and re-charged.

    13. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I have had vacations where I do the quick check of email and I have had vacations where I haven’t checked email at all, and there is a difference. It kind of reminds me of the joke “If you don’t have time to meditate an hour a day, you need to meditate two hours a day.” If you can’t disconnect from work, that’s more reason to disconnect from work. That said, it is hard for a manager to control (I have a report on vacation right now who is checking emails and doing some actual work–minimal but unnecessary).

    14. sometimeswhy*

      I’m a manager of a group without a “second in command” and no company mechanism to have comprehensive coverage in my absence. When I’m out, I do a daily <5min check for urgencies (which i will forward to someone who can deal with it in my absence) and emergencies (which I will deal with as minimally as possible to get it to the point where someone else can deal with it.) I also have a list of what actually counts as an emergency so people know when to expect me to step in/not step in.

      But! I'm also really clear about (1) it being important for my team to be OFF when they're off there is NO expectation that they will do the same and a couple folks have had gentle talking tos for responding to emails on weekends and vacations and (2) that we're taking active steps to structure my role such that it won't be necessary anymore, at least for the next person, if not for me.

    15. Van Wilder*

      There have been times when my anxiety was higher, at which time my therapist and I decided together that it would be better for me to check email on vacation than not, for very similar reasons to what your direct report mentions. I would be highly annoyed by a manager trying to get in the way of my strategy for managing my mental health.

      However, for context, my job is very different. People are generally expected to be on call and, while we try to let our people disconnect, leadership sets a bad example by constantly checking emails. I have since tried to disconnect from emails on vacation but asked that people text me if there’s something urgent I need to look at that’s holding up the workflow.

    16. Han Sola*

      I would encourage everyone who is working on vacation due to anxiety to really lean in to working through that. As a manager I encourage my employees to make sure they aren’t working, even psychologically like worrying, on vacation. It prevents burnout, but it also is a better way to view work. I always disconnect and just deal with any emails or issues when I return. Checking because you feel anxious is an issue I think everyone should work through – why do you feel anxious? How does knowing what’s going on at work help you? What if you didn’t know what was going on. All good questions to examine. Working on vacation is almost like refunding some of your salary to your employer, at least that’s how I view it.

    17. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      Volkswagen, one of the largest car makers, decided in 2011 to shut down email delivery after hours for non-managers. So no temptation to read mail late at night; it would be reaching one’s inbox half an hour before regular business hours. Not sure if that’s still the case though.

    18. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      As a freelancer for whom a holiday without Internet is a prime opportunity to lose customers, I only spend five or so minutes on each email received on holiday. I don’t do an OOO message because I prefer to customise them. I might recommend a colleague, or I might say “I’ll be back in 3 days and can get it done for Friday, would that work for you?”. But no way I would ever spend more time than that. If you’re taking an hour, that’s either a lot of emails or a lot of work per email. That’s not a holiday.

      In France, contacting an employee on holiday or sick leave is harassment.

    19. Lenora Rose*

      I disagree with answering emails; unless it is an emergency being “available” makes people think A: that interrupting your vacation is okay (Meaning you get more emails you have to respond to) and B: That they should have to do the same. I don’t necessarily disagree with checking emails, if it makes you less anxious that work is being handled.

      I checked emails not at all while on vacation for 16 days recently, although it helped to know my manager was also going on vacation 2 days after me – the one thing I actually needed to know about before I returned that occurred during my absence was handled via a handful of texts and a 10-minute phone call. I DID check during a couple of unexpected sick days, because more things were left hanging and in-process, but even then I replied to exactly two things and did a cumulative 15 minutes of looking including reply time.

  4. Loreen*

    Oh, Alison, just imagine if there was really a law that you couldn’t be an asshole! I can think of so many people I would want arrested! Unfortunately our jails would be even more overcrowded than they are now, so maybe not…

        1. HotSauce*

          Rather than a fine (which always ends up being a poor tax), I’d like to see these people have to clean up trash on the side of the road for a couple hours a week. Think about how lovely our cities would be if all the a-holes were on garbage duty! Not to mention it tends to be a bit humbling.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            That reminds me of one time I was driving to work and there was a road side clean up crew (people doing community service hours) One of the clean up people stopped what he was doing, stepped closer to where traffic was going by and held up his trash pick up stick as though he were going to gouge the side of the cars. And laughed when he saw people steer away. He may have actually gotten one of the cars ahead of me.

            It was on a busy on-ramp, so it wasn’t like people could easily pull over without causing an accident. And it wasn’t like people were coming too close to the work crew and he was trying to get them to give more clearance … they were on grass off the road and there was plenty of space.

            Sometimes, Glassbowls just gonna glassbowl.

          2. Vio*

            Oh definitely! Too many wealthy people get away with breaking ‘minor’ laws because they can afford the fines or lawyers to make it consequence-free. If some degree of community work was mandatory it would make a massive difference. Personally I think it should be the most common punishment for non-violent crimes.

          3. Lenora Rose*

            Community service has a bit of the same effect; the people who cannot afford the fine also often cannot afford the hours off work to do community service. More so if in those “free hours” they do gig work, or their day job is the kind that schedules your hours with barely any notice. Basically there would need to be compensation for the community service hours (Admittedly it’s still way cheaper than jail to pay a near-minimum wage to community service work) and serious workplace protections to guarantee that taking the time will not endanger their job.

    1. Bit o' Brit*

      Just make the punishment a fine rather than jail time and use the money to invest in positive community resources! No downside!

    2. I heart Paul Buchman*

      The world would be one large prison with the population outside rapidly diminishing until only one person remained. Until they had to hand themselves in for being smug and we’d be right back where we started.

    3. just some guy*

      I used to work for a boss who boasted about his “no assholes” policy. It seemed like a great idea right up until I found out that the biggest asshole in the building was also the one who got to decide who was and wasn’t an asshole.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12.

    5. Hotdog not dog*

      That was my first thought too! There wouldn’t be enough room in jail for everyone.

    6. I should really pick a name*

      I think it would be a disaster.

      At some point an assholery would be the one defining what the definition of asshole is.

  5. Celeste*

    I check my email when I’m on vacation because otherwise I worry about something coming up that I should have left instructions/documentation about but didn’t. The problem is, I never have enough time for that, and if I tried to get everything fully in order before going on vacation, I’d never go. So workload is potentially an issue.

    1. Anonynonynony*

      But what would actually happen if that circumstance arose and you were genuinely unavailable? Do you really think the company would flounder as a result? Or do you think your boss to be so vindictive that they would penalise you for not making yourself available?

      Alison often points out to people who are mulling over their resignation that the company would find a way to cope, even if you just walked out that very day and never returned. The same applies here, except they know that they don’t have to cope forever, just for a week or two.

      And what about circumstances that you have not documented but which you could not have predicted, or could not resolve remotely? Oh no! A giant cat got into the office and destroyed everything before fleeing and leaving just a giant hairball in the middle of the room! Presumably, your colleagues would find some way to remove the hairball and straighten up without your assistance.

      Obviously, if you boss is the type to go on the attack because you failed to respond to the Giant Cat Problem, you must prioritise maintaining your employment, even if that means answering emails on vacation. But otherwise, maybe it would be worth considering just… letting the problems happen, and seeing what the result would be. There’s a good chance that everyone will cope.

      It may be worth asking yourself, of all those emails you answered from your vacation spots in the past, just how many really were desparately urgent and totally beyond your colleagues power to resolve?

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        But what would actually happen if that circumstance arose and you were genuinely unavailable? Do you really think the company would flounder as a result? Or do you think your boss to be so vindictive that they would penalise you for not making yourself available?

        Conversely, it’s a lot easier for a supervisor or peer to say “Hm. There’s a problem here; I can manage expectations for 4 hours to give my missing employee an opportunity to put me on the right path” than “Hm. There’s a problem here; to Hell with the SLA, it can wait for the missing employee’s return” so they say “Hm. There’s a problem here; hope for the best, and the missing employee can clean up the mistakes if/when they return.”

    2. münchner kindl*

      If your workload is too high, you need to tell your manager so they can distribute work to others, push back deadlines etc., as Allison has often advised.

      If manager doesn’t reduce workload, you need to start dropping balls, so they notice it.

      Burning yourself out by working unpaid during vacation will not solve the too high workload, because manager isn’t suffering.

    3. LondonLady*

      My partners works in financial services and gets locked out of email when he is on leave, and has to take a mandatory 2-week leave once a year, all part of anti-fraud security as Alison says.

      I, on the other hand, am a compulsive email checker but I do limit it to a very quick scan of what’s come in, and I NEVER reply to emails while away. I may occasionally forward something super urgent to a colleague without comment, as if it’s an auto forward. (I did once nearly ruin a holiday by checking my work email at the airport on the way out, to find a “this is no good, report to me on your return” type email from the boss. Not a nice boss and not my boss any more.)

  6. John Smith*

    LW1, a bit extreme, but can you lock your employee’s account while they are away? That way they’ll have no choice (obviously let them know this will happen beforehand otherwise I can imagine an absolute meltdown occurring). One of my colleagues takes phone calls while on holiday (because she’s a super helpful person) despite my insistence she doesn’t, partly because it covers my boss’s incompetence. I’m wondering if it could be the case that your employee thinks the place would fall apart if they didn’t check emails. Would it? You need to find out! Finally, would this bring in potential issues with paid hours (I don’t know if US laws on pay/overtime/leave cover this or even what the laws are).

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I work for the government in Finland and that’s what they do, but only for absences of at least 3 months. Typically these include job rotations to another government agency, extended leave such as parental leave, and extended sick leave/temporary disability.

      When I went on maternity leave 14 years ago I didn’t have a laptop, but my employer took away my job cellphone and disabled my access to the email web app.

      1. allathian*

        I’d given a few close coworkers my personal email address. My manager had my email and my private cellphone number. She didn’t contact me during my maternity leave, I contacted her once to confirm my return date. I’m in Finland and we have a tradition of long maternity/parental leave, I was out for 30 months. The first three were paid in full by my employer, the rest by social services at 60% of my then-salary.

      2. just some guy*

        My work used to do something similar, but we stopped doing it for absences under 12 months because employees on maternity leave or long-term sick leave were disadvantaged by not hearing about things like promotion opportunities. In theory their manager could forward that kind of info to them, but it’s easy for it to fall through the cracks (e.g. ad comes out while manager’s away).

        1. Snow Globe*

          My company automatically locks accounts when people are out on medical leave or parental leave, to ensure they aren’t encouraged to do any work (which would be FMLA interference). They can still go to the company website to check for promotion opportunities (those rarely get sent out in emails anyway).

    2. Awkwardness*

      Maybe not lock this specific employee’s account, but maybe for all staff that is not in a management position? Or automatic forwarding of mails according to certain agreed rules?

      When I was younger I had one position where I would always continue to work in the evening and checking emails on vacation. I had a serious problem to disconnect because of my responibilities.
      When my Laptop broke, my boss decided to get me a desktop PC as a replacement so I needed to stop working at some point.
      I was furious back then and felt treated very unfairly (And I was! My colleague got a laptop as replacement a short time after.) But looking back it did teach a good lesson. Nothing fell apart!

    3. Sue*

      I’m wondering why the LW can’t just direct the employee to do an out of office message and shut this down. I don’t want to minimize the work of a small library but one employee on vacation does not seem like a life or death situation. Something is wrong if they can’t carry on without their input for a week or two. Frame the order as a cross training exercise for the other staff or some such.

    4. Blue Mage*

      I feel like some people here are missing a potential motivation behind this behaviour. I do this and it’s in no small part because I have anxiety. Knowing that nothing is blowing up while I’m on vacation calms *me* down. Not having that reassurance prevents me from enjoying my vacation as much as I should. It has very little to do with the company and a great deal more to do with what I need. I also tend to relax as the vacation goes on and my email checks slow down a lot.

      Granted, I have no idea if that’s the motivation here, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

      1. Viette*

        I think that’s a big part of a lot of people’s reasons for checking and replying to emails while on leave, but that doesn’t supersede the reasons OP1’s employee should stop. It creates a culture her boss does not want, for many sensible reasons. The employee’s anxiety is not a reason why they should continue, and if it’s anxiety they should deal with that as the problem.

        1. Blue Mage*

          I’d be careful though, because you may actually be headed into ADA territory or similar legislation in other jurisdictions. The ability to check your email while on vacation does seem like an odd accommodation to request, but mostly because actively preventing people from doing so is a very odd strategy for dealing with something that may qualify as a disability.

          1. Myrin*

            That would be on the employee to bring up, though! It would be very inappropriate for OP as a director to speculate about something like this, especially when it could very easily not be a factor at all!

            1. Blue Mage*

              Or they could maybe just handle it by saying something like “Brian does check his email while he’s on vacation because it helps him relax. If you’re able, I’d rather you check out completely and not check your email at all unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

              Adapting to your employees strikes me as a better strategy than dictating a rule that causes some people to be unable to get the most out of their time off.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                Adapting to your employees strikes me as a better strategy than dictating a rule that causes some people to be unable to get the most out of their time off.

                Such an eloquently perfect summation of the situation.

              2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                This is basically what I do. I will even say something like “I would prefer he didn’t, but I also don’t want to micromanage how you spend your time”. I want to be crystal clear with people I’m not endorsing checking emails while they’re away and strongly encourage them not to check-in.

                It’s also hard because I know there are other senior people sending the opposite message and it’s very confusing for the employees.

              3. Myrin*

                Well, again, we don’t even know if the underlying reason for this employee is clinical anxiety (we know they say “anxious” but they could easily mean that in the more colloquial sense); possibly they’re actually just a busybody or want to oversell their own importance or whatever.

                But nevermind all that, it’s one thing to check your emails on vacation by yourself where nobody will ever know unless your IT department goes looking for it. It’s quite another to be responding to emails, which this employee is doing. It’s not at all odd to actively prevent your direct report from doing so, for the numerous reasons Alison and other commenters have given.

          2. bamcheeks*

            This might depend on your jurisdiction, but I have experience of this as a manager in the UK and we absolutely could not offer “feel free to check and respond to email whilst on leave” as an adjustment for anxiety. It opened up all sorts of liabilities, and would basically be handing the employee about six different ways to win an employment tribunal.

            1. Blue Mage*

              Yes, I imagine the same thing would be true in France as well. It wouldn’t be in the Netherlands, Canada, or the US based on my experiences in those countries.

              1. Poly Anna*

                In the Netherlands, at least, it would be an issue if it resulted in someone not receiving their legal minimum of days off or was shown to contribute to long term disability due to burn out.

                1. Blue Mage*

                  If the person wants to check their email in order to handle anxiety, I’m not expecting them to count it against their days off.

              2. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Legally, it would be an issue in the US if the person was non-exempt and checking/answering their emails while not being paid or using PTO. Functionally, it probably won’t be punished, but that IS an argument one could use to discourage email checking.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Agreed. And I say this as someone with a very bad habit of checking emails when not at work.

              Had to point out to one person on maternity leave that I actually *couldnt* give her access to email/systems remotely during that time.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I think checking your email whilst you’re on leave is fine if it helps you manage your anxiety and enjoy you’re holiday as long as you don’t answer anything. Once you start responding to emails, you are creating extra work for colleagues to manage your anxiety, and I don’t think that’s fair.

        1. Blue Mage*

          I don’t disagree with that except that it fails to recognize that sometimes things actually do blow up and a response is needed. I have absolutely had it happen to me. Now that may indicate a problem with my team’s setup and an inability to provide support for people on vacation, but that’s a problem to be dealt with later.

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            If something does genuinely blow up — someone ACTUALLY IN THE OFFICE is better placed to handle it. You on vacation, missing context, are not the best placed person to handle it. IF for some reason you ARE the only person who can handle a particular issue, that is a cross training issue. But in general, that is not the case.

            Here’s the deal, you find a job that is perfect for you and you leave for Company B. One week after you leave, something blows up at Company A. Company A is going to figure out a way to handle it because YOU ARE NOT THERE to handle it. Same with vacation. YOU ARE NOT THERE to handle it. You are on vacation.

            1. Blue Mage*

              And there’s nothing wrong with the response here except that it’s not the only viable response. Not everyone takes the same approach you do and it strikes me as better for a manager to adapt to their employees than to dictate rules that make their employees uncomfortable.

              You can also stop internet yelling any time. The caps are not necessary.

              1. Calyx*

                Personally, as another reader I felt that was quite an acceptable use of all caps. It felt like emphasis, not yelling.

              2. somehow*

                If employees are uncomfortable by rules that aren’t harmful, illegal, or criminal, they need to go work elsewhere.

                It’s not at all logical or fair to the workplace environment to stand back and permit employees to completely run the show. That’s not how it works.

      3. Observer*

        I feel like some people here are missing a potential motivation behind this behaviour.

        There are a lot of potential motivations. And that seems to me to be the primary reason that Alison advises that step on is to figure out *why* the employee is doing this.

      4. Lenora Rose*

        Yes, take 5 minutes to ease anxiety. Taking 5-10 minutes to read a few, delete some spam and be done? That adds up to an hour or two total through the whole vacation.

        The problem comes when during a 2 week vacation the anxious person has done 14+ hours of work by “just checking and answering for an hour a day” – costing themselves a full day’s worth of holiday time.

    5. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      I have a question. Assuming OP1’s employee is not exempt would she have to be compensated for the time she spends dealing with her emails? She’s technically being paid while on vacation so maybe that would suffice, but somehow, I doubt it.

      1. Observer*

        I have a question. Assuming OP1’s employee is not exempt would she have to be compensated for the time she spends dealing with her emails?

        She would almost certainly be required to record the time. And if she’s taking unpaid leave, she would *definitely* need to be paid.

    6. Petty Betty*

      I had that happen to me a couple of times at one company because anytime I’d go in for surgery (neck, dental) I’d forget I was off and answer my emails and send some of the weirdest replies. To my credit, the information they asked for was 100% accurate, but the niceties were all jumbled and even my sign-offs were hilariously screwed up. It’s like I could only get my brain to function for the nitty gritty and then the medication would kick back in. Thank goodness I wasn’t replying outside the agency and it was only my boss, the CEO and COO, who all knew and loved me and knew exactly what was going on. But after that, they conspired with the IT director to cut my email access during any surgery so I couldn’t accidentally reply to anyone else.

      I did get better about it on my own. I left that job and recognized that I didn’t need to be so “connected” to my job and could leave work at work. I also found much lower stress jobs (at better pay) and refused to add my work emails to my phone. I only check work emails at the office. If work needs me, they can call or text me, that’s what a cell phone stipend is for.

  7. Shakti*

    Lw 1 there’s a huge difference between checking and deleting emails for 5 minutes every day on vacation vs an hour. My husband now checks his email because while on multiple vacations he’s gotten different managers and in one case a complete reorg of his department and that was not fun to come back to the first time so he learned he had to keep up with his email on vacation. But I agree with Allison on this really see what’s going on with her work that’s causing that much stress and active working on vacation

    1. Awkwardness*

      And – is one hour realistic for being on vacation vs. in the office? I do not know how much your business is conducted through emails.
      In my current job I answer emails about 1-2 h a day. One hour during PTO seems too much to me to be considered a quick check-in.

      1. Gerry Kaey*

        Eh, there are a lot of jobs where the majority of work is conducted via email. One hour per day isn’t unreasonable for jobs with high-volume inboxes.

    2. Editor Emeritus*

      oh yes, in addition to telling my manager to contact me in a work emergency, I asked co-workers to text me in the event of redundancy, reorg, etc announcements.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      Also, HELLO, if you are hourly, you need to be PAID for that time. Which can cause all kinds of issues because you are also on vacation.

  8. KEG*

    re #1 – they are on pto, if they are logging in and working does that negate the pro time?

    temp block their access with IT; if Corp actually falls apart than maybe more staff.

    1. Jackalope*

      That was part of my question too. For some employers, checking email for an hour a day while on vacation would cause that time not to count as PTO, which could be a headache for payroll.

      1. Amy*

        Exactly. If this employee is nonexempt (likely, given how most libraries I’ve worked with are set up) there’s wage and hour implications and the work time probably hasn’t been properly documented. If the employee won’t obey reasonable instruction to cease reviewing emails on vacation IT should block remote access.

        I understand the anxiety issue, and if the employee were doing a 5 minute scan I’d give it a pass. An hour a day is wildly excessive.

      2. Student*

        We bill by the hour. I sure as heck do charge ’em for the hour of time I spend on PTO doing work in a day. I would bill 7 hours to my PTO balance and 1 hour to work for that day.

        I learned the hard way in a prior job that if you don’t religiously bill your work, it just keeps expanding until it eats all your time and vacation. My management in that old job pressured me to use my PTO to do work that clients couldn’t actually afford.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        It is definitely an issue for us with any nonexempt staff. If you work, we pay you, and it typically involves having to get an payroll administrator to unlock approved leave and have it resubmitted around the time worked. It’s not something I’d want to do on the regular.

  9. Annie j*

    I don’t think it’s necessarily right, but I can empathise with someone who wants to check their emails on holiday.
    I always dread the last few days of any holiday I have because I know that when I get back to work, there’ll be hundreds of emails waiting for my attention and i’ll spend the next couple of weeks on catch up duty which is never fun.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s a tension between some people absolutely feeling better if they check their emails, and the pressure that may put on the culture of a company who is trying to encourage disconnect.

      I honestly don’t know what the correct answer is, because both sides are absolutely in the right. I don’t want to force someone to be anxious for a week when occassionally glancing at their inbox could help reassure them. I also don’t want to set the expectation that’s expected of employees who could disconnect without it. And no matter how much I say out loud “we don’t want you to do this”, once someone is doing it everyone else feels pressured. It’s frustrating.

      1. Student*

        At least in my industry, that’s not true. The problem in my industry is that the company provides PTO, but no coverage for your work during PTO and no planning to accomodate the assumption that people will sometimes go on vacation. My boss also holds me accountable for any issues that arise on my projects while I am on PTO.

        The company provides a benefit and then provides a lot of sticks to punish you if you use it.

        It’s not an anxiety problem of the employee if the employee is literally expected to either be as productive on PTO as off, or expected to “make up” that week of lost productivity somewhere else. It’s not actually a true PTO benefit if that’s the case, I’d argue.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s definitely not what I, or I think the letter is referring to. OP should definitely think about the employee’s experience, as advised, but in a lot of places this is just an anxiety response people have even if things will in fact be fine with them checked out.

      2. B*

        I think 9 times out 10, if someone feels anxious about going a few days without checking email, it’s a problem that the organization should fix. It may be a problem that many other staff are ok ignoring, it may be a problem that is very common in modern workplaces, and it may not be a problem that is readily fixable. But it is nonetheless a problem.

        1. B*

          In other words, in addition to “go ahead and check your email to relieve your anxiety” and “do not check your email even if it makes you anxious not to,” I posit there is a third option that good workplaces should strive to implement–“we will cease to make email a source of anxiety in your life.”

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yes, absolutely, but I’ve found across industries and workplaces there are also just certain people who are going to stress regardless and trying to control people’s feelings and reactions tends to backfire. Anxiety is very common and not always rational.

            1. B*

              Definitely, and there is some element of “you can’t make everyone happy” here. But the prevalence of this particular anxiety across industries and workplaces points to a broader illness in our work culture. With the proliferation of email, we expect people to dedicate too much of their mental and emotional energy to managing quotidian demands and requests that can come from any person at any time. In short, it’s a systemic problem, and like any systemic problem, you can “solve” it with individual interventions — here by addressing an employee’s email anxiety — but the email anxiety is purely symptomatic of a problem that affects everyone, even if not as acutely.

          2. ClinicalAinxietyAno*

            I’m sure that works great for neurotypical people, but the true source of my anxiety is my brain, and it gets projected onto my email. You can’t really stop me from being anxious, because whatever I say I’m anxious about is an excuse.

      3. bamcheeks*

        I am quite happy with the line being that it’s OK to look at your email and delete some of them: that’s your business and if it helps you manage your time off better, fair enough. But if you’re responding to emails when you’ve been asked not to, that’s a problem. At that point, it’s about the impact of your actions on other people, and I think it’s quite fair for a manager to step in and say that’s not OK.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Right? Plus I wake up early (generally before 5 am) regardless of the day, whether I’m on vacation or not, so if I spend a half hour after waking up going through my email and work (virtual) inbox it helps everyone.

      My OOO message is on in email but any messages sent directly through our work platform do not get OOO responses and there isn’t a way to enable that OR to automatically reroute incoming tasks to someone else. It could be days of someone sending messages before they thought to email anyone. If it’s an easy task I can do it myself (and in the process update my own work tracker so I don’t have to wonder a week later ‘hey what happened to that project’) and if it’s not I can text or email a colleague and ask them to take it over.

      1. somehow*

        “…there isn’t a way to enable that OR to automatically reroute incoming tasks to someone else. It could be days of someone sending messages before they thought to email anyone.”

        I’d put “contact ‘x’ if you’re in need of ‘y'” language in my OOO. Otherwise, what’s the point of vacationing if you’re just going to…work? Curious.

  10. Monday Monday*

    If LW #1 is an hourly worker, her time may need to be paid if she did any work in that day. So that shouldn’t be considered vacation pay, but regular pay.

    1. BubbleTea*

      If they’re getting paid while on leave, they’re getting paid. The law doesn’t care whether it’s PTO pay or normal pay, and I don’t think this should be a way someone can get more PTO, especially when they’ve been specifically told not to do it.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I’m assuming people who choose to do this couldn’t really care less about claiming it back.

        I’ve definitely had short emails from my regional manager over the Christmas period when she was out of office regarding a personal development issue but I was working the in-between days (because someone has to and that means I get three extra days to use at another time). I was quite happy to email her and not get a response until she was back from her holiday, but she dropped me a quick note about things and I appreciated hearing from her even if it was a sort of ‘Got it, see you in the New Year, happy Christmas’ note rather than anything more detailed.

        I think at senior levels people skew more towards live to work mindsets (my parents are good examples of this), and so long as they’re not expecting junior employees to be on while off, I would expect that this is a voluntary thing. There are times when a quick phone call to me while I was off would have saved everyone a lot of aggro all round, and I’m the smallest fish in the biggest pond. When it’s a matter of, say, sending out patient test results and the franking machine has thrown a wobbly, I’d rather have the call to deal with than people not get important medical advice in a timely fashion — I’ve seen that happen as the loved one of a patient and it makes me quite assiduous to get things taken care of properly. I’m not in the US and don’t get paid right down to the actual minute so sometimes there are times when this happens. I can see it being more regular for some people than for others, but in principle I’d defer to the other person’s needs and desires rather than trying to disrupt the way they work.

  11. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (checking email while away) – How do you know she spends an hour a day doing this? I thought perhaps it was because you are in ‘cc’ of the emails she responded to or whatever, but that doesn’t really explain how you know it’s an hour. So I think that may be the place to start, what’s the context of you finding out in the first place, how/why did she mention it.

    I don’t think the “compromise” you suggested is a good idea, personally. It reframes the discussion from “we don’t want people logging in while they are off as we want them to fully disconnect” into an acknowledgement that it is OK, but just the amount of time spent is negotiable.

    It is a difficult one! I haven’t been on the manager end of this, but I have been the employee. In my case the motivation was distrust of my team mates / the company to be able to keep things moving, respond correctly to things that occurred, etc. Not saying this is necessarily the same for her, but one possibility to think about. For me, as for why underperforming team mates were my problem rather than the company’s problem – because they became my problem anyway due to having to redo things, fix things etc after I returned!

    I hate to say it but is there an element of her thinking her role / work is more “important” than it truly is?

  12. Lizzie (with the deaf cat)*

    Letter 1# – your staff member may be understating the time they spend responding to emails while on vacation as well, of course.

  13. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (senior and junior assignments) – isn’t it interesting that the team leader is the one who “supervises” day to day, and the big boss is hands off, but the colleague bypassed the team lead and went straight to the boss with this suggestion?

    I think the boss (or someone) has perhaps told the colleague that they (and certain others?) are “senior” to appease of flatter them, but without this actually being reflected in the structure. I wonder whether they are all being paid a comparable amount or if there’s a junior and senior ‘split’ there.

    In answer to what was explicitly asked, senior is often a mix of skills and experience (as mentioned in the answer) but typically also some “soft” skills such as ability to anticipate long term consequences of choices, how to talk to appropriate levels of stakeholders, how to adapt to unknown situations where there are no “instructions” (you are llama groomers and someone brings in an alpaca, how do you adapt the grooming process?) etc.

    1. Tau*

      And at least in my industry, junior = you’re being trained to develop those extra skills. Dividing up the tasks so OP gets all the easy boring ones if they’re capable of higher level work would be precisely the wrong thing to do! If OP is junior they should get some nice stretch projects, possibly working closely together with a more experienced person so they can learn from them. If there’s nothing to learn, they’re definitely not junior at that point (and/or coworker not senior, because they don’t have senior level skills).

    2. EngineeringFun*

      Agreed. At first I thought, “Why would someone with 15+ years of experience have the same job title as someone with 2 years experience? Why is there no promotions?” But then I realized that for my current title “principal lama grooming tech” there are people with the same title but much less education or experience (not both). However since I have both, I get assigned to lead much larger projects than my peers.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        It depends on the job too. As a teacher, there are definitely people in my school with 30+ years experience who have the exact same job title as somebody straight out of college. We do have what are called AP positions which are considered promotions, but not everybody wants those (you basically get an allowance of €9,611 a year for an AP1 post and an allowance of €4,252 for an AP2 post on top of your salary for taking on extra duties, such as maybe being responsible for discipline with a particular year group or organising the exams – who is supervising each exam, what exam is at what time, etc). The positions are advertised and applied for, but many people never apply for one.

      2. Disgruntled corporate minion*

        A few bitter warnings.

        Do not declare someone “junior” just because they’re the newest person in the department–you must acknowledge if they have significant product & company experience from another department.

        Do not give your “junior” person a 10 year timeline for promotion when their previous experience means you assign them sole responsibility for the flagship product and everyone else says that employee is indispensable.

        Do not turn around and hire a “senior” at a higher pay rate than your formerly junior/now mid-level when that “senior” has 2 years experience out if college and none with your industry.

        No unless you want to lose people.

    3. Enn Pee*

      In places I’ve worked where there is a “regular” (not junior) and “senior”, one of the differences (sort of mentioned here) is the expectation that a senior can work without instruction/direction from a manager or mentor. (There were clear guidelines in expectations about work product, direction needed, etc., for each level.)

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is how we do it. They are actual different job descriptions, and the senior whatever has responsivities above the “regular” job description. Typically, we expect them to work more independently, handle more complex work, and supervise project work.

    4. Heather*

      I’m a little surprised by the vehemence against “junior” labels here. But in my office we typically refer to someone as junior until 5-10 years, then mid level and then senior at 15+.

      1. Rach*

        That surprises me as well. My team is made up of about 10 people, all with the same job title, all with the same manager, with varying degrees of experience from 1 year to 25 years. The difference is, that within the job title are different levels which have vastly different work output expectations and different compensation packages (let’s say junior employees with no experience and a 4 year degree are level 1, someone with 3 years of experience + a 4 year degree 3 OR someone with a master’s degree + no experience would be level 2, and someone with 6 years of experience + 4 year degree OR someone with no experience and a PhD would be level 3). Work load is based on your level, it isn’t “fair” to assign a level 1 the same work load as a level 3 (who gets paid so much more) but, it’s important for level 1s to be assigned tasks that grow their skills, it’s a balancing act.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I think overall it’s more vehemence against taking someone whose title was “llama analyst” and suddenly changing their title to “junior llama analyst”. Whether it is or not, it sounds like a demotion. And the implication in this case is also that it will result explicitly in not being given more challenging or stretch positions. That can be extra rankling when your objective performance suggests you can handle the challenges.

        If you’re in a business that already has those divisions in place, and people coming in know as much, that’s an entirely different situation. (Although, see the comments from Disgruntled corporate minion…)

  14. They know who they are.*

    “Also, if they’re really “throwing away” resumes, that itself is illegal since federal law requires employers to keep resumes on file for at least one year.”

    I have never heard of this, would you kindly post a link?

    I used to know of several local employers that if the person at front didn’t like you (ie. wasn’t a friend or family member), your application went into the trash when you walked out the door. Prove it happened either, they would just say only successful candidates got an interview so hence when you weren’t called it was because you weren’t successful.

    Always scared to use them for job contacts; even if they got ahold of HR, with no record of an application they could deny to unemployment you ever came in.

    If what you say is true I hope they get nailed.

    1. HBJ*

      It doesn’t apply to very small companies, so your local employers very well may not have been required to.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      How small & when did it take effect? I’ve done the initial scan&weed myself, and was not told this instruction. It was long enough ago that everything came on paper….

    3. Hlao-roo*

      Google tells me the one-year requirement is from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I’m not inclined to read through the text of Title VII but I will post a link to it in a follow-up comment if you want to.

      I also found a law firm website which states:

      Federal law requires employers with 15 or more employees to keep employment applications, resumes and related hiring information and documents for at least one year after creation of the document or the hire/no hire decision, whichever is greater.

      The website doesn’t state which law has this requirement. I’ll post a link to this website as well.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Well hell’s bells, yes that predates me. I unknowingly broke a federal law 30 years ago.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          (I’ve mentioned that”poofreader” resume before. Still justified as non-hire, but the employer was big enough we should have filed it somewhere other than a circular file. The hazards of no HR!)

          1. Ginger Baker*

            OH MY GOD, my mother ALSO came across the “poofreader” resume (her department laughed and also felt a bit bad about it – who has not had a terrible mistake? – but obviously couldn’t justify hiring someone for a *proofreading* position that had this error!). (She was at an accounting firm in NYC…)

            1. Ginger Baker*

              Actually it might have been at a stock exchange. Missing the heck out of her now because I loved this story and she told it so well and I Have Regrets that I didn’t record her stories!

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      That surprised me too. I feel like that kind of language “any resume that does X goes straight to the bin” is pretty common around here, though obviously not knowing how literal most of those are being.

      Also, does that include unsolicited applications?? Like if a gumption candidate just starts emailing in their resume does the company have to keep that on file for a year even though they never wanted it in the first place??

  15. Elsa*

    LW1 – I used to work at a large library, and one of the mantras of managers there was: “This is a library, not an emergency room!” I loved it because in any job there are always people who think that their current task at hand is the most important thing ever, but it was a nice dose of reality and perspective, that really nothing terrible will happen if something gets held up a bit. Just sharing in case you want to use that too!

    1. londonedit*

      Yep, one of my previous (brilliant) bosses had the mantra ‘it’s just books’ (I work in publishing). Things will go wrong, authors will get angry, things will run late. But it’s just books.

      I’m the only person in my role on my team, so when I go on holiday I just try to get as much done beforehand as I possibly can. If I can shift things off to Production or off to a freelancer earlier than scheduled so they can work on it while I’m away, great. But also in the grand scheme of things it’s not the end of the world if these things have to wait for a week or two – my colleagues are happy to deal with anything that I know will be coming in while I’m off, so I brief them to sort those out, but if they can’t sort it out for whatever reason then it will just have to wait. My boss has my phone number in case there’s a dire emergency, but I don’t have work emails on my phone and I don’t take my laptop on holiday.

      1. SAS*

        I mean, I work in social work and the worst case scenario would be one of our clients dying or harming someone else while you’re away but our managers are very much “you need to fit your own mask first” and leave is practically sacred.

        People who need to check their emails on leave tells me their team has failed at a very basic level of skeleton task handover or any contingency planning at all.

        1. londonedit*

          Absolutely – I’d say leave is possibly even more important if the stakes are high in your role. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and all that. I know I’d want someone working in a caring profession to be well rested in mind and body.

        2. Washi*

          Yeah I’m a healthcare social worker and I had a similar response. It’s a library…what kind of emergencies exactly are coming up??

          I think the 24/7 nature of healthcare means you HAVE to have systems to deal with someone being out, not just on vacation but like, being done at the end of their day while medical needs go on. It’s not uncommon for things to get a little wonky while someone is out, but that’s also seen as an inevitable part of life and not something that needs to be prevented by having people work on vacation.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Yeah I’m a healthcare social worker and I had a similar response. It’s a library…what kind of emergencies exactly are coming up??

            It’s a bit dismissive to frame it that way, but I agree with the sentiment… staying on top of the day-to-day is certainly more important in some roles than others.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              I don’t think it’s dismissive, I think more people need to remember that what feels like an emergency in their work truly just… isn’t. Obviously there are many fields filled with true life-or-death emergencies and they will have their own complications trying to navigate how breaks and time off fit in. But as an accountant I wish more people on my team would remember that no one will die if something slips through the cracks!

              1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

                Agreed. I often say that the best thing about my job is no one can die and therefore there’s no such thing as an actual emergency.

              2. rainyday*

                yes, in jobs where there are actual life-or-death emergencies, cover is not provided by people on leave checking their emails for an hour a day. Something that can be dealt with by an email sent by someone on a beach on a different continent without full knowledge of the facts or current situation on the ground is not a real emergency.
                If workload is such that it is objectively unmanageable without an employee on leave doing emails for an hour a day, then it is too high and this is what needs to be addressed. If it’s more about the employee trying to manage their own anxiety, then it’s the anxiety that needs addressing, as this way of doing it is just going to maintain it. In the long run they might struggle less with anxiety in their life if they were better rested and not so burned out by work.

                1. lucanus cervus*

                  Yeah – very often the behaviour that feels like it’s easing the anxiety is in fact perpetuating the anxiety in the long term.

            2. metadata minion*

              Libraries are deeply important, but one thing I love about working in them is that there are very rarely *emergencies*, at least of the kind staff are expected to deal with. If there’s a fire or flood or something, then we call emergency services. For anything else, it’s obviously better if we deal with it promptly, but nobody is going to die if the person who does X is on vacation that week.

              1. Library Manager*

                My boss always says if there is a fire at the library call 911 before her, she isn’t going to be able to do much about a building on fire! I’ve also heard the no-one will die comment about libraries as well!

                For me the biggest issue in this is working off the clock and refusing to listen to your boss telling you not to do something.

          2. Nightengale*

            Sighs in I am the only health care provider in my specialty in my health system so I have been on call for almost 4 years straight now. I work with children with developmental/behavioral disabilities.

            This does mean about an hour of work a day on “days off” to do med refills and respond to urgent patient messages. If I don’t do refills promptly, probably no one dies but kids could certainly go into withdrawal.

            (Yes I have been trying to get a second provider position approved for over a year now. . . )

        3. DJ Abbott*

          No, I took it as the employee needing to manage their anxiety, not a problem in the workload.
          I’m sure you all know how bad anxiety can get in this world. I had a colleague who would check her emails on Sunday evening to ease the anxiety that something awful was waiting for her Monday morning.
          We weren’t in a company where anything dire would happen, it’s just that the owner was not a good person, and that didn’t help.
          I had to go on anxiety meds myself last year, and it’s not just about the job. Anxiety is very high everywhere these days.

        4. Student*

          My jobs have never decided that skeleton task handover or contingency planning were important enough to plan for, when they can just browbeat us into never disconnecting from work.

    2. urguncle*

      I had a boss who used to say “no one’s heart is in a cooler.” We’re not working with organ transplants, we’re working with digital advertising.

    3. Llama Llama*

      My mantra is ‘its still going to be a raging dumpster fire whether I am there or not’

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I work in healthcare consulting. No one is going to die if I don’t check my e-mail during PTO. Whatever “emergency” might crop up is so very much not a true emergency–maybe we need to extend a deadline or soothe a client, but, yeah, I like the “no one’s heart is in a cooler” comment. I tell my staff to not call me unless something’s on fire, and that they should not call me, but call the fire department. In turn, I tell them that I absolutely do not expect them to login during PTO. Some of them do–and, frankly, those are the people who really would benefit from actually disengaging and coming back refreshed. IT SHOWS in their work.

        I block out 2 hours in the morning on my first day back to process e-mail. Heck, if I come back to work to find out I’ve been laid off, at least it didn’t ruin my vacation.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Years ago, a tech company I worked at offered 8 week sabbaticals every 5 years. I finally got the chance to take mine – took the time working on fun projects, my hobbies and traveling. The Friday before I was due back at work I was driving home from a 2 week trip, and got a call from a co-worker … he just wanted to give me a heads up that the day I was returning, the following Monday, the company was shutting down. Everyone was just going in to pick up their final paychecks, clear out their workspace and go home.

          I was very glad of the heads up, and also very grateful to the finance guy I ran into that Monday who advised me and anyone else he saw to not go straight home, but to instead go straight to the bank our checks were drawn on to cash them.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            oh my goodness, I had an employee (in my field) who had this exact thing happen to her a couple years ago while she was on vacation–she’s still a bit traumatized by this (understandably so!).

    4. HonorBox*

      My first boss in my industry told me something similar in my interview. “We aren’t helping land someone on the moon and we are not saving lives” is what she told me. We have deadlines and most of them are far enough out that we can easily plan to meet them before/after PTO. We have things pop up, but nothing so urgent that someone else can’t step in to help. I was on PTO last month and got a phone call from someone who needed my assistance with something. I explained that I was several time zones away and asked if I could get them what they needed when I returned and they agreed, profusely apologized for contacting me while I was away (not that they’d have been able to know), and provided a couple recommendations for the city I was visiting. Most people are pretty understanding of PTO.

    5. Generic Name*

      Exactly! I believe libraries do incredibly important work, but if something is delayed a week or two, people aren’t dying, right?? And if that is the case, why aren’t there backup systems in place? At the beginning of the pandemic when our state had stay at home orders, one of the higher ups said in an all hands meeting, “we aren’t doctors. Lives don’t hang in the balance if we don’t do fieldwork on a particular day.” I really appreciated that perspective.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, my previous boss at a university library always reminded us “No one is going to die if they can’t check access an article or check out a specific book this week.”

        Literally the only library emergency is if the building is flooding or on fire, and in that case, there are actual emergency services to handle it, NOT us.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Even in safety critical environments (we have a number of systems that if they go down it’s a serious emergency) there has to be a point where you allow people to disengage.

      And boy did I get told this by a number of people, some the great commentators here!

      Because burnout is a thing, and the more safety critical the environment the more impact that has. Unless you can learn to have a sense of self that isn’t about work and ways to disengage then you may end up causing more damage than you think you’re preventing.

      I’m not perfect on this myself. Would help my mental state if I was. But I’m trying to learn.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        Yes, especially when there is a mix of ‘ someone will die ‘ and ‘ the paperwork is not correct ‘ and everyone appears to be equally upset about both

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          One adage I remind myself is ‘even air traffic controllers get time off’

          And that’s a job where one mistake can be catastrophic.

          1. Parakeet*

            Which is all the more reason for true time off, to prevent exhaustion and burnout! (not that I think you’re disagreeing)

            Sectors where life-or-death matters, or ones that seriously impact people’s well-being, do come up, usually have systems in place to accommodate time off. At least in my experience with them, they do. They might be less flexible in terms of exactly when you can take your vacation, because of the coverage need, but people still get vacation time.

    7. Interplanet Janet*

      Ours was “There’s no such thing as a library emergency”

      At another previous job in a GLAM setting, the usually very tightly wound director would sometimes get a glimmer of self awareness and say to themselves, “Ah, it’s all going to burn up in the heat death of the universe anyway” which is not nearly as pithy but dang if I don’t love it and say it to myself regularly.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Same, a former boss said “There is no such thing as a trademark law emergency”.

        1. Pippa K*

          I’m an academic, and at stressful points in the semester I tell students “There’s no such thing as a political science emergency.”

    8. Library Worker*

      I recently moved from a workplace in which life and death situations were part of the work to working on a library. A library patron might be in inconvenienced or disappointed at times, but it is not life and death. Library work is important because of how it supports democracy and lifelong learning, but that is a day-to-day work, not an emergency.

      As with most public libraries we do have patrons with mental health issues and we are receiving training concerning how to best work with them, but even then, in a true emergency we are instructed to not to hesitate to call emergency services.

  16. Akrasia*

    Letter 4: Visibly working whilst out of the office creates a hassle hor the team and for management. Phrase it to your colleague that way.

    e.g., okay my coworker Betsy just emailed me about ongoing project. But I thought she was out of the office? So do I follow up with her or her cover?

    e.g., my direct report just contacted a client, but she hasn’t been updated on some key points because she’s out of the office. So do I update her, but then it’s like I’m asking her to work whilst on vacation? Instruct her not to email anyone, but that’s heavy-handed?

    e.g, my colleague is showing as online. I thought she was on vacation but maybe I was wrong? Should I allocate work to her?

    1. Lizzo*

      In a similar vein, when I lost a parent rather suddenly, my boss insisted I take a week off to spend time with family. I insisted that I would be fine to work (the funeral was delayed six months, so the week was just time with family, not dealing with logistics). She said, “Consider what sort of example you’re setting for the rest of the team if you *don’t* take this time and unplug. Do you want someone else to feel obligated to work when they should be away dealing with grief/arrangements/family?”
      That was the perspective I needed to sign off and stay away.

  17. Viette*

    OP#1 – most of the people I work with who check and send emails on vacation, late at night, etc, are doing it because of an overwhelming sense of responsibility and/or anxiety. Maybe their workload is massive — or maybe they just can’t stop thinking about work.

    That does not make it okay, nor does it create a good culture to work in. It sends a clear message to new or junior staff and it can create chaos when the replies are lacking critical info picked up from being present in the office. Yes, it contributes to burnout for the perpetrator, but it is also not fun to have to work with. You try to make a sensible decision about some trivial thing you’re covering and oh out of nowhere comes Vacation Employee telling your colleagues to do a different way.

    If your employee can’t enjoy their vacation without checking emails for 30-60 minutes, well, that is its own problem. They need to figure out a new solution to allow themselves to enjoy their vacation while actually disconnected from their workplace.

    1. WarpedNorms*

      What gets me is, you know the 60 minutes estimate is a lowball, which means they’re spending more like 1.5-2 hours dealing with e-mail every day they’re gone. Assuming 5 days off, that’s 7.5-10 hours for the week. They just handed their employer back a full day+ of their vacation. So they lost a paid day off and didn’t get any compensation for the work.

    2. mreasy*

      My husband weeds out emails while on vacation, but doesn’t reply. He is in TV and receives a lot of press releases and pitches – around 500 emails a day. I still wish he wouldn’t, but as he’s not really engaging it is simply an exercise so that he doesn’t have a 5000+ inbox upon return. Replying to emails, working on issues, etc, is work and puts you in a work headspace… it’s not healthy not to unplug.

      1. londonedit*

        I can definitely understand wanting to do that just so you know you’re not coming back to hundreds of useless emails (though maybe he could set up a rule that these sorts of press-release emails go straight into a separate folder that he could gradually chip his way through when he gets back?), but I also question whether it’s possible to genuinely leave things alone and not look at or reply to things that are obviously work-related. I’m sure your husband feels more comfortable doing things the way he’s doing them, but I know if I started looking at my inbox, even just to chuck out the obvious junk, I’d be bound to see a subject line that made me think ‘Oh heck, what’s going on with that…’ and then before you know it, you’re wading in to a work issue and your brain’s back in work mode.

    3. JB*

      As an occasional recipient of midnight emails, they’re often worse than nothing. I find myself trying to decide something that would have been a lot more coherent, and possibly not even my problem, if the sender had had eight hours’ sleep. And I wasn’t answering before 8:30 the next morning, so nothing was gained by sending it.

  18. WarpedNorms*

    “…is whether it’s a problem on their end or a problem with the workload. Can you find out more about that side of it — are they right to think they’ll be overloaded when they return if they don’t do this? If so, that’s the piece to work on…”

    Why am I always surprised when I see this in a response? Like, hey, maybe having employees who can’t unplug this long without being overwhelmed signals a deeper resources issue you should handle.

    I cannot count the times I have told my supervisors i am overwhelmed and cannot do my job in an 8 hour day. What can come off my desk? Nothing does and I wind up with more tasks. But when I go on vacation, I go on vacation. I do not check my email. And if there are hundreds when I return, that’s what I deal with on a realistic catch up time table.

    Is it weird to find it weird that other workplaces don’t operate this way and actually deal with overwhelm by having adequate staff numbers or is that a unicorn employer? Does it exist or is it a “it should exist this way but good luck finding it” situation?

    1. Melissa*

      I agree. I’m a nurse, and at one point I was pulled off of my normal 8-hour shift (which involved a lot of phone calls and emails, to pharmacies etc) to give Covid vaccines for 8 hours a day. Obviously there’s no way to sneak in a quick task when you’re standing in a vaccine line. So at the end of each shift I would have 8 hours worth of emails and voicemails waiting for me. I went to my boss in tears, and she said “Oh, don’t worry! You can’t do it all!” and offered zero in the way of solutions. The work continued to pile up, I continued to be an emotional mess, and I eventually quit.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, sadly I think that’s the norm.

        My current employer has almost every department massively understaffed, and at a recent meeting, our great grand boss told us to “look for more work” and we’re like uh, we don’t have to look for it, we have PILES of it we’re buried under.

    2. Spearmint*

      Tons of workplaces are this way. In fact, I’ve worked many jobs where I often had the opposite problem of feeling like I didn’t have enough to do some days.

    3. Observer*

      Is it weird to find it weird that other workplaces don’t operate this way and actually deal with overwhelm by having adequate staff numbers or is that a unicorn employer? Does it exist or is it a “it should exist this way but good luck finding it” situation?

      I don’t think it’s weird at all. And it’s true that many organizations can’t / won’t deal with the issues. But, if that’s what is going on the OP simply *cannot* force their employee to unplug. They should *absolutely* allow it, but it’s not fair to put people in this kind of situation while not allowing them to deal with it in the way the works *for them*.

      Now, if this is what is going on, the OP also needs to do two other things. One – make sure that everyone knows that this is the way this particular employee chooses to deal with the work load, but *no one* will be penalized for choosing to deal with it by completely unplugging. And make sure that this employee doesn’t give others a hard time, even by hinting, for totally unplugging.

    4. That's 'Senior Engineer Mate' to you.*

      It’s not weird, there are a lot of places around that have bad expectations. In my field there are (IMO) way too many “if your bit goes down we ring you” and since we’re all salaried that can be a “for no extra pay” thing. But there are enough that are not like that for a lot of us to choose not to choose phone calls at 5am on a Sunday every second week. I’ve quit those jobs, and I’ve had interviews where that’s obviously an issue (and that I have turned down).

      My current job I’m on salary *and* get an on-call allowance, but the system I’m responsible for is mature enough that I haven’t actually been called out for at least five years. I worked hard to make it like that, and I’m proud that it’s so stable.

  19. Ellis Bell*

    OP1, if their concerns are predictions of “something being missed and (being) too overwhelmed when they return”, why not address those concerns? Something like”I actually want to find out as a priority what sort of things could possibly be missed. You won’t be blamed for missing something, you’ll be thanked for finding the hole in the coverage.” Or, “I don’t want anyone to be overwhelmed just because they took a break. If you keep fixing that problem, it prevents me eliminating it. Let it pile up so we can take a look at your workload when you return. If you think there’s something we can do while you’re out, please say so.”

  20. Paul Pearson*

    Letter 1:
    My manager regularly tells me to forget me email and my phone when I’m on leave. I appreciate it
    However, every time I do I can guarantee I’ll come back from leave to wildfires, chaos and occasional killer clowns. It’s a nice sentiment to be able to unplug but it only works if you can be sure you won’t be electrocuted when you plug back in.

    1. WarpedNorms*

      This is such an excellent point. There’s a good point. How much of work-life balance and well-being talk from employers is Just Talk? If they’re fine with overworked workloads, people working through lunches, not taking their breaks, working overtime, not taking vacation, coming in obviously visually sick, working while on vacation… doesn’t that all signal to the employee that time off is unacceptable in the workplace?

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      It’s a nice sentiment to be able to unplug but it only works if you can be sure you won’t be electrocuted when you plug back in.

      May I quote you going forward?

    3. Spearmint*

      Serious question, why do you care if things blow up while you’re gone? Yeah, you have to deal with it when you come back, but it’s just work. Are you expected to work overtime when things blow up? Otherwise I feel like it shouldn’t matter to you.

      1. Generic Name*

        Exactly this. I feel like a lot of the people here who are defending checking emails while in vacation are caring more about the work than the managers/owners do. If something is truly, vitally important to the functioning of society or to a company, there are backup systems in place. Think of things like emergency rooms, fire stations, power grids, etc. Every function has backups and backups of backups. If you work in say, accounts payable, and stuff will be paid late, then it’s on your company to come up with a system that doesn’t involve you checking emails from the beach.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I feel like a lot of the people here who are defending checking emails while in vacation are caring more about the work than the managers/owners do.

          I barely care about the business as a whole. As long as it survives its self-inflicted wounds, all’s well enough. But as long as I have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed, though, I care deeply about my little corner of the business and the paycheques that keep those needs met.

          And yes, enough of my job can be screwed up in lasting ways in a week as to make me expendable. It’s happened before on smaller scales–clients I’ve serviced have been alienated in my absence (yes, despite documentation and cross-training). If enough get driven away, there’s no need for me to do nothing upon my return. (To go the Llama route, if I’m a llama feeder and all the llamas get poisoned and die while I’m on PTO, what job do I have to return to?)

          If I could stroll into “Job Mart” at my convenience and walk away with a similar job when I get back, I might approach PTO differently.

      2. J*

        I think it has to go back to the identity you have. I used to have a bit of an issue unplugging at only one specific job. When I reflect back, it’s because the culture was full of people convinced that the employer couldn’t survive without us. We all had a martyr complex. In the past I’d been used to being replaced by three people when I left, which had helped build up that main character energy. I didn’t take off except for a few hours as two people and a beloved pet died. It was the busy season after all. I have all these moments now where I hate myself for ever believing that was a good choice.

        I was truly convinced I was the only thing keeping a team afloat because so much pressure was put on me, and in a way I was the only person keeping it afloat. I know that because the company dumped me so fast when the pandemic hit and I was just “overhead” there. Eventually they realized they couldn’t operate the office or team I used to in my absence. So they just didn’t operate those things anymore. Not long after, I lost someone to the pandemic from a workplace exposure. I really think I would have let me job kill me one day if I’d stuck with that mentality. That’s what my loved one did. If things blow up while I’m gone at my current job, it’s just a funny story someone tells me and a week of guaranteed job security because I might be the only one who can clean it up but it will keep. I do work in a field where there’s actual emergencies but we’ll call up outside counsel if that’s the case and it won’t matter either way if I’m there for the initial call.

        1. Anonforthisforsure*

          I hope this doesn’t come across self-righteous, and to be fair, I don’t work in a setting where a missed email is literally life or death. That said, if I miss something my organization can lose funding, which screws over the families we serve and could result in one or more of my colleagues losing their job. So yeah, I check emails on vacation and occasionally respond. Most of my colleagues don’t have to because there’s more than one person in the role, and most of them don’t.

          Sure, we should have another person who can do my niche work (not difficult, just obscure) while I’m off. Sure, it would be great if the outside stakeholders who send “surprise” deadline requests were the kind of people willing to take the 9 seconds to send a second email to my listed OOO contact. (Who probably couldn’t cover the work, but at least they could text me so I wouldn’t have to check emails all the time.)

          And sure, I should probably get out of nonprofits if this kind of pressure is going to continue. But I do check email on vacation, when I take vacation, and it’s not because I’m overly invested in protecting my bosses, or because I have anxiety or think I’m indispensable.

          1. somehow*

            How are you supposed to have a work-life balance if no one else can cover your work in your absence?

  21. Teapot Wrangler*

    I was really interested to read that you’re meant to keep CVs for a year! In the UK, we’re not meant to keep rejected CVs long past rejecting them as we’re not meant to keep personal data “longer than necessary”. We have a bit more scope on interviewed candidates as they might want feedback etc.

    1. Testerbert*

      Under GDPR, I could see an argument for the hiring firm to retain some statistical detail from the CV/application (age, gender, race etc) if only to provide stats to show compliance under the Equalities Act. No good reason to retain the full CV, however, unless the jobseeker actively gave permission for it to be held on file for future consideration.

      1. anon for this*

        LW1, a few years ago I managed someone who did this (and on sick leave as well as holiday), and we absolutely treated it as a serious disciplinary issue. I don’t think “checking your email whilst off work” is in itself terrible, but they had been told multiple times not to do it, and kept doing it anyway, and that in itself was becoming a problem. We recognised that we couldn’t stop them reading email, or even writing responses that were set to send when they returned to work, but we could certainly tell them they weren’t allowed to respond to emails whilst on leave because it disrupted everyone else’s workflow, but they wouldn’t stop doing that either.

        It was part of a broader pattern, where (in my opinion) they were just excessively reliant on their job for their sense of self and self-esteem, and disconnecting for even a few days and seeing the job continue without them was too threatening. This went along with having a very fixed idea of what their job was and should be, and resisting any changes. Despite being very good at the technical parts of their job, it made them a really difficult and disruptive person to have in the team.

        Your team member’s problem might only be vacation emails, and they might be taking the view that this only impacts them and therefore isn’t something you get to tell them not to do, but I would certainly look around at the broader context and the impact on others. As well as the “setting an example” aspect, how disruptive is it to other people’s workflow is it that they are both there and not there? Are other people able to move forward or park tasks appropriately, or are they second-guessing whether Sally has already answered this client or unable to make decisions just in case Sally answers? Are they exaggerating the amount of catching up they’ll have to do if they take a real holiday, or does the fact that they are doing an extra 7-10 hours work whilst on holiday mask the fact that you’re actually understaffed?

        I think you’re very much framing this as, “well, it would be good for the EMPLOYEE” to take a real break, and that’s opening the door for the employee to say that they know what’s best for them, but if someone really is doing an that the level of work when they’re supposed to be *on holiday*, it’s unlikely that that isn’t having an impact on the workload of others.

    2. UK manager*

      The UK requirement is at least six months and up to 12 months in the case of unsuccessful candidates, as the deadline for a discrimination claim at tribunal is generally six months but can be extended. This includes application materials, recruitment materials and interview notes.

      If successful, these becone part of the employee’s personnel file which is retained for the duration of employment plus 6 years.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      GDPR does make things interesting! We don’t keep the full CVs for long either – but a few details like ‘person X applied for role A, was rejected for interview because not meeting qualifications’ or ‘person X applied and is on the do not hire list due to behaviour Y at interview’.

    4. Emmy Noether*

      There are two conflicting interests at work here: deleting for data protection purposes, or keeping to be able to prove whether hiring practices are discriminatory (to prevent employers from “coincidentally” deleting all CVs juuuust before discovery in a discrimination lawsuit).
      In civil law countries, where discovery isn’t really a thing, data protection tends to win out (and the UK, even though it is mostly common law, has a lot of data protection from the time it was in the EU). The US takes a different view of data protection.

  22. Bookworm*

    #1: I don’t have any advice but do want to thank you for writing about this. I was an employee with the opposite problem: manager seemingly “forgot” the calendar existed and was known to call/message people on their (pre-approved by the manager!) time off and that was an awkward thing, to put it mildly. Same manager had no problem emailing on weekend mornings or calling after hours for mundane, non-emergency things, although like another LW said, the org was not an emergency room (and had no connection to anything that was legitimately an emergency no matter what clients thought).

    Let’s just say I found out the hard way that staff were just supposed to put up with this. So I am glad to read that as a manger, you acknowledge the work/life balance exists and that there may be more going on. Thank you for doing that and good luck! Hopefully this is something that isn’t too burdensome for anyone to address.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Oof. Sounds like we had the same boss at one point. Mine once tried to call a coworker to find out where he put a file while coworker was out, and clearly marked as out on vacation. Others on his team had to physically stop boss from calling because they knew that right at that moment the coworker was in the middle of his wedding ceremony. Boss didn’t see a problem with calling during the wedding, and it genuinely took people taking the phone out of his hand to prevent the call. Fun post script: the file was in boss’s office.

      1. Observer*

        This is only a step better than the boss who actually WENT TO THE WEDDING. And had t be “escorted” out a police relative of the bride.

      2. anon for this*

        I had a scenario where sr person #1 was copying in and requesting sr person #2 answer a question in an email. Person #2 was at their parent’s funeral.
        The question was normally their purview, but I was in the process of redirecting the question to a different person in an effort to keep questions away from person #2.
        I hadn’t thought I had to specify *why* I wasn’t asking person #2, as the office is pretty small and everyone knew that they were unavailable that day and why (though perhaps not retained that information).

  23. Bee*

    OP2 – I saw the same Twitter thread, or at least a similar one. I wouldn’t be surprised if the topic has come up more than once.

    The most common argument in favor of this practice (which has unfortunately already popped up in this comment section) is that people who list their pronouns are more likely to be “a problem.” As in, they’re more likely to make a big deal over every perceived slight, take everything personally or as an affront to their values, and so on.

    I genuinely don’t see how listing pronouns on a resume is evidence of that, but rejecting a person from a candidate pool because they politely stated how they want to be referred to in conversation…isn’t?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I’d argue that listing pronouns on a resume or in an email signature is the unintrusive ideal. (And in sci fi that I feel gets this right, that’s the way they are conveyed to strangers–so “Alex Smith” in the spacesuit uses she/her pronouns, and that is useful to English-speaking humans encountering the spacesuited person since gender is part of how we perceive people, and if you need to discuss Alex it is often helpful to be able to confidently say “she” rather than “Alex Smith in place of all pronouns.)

      The Twitter instance is the disconnect between “I feel rage at something” and “I have discovered a way I can use my rage to damage people whom I selected for their inability to hurt me back.” I’ve also seen people in anonymous fora proudly proclaim that they or someone they know discards all applications with weird (to them) names, as proof that people should not give their kids names these people think are weird. I am certain these people would preface a discussion of this with “I’m not racist, but… I make sure to trash any resume with a non-white sounding name because those people are trouble.”)

      My hope is that they all get bitten by the realization that anonymity on the internet is not in fact a constitutional right.

      1. Bee*

        “Unintrusive” is a good way to put it. All it does it is avoid the potential for that awkward moment when you realize Sam is short for Samantha and not Samuel, after you’d been referring to her as “him” when discussing her application.

        And if your argument is “Well, I already assumed that Jane uses she/her! She didn’t need to tell me!”…okay. Just ignore that line on her resume and move on.

        1. Modesty Poncho*

          My sibling kept their masculine first name when they came out as nonbinary. You really just never know! You’d read their resume and assume they use he/him but they do not.

          1. Bee*

            Yeah, I know several nonbinary people who have feminine or masculine first names but use they/them pronouns.

            1. Avery*

              I’m one of them! (Not the name I use when commenting here)
              I found a list of unisex names and picked one from there… then found out that it’s not so unisex after all. So I have a traditionally masculine first name (although it’s occasionally used by girls/women, especially in the last couple years, but that’s definitely still an outlier), but use they/she pronouns.
              Definitely would throw people off if I didn’t have my pronouns listed to show that no, I’m actually not a he/him user, thanks.

            2. I Have RBF*

              I’m one of them. I have a very feminine first name. I use my first and middle initials instead and also use they/them pronouns. If I found out that a company trashed my resume because of that I’d be annoyed. OTOH, maybe I should put my pronouns on my resume just to filter out glassbowls.

          2. Kesnit*

            Our Office Manager’s half-sister’s first name is normally considered a man’s name. (Think, “Thomas.”) She’s named for her father.

            1. Gatomon*

              Yes, I have an aunt with a traditionally masculine name like “Thomas,” and she’s a doctor, so there’s no Mrs. attached to help out. I don’t know the back story, but now I’m curious.

              I’m trans with a unisex chosen name and I may start putting my pronouns on my resume just to filter out the BS employers. Though pretty soon I’ll have enough work history as me that I doubt anyone would be interested or want to verify the history from prior to my transition.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, I was thinking of a situation where a well-known US paper reported that Ireland had elected it’s first female taoiseach (prime minister) because they misread the then-taoiseach’s name as Edna, when it was actually Enda, an Irish name they probably didn’t recognise. Within Ireland, his name would have read as clearly male to most people; outside Ireland, not so much. So there’s no harm in being clear.

        3. AnonORama*

          Yeah, I appreciate this, particularly when a name can go either way. I was very happy to see “he/him” listed for someone named Robin, who I wanted to reach out to about potentially funding our work.

        4. Also*

          Unintrusive for people whose pronouns are a good fit. As someone uncomfortable with all of the options, I’m always happy to learn others’ pronouns but strongly prefer not to be asked to claim any for myself.

    2. Gerry Kaey*

      Yeah the whole “more likely the be a problem/oversensitive” is thinly veiled transphobia and nothing more.

      1. MassMatt*

        Talking about preferred pronouns is still very new to most people, and it takes time for people to be comfortable with change.

        But people are going to have to get used to it, or risk getting a reputation equivalent to the racist uncle at Thanksgiving.

        Young people especially are rejecting the gender binary (even more true with gay/straight than male/female so it’s eventually going to become more mainstream.

        1. Enby*

          Since you have good intentions, I just wanted to let you know the term is “pronouns,” not “preferred pronouns.”

    3. Anon for this one*

      This is what I’m thinking. The hiring manager saw the resume and pictured someone who’s going to instigate loud arguments about politics with the entire office. Based on how Facebook has degenerated into an obnoxious political screaming match in the last 8 or so years, I can understand why the boss was averse to catching a whiff of politics from the resume.

      1. Bee*

        Okay, but my point is that listing pronouns on a resume isn’t “a whiff of politics.” It’s just a way of stating how people should refer to you in conversation. If you’re making assumptions about someone’s personality based solely on that, then you’re the one who’s unnecessarily bringing politics into the equation.

          1. Bee*

            What? It’s childishly obtuse to say that you shouldn’t reject (or make assumptions about) applicants because they chose to list their pronouns on their resume? What about that is childish or obtuse?

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            As someone who is consistently misgendered for having a gender neutral name, you’re the one being childish in this case. Putting your pronouns on your resume or in your email signature has a wide array of benefits, few to none of them political.

          3. Emma*

            Yes. We need less politics at the office and fewer companies that think what they see on Twitter is the way things really are.

            1. Bee*

              But stating pronouns isn’t bringing politics into the office. There’s nothing political about telling others how to refer to you in conversation.

              1. Not Bob*

                I may be mistaken, but I think that Emma is saying that companies should stop believing what transphobes write about trans people on Twitter (or anywhere else).

          4. Snowday*

            as a member of the lgbt community, I’m a human being, not a politic. when people can’t attack a minority group directly they come up with dog whistles like this one. think about the whole “pull up your pants and comb your hair” racism people use when they can’t come out and say they think their culture is superior, even though that culture is tied to race. your comment is uncalled for and shows your ignorance of the topic.

            1. Bee*

              Agreed. My identity as a queer person is inextricably tied to my existence as a human being. Existence isn’t political. I’m just trying to live my life.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        If someone listed their membership in the national front (uk hate group), a load of organisations that espouse violence against reproductive services or particularly hateful groups in their application then absolutely I’d put them in the ‘will cause MAJOR problems’ pile which is conveniently located near the bin.

        But pronouns are like names – it’s just how a person should be addressed. It has no political stance, it’s just fact.

        Additionally pronouns are very handy with names you may not be familiar with.

      3. Jessen*

        The problem is this is, itself, a form of bigotry. It’s a stereotype that trans or gender nonconforming people are always out looking for reasons to be offended. See the “how dare you assume my pronouns” memes – the vast majority of trans people don’t actually act like that, but it’s a convenient cover for people who actually just don’t want to deal with pronouns that don’t match their assumptions at all. Plus the unfortunately common problem that far too many people treat being asked to acknowledge the existence of trans people as starting a political argument.

        It’s an outgrowth of the idea that there are two races, two sexes, two orientations, etc. – white and political, male and political, straight and political, and so forth. Minorities simply asking to be treated decently gets spun out as them being instigators and troublemakers and recycled back through stereotypes of someone who’s always looking for a fight. And then it gets used as an excuse to shut them out because “I don’t have anything against them, I just don’t want to be dragging politics into things all the time.”

        1. Bee*

          Oh yeah, I absolutely agree that it’s a bad argument! (I said that in the last paragraph of my comment, but in hindsight I could have been more clear.) There’s nothing “political” about stating one’s pronouns, and to classify it purely as “politics” is an invalidation of marginalized identities.

          1. Jessen*

            The part I wanted to highlight is that casting minorities as being obnoxious and instigating fights and looking for something to be offended by when they’re actually simply asking to be treated equally is a very common pattern. We’ve seen it with PoC. We’ve seen it with feminism and women. Now we’re seeing it with trans people. And it’s always the same old pattern – people saying they don’t hate such-and-such group, they just don’t want someone who’ll be a problem, and coincidentally everything that openly indicates minority status or an unwillingness to tolerate mistreatment is a sign that someone’s going to be a problem.

            1. Bee*

              Yes, exactly. Not to mention the idea that people who highlight these issues are “creating problems,” when they’re actually just calling out existing problems. Like, yes, until relatively recently it was considered socially acceptable to misgender trans people, or refuse to hire people of certain races, or sexually harass women in the workplace. The fact that those things aren’t acceptable anymore is actually a good thing, and those changes only happened because people pushed back.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Not to mention, there are conservative people who would never dream of putting their pronouns in their signature who nevertheless are touchy and prickly and are hair-trigger ready to take offense for something.

          It’s not about the pronouns or one’s gender, it’s about personalities, which have nothing to do with gender or political orientation. Some people are just self-centered, prickly jerks who are always spoiling for a fight. You can’t weed these people out by looking for pronouns in their signatures! You need more in-depth interviews to find stuff like this out.

          1. Observer*

            It’s not about the pronouns or one’s gender, it’s about personalities, which have nothing to do with gender or political orientation.

            This. So much, this.

            You can’t weed these people out by looking for pronouns in their signatures!

            Well, whoda thunk! /sarc

            Seriously speaking, you are right. And people who refuse to recognize this are doing themselves and their organizations no favors. At best, it’s lazy hiring.

          2. Gatomon*

            Yes, we had two of those types in my office during my transition. They never said anything to or about me, but every other culture-war thing that came up during the 45 years was a loud, disruptive conversation topic to them and a significant source of stress in my life, being one of the few PoC in the office and transitioning.

            Thing’s really improved when the first one was laid off a few years ago. The survivor quickly realized no one else was interested in this crap, so he mostly shut up. Then covid happened and his team went full remote. He was laid off a few weeks ago, actually.

            Personally I don’t want to know what people think, all I ask is that my name and pronouns are respected while we’re on the clock so we can do our jobs and check the culture wars at the door. I think being a visible non-issue is the best thing I can do to advance trans acceptance in my office.

        1. Well...*

          Or if it is political, all of us are soaked in it. Pretending the dominant group’s existence is inherently less political than the oppressed group is bigotry.

      4. Observer*

        he hiring manager saw the resume and pictured someone who’s going to instigate loud arguments about politics with the entire office. Based on how Facebook has degenerated into an obnoxious political screaming match in the last 8 or so years, I can understand why the boss was averse to catching a whiff of politics from the resume.

        I cannot. Anyone who makes assumptions about people based purely on the way stuff goes on Facebook should *absolutely* not be anywhere *near* hiring or management!

        You know I used to see comments about cartons aimed at children where people would worry that the kids would not realize that some of the things that the characters do are flamingly dangerous, and some were even impossible. Now the thing is that people worried about *KIDS*, not adults! Taking your view of life so strongly from Facebook is akin taking your cues from cartoons.

      5. Kella*

        There’s a problem with this argument, though. If you are wanting to avoid the people who engage in facebook screaming matches, what sort of externally visible traits are you watching out for? Someone listing their pronouns might make it more likely that they aren’t cis, and setting aside the ridiculous stereo type that trans people are more likely to scream at you about politics, what signs is the employer looking for to avoid employing transphobes who are also involved in those screaming matches? Do you avoid other visibly marginalized people like people of color or visibly disabled people because they might participate in activism for their own groups? Do you avoid old cis white guys because they might be the ones who are terrible on facebook?

        The fact, if you politicize signs of marginalization, then an employer who is on the look out for obnoxious political screaming is likely to avoid marginalized groups, and is very likely to assume non-marginalized people wouldn’t engage in that kind of thing. But the fact is there has to be an opposing side in order for a screaming match to happen. But somehow hiring them is never a concern.

        1. aebhel*

          The ‘political screaming matches’ they’re often envisioning, IME, are more along the lines of ‘oh, we can’t hire this trans or at least trans-supportive person because good ol’ George in Accounting just loves him some transphobic jokes and I know that’s going to cause friction’ without ever considering, like, firing good ol’ George to resolve the issue.

          Lather, rinse, repeat for ever type of marginalization under the sun. The bigots get to stay because they’re already there, but we can’t hire marginalized people who might upset the balance.

      6. aebhel*

        Trans people simply existing is not political, nor is wanting a baseline level of respect (or, which I suspect is sometimes the case, to weed out companies where they’re not going to get that baseline level of respect); it becomes political because there are people fixated on destroying them. This is really not a ‘both sides’ issue. Someone with pronouns on their resume may in fact be less likely to complacently go along with an atmosphere of casual bigotry in the workplace, but like. The problem is the bigotry.

        1. Bee*

          Exactly. If you don’t want your employees to make a big deal over bigotry in the workplace, then don’t allow bigotry in your workplace. And don’t penalize people for calling it out.

      7. Parakeet*

        I think getting tetchy about other people stating their pronouns (let alone punishing them for it) is way more of an indicator of being an obnoxious screamer on Facebook – the horrible bigot kind of obnoxious screamer, rather than the “good values but mean personality” kind – than stating one’s pronouns.

    4. Bee*

      Replying to my own comment because I forgot to say this earlier:

      The whole “did you just ASSUME my GENDER?” stereotype is just that: a stereotype. The vast, vast majority of people (even those who use they/them or other non-standard pronouns) won’t get angry over accidental misgendering. Usually they’ll just politely correct you, similar to how someone might say, “Oh, I’m a Ms., not a Mrs.” or “My name is Joan, not Joanne.” People only tend to get defensive or angry when the misgendering is deliberate – just like how most people would get angry if someone kept referring to them as a man when they were actually a woman, or insisted that their name is actually John and not Jane.

    5. Dasein9 (he/him)*

      I saw that thread too. Branding everyone who provides pronouns a “troublemaker” because of anti-trans stereotypes is certainly a large part of this.

      It also smacks to me of not wanting to hire employees who might know how to stand up for themselves when exploited, whatever their gender identity may be. An employer who reads this mildest of boundaries as an indication of a problem is probably violating professional boundaries in other ways too.

      1. Bee*

        That’s a really good point. They’re not actually trying to screen for people who will create problems; they’re looking for people who won’t call out existing problems.

      2. Observer*

        It also smacks to me of not wanting to hire employees who might know how to stand up for themselves when exploited, whatever their gender identity may be. An employer who reads this mildest of boundaries as an indication of a problem is probably violating professional boundaries in other ways too.

        I think that this is very much on target.

        But also, that they don’t want anyone who would have the “audacity” (in their worldview) to consider things like fairness and equity.

        This person is almost certainly both a bigot on multiple fronts.

        If his company doesn’t do something about this, they will eventually get slapped down, and they will deserve it!

    6. cynical cylinder*

      The most common argument in favor of this practice (which has unfortunately already popped up in this comment section) is that people who list their pronouns are more likely to be “a problem.” As in, they’re more likely to make a big deal over every perceived slight, take everything personally or as an affront to their values, and so on.

      When in reality, people who list their pronouns may be a “problem” because they refuse to put up with illegal bullshit that the employer is trying to pull.

  24. Delta Delta*

    #1 – this will be controversial, but is based only on myself: I hate vacations. I love going places and doing things and having adventures. I hate vacations, though. I would love to chill out and disconnect. But the truth is that I get so much e-mail of so many critical things that if I don’t at least check periodically, I get very anxious and it ruins my vacation. I work for myself, so it’s very different than if I had an employer. But to be told “you have to disconnect!” and then I spend every day physically ill with worry because I know I have so much piling up, is decidedly NOT a vacation. I’m not saying this is good or that it’s right, I’m saying this is a sad reality for a lot of people.

    1. Bee*

      I think the fact that you’re self-employed changes the equation somewhat. Part of an employer’s responsibility to their employees is ensuring that there will be coverage when someone goes on vacation (or medical leave, family leave, etc.). If an employee is feeling like they can’t fully unplug when they’re out of the office, that’s a problem the employer needs to address.

      And for what it’s worth, you should be able to disconnect from time to time, too!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        A very different circumstance, but I noticed two small restaurants I walk by on my way to work had “Closed for Vacation” signs on the door. Everyone gets to disconnect!

        1. THE PANCREAS*

          When family owned restaurants completely shut down for 1 wk+ I get so excited for them to have time off. One of life’s little joys.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I now live in Switzerland and it is very common here for small restaurants and shops to close down in summer for 2 weeks or even up to a month. They just put a sign in the window and that’s that. It’s kind of amazing.

        2. J*

          I’ve noticed such an increase of this since 2020 and I’m so grateful to see it. I spent my late teens/young adult years as a child of small business owners and it was so stressful to see them logging online in Hawaii to celebrate their anniversary or fighting because they kept trying to sneak logins during my brother’s literal wedding reception. I love seeing owners focus on work life balance.

  25. Thomas*

    #1, if your employee is “too anxious that something is being missed”, consider ways to make sure that doesn’t happen. Both technological; when one employee is on leave, give another employee appropriate access to their. And managerial; as far as practical, make sure that you aren’t in a position where only one person can do certain tasks.

    #5, my take is that if you’re furloughed you need to be available to return to work immediately. Provided you can do that, and without stiffing any new employer either, I see nothing unethical about taking other jobs to pay the bills.

    1. Antilles*

      For #5, I didn’t read it as taking other jobs in the interim to pay bills that you’re willing to drop whenever (e.g., some temp work or a side hustle or whatever).
      Instead, to me, it seems like the plan is to find a new permanent position (without telling the company), assuming they’re going to “lay you off” at the end of the furlough anyways – so when you do get laid off from OldJob, you keep that full severance in addition to already being set at NewJob.

      1. LW 5*

        That’s right, Antilles— with the additional question of if I can take the full severance if I’m NOT “set” at a new job. I sent this in months ago and am about halfway through my furlough with no traction on something new. This question was especially about if I end up taking temp work or a pay cut, or something I otherwise would have been willing to leave if OldJob pulled me back.

        1. Sloanicota*

          If it were me, and I was prepared to quit the other job and come back if called, I would take the severance without guilt because it’s the price to keep me “on hold.” Severance is rarely sooo much anyway – it’s not typically like the annual paycheck, it’s a month or so. And you are experiencing the upheaval and uncertainty that severance is designed to help with. If I secured a better-paying job and realized I wouldn’t come back, that is the time I might start feeling guilty, and perhaps seek clarity on the intention of the severance.

  26. Another Academic Librarian too*

    Checking email on vacation. Yep that is me. Because despite the theory of disconnecting, all it takes is one to bite me on the ass.
    On the other hand. It’s usually less than ten minutes to push the query on to someone else or send a note saying I am out of the office and will respond in a week.
    Is the supervisor willing to cover for “urgent” or high profile “needs a response?” Otherwise this “take your vacation” and disconnect is disingenuous.
    What had helped me is to practice pushing emails before vacation or days off so that things did not pile up.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Genuine question: why do you need to send an email saying you’re out of office and will respond in a week rather than have an auto-reply set up?

    2. FashionablyEvil*

      Yeah, my OOO message says, “I’ll be out of the office until X and will reply to messages when I return. If you need a response before then, please contact Tangerina for llama grooming questions and Fergus for all other issues.”

      (Speaking of, need to go out that up now since I am heading to the beach tomorrow.)

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And Tangerina would have your contact info so if it’s something truly important they could get ahold of you. It is good to have someone who can screen the incoming email for “This is a scam,” “This is something I can deal with, or that can wait for Fashionably’s return,” and “The Alpaca department is on fire and only Fashionably knows how to reason with the alpacas.”

        1. FashionablyEvil*

          Yes, exactly! Fortunately, in my line of work, the alpaca department catches fire vanishingly rarely. I had an employee give notice while I was on vacation. My boss didn’t call me because what would I do? Spend the last three days of my vacation writing up a job description and getting it to HR to post? She simply gave the employee the separation checklist and told me when I was back on Monday. It was fine.

          1. Relentlessly Socratic*

            I feel like your comment needs to be shouted from the rooftops so that people who agonize over giving notice while someone is OOO can see that it’s actually a pretty normal thing for work to handle.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes my out of office is the same. I list the people to contact in my absence and then I go on leave. I don’t check email again until I’m back (although if I’m back on a Sunday I may check my calendar for Monday to check I’ve nothing scheduled first thing).

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yep, and the whole point of telling the contact people to contact me via text or call me in an emergency (if indeed you are reachable, and not camping in a remote valley or exploring a new country without cell service) is that you can let go of the rest of it without guilt.

        2. Storm in a teacup*

          This is also what I do and is routine for most people in my office.
          There are a few who do respond whilst away and when they have an OOO on but it’ll be the C-suite mostly and only when something major happens.

    3. Alice Dee Carter*

      Consider me ass-bitten. I really think it depends on one’s role. I would love to 100% disconnect, but I’ve learned the hard way. We are a small team, highly specialized, and we had some folks who thought they could drive the bus for every activity. So there was the time that I saw an email thread about how people were going to “take care of something” while I was out – except their decision discarded our establishes practices and policies, and would have caused an unnecessary $40K budget hit for which I would have ultimately been responsible. Glad I saw it and could nip it in the bud. Conversely, there was the time when I completely disconnected and temporarily passed a project off to my colleague – only to learn that the stakeholder lied to him about the agreed-upon deliverables and timelines. There was chaos for my team, other projects postponed, and damage to relationships that still haven’t recovered 3 years later – plus me getting reprimanded for not communicating the fake deadline. I check my email. It’s for the best.

    4. somehow*

      “Is the supervisor willing to cover for ‘urgent’ or high profile ‘needs a response?'”

      Uh – yeah. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. A supervisor sees to either or both, or delegates those to someone else.

      What other arrangement would there be?

  27. Dear liza dear liza*

    OP #1: As someone in the field, my first thought was, “librarians gonna librarian.” We tend to draw heavily from people who are more anxious than others. I supervised someone (salaried) who had this same exact issue. She denied it was workload (and I worked very closely with her- she really didn’t have that much on her plate) and kept repeating that it just made her too anxious not to know what was happening while she was out. When she said the email check was her *therapist’s* suggestion in order her to help her control her anxiety, I stopped. I did insist she not count the email checking time as vacation hours, though.

    We work in a field that for better or worse is identity-heavy (plus vocational awe) and lots of us are too invested in our jobs.

  28. thatoneoverthere*

    LW1 – Personally if she wants to check email I would just let her. However I would really try and be vocal to other staff about how its not necessary. Don’t check your email when you’re away and discourage others.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is the only thing I’ve found to be effective. Anything else feels like micromanaging and causes frustration. But this can be tricky in its own way.

    2. Sneaky Squirrel*

      Hard disagree here. We’ve all seen companies and managers that say they value work-life balance and then their actions end up being the total opposite. Good companies model the values for their staff, and the best way to model it for the other staff is to nip this one in the bud.

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        But I actually enjoy vacation more when I’m able to ensure there are no fires or a huge inbox waiting for me when I get back. I’m able to relax and enjoy. I realize it is an issue with my own anxiety but I do feel I should get to make those choices if I want.

        1. rainyday*

          except your way of managing your anxiety can have a negative impact on other employees, as many commenters have said, as it creates the expectation that others will do the same thing.
          Let’s say we work together – I am not going to check my emails on leave, before I go I will have put plans in place for cover arrangements if there’s a “fire” while I’m away, and I will give myself time when I come back to go through my inbox. The fact that you don’t do this though might make a bad employer think negatively of me – why do we need to deal with crises that arise while she is off? Why does she not arrange any meetings until after lunch on her first day back after a long vacation? Thus your way of managing your anxiety is creating problems for me. (Fortunately my employer is not like this)

      2. Smol Brontosaurus*

        The best way to model something for the staff is to do it yourself. What you describe is modeling paternalism and micromanagement.

  29. Laid Back*

    Letter 5: Alison, I’m afraid I don’t agree. Say Company A put you on furlough rather than laying you off, and you found another job at Company B. If Company A offers to bring you back after the agreed furlough period, and you decline, and instead stay at Company B, then Company A doesn’t owe you anything. You’ve left their offer of re-employment at your own discretion.

    But if Company A instead lays you off at the end of the furlough, it’s no business of theirs that you’re already working at Company B. They should owe you severance they would have paid if they’d laid you off right away. It’s not your fault they chose to do the technical layoff later rather than sooner. Otherwise, companies would just put people on furlough until they found other jobs and then never pay anyone severance.

    1. Parenthesis Guy*


      I can just see someone saying, “We’re putting you on furlough for a year and will decide after that if you have a job. Don’t worry, if we decide not to rehire you after that period, we’ll give you a severance package.”

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      It might not legally be wrong, but its ethically wrong. The point of severance is to ensure you have money while job searching. That’s why its bigger for those who are not working at the end of the furlough period than for those who do find jobs. So basically you would be taking money to tide you over, when you don’t need it because you already have a job.

      Yes, corporations are greedy and unethical. But the solution is not to become unethical like them. I still have to look myself in the mirror every morning.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        The purpose of severance is to soften the blow an employee feels when they are forced to leave a job and to help ensure that this employee doesn’t attempt to harm the company whether by filing a lawsuit, publically disparaging the company, encouraging others to leave, etc etc.

        Whether or not you need the money is irrelevant.

      2. Glomarization, Esq.*

        The point of government unemployment benefits is to ensure you have money while job searching. Severance is severance. It’s often part of your employment contract, or it’s like a bonus. But unless you’ve specifically agreed not to work elsewhere in exchange for the payment, there is nothing unethical about accepting work from New Company after Severance Company has furloughed you or laid you off.

      3. iKit*

        And what about the time in between the start of furlough and the decision when your mortgage was still owed? Utilities? Your credit cards? Groceries? Depending on your local laws and how the company handled the furlough you might not have been eligible during that period for ANY state assistance. IBM LOVED doing that. They’d furlough you… but selectively. After I left, the department I had been working in got furloughed between (US) Thanksgiving and New Years. Everyone who wasn’t salaried got approximately 40 hours of work staggered across those 5-6 weeks such that none of them EVER qualified for state benefits. Of course in winter, in Denver, can you live on 40 hours TOTAL of $11/hour work for 5-6 weeks when you were previously getting 40 hours per week? No.

        So yeah, it’s NOT unethical to take the full severance after the fact. It’s just going to go to paying off the debts that not getting it up front caused you to build up.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – the protracted amount of time that the person is on furlough should not be a reason/justification for denying the worker severance. In fact, odds are that the company is doing this somewhat on purpose to avoid paying severance – or at least hopes to benefit from not having to provide severance if the worker gets another job before they make a decision about whether or not to bring them back.

      There’s a good argument to be made that companies put the burden of slower economic times onto workers by putting them on furlough / laying them off. This is particularly the case in cyclical industries – ie. where slow times are going to regularly happen and employers should be able to (at least somewhat) plan for them.

      Finding a new job and getting severance from the old one doesn’t seem unfair at all, when you consider that the employee is bearing the burden of the company’s decision to lay them off, without any certainty of being rehired or finding another job.

    4. doreen*

      They don’t even need to do that in the US – there is no obligation to pay severance unless there is a contract requiring it. State laws sometimes mandate that any unused PTO must be paid , but that isn’t severance. The LW is going to do whatever they do – but if Company A finds out that a lot of people got new jobs, didn’t resign and collected the full severance well, then next time maybe Company A just lays people off right away and doesn’t offer any severance at all. It’s hard for me to say it’s unethical for Company A to do the legal thing (immediate layoff with no severance) but it’s fine for the letter writer to do the legal thing ( take a new job without resigning and collect the severance ). Assuming it even is legal – which it may not be depending on what has to be signed to get the severance.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      It sounds like thought it is presented as one severance, it’s really two pieces–one half is severance in the sense that you get it no matter what as layoff compensation. The other half is less severance and more a payment to hold your availability for them. If you don’t look for other jobs and choose to wait to see if they need you, then you get that payment. If you don’t want to wait and would rather find a new job now then you forfeit that extra payment.

      I’m not personally going to judge anyone who wants to fudge the details there, but it is clearly not what the company is trying to offer.

      1. LW 5*

        They actually explicitly encouraged “moonlighting,” so it’s not just about holding availability. At this point (about halfway through), I am not expecting at all to be brought back in. If I were writing this question now, I would focus more on the underemployment angle. With the market as it is and the lack of traction that I’m seeing, I’d be shocked if I ended up in a position that paid as much or that I liked as well. If I’m in a role that I WOULD leave if I wasn’t laid off, I don’t know that it would violate my personal ethics to accept the full severance package. I’ve been very interested in and appreciative of everyone’s comments as I consider what to do– and who knows, maybe they surprise me, I’ve got OldJob back next week, and it’s no longer relevant.

    6. Stormfly*

      In my western European country, you’ve a legal entitlement to severance/redundancy that the employer must pay you. You’re entitled to two weeks of pay for every year of service.

      In principle, you shouldn’t lie and declare you still have a job, that could come back to bite you. However, the employer’s also being pretty unethical here, so it’s mostly a wash. (In my country, if they don’t end up hiring you back after a furlough, they must pay you your full redundancy package.) Otherwise, being furloughed just seems like a way for employers to get around giving the severance they should legally be entitled to give.

      It’s kind of like how you’re not paid by companies based on your needs. (e.g. You don’t get a pay increase when you have a kid.) Similarly, you should be entitled to severance, regardless of whether you need it because you found a job right away.

  30. Rachel*

    #3: this policy suggestion sounds like somebody who wants a title upgrade and is dragging the rest of the department into it.

    That being said, it’s impossible to be ageist towards young people. This is the kind of thing that only flows one way, and that is older people being discriminated against. Legally, age is a protected class on the older ages but not the younger. Socially/culture, it is perfectly acceptable to bar younger people from things based on maturity, knowledge, etc.

    I would not bring up ageism at all when discussing this because most people do not believe it is even possible to be ageist towards young people.

    1. bamcheeks*

      That’s the legal definition of ageism in the US, but not, for example, in the UK, where it is very much possible to discriminate against people for being too young. It’s always weird to me that equality legislation in the US specifies that it’s one-way.

        1. Rachel*

          We currently have the oldest Congress in American history. This is a fact.

          There is no incentive for them to pass legislation that helps young people because they haven’t been young people in a long time.

          1. This Comment Made My Day*

            Young people don’t need the help. I got jobs like candy when I was young. Over 60 now, and stellar qualifications and track record mean nothing.

            1. bamcheeks*

              I think this is exactly the problem that Student is referring to. If older people dominate the legislature, and are basing the need for discrimination law on *their own memories of being young* rather than on hard data about wealth distribution and opportunity, that’s the problem right there.

      1. Jessen*

        My understanding is that age discrimination laws in the US were primarily put in place to prevent employers from firing or refusing to hire employees who were seen as too close to retirement.

        1. ijustworkhere*

          I’ve had to shut down interview panel discussions where they start trying to figure out how old an older candidate is. I have never seen that happen with younger candidates. I have handled numerous hiring processes in my many years in HR, and I have never seen a hint of discrimination against a younger person based solely on their age.

          I have seen numerous examples of blatant discrimination solely based on age in candidates over 50 and if you’re over 60, it’s brutal.

          1. This Comment Made My Day*

            Over 60 job hunter here. Brutal is an understatement and you are so correct. Thank you for shutting that mess down.

        2. doreen*

          That’s part of it and another part is it’s easier to replace a 50 year old with a 25 year old and pay the 25 year old less than it is to cut the 50 year old’s pay – but another part of it is also that it’s almost unheard of for an employer to prefer a 45 year old to a 35 year old or a 30 year old to a 25 year old. . To the extent that employers don’t hire people because they are too young , it’s usually based on laws. For example. maybe the state requires someone to be 21 to be licensed as a social worker or prohibits 17 year olds from working in factories.

          1. bamcheeks*

            See, I find it really weird that the argument is that it’s bad to discriminate against older workers because they’re more expensive but OK to pay a younger worker less for the same role. It seems to be focussed on the idea that the only kind of discrimination that matters is whether you do/don’t get the job, and not things like equal pay for equal work, equal access to benefits and promotions, protection from harassment or bullying and so on.

            1. doreen*

              I’m not saying it’s OK to pay a younger person less for the same role – but sometimes people get paid more not because of any difference in the work but strictly because of years of service at that particular employer ( and in some industries/situations , they wouldn’t be paid nearly as much at a new employer) And those employers would often very much like to get rid of the people at the top of the payscale ( who are generally older) and replace them with people who will start at the bottom of the payscale (who are generally younger).

            2. Hannah Lee*

              I assumed that baked into the example of paying a young person less than a older person is that the older person is an existing employee, with years of seniority, possibly having been promoted to a higher position at a higher rate of pay and/or eligible for a richer set of benefits (whether more PTO or grandfathered access to benefit programs the company no longer offers to new hires) A company could decide to layoff the existing (older) employee, and then open a new req for a more junior version of the same role – and hire a younger employee, pay them less, etc.

              And the justification for paying the new worker less is often that they have less experience, bring different skills to the role.

              I’ve seen that happen, more than once. For me, it’s often a signal that I should be starting a job search, because baked into the logic that leads to those practices is an assumption that experience, higher level skills, institutional knowledge, or even the level of quality of the work itself are completely devalued or undervalued compared to the bottom line. The company is likely aiming lower in more than one area, which in could lead to it being a less satisfying, more frustrating place to work, eroding its brand value, losing business or shifting to a less desirable kind of business.

              For example, if a company manufactured fine furniture, and employed a 50 year old cabinetmaker with decades of experience, knowledge and skill from the job of “Finish Carpenter” a position in which he was the senior person doing cabinetry and finish carpentry work, mentoring and guiding less experienced finish carpenters. And then that company turned around and hired a 25 year old with 3 years of framing experience for a new “Finish Carpenter” position, at half the salary, that signals the company is no longer prioritizing the quality of the product – because that new employee may be a good carpenter, but they wouldn’t have the same skills, the same knowledge of materials, process, tools or ability to train or mentor others. While the company would still have the same number of “Finish Carpenters” and still have an employee with “build fine cabinetry” in their job description, it’s likely the work produced won’t have the same finesse, quality and may not even the same function. But they’ll have reduced their payroll and benefits costs.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I agree that happens (and to be honest I’ve seen good and bad examples of it), but I don’t think that’s ever going to be covered by age discrimination if the company has actively stated that it doesn’t need that senior, more experienced role and created a whole new junior role. The law can’t demand that companies value experience. It can only work if you’re comparing like work.

                1. doreen*

                  Depends – most of the time when they try to do this the company doesn’t actually create a new role. The role is still “store manager” or “sales rep” or “auto mechanic” but now it’s filled by someone who has fewer skills/less experience than the person who lost their job for reasons having nothing to do with their actual work.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      That it is socially or culturally accepted to bar younger people from things based on their age and assumptions about maturity isn’t evidence that it’s “impossible to be ageist against young people.”

      It is legal in most places to be ageist against young people. Legally, in those places you can refuse to hire anyone under age 30, even if they have more experience or skills than any of the older applicants, because you don’t like “millennials” or “kids these days” or whatever this year’s term is. That doesn’t mean it’s not biased.

      Call it what you will, but “she has eight years’ experience and he only has three” or “he’s the only one with X certification” shouldn’t be dismissed because Fergus over there who just started working in the industry six months ago is older than either of them.

    3. Observer*

      it’s impossible to be ageist towards young people. This is the kind of thing that only flows one way, and that is older people being discriminated against.

      This is not true. Sure, discrimination against young people is *legal* but that doesn’t make it not ageist.

      Socially/culture, it is perfectly acceptable to bar younger people from things based on maturity, knowledge, etc.

      That does not necessarily make it not ageist. It could still be (depending on the specifics) juts a matter of it being socially acceptable to be ageist.

  31. just another queer reader*

    There are a few people who’ve mentioned checking emails on vacation just to delete the unimportant ones (and prevent the inbox from being so overwhelming upon return).

    I’m wondering if setting up automatic filters in Outlook might be helpful? For example I have all emails from senders X and Y go to my Z folder where I can quickly skim/delete them.

    1. JenLP*

      I literally have a Z Delete folder (remnant of when the folders were alphabetical) for this purpose. And I use my return from PTO as the opportunity to assess if my rules are correct or not. Cause one time I came back from a week’s vacation to over 3,000 emails and that’s ridiculous.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      For me, no. This is a matter of severe anxiety and a deep-seeded fear of being in trouble. I need to know there is nothing to worry about. A boss who would bar me from checking my emails during vacation or nights and weekends is not doing me any favors.

    3. J*

      I love coming back from vacation to a backlog of unimportant emails. It helps me identify new filters for things. I still put “need to know” stuff so it hits my inbox first but newsletters, my annual filing notices, invoices, those all go to folders that I process on separate days pre-calendared. It also helps me see how much spam I get from illiterate recruiters and such and I set up those filters. But I think the same people who can’t let go of the control of “I’m not needed today” can’t also let go of the “every email is important and an emergency” even when it’s spam.

  32. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    LW1, with all the kindness I can muster, this sounds like a You issue and a Control issue. I’m probably wired similarly to your employee from you’ve written of them. I had a hard time reading it without being rubbed the wrong way.

    One of the people I supervise checks their email every day while they are on vacation. They say they spend about an hour or so going through and responding to email each day. I am trying to create a culture where folks are not getting burned out, and I encourage my team members to fully and truly take a break while they are away.

    Have you taken the time to research and poll on what causes burnout to your employees, or did you just generalize from self? Burnout is a very personalized situation and not at conducive to “one size fits all” solutions. (Hint, Burnout is often driven by broken stairs and windows that rank-and-file are either lack position, ability, or authority to fix, and the constant managing of potholes is what causes it, not the load or pace).

    I tried to set a good example by not checking my emails while I was away for a recent vacation.

    This reads like you’ve generalized from what minimizes your anxiety and stress.

    However, this teammate insists that they need to check their emails because otherwise they will be too anxious that something is being missed and too overwhelmed when they return.

    With all due respect, this sounds eminently reasonable for some with responsibilities and business relationships to maintain or any kind of thought worker whose role requires discretion and/or creativity.

    I’ve had a brief conversation about how they can set up her out-of-office emails to direct urgent inquiries to other people, but they still insist they need to check their email daily. On other issues they have been open to change and feedback, but they are more insistent on this.

    Unfortunately, your OOO message solution empowers peers to go off the rails in the name of “the business can’t wait for tomorrow.” When that happens, who are you going to charge with the cleanup; the employee who knows what they’re doing or the peer who made the mistake(s) in their absence?

    They have a vacation week coming up, and I am considering pushing back a bit. I am thinking of proposing a trial compromise where they would check their email twice while they are away and then reflect on it together at our regular check-in meeting when they get back.

    This might make you feel better, but it probably ruins your employee’s vacation. If I were in their shoes, and there were any discretionality to the vacation at all, I would probably cancel it or (if remote is an option), bring my equipment and work from the destination. I’d probably spend my off-hours during the vacation beginning to interview out as well.

    I think it would be good for them to see that things do not fall apart if they don’t check their email for a few days and, even if something major does happen, to be able to identify gaps where cross training is necessary.

    Again, you’ve made their PTO about you, not them. Not everyone would prefer to clean up documentation and cross-train while also trying to clean up a mess that doesn’t need to exist.

    If it’s really about documentation, ask the employee to document anywhere they need to intervene or coach during their PTO, and address that upon return, from a position of strength with the employee’s workday intact.

    While not overstepping into the position of a therapist, I also would like to learn more about why they feel so nervous about things falling apart when they are away.

    You’re giving yourself permission to micromanage their off time instead.

    It’s entirely possible that they have been left holding the bag for peers’ good-intentioned mistakes during previous PTO. They might even have lost work due to it. Which makes their modus operandi a solution, not a problem.

    With all due respect, your employee’s PTO is not about you. My advice is work on your own control issues and trust your employee to optimize their PTO for their benefit and not yours, just as the disparity in authority of your respective positions forces them to trust you to do the same.

    1. Friendo*

      It’s not micromanaging their off-time if what you’re addressing is work. It’s inherently not off-time then.

    2. somehow*

      Sounds like a complete and total recipe for burnout.

      Good thing OP is appropriately trying to mitigate that very thing. Check email for a few minutes each day while on vacation just to get a sense of what’s going on? Who can stop you?

      But working from your vacation destination and showing it by communicating via email? Wow. Just…no…I mean, why beg for burnout?

  33. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t know whether #5 is ethical, but it doesn’t sound any worse than the exec who was (supposedly) working two $200K jobs at the same time, and that one was at least up for debate.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Wrong, but on the minor scale of wrong.
      A lot of people would choose not to do it because keeping track of all the deceptions is tiring and life is less stressful if they are honest.
      The justifications for how it’s okay can get into bigger and dodgier moral territory than the initial small sin.

      1. GythaOgden*

        This is where I am.

        Additionally for ethics to mean anything, it ought to act as a brake on our own behaviour as well as something we demand from others. Claiming something is ethical only when it suits you to be is nonsensical; the whole point of ethics and morality is to remind you that doing something that benefits you might have a negative impact on other people, many of whom are just like you but have different needs and priorities. In this situation, it sounds like OP’s employer is in a difficult position as regards finances and are trying to keep things together, albeit without OP right now. The owner is happy to pay out if the person reaches the end of the furlough without finding a new job, but if LW lies to them, they take money from that business that could, say, keep the lights on or keep other employees on payroll for another month or whatever. A business in this situation is probably not sustainable, but that doesn’t mean OP should feast on its corpse. (And presumably OP is eligible for unemployment so they’re getting paid in the mean time.)

        Ethics also starts with us because we’re the only people who can choose to act ethically. Laws coerce people into action, but ethical and moral codes act as a positive force to make people aware of the role other people play in their lives and the role we play in theirs. Also, what goes around, comes around — ethical decisions trade short term disadvantage for longer term social stability, from which we all benefit.

        So there is a distinct reason to act ethically, particularly when it may mean you have a short term loss. Ethics only survives as a whole system when it’s a conscious choice to forgo exploiting a situation.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          It’ll still come down to individual definitions of ethics though. Is it unethical to lie and tell my boss I have a dr’s appt when I’m really going on an interview? I’d say no, but others might disagree.

        2. LW 5*

          I’d like to clarify the state the company is in– I am truly not concerned about 50% of my severance package keeping the lights on for anyone. The company is profitable, and functionally closing their American offices for cheaper labor overseas.

          Also, I said this in another comment, but being “eligible for unemployment” does not mean that much when unemployment is poverty wages, and in fact comes out to below the minimum wage in my city. If I end up in a position that I don’t like or doesn’t pay as well, I don’t know that I think it’s wrong to accept the full severance package I’d have received if they laid me off rather than furloughed me to begin with.

    2. Evens*

      That one should not have been up for debate. It was highly unethical for the LW. besides, the lack of actual work production was why so many companies demanded their workers come back in person.

      1. Budgie Buddy*

        In that one the LE also leaned on “well technically they never told me I couldn’t work a second full time job” while this LW has received explicit instruction on what to do in the even the gets a new job.

  34. Irish Teacher*

    LW1, I think I would focus more on the fact that you specifically want them to refrain from checking e-mail during their holidays rather than questioning what makes them nervous about not doing so. They may have anxiety about it or they may have control issues or they may just like to know what is going on or they may get bored easily.

    I wouldn’t be inclined to make assumptions about what they will benefit from because people differ and even if they would benefit from taking a break, I think it could come across as somewhat patronising to say so. “I know you don’t think this is stressing you out or interfering with your break but I am telling you it is and that you are not enjoying your break as much as you think you are.” I’m sure you don’t think like that, but it could come across that way.

    However, there are valid reasons not to want somebody checking their e-mail during holidays. As others have said, it could interfere with the way things are set up in their absence or make whoever is covering for them feel undermined or prevent you from checking for falsifications. If working during holidays is common in your industry, it might also make new people wonder if it is expected in your business. And I think it could also lead to people leaning on this employee, assuming they will always be in contact to answer questions and therefore not learning to do things that are their responsibility. This happened when I worked retail. There was one thing the manager never learnt to sort out and just left the deputy manager do – if the problem arose while she was off, he’d just say, “oh, just type it in manually for now and when she comes in, I’ll get her to fix it” (she had a habit of calling in during her holidays, etc). Then she was sent to cover in another branch and he couldn’t contact her (not sure why) so he had to ring the district manager to tell him how to do something he should have learnt a year earlier, which must have been embarrassing.

    I’d nearly lean in to the last, explaining that you really need your team to be able to manage without them. Perhaps let them know that you will phone them if they are really needed or send an e-mail marked “urgent” but unless you do this, you don’t want them replying to anything, as you really want to do a trial run without them, knowing they will be back/can be contacted in a dire emergency (or maybe leave out the part about contacting them in dire need and just say you want to do a trial run when you know they’ll be back, if you think the other will only encourage them to check and justify it with “but I wanted to be sure nothing was marked urgent”) rather than having the first time without them a time they are in hospital or after they have retired and they aren’t available at all.

    I wouldn’t frame it as for their good, because they are the best judge of that. I’d frame it rather on the benefits for the company. Plus that allows you to tell rather than ask. “I need you to refrain from answering any e-mails during this holiday as I really need to ensure our company can manage without the input of any specific individual” rather than “please don’t reply to e-mails during your holidays. I don’t want you to burn out,” which could be interpreted as you just saying it to be kind.

  35. MicroManagered*

    LW4: I can’t help but raise my eyebrow at the fact that there is ZERO context given in the letter.

    But one piece of context I did pick up on is that the supervisor/leader of the class is a “she.”

    I can think of a couple reasons a woman may need to remind someone that she is four levels higher than a student’s dad in the chain of command…

      1. Ginger Cat Lady*

        Any answer is a stretch given the limited content. But the “she” stood out to me as well, since it was one of the very few details included, and how much he hated the fact that she was superior to his father. Made me wonder what he’d said/done to lead up to her saying that.

        1. Melissa*

          You have no idea the LW is even male! Convention on this website is to refer to anonymous writers as “she,” but you went ahead and decided this one must be a man.

          1. MicroManagered*

            I made no assumptions about the OP. You don’t have to be male to have internalized some sexist ideas.

            Since OP didn’t provide the context of the instructor’s statement, it’s at least possible that the instructor felt like she needed to remind OP that she outranks their father. (I’m wondering if the OP kept bringing up what their father thinks about the subject matter of the class until that was the only way to shut it down.)

            This is one possibility. It’s really strange that you are assuming I meant it with certainty when I used language like “can think of” and “may need to.”

  36. Student*

    OP #5: If you believe your company is doing this furlough-layoff as a way to try to push employees into quitting without full severance, you may want to talk to a lawyer specializing in employment law to make sure they are following the WARN act, if applicable.

    I’m not a lawyer, but a quick google search indicates they likely can’t get out of the WARN act by spreading out the layoffs among staff (as long as they happen within a 200-day window). It also looks like they probably can’t get out of the WARN act by just calling it a long furlough, if they’ve reduced your hours by 50% or more during the furlough period.

    If they violate the WARN act, you can potentially get back pay, so it may be worth the expense of a lawyer. Especially if you and some of your colleagues pursue a case together to save costs.

  37. Parenthesis Guy*

    LW #5: The argument that it’s ethical is pretty straightforward. Through no fault of their own, this employee was furloughed. They’re not getting paid while furloughed, so it encourages them to find another position because they need to eat. Since they’re being encouraged/forced to get a new position, they should get their full severance.

    This case has the added bonus that this employee isn’t expected to do work in the interim. It’s not like they’re cheating their employer by doing a poor job at their tasks. I would also think that the length of the defined period has an impact. It’s one thing if it’s two weeks (and the LW probably wouldn’t find a job in that time period anyway). It’s another if it’s six months. The longer the period, the fairer it is.

    Finally, it’s worth noting that not taking the half severance package is a risk for the employee. If they get called back, then they get no severance package and have to choose between their old job and their new job. In that regard, it may pay to be honest and just take the half package. Then again, if you’re relatively confident that you’ll be let go, then it makes sense to take the risk. And it makes it even more fair to not give notice to your employer. If they know they’re going to let you go, and are just pulling this stunt to save on severance payments, then they’re the ones being unethical.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Ethics is something that applies to your own behaviour, though. It’s virtually never ethical to deceive someone in order to gain more in this kind of situation. There are probably other people who play by the rules who do so because they want others to play fair with them, and I think that tends to lead to better outcomes in the end than assuming ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ in an ethical race to the bottom.

      Won’t the employee be getting unemployment for the furlough term anyway?

      So, she says that if she looks for work during her furlough and gets another job before it’s up, thus resigning from the furloughed position, they only pay half her severance.

      If she lies about it and doesn’t resign before the furlough is up, there are two possibilities: one, she gets both a new job and full severance, or two, she gets recalled and then has to admit to having lied and having to resign in order to start the new job. Is the risk worth the consequences of it all going wrong?

      They’re not depriving her of an income, because claiming unemployment should be fairly straightforward in these circumstances. They’re not stopping her looking for a new job; in fact, they’ll also pay partial severance if she gets a new job before she gets laid off, which is more than many companies do when someone resigns from an old job to start a new one.

      It would be risking her reputation to spin it out on the assumption she’d be laid off. If it goes wrong (and lies often do often risk causing problems), she not only loses all severance (because they actually want her back but she’s saying she isn’t available to them any more) but she trashes her reference from that job and it may get around that she did that because people talk.

      Ethics act as a brake on schemes that we cook up through expediency and chicanery at the expense of other people (here, a company already struggling to keep its employees on full time work and who made a reasonable bargain with a redundant employee). (For instance, turn it around — it would be unethical — and illegal, but the laws sprung from what ethics would dictate needs to be enforced — for a company to insist that the employee on furlough and claiming unemployment comes into work, as was actually a situation that crossed the forum early in the pandemic. So if it would be unethical for an employer to exploit a furlough situation, it would be equally unethical for an employee to do the same to their employer.)

      If the company really wanted to they could just cut the OP loose, but they might still have a job for her so that’s why they’ve proposed this solution. One way or another, they can’t afford to keep OP on, so it’s definitely not ethical for OP to exploit that situation. It does suck to be made redundant — it happened to my husband a long time ago — but we all understand it happens. Additionally, though, it’s incumbent for the person who has control of their actions to act ethically in each situation; by definition, deceiving the company here is not ethical behaviour at all.

    2. HotSauce*

      Why wouldn’t they get paid while furloughed? Shouldn’t they be filing for unemployment?

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah — but you’re not working for the company (creating value for them) and you have something coming in while you look for work. As frustrating and upsetting as that is (and a lot of us have been there) it’s probably worth more in the long run not to try and hide a new job from your old employer. You’re staking a lot — money and reputation — on a gamble that might not pay off, and even if it does fleeces an employer already struggling to keep going. Presumably there are others in the same boat and the owner themselves is facing quite a significant loss; I remember when my husband’s company was going through cash flow issues and his employer wasn’t living high on the hog — they were the same sort of middle class working stiff as he is, just one that had taken on a lot more risk. We actually made him a small loan to make payroll and he paid every penny of it back when the money came back in — but it was worth it to ensure that my husband and several other people, few of whom could afford to lose their jobs either, could still remain employed.

          So no one here is Scrooge McDuck. Your employer is not doing this for the lulz; there’s not a huge gap between you and the person you’d be screwing over by deciding to do this, particularly because your scheme relies on you being able to find a new job and simply lie to the old one. There are a lot of reasons not to do this.

          I’m sorry you’ve lost your job — it’s not easy. But unethical behaviour often comes back to bite us later on in surprising ways, and this would not be victimless.

          1. LW 5*

            I really appreciate this comment. Pointing out that it has risks to my reputation is also a really good point.

            I want to clarify that, due to what I know about the company’s finances and goals, I am not actually concerned about 50% of my severance screwing over anyone. My concern is that I will end up in a position with a notable pay cut, or otherwise not something I would stay in if I had the chance to return to my old job. It doesn’t seem fair to me to have to give up my severance package just because I found SOMETHING to tide me over, if I would leave it for my old job back.

            I’m truly sorting out whether or not I DO think what would be, in this case, a lie of omission is an unethical act. I genuinely am still not convinced that it is, and I value the input I’m seeing in the comments.

  38. Editor Emeritus*

    As others have said, reading email is one thing, but replying could affect how others work, or make them wonder about expectations.

    I once emailed a question to a co-worker I didn’t really know. There was no auto reply. She replied angrily, asking how I dared email her while she was on vacation.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I had a coworker complain that people put meetings on his calendar while he was OOO, and he’d….just call into the meetings anyway? And be bitter about it.

      Turns out, he’d never learned the proper way to put his OOO on his outlook calendar (He’d left it to show as Free). He also never used OOO messages. I mean, you can be mad that people impose on you or you can use the tools in front of you.

      1. JustaTech*

        A thing I did before I went on maternity leave, as part of a department-wide project to improve communication, was to write up sample text for an OOO email and how to set it up in Outlook.
        “Your OOO should include the dates you’ll be gone and who the sender should contact in the meantime, either your boss or someone else for a specific project.”
        Because it turns out a lot of folks didn’t know how to do that and were getting stressed about emails.
        There are also some folks who do a lot of work with outside groups who even include their upcoming OOO dates in their email signature.

        (My work just shuts off your access to email while you’re out on parental leave, so I couldn’t have checked if I wanted to, and by the time I was ready to come back I’d forgotten my password so I had to show up in person to get it reset to check my email.)

  39. Basma26*

    LW1, one thing that has helped me to refrain from checking email on vacation is to establish an agreement with colleagues that if there is something that needs my attention, they WILL text me. If I’m off on vacation thinking that my colleagues are doing whatever they can to avoid contacting me, then I have a harder time disconnecting. If I am confident that silence = no emergency, then it’s easier to put my inbox out of my mind entirely. When my colleagues went on vacation I made the same deal with them and it seemed to help for them as well.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s an excellent point.

      I don’t check email and IMs on PTO to screen client emails or find out the entrée of the day in the vending machines. I’m looking for emails and IMs from peers or my supervisor where I can add detail or context or point them in the right direction to do the real work themselves. My 5 minutes has saved peers hours of digging and myself days of fixing upon my return before.

      And, sometimes, I do the work myself if it fits into my schedule and there’s a legit talent/training gap. Then we address those things upon my return.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      That’s part of what helped me. My deputy/senior tech at the time has my personal mobile number and if all heck breaks loose and I’m truly the only person with the ability to help they can text me.

      To this day they’ve done it once.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I’m coming up to my tenth anniversary of a similar arrangement, and I don’t think it’s ever been used.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Yeah, it was a very extreme situation. I’m still learning to overcome my ‘must fix everything’ tendancies but gradually it’s becoming apparent that others can do the job just as well as me.

  40. HonorBox*

    OP1 – While it may help someone feel less anxious to read emails, there is a risk of increasing anxiety and having that person do more than just read emails. If they’re reading something that they feel they MUST dig into, the simple exercise of checking their messages could lead to them spending more than just that seemingly small amount of time doing much more. I used to check my email multiple times a day while on PTO, and had a day completely ruined because I read a message that I felt needed a response and ended up exchanging multiple messages throughout the day. I was checking for responses, responding to those responses, and the cycle continued. Then I just actively stopped. It was not easy. Frankly, it was really difficult. But I’ve started putting “if you need me, feel free to call/text” in my OoO internally and directing people to my boss in my external OoO. And when I was gone recently for 10 days (only 5 work days, thanks to the 4th of July), NOTHING was so important that I couldn’t deal with it when I got back. Someone needed something from me on a very tight deadline and my boss was able to take care of it in just a few minutes.

    You can’t make someone less anxious, but you can sure encourage them to find ways to feel more comfortable stepping away. Suggest that they direct things to you via OoO. Assure them (and then mean it) that if something comes up urgently or a deadline is missed, there will be no negative repercussions for them. And definitely suggest that if they’re always in the mix, you don’t have opportunity to find out if there are areas that need to be fixed. Your job is to know how everything works and if you can’t see a gap in coverage or can’t see a flaw in a system because they’re always jumping in, you’re not able to address those problems. And again, you need to show them that nothing bad will happen to them if you or someone else needs to step in to cover something last minute in their absence.

  41. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    1: Email on holiday, my old nemesis we meet again.

    I’ve got a bad problem with feeling like I’m being left out of the loop, or that I’m the only one with the answers and at one point I had that company Blackberry attached to my waist 24/7 because I feared missing something important. Even when on mandatory 2 week stress leave.

    It’s taken a long time to get to the point of powering off the company phone when I’m on holiday. A very long time. What helped me realise it was an issue was someone fairly high up in the command structure telling me that by constantly replying to emails even when signed off work (!) I was essentially saying I didn’t have any respect in my coworkers abilities to deal with things. Ouch.

    So I went to putting my out of office on, and I’d still read the emails but not reply to them. Over time I moved onto ‘eh, I’m not going to do anything with these apart from get stressed’ so the amount lessened.

    Taking up embroidery helped too, weirdly. Hard to check emails and thread needles at the same time.

  42. I Licked Your Salt Lamp*

    For #2, I think it all depends on how difficult it becomes to prove that somebody is doing this (obviously posting on Twitter about it will get you caught easily) A hiring manager who decided to trash (or quietly reject) resumes with pronouns included would have to be careful to make it appear coincidental. This would eventually result in a pattern where trans people are not getting jobs at this company, and then it may become obvious. Also if several people are involved in the hiring process then it might be harder to discriminate in this way.

    Then again, its not only trans people who put pronouns in their resume so idk but I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens more often than people realize.

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      It’s discrimatory against “woke” people, liberal people, etc which is not a protected class.

      DEI = Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion so people participating in it/working in the area could be members of a protected class, but they could also just be decent human beings working towards DEI which is again not a protected class.

      But if the person discriminating is silent about their discrination rather than advertising it, there’s really no way to prove it especially if the people rejected for DEI or including pronouns are just some of the people that don’t get interviews.

      1. Teapot, Groomer of Llamas*

        Here’s the thing though. Under the CRA you actually don’t need to prove somebody is intentionally discriminating. If a particular practice is likely to have a disproportionate impact on a protected class, that’s enough to be in violation of the law. LGBT folx are more likely to put pronouns on resumes then non-members of that community, so automatically binning resumes with pronouns is going to hit them harder and have a discriminatory impact.

      2. Observer*

        In a way, this makes it MORE dangerous to the company. Because anyone looking at this likely to reasonably conclude that this person is bigoted against many types of people.

        What would you be willing to bet that this person would not discriminate against a guy who looks “too girly”, or not push back on a woman being in any sort of position of authority, or not use derogatory language for people of color. I could go on, but if I were in management, I would be worried about all of these and pretty much any other discriminatory behavior you could think of.

  43. L-squared*

    #2. While I don’t think anyone doing hiring should immediately disregard any applications based on using pronouns, I have to ask, is this something people SHOULD be doing?

    I feel like I’ve read on here that your demographic information (age, gender, race, religion) don’t really belong on a resume and cover letter. So by that logic, even if we can say the person in question shouldn’t use that as a basis to not move them forward in the process, couldn’t we also say you shouldn’t include that information anyway, unless its a very specific circumstance?

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Things I need to know to address a person respectfully: the name they want to be addressed as and possibly their pronouns.

      Things I don’t need to know about a person to address them respectfully: their age, race, religion, parenthood status, sexual preference (if any), what political groups they belong to etc.

      Also, as has been pointed out quite a few times here, normalising pronoun usage on professional material means we move away from ‘the only people who put pronouns on their stuff are transgendered’ toward a ‘this is just as normal as someone’s name’.

      1. Bee*

        I agree with everything you’re saying, but “transgender” is the correct terminology, not “transgendered”!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          I’m so sorry! Thank you for the correction, I will use appropriate wording in future.

    2. Fluffy Fish*

      Gender is a little different than the others I think in that its pretty inescapable. Most people have gendered names – an employer is going to make an assumption on someone’s gender based on that alone.

      I think there’s an important safety aspect to this. No one should be discriminating but places that do are not safe places for for some people to work.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        The last point is the important one, I think. The US is very hostile towards trans people right now in a lot of places. Screening for that could very much be a safety concern.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Took me a moment, but I see what you mean – you’re suggesting that people shouldn’t include information on their resume that would identify them as part of a protected class –
      i.e. why give people the ability to discriminate, when you don’t have to?

      Generally agreeing with you. Just listing a name is often enough to reveal that the person’s gender, race, ethnicity… even religion. Using pronouns after your name on a resume would generally reveal something about your political/social leanings, too.

      It pleases me greatly that a genderless / generic-sounding name could cause hiring managers to be unable to rely on biases – being brought up short by interviewing someone they thought was one gender / race / whatever, who turns out to be something else, is good for at least making hiring managers question their assumptions.

      1. Extra anony*

        Two of my friends were specifically named “gender neutral” names (Jamie and Taylor) by their moms, who in the 80s had faced discrimination based on their female-sounding names in hiring processes.

      2. L-squared*

        I get what you are saying. I have a name that, at least racially, is very neutral. I’m black, but based on even my full name, you’d have 0 clue what type of person would be walking in the door. I mean, you’d be able to assume I was a guy, but thats about it.

      3. UKDancer*

        My company (and those I’ve worked in the past) remove all biographical identifying information (name, address etc) so as to reduce scope for unconscious bias. So you sift without knowing who people are, which I think is strongly preferable personally. I think this has made a lot of difference in terms of recruiting a more diverse workforce.

      4. JustaTech*

        As to leaving information that could be used to identify you as a member of a protected class, didn’t Amazon have a problem a few years ago when they tried to use machine learning to reduce bias in their hiring they just created a system that was *amazing* at identifying women – and excluding them?
        Like, the first round of the algorithm excluded women, so they took the names off the training resumes, and the algorithm then identified other things on a resume that were likely markers of gender (college names, for example) and eventually Amazon just gave up because they couldn’t get the system to not be sexist because they were working with an already biased starting dataset (existing Amazon employees).

    4. Bee*

      Eh, I don’t know. I think it can be helpful to include that information so the hiring manager knows how to refer to you when discussing your application. (This is especially true for people with gender-neutral first names, or people who use different pronouns than the one you’d expect based on their name.)

      That said, I definitely don’t think it should be required, and there are plenty of legitimate reasons why someone might choose not to list them. (Plenty of trans and gender-nonconforming people don’t, for a variety of very legitimate reasons.) I think it’s fine to list them and also fine to not list them – it’s up to the individual applicant.

    5. Peanut Hamper*

      I think your logic is faulty. You seem to be assuming that anyone using pronouns would be LGBTQ+, which is not the case.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I didn’t read it that way, I read it as assuming anyone using pronouns has a gender (reasonable) and gender is not something that should be taken into account while hiring to begin with, so why offer it? That’s as true for women with masculine or gender neutral names as it is for trans individuals.

        1. Ginger Cat Lady*

          Every human being on Earth has a gender, not just people who use pronouns.
          If employers are being biased about gender, the answer is not for people to hide their gender. The answer is for employers to not be biased.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Hiding and not offering proactively are different things. That solution is also true for people with disabilities or people with families or many other things that many if not most candidates will have, but you still don’t offer it at the resume stage.

          2. JustaTech*

            Right, and the current easiest way for companies to try and eliminate their gender bias in hiring is to remove names, because names usually signal gender.

            There was a thing a few years ago where some symphony decided to start having “blind” auditions, where the musician sat behind a screen to play for the judges. After a small change to have the musician seated before the judges entered (because you can hear the difference between high heels and flats, which is a gender marker), the gender balance of new musicians got much closer to parity, even though the judges did not think they were biased against women.

      2. L-squared*

        How did I assume anything about their sexual orientation? I’m speaking specifically about listing their gender.

        Just as if someone’s name was Taylor, I don’t think there is a need for them to identify whether they are a man or a woman in their cover letter. Listing pronouns is basically doing that.

        1. Nightengale*

          Taylor sends in a resume and cover letter without listing pronouns. The resume comes across screener’s desk. Screener goes to the hiring manager and says “hey this Taylor looks pretty good, I think we should invite him for an interview.” Hiring manager agrees and tells the administrative person to set it up. Administrative person e-mails people at the organization and says “our candidate is coming in on August 28, can you meet with him at noon?” A schedule is drawn up. “Taylor Lastname has an interview on August 28 – here is his schedule for the day. Admin will meet him at the front desk at 8 AM. Exec will take him to lunch.” Taylor is cced on this e-mail.

          Taylor is a woman.

          Taylor has now been misgendered by and to a dozen people who are going to meet her and directly in an e-mail to herself. Does she correct this in the e-mail? Does she just show up for the interview and correct people then? Will someone who got the initial e-mail take Taylor on a tour and refer to her as him when making introductions?

          One could argue that Taylor is more likely to get an interview if presumed to be male and that is both true and a problem. Taylor may prefer to be initially misgendered in the hope of getting an interview.

          But Taylor may also prefer not to be misgendered at all. Including pronouns on her resume would have very simply prevented this whole chain. “Hey this Taylor looks pretty good I think we should invite her to an interview” and so on.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          There’s a horrible balance when you’re part of a marginalised group between a) trying to remove any trace of it from job applications so you are more likely to get an interview and b) feeling even more marginalised when you’re assumed to be a ‘standard’ that you’re not.

      3. Bee*

        I think the idea is that it opens up people to gender discrimination. For example, if a person lists their pronouns as “she/her” you could reasonably assume that they’re a woman – even if you don’t know whether they’re trans or cis. I think that’s a fair point, but I don’t see how it’s different from having a traditionally masculine or feminine first name. (Not everyone’s gender aligns with their name, of course, but that doesn’t mean hiring managers won’t make assumptions.)

        I think there are good reasons to list pronouns and good reasons not to list pronouns, and the equation is different for each individual.

    6. Silver Robin*

      that is tricky though, since most names carry gender to the extent that adjusting one’s name is a big part of gender presentation (in gendered languages, certainly, not sure about non-gendered languages). Some names (Alex, Sam, Morgan, etc) are unclear/neutral/carry multiple genders.

      We end up with the following scenarios:
      – native language name with obvious gender
      – native language name with non-obvious gender
      – foreign language names where the clarity of gender depends on the reader’s familiarity with the language, the way the name gets translated/transliterated, and the languages gender rules
      – new names that do not follow familiar gender rules (fantasy names, or names like Moon Unit)

      Of those scenarios, the gendered names are the majority, I believe. So most resumes are going to show up with gender attached. Even if they were not the majority, there is no way for those folks to de-gender their resume. Maybe if we all went by last names until hired? That would be quite the shift. I think, therefore, there might actually be an argument to gendering all resumes by offering pronouns so at least everyone is equally gendered.

      But this is me working out a thought process on something so I could be wrong

      1. Teapot, Groomer of Llamas*

        I think it’s interesting. And you have situations like mine where in my culture the name is universally one gender and in the dominant culture the name, where it exists at all, is usually the other.

        And of course just going by surnames has it’s own issues because they can be indicative of ethnicity and sometimes even religion and gender. I’m not sure there is a good solution.

        1. Silver Robin*

          oh for sure, as LSquared and others noted, there are *lots* of indicators riding along with names. I cannot really imagine going nameless in an interview process.

          There is also the fact that lack of information means folks will fill in the blanks with whatever their assumptions are. So without more obvious identifiers, like names, they will use where somebody went to school or the kinds of jobs they held and unconsciously build an image of assumption and bias there. One notable example, if I recall correctly, is Ban the Box efforts regarding noting a criminal record. Banning the box resulted in more racist hiring because folks did not know for sure who did and did not have the background, so they relied on more or less unconscious stereotypes and thus were more likely to either assume Black people were criminals or assume that the chance was too high and pass on the resume.

          All of which says: include pronouns if you want and if you are hiring, lean heavily into some unconscious bias training!!

    7. Hlao-roo*

      is this something people SHOULD be doing?

      I think this is an “if you want to, go for it, if not, don’t” situation. No right or wrong answers, just something every person gets to decide for themselves.

      1. Bee*

        Yep, agreed. I would also object to anyone saying that applicants *have to* list their pronouns, because people have just as much of a right to keep that information private as they do to share it. Many trans and gender-nonconforming people choose not to share their pronouns, since they would have to either out themselves or misgender themselves in order to do so.

        1. Bee*

          (I’m referring to trans people who haven’t socially transitioned yet and might not be out at work. Sharing pronouns doesn’t always mean outing yourself, of course.)

          1. city deer*

            Because I see some variation of this statement in the comment section every single time pronouns come up as a topic on AAM…trans/gnc people have a much wider range of experiences than “closeted, pre-transition, can’t share their pronouns” or “out, post-transition, love to announce their pronouns.” Some of us, for example, have transitioned and are out/clockable in all areas of life and still don’t feel that strongly about pronouns, have different preferences in different social contexts, and/or don’t enjoy the feeling that we are being asked to literally label ourselves for cis people’s comfort. I would never put pronouns on my resume, and none of the other trans people I know do this routinely either. But none of us are making that choice for the reasons you gave.

            Personally, as a genderfluid trans person with a neutral name, I want to decide how to navigate workplace gender stuff in situ, not start forming a gendered impression of myself before I’ve even made it to interview. My ideal inclusive workplace would be one where I could show up and let people be a little confused about my gender and nobody would bother me about it, not one where I’m expected to identify with a set of pronouns as strongly as my name. Obviously, this is not the perspective that is usually being accounted for in corporate DEI. But it still matters if the goal is actually caring about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and not just virtue signalling.

            1. Bee*

              Thank you for pointing that out, it’s a perspective I hadn’t considered.

              I’m nonbinary but still very closeted in most areas of my life, so the whole “outing myself vs. misgendering myself” scenario is one that comes up for me a lot. (And it’s why I don’t tend to share my pronouns unless asked, and even then I’ll often tell people “she/her” even though it’s not correct.) That’s why I brought it up here.

              You’re right, though – it’s not the only reason people might have for not sharing their pronouns, and it’s not the only reason why requiring it might be harmful.

    8. Angstrom*

      The possibility of bias due to demographic information or cues is why some companies anonymize resumes before they start the review process.

      1. Silver Robin*

        oh fascinating, I was wondering if anyone did that. I was having a hard time imagining how that would go. I wonder how helpful it is or if people make assumptions based on writing style or something else? If it does actually result in more equitable interviewing, that would be a great best practice.

    9. Irish Teacher*

      Maybe think of it in terms of “these are the pronouns I would like you to use for me” rather than giving specific information. I don’t see it as much different than putting a nickname after one’s legal name, such as “Elizabeth (Beth) McCarthy,” implying “my name on my birth cert. is Elizabeth, but I want you to call me ‘Beth.'” Similarly, I would see “Elizabeth McCarthy (she/her)” as implying, “my name is Elizabeth and I want you to call me ‘she’ and ‘her’.”

      I don’t think it even tells you for sure the candidate’s gender. It’s possible that Elizabeth McCarthy is non-binary, but is OK with any pronouns and figures the ones that match her name are the easiest to use at work. Really, all it says is that those are the pronouns she wants you to use for her.

      I’m no expert on this issue and some of what I’ve said might not be accurate but I don’t think you need to read any more into a person’s pronouns than “these are the pronouns I’d like you to use.”

    10. MCMonkeyBean*

      There are places that do a kind of blind hiring by having a lot of demographic information removed from resumes before they review them. But if this were that case then presumably whoever were removing names from resumes would also be removing the pronouns.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes my company (and those I’ve worked for in the past) do this. I get no names, addresses, pronouns or other identifying information. I get the CV and information on how the candidate meets the requirements of the job but that’s it. So it doesn’t matter whether the applicants want to give pronouns or not, we don’t get to see them at the sift stage. Obviously once we’re inviting people to assessment stages, we are told who they are.

        The theory is that this reduces unconscious bias.

          1. UKDancer*

            I’ve not evaluated to see if it does yield a more diverse workforce, but I quite like it because it means you’re really shortlisting based on what you see in front of you and not any preconceptions about the person. I mean obviously if you know someone you know in the team is applying you can work out who they are from the CV.

            But I think it works better than the alternative.

    11. Siege*

      If, as a cis woman, including my pronouns keeps bigoted organizations from hiring me AND ALSO keeps them from calling me “sir” because I have an ambiguous name and am almost six and a half feet tall with short hair, then I assume I should be doing it, because I’m getting the results I want, which are “not working with overt bigots” and “correctly gendered”.

  44. Gyne*

    LW1 is fascinating to me. I’m a doctor, if I’m gone for a week and nobody checks my inbox, patient care is delayed – possibly people get sicker and need to be hospitalized, worst case someone dies. But I don’t check email or my charts when I’m on vacation because my partners Handle It All when I’m gone, and I handle it for them when they’re gone. Now, not every practice is like this and I left one that wasn’t – but I feel like if the four of us can figure it out, surely a library can as well? Some of it is a technological solution- we have specific OOO messages (“I am out and will have no access to email until Day X. Contact Person Y for urgent clinical needs”) and the ability to “share” chart inboxes easily, some of it is cultural. In a high stress job, time off to rest is critical to keep us functioning. Some of it is just Boundaries (looping back to high stress) – there will always be more people that need appointments than there are hours in the day, there will always be more calls to return, labs to review, things to coordinate than I can complete in a day. Being comfortable with looking at the sheer volume of critical work to be done and saying, “I as one person can accomplish only this piece today,” doing it, and disconnecting when I leave is also a learned skill.

    1. Nightengale*

      yeah I am the solo provider in my field at my health system and have been for nearly 4 years. I don’t do any inpatient care. But if I don’t do refills and respond to urgent messages – they don’t get done and there could be serious consequences. So I do those urgent things even on vacation, which takes about 1-2 hours a day. (Yes I have made the case for the need for a second provider.)

  45. hypoglycemic rage (hopeful ex librarian)*

    re LW 1: I used to be someone who worked in a library, and I also have anxiety. so I can totally relate to where your employee is coming from! :) i wasn’t generally the type to check email on vacation, mostly because there wasn’t anything urgent that I needed to attend to.

    what alison said would have worked with me, though. nobody could make me less anxious, but maybe having a specific person to point to would help. like if someone emails about a book club, having a specific coworker mentioned in the OOO might help?

    1. Youth Librarian*

      I currently work in a library and it’s VERY hard to disconnect. Part of it is my own anxiety, but a LOT of it is the fallout from working for 10+ years for a bad manager/director. I never knew if I was going to come back and find an email detailing everything I’d done wrong, complaints about something I had no control over, outraged questions “why did you do this” when we had ALREADY DISCUSSED IT and so forth. I currently have an awesome director but it’s hard to keep from falling into those old habits. (when my previous director finally left, I absolutely refused to donate to their “retirement present” but kindly offered to make a unique, handmade sculpture out of all my medication bottles….)
      OP says they’ve been there a little over a year, so this person may well be struggling with habits formed by a previous manager.

  46. Critical Rolls*

    I am not sure how a library that small is generating enough email to occupy an hour a day below the director level. But! You have to figure out what lines you can draw and which you can’t. The way I see it, the thing you can do is forbid them from *responding* to any emails. So if they won’t stop checking them, they can choose to burn their PTO on that, but they won’t be visibly setting an unwanted example.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think it’s the team that is small. We have no idea how large the library itself is.

  47. ijustworkhere*

    RE: the “Junior/Senior” issue. This can be a real issue in a small organization if the “senior’ person gets all the fun/juicy work and the “Junior” person is related to what’s left, which is often the grunt work that isn’t a lot of fun, and, more importantly, doesn’t help the junior person developed more advanced skills.

    I think it’s very appropriate to professionally question this idea and get a more complete explanation of the person’s thinking on this matter.

  48. Extra anony*

    On the email issue: it does not seem productive to me to forbid them to check their email. One person does not a culture make, and I check my email while on vacation too and would be annoyed if I were ordered to not check it.

    As a manager one thing you could try to do is proactively limit the number of emails this person receives while on vacation. Are most of the emails from clients or internal? If internal, could you meet with the team before the weeklong vacation and direct them who to contact during that week so the person on vacation doesn’t receive so many requests? If the person receives fewer emails, then they will have to spend less vacation time responding.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      It is true that one person does not a culture make, but one person a culture can break. I think that is LW’s concern.

      I think a more proactive approach is to simply understand that if a person takes some time off, they are going to have to spend some time initially just responding to emails. Limiting the number of emails they receive as you suggest is a good thing, and can help reduce that amount of time. Not dumping a bunch of stuff on them as soon as they get back will also not add pressure to them.

  49. JenLP*

    LW 1: If you are in the US, is the colleague exempt or not? If not, and your PTO policies allow it, can they take 7 hours and work 1 hour every other day (or something like that)? My mom does this when she goes on 2-3 week-long vacations because there is literally no one trained to do some of her tasks (succession planning is a different conversation I’ve had with her, trust me). As such she uses fewer hours and gets to go on vacation.

    If exempt, what I do is “detox” from work by letting myself check my emails on the first day of the trip. I try to do it sparingly and it’s mostly to make sure I didn’t miss anything as I fled – I mean left. I also block my calendar for the first half day I’m back to get through my emails and use the time as an opportunity to identify any noise that I can unsubscribe from, rules I need to fix or create, and generally just assess the effectiveness of my current email strategy.

    All of this to say that there are as many ways to handle this as there are people and working with your colleague to determine the best way to handle it will be best. Good luck!

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      This is a great strategy. I do something similar, especially on first day back. I try to work remotely on my first day back, too (I am primarily in-office) so I have time to focus on anything detailed that may need my attention. (And, if I am being honest, so I can do some laundry!)

  50. Hopalong Cassidy*

    By posting their disgusting practice on Twitter, the bigot has probably triggered termination procedures. At least I hope so.

    1. whingedrinking*

      As I recall, the person was basically saying, “Pronouns are just telling me that this person will be impossible to fire if they’re a problem”. I was like, so, you’ve gone out in public and not only told the entire world that you’ve opened up your employer to massive legal liability, but that you don’t even understand employment law in the first place?

      1. sb51*

        Yeah, really, it’s more like “this person probably understands employment law and might sue me if I break it” (except that who has the $$ to actually sue, alas).

  51. GreyjoyGardens*

    I’m in favor of pronouns, even with “obviously” gendered names, because why not? It’s really no skin off my nose. I have a very, very obviously female name and include pronouns.

    I do think that rejecting people who put their pronouns because “they might be difficult to work with and take offense at the slightest thing” are missing the mark. Whether someone has a chip on their shoulder and goes around resenting their colleagues has *nothing* to do with their gender or their political leanings! Plenty of right-wing, reactionary, “there are only two genders” people are prickly and nasty to work with. And plenty of people who put pronouns in their signatures are kind and pleasant. I think anyone who reads Ask A Manager will come to this conclusion – being surly, sullen and difficult is about what you are as a personality, not who you are as far as gender, race, sexuality, etc. are concerned.

    There are far better ways of finding out whether your potential candidate is a nice person who plays and works well with others than looking at their email signature and pronouns. It will take more work – as in interviews, and reference checking – but it’s worth it. And far more trustworthy than just saying “eh, this person has their pronouns in their signature, I bet they’re going to be a touchy, social-media-poisoned pain in the butt.”

    1. anon tech person*

      I would even argue that chances are higher that reactionary people are nasty to work with. I’m not on Twitter or Facebook but one industry related forum has many posts by men (and sadly a few women) complaining about wokeness. For example, how awful it is that some company tries to hire more women in technical roles. It is like a window in a different world. But it is interesting that I literally never see the opposite. There are (thankfully) people in most anti-woke thread who disagree with the poster, so I know they exist on the boards. And yet there never, ever are posts that say, for example “we should only hire women and never men”. It just doesn’t exist. So I think it is plausible that people who proclaim they are anti woke are more likely to be problematic and very vocal in their views than the other way around. And from experience, they probably learned not to say anything in job interviews and to their managers (SILENCED ALL MY LIFE!) but they will be vocal about it to their coworkers, but never bad enough to complain to HR, always presented as “just an opinion”.

      1. Observer*

        I think that you are looking at only *one* type of problematic behavior, in one prticular context. But if you look at the gamut of how people can be jerks, difficult or overly political in the workplace, then it’s a whole different ball of wax.

        In my experience this is how the likelihood has stacked up:

        Offensive jokes / “lighten up!” / “no one can take a joke any more” –> Reactionary
        Dismissing *genuine* problems because someone is white / male / cis / “privileged” –> Liberal / “woke”
        Not performing gender roles “properly –> reactionary
        Not performing feminism “properly” — > Liberal / “woke”

        Tone policing –> All sorts (although the specifics vary)
        Making an issue out of nothing / being extra thin skinned –> all sorts
        Exploiting staff –> All sorts – I find that the differences are more about general workplace culture.
        Being aggressive / bully –> All sorts.

        Which means that any sensible employer who is looking to hire people who are reasonably easy to get along with should ignore most political stuff and dig for actual behavior. (Obviously “most” doesn’t include membership in wingnut organizations, bigoted statements in public, etc.)

  52. SometimesMaybe*

    #1, I really hate these type of letters. I don’t like my employers trying to manage my emotional well being or how much I want to invest in my job. It kind of gives the same vibes as when non-parent try to give helpful parenting advice. I check my emails on PTO, I like my job, and its not like I am a completely different person while using PTO. As long as you make it clear it is not necessary, please treat your staff like adults. I understand the argument for noticing gaps in procedures, and that is fine to address, but not all people are wired the same; some work better late at night for example, and some people relax climbing mountains while others read on the beach.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I think LW has the right to create the kind of culture they want in their workplace though. You are happy with your workplace culture, and this employee seems to have a mismatch there.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      If you’re simply checking – yes absolutely, you do you. If you’re answering, that can create a variety of problems, culture only being one of them, others that commenters have raised already. I agree that managers shouldn’t try to control your emotions and people work better under different circumstances, but a manager’s job is to also see the big picture and many of these things aren’t only about you and your experience.

      1. SometimesMaybe*

        I agree with you and a manager controlling the culture and expectations are the only thing they should be worrying about. I am noticing more and more from letters and commenters here people trying to manage employee’s well being as if all jobs have a negative effect on employees lives and they only way to be happy is to have a pre-prescribed one size fits all approach to work-life balance. If reasonable expectations are clearly and responsibility communicated, adults can manage what is needed for their own mental health.

    3. Kate S*

      I feel the same way. I am the kind of person who this letter could be about and I think the best option is to emphasize the purpose of an email ban (identify gaps in coverage, set a pattern for workplace culture, etc.), and establish clear limits (it’s okay to check, delete, sort, or even draft a response in a separate document, but not okay to reply or send). Please do not tell employees what to do on vacation if there is not a clear reason for it other than you wouldn’t want to yourself. That doesn’t feel that different from being told to smile, or put down the book and go play, or have a drink and relax a little. By adulthood, those of us who are used to hearing those things have also gotten used to shrugging them off, so make it clear that it’s actually a performance issue and not just meddling.

  53. Well...*

    Anyone think it’s time to start changing up our vocab re:EDI? This is specifically for people living in places where the government is openly hostile, if you are in a place where it’s safe to use, great!

    But I’m wondering if the fact that the gov has latched onto this as an avenue to attack us means we’ve got to start getting smarter with our organizing and flying under the radar.

    Pronouns I won’t budge on, but it seems like federal law has our backs there.

    1. Well...*

      The Reagan admin was very smart about this. They’d invent positions in government and give them boring names, letting them make extreme changes without much fanfare.

      How about instead of DEI we could use: data-driven workplace environment enhancement? Employee affairs? Metrics for fair workplace practices?

      Make it vague and boring, remove language that has emotional resonance, and starve the reactionary rhetoric.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        A lot of places are moving to using “People Operations” instead of “HR”, which I think helps move in this direction. And at some companies I’ve heard it referred to as “POPS”, which is delightful.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Beyond sounding friendlier, there’s a second dimension to it. HR has, in many orgs, split into two groups: People ops is the talent / development / culture side, differentiated from the payroll / benefits / accounting people. They are two very different disciplines and approaches, and it makes sense that the industry has divided.

    2. King Friday XIII*

      I don’t know, I think if I was trying to “fly under the radar” I just wouldn’t list on my resume that I am on my employer’s DEI Council.

      1. Well...*

        No, I mean more generally how do we label activities so that they can continue without government interference or flagging bigots to be able to discriminate.

        If you worked hard on a DEI activity, you deserve credit for it on your CV. Maybe we can name them something that the laziest bigots won’t notice and the people who would give you credit for it can pick up on.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          You can’t.

          There have been attempts to give things new names, on the theory that the baggage attached to the old names is just about the particular combination of consonants and vowels and so a new name wouldn’t have any of that stuff. It always turns out that the negative associations were not just about the spelling, and so map over to the new term.

          1. Well...*

            At some point people struggle to keep up outrage for ever-changing terms. Institutions have played this game for decades.

            I get that we fundamentally disagree with bigots, and changing the name can’t change that. But to say optics/branding has no impact on whether a campaign is effective is a pretty bold claim.

      2. Well...*

        Also by “fly under the radar,” I don’t necessarily mean organize in complete secrecy. I mean openly advocate in your workplace in such a way that Fox News and state lawmakers aren’t going to be able to immediately pick up on and start fueling culture wars over. DEI has got a huge, undeserved target on its back.

        There are lots of things happening openly in the world that don’t end up being talked about in literal presidential campaigns.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Fox news and state lawmakers got into a massive pickle about children identifying as cats and using litter boxes, even though every time someone said “So name a classroom where this has happened” the response was always “Oh boy howdy I sure as heck could totally do that, it is a real thing, I’m just not giving any actual examples because of reasons of importantness.”

          Whether or not something even happened is no barrier to people getting enraged about it.

  54. Abogado Avocado*

    LW#1 — I realize you work for a library and libraries are notoriously under-funded. However, one way to limit your employee’s access to email is to have your IT department cut off his/her/their access when they are out of the office and signing in remotely. The IT department for my employer (a local gov’t) has software that detects when people are signing in remotely and can deny access based on concerns about hacking, etc. This software also can be configured to provide access when people are signing in remotely and have permission to do so. So, my thought is: if you really want this employee to take a break, tell him/her/they that you’re taking away their access during vacation and that it will be turned back on when they return.

  55. WokeUpFellOutOfBed*

    Just want to apologize for any of my comments that might have inspired some bigoted responses. Not my intent. In any case, LW 2, I agree with the commenters that context matters but I do not think the question, “Do you have kids” the way it is phrased is inappropriate.

  56. Perfectly Particular*

    Re: working on vacation

    Depending on seniority/role, I don’t feel like an hour a day is a long time to be working on vacation. IMO – it’s a lot to ask for someone else to do 2 jobs while someone is away, so logging in and triaging things can help keep the burden off the team.

    If it’s not stressing out your employee to log in and manage some things, why would you feel like you need to put a stop to that? (Assuming they are salaried).

    Based on personal experience, I feel like I am better able to use all my vacation time if I can login in the morning and make sure that all important issues are being addressed. It’s not that there would be some kind of world-crisis if I didn’t, but things could start going wrong that would ultimately affect my review at the end of the year. (I can’t very well tell my boss that everything fell apart while she was covering for me)

    1. rainyday*

      why can’t you, though? If you’ve carefully planned and set up coverage, which is that your boss will cover for you, and then things fall apart, then that’s what happened and there needs to be a different plan next time.
      Is your expectation that all other employees do the same as you, logging in for an hour a day, as otherwise the burden on the team will be too much? You are implying that other employees who don’t check emails while on leave are creating an unfair burden on the team. This is why the decision to work while on leave isn’t just a matter of personal choice, as many commenters appear to be saying – it impacts the rest of the team.

      1. Perfectly Particular*

        I mean, I *could* tell her that she dropped the ball while I was away… but I don’t think that would help me get the “exceeds expectations”, pay raise and future promotion that are important to me. I’m glad to have the amount of vacation time that I do, and don’t mind giving back about 1/8 of it to be able to get out of the office. I think, for me, the alternative would be to just not take the vacation days.

  57. J*

    One thing I really hate is when a colleague works on maternity/paternity leave (and let’s be real, it’s pretty much always paternity leave that work is being done on in my field). It basically let’s the men in my industry publish, do more networking and career advancement while they are supposed to be on leave. It starts setting up such an uneven expectation when the moms come back from maternity leave because they “haven’t done anything” in their leave where they weren’t supposed to be doing anything work related.

    Why do I bring this up for LW#1? Because it sets a similar tone. If I leave for vacation and don’t check my email and keep myself abreast of all the pending issues, I’m returning to work and taking a chunk of time to do that catching up. But my colleague is setting a workplace standard that I should be returning already caught up and prepared on everything. If you think this isn’t happening and you’re one of the email obsessed, I encourage you to ask your coworkers and do some deep introspection. I get it, I used to have seriously unmanaged anxiety in a workplace that encouraged martyr culture so I thought I had to be one of those people “because it makes me less stressed” but it never reduced my anxiety, it just spread it around more. I had to do some really deep soul searching about my identity outside of a job before I could start addressing it. And one thing I noticed was working alongside the people with that level of anxiety was causing me harm in ways I didn’t realize until I was one of the ones perpetuating that harm on newer colleagues.

    1. SometimesMaybe*

      I think you are assuming everyone who works while technically off is operating under fear of stress or martyring themselves. I took maternity leave three times, and I never just put away a huge part of my life and identity that is my career. I still networked and maintained interest in my field. I also checked emails and did light projects when I wanted to. I agree that it should not be the expectation, but blaming people for working when you wouldn’t is not fair either.

      1. J*

        The comments here are full of people describing the anxiety they feel when they can’t/don’t check email. I also work in a field where we were expressly forbidden from working on leave, because that’s how leave laws work, but I’d see people have that ignored if it benefited the company enough. Just because you do something doesn’t mean it’s good or right. Those leave laws protect the people who want to take their leave and by working when you shouldn’t (not wouldn’t) is detrimental.

        1. SometimesMaybe*

          Doing what I did was not bad or wrong either. Leave laws are meaningless, and having me sacrifice my career to have children, so others do not have to check their emails on vacation is not fair either. You said “shouldn’t”. Why is compartmentalizing your life in such an extreme way a good thing? Can’t your career be more fulfilling or enjoyable than hobbies or chilling on the couch? I agree taking leave is important, but micromanaging how people manage their careers is not good policy.

    2. Smol Brontosaurus*

      “But my colleague is setting a workplace standard that I should be returning already caught up and prepared on everything. ”

      Just something I noticed–in an office where some people check email on vacation and some people don’t, why do you believe that the email checkers are the ones setting the office standard? It’s worth considering whether this is an aspect of your anxiety speaking.

      1. J*

        Because the bosses notice it and expect that same standard. I’ve seen it across half a dozen employers. Now I don’t care enough to appeal to my bosses in that way and it is taken as a sign I’m not committed. But I’m more okay with that than sacrificing myself for a job.

      2. Katara's side braids*

        At least in the US, work culture is still extremely steeped in the philosophy that you HAVE to go “above and beyond” all the time, which in many industries (including nonprofits and libraries) includes working on vacation. We’re only now beginning to challenge that, but for the time being, those of us who don’t check email on vacation are still going against the current.

        Especially in a workplace like a library, the norm of not checking email on vacation may seem especially fragile given the years (decades) of momentum in the opposite direction. There’s a much greater risk that someone who checks email on vacation will push the office standard back in the old direction than the opposite.

  58. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    LW1: This is definitely me, to a certain extent. I’ll note that (I am assuming) my role is one that’s far more senior than your employee’s role, so that does play a part, but it is definitely a habit I had to force myself to break. It’s one thing if I am going to the beach and at an AirBnB in the same time zone and want to spend a morning going through emails while, say, my husband watches the Tour de France replay; it’s quite another if I am in Europe and at the pub with limited wifi and no data plan while my colleagues are just starting their day on the East Coast.

    Basically, I realized I needed to break that habit HARD when we scheduled a trip abroad a few months back because the reality was I was NOT going to be reliably available, even for emergencies. I used to handle it as, “Oh, but I really don’t mind, I just want to be helpful!” Except you then condition people to expect this from you and when you’re in a situation where you really aren’t available, it’s a problem.

  59. Head sheep counter*

    One of the very best things about my current position/place of work is that installing the work email on my personal cellphone creates a number of security issues and is not advised and thus culturally – folk aren’t on all of the time. The times where I take my computer home are planned and understood to be an exception. If some sort of actual emergency happened (can’t imagine what) there are a couple of folk who have my cellphone and can reach me. Its been weird but awesome and makes vacation much easier (to set the line between work and not work). I used to read and reply along without any real distinction between work hours and non-work hours… it fed itself as to the anxiety about missing things. The main drawback is that my calendar is only on my work computer (for work) so scheduling personal things around work takes a bit more planning.

  60. Catabouda*

    I have seen a letter #4 situation in action it was so cringe.

    University medical setting. Group of summer interns, who were almost all children of current employees.

    They were going through a class on medical privacy. These interns weren’t going to have anything to do with patient care, but occasionally situations might come up. Like doctors are inappropriately talking about a patient in an elevator that intern might be on, or people walking by in a hallway might be having a conversation that you hear a snippet of. Things like that.

    Intern made a comment along the lines of “My mom says HIPAA doesn’t apply if you aren’t the doctor, so if you hear a conversation, it’s okay to talk about it, since you weren’t the doctor.” Of course, there is a large amount of misinformation out in the world about what HIPAA is and is not, so sometimes it’s understandable for there to be confusion. BUT! The training was to get the point across that you may gain access to information you wouldn’t normally have and to keep it to yourself.

    The trainer in this situation stopped dead in their tracks, looked up intern’s name and said “Thanks. Sounds like your mom needs to go through this training again.”

    The rest of us in the room were like, oh, poor intern’s mom.

    1. JSPA*

      The only time I’ve seen the “I outrank them” come up, it was in response to someone quoting and older friend or relative who’d been putting themselves out as an authority, when in fact they’d been shunted into a position where they couldn’t do much harm, despite the mismatch between their healthy ego and their inadequate grasp of the work or the rules. So, well, yeah, I automatically wondered about the context.

  61. TootsNYC*

    Also, if they’re really “throwing away” resumes, that itself is illegal since federal law requires employers to keep resumes on file for at least one year.


    1. JSPA*

      there are limits (unsolicited resumés for nonexistant jobs don’t count…very small businesses are exempt…) but, yeah.

  62. Copyright Economist*

    Regarding #1, the challenge is that senior executives do it and the patterns trickles down to the lowest levels. My compromise is that I don’t bring my work phone or computer with me. I let a few select colleagues know that if they need to, they can reach me by personal phone or email. I rarely get a call, though I did get one during this summer holiday. It was brief and both us felt fine about it.

    On the Sunday prior to starting after a vacation, I boot up my work laptop and classify all my emails into two categories.

    Category 1: can be dealt with in 10 seconds or less (usually by deleting).
    Category 2: requires a substantive read or response.

    When Monday comes, I am only dealing with the substantive ones.

  63. Hiring Mgr*

    The way I look at #1, I’m an adult and so are my employees. I don’t really want anyone mandating what I can and can’t do on my own time. I’m well aware of the working from vacation dynamics and so are my reports and my bosses. We can all handle sending a couple of emails out if necessary without feeling pressure for everyone else to work during PTO.

  64. Observer*

    #2 – Chucking resumes

    I’m going to mostly agree with Alison, but disagree with her a little.

    I would be very surprised if the company would lose a law suit about what this guy said, directly. Because he could probably make the claim that he has “nothing against” trans people, just people of any gender who do that, just like he doesn’t like people who “trumpet” their DEI work. (I’m not talking about the issue of his actually tossing the resumes. That could be hard to prove, but that’s a separate issue.)

    The real legal risk to the company is that he’s clearly a bigot, so if the company doesn’t do something about it ASAP, they are eventually going to get hit with an EEOC action or a lawsuit that they *will* lose in large part due to this guy’s existence.

    1. bamcheeks*

      Equality legislation in the UK is written to focus on the *impact*, not the intention– it’s not about confirming that X is a bigoted, but that their actions have the impact of disadvantaging a particular group. All you would need to do is show that someone who throws away CVs which demonstrate a commitment to EDI work was likely to disadvantage specific groups, which is a very different test from trying to prove what’s in a bigot’s heart. I would be very surprised if that’s not true of US legislation as well, becase “prove what they really feel about X group” is a pretty impossible legal task.

      1. Avery*

        Can confirm, US legislation specifically says it’s not about the intent, it’s about the impact. So, to name another example, if you throw out every resume with a name you can’t pronounce, you may not INTEND to be racist, but if it can be shown your actions had a racist IMPACT, that’s a legal problem to be dealt with.

  65. Raida*

    1. My employee insists on working on vacation

    My first instinct with the “1 hour a day” thing is to say “Do you need to, though?”

    I would get them to open up their mailbox from the time they were last on holiday and go through every SENT email. Find out – were these urgent, important? Could these have waited until she was back from holiday? Were other people in the email that could have answered?

    IF it turns out yeah there’s a full on hour of important urgent work every day – immediately start cross training for some of those things so that they can be responded to quickly by someone else.

    IF it turns out (as I suspect) that since she’s already in her emails she’s feeling like she *has* to respond to them, then you and her categorise every single sent email into “Yes” “No” “Waste Of Time”.

    Anything that’s a Yes becomes a defined piece of cross training.
    Anything that isn’t a Yes is to show her she *doesn’t* need to do this for an hour a day.

    And then, I would rather harshly tell her I’m going to check her outbox/sent items when she’s on holiday and if she sends some No/Waste of Times on one day, I’ll let her know to stop it, if it happens a second time, I’m cutting her email access until the holiday is over.

    Harsh? Yeah! But I will quantify the task, define what’s really needed, define what is not important, discuss why she feels it is important, support her in dealing with anxiety via EAP, and by gods I will put in place some rules to allow her to do what makes her comfortable and supports the quantifying but doesn’t allow her to backslide.

  66. Jonquil*

    LW1I feel your frustration! Last year my boss took a month of leave, and I was given temporary promotion to act in her role. She gave me a solid handover, I was across the work of the team, my own position was backfilled. And yet, she insisted on checking her emails and getting into conversations.

    I don’t know how to stop it short of cutting off their access temporarily, but it was deeply frustrating as I was getting valuable management experience doing her role, and building my own skills for the future. I didn’t love having the regular occupant of the job jumping in on things and thus missing out on opportunities to build my own problem solving and prioritisation capability.

  67. Missy*

    Re: Pronouns. I’ve always wondered what you’re supposed to do when it’s a workplace expectation but you’re not comfortable sharing yours. Not everyone knows their pronouns or is out publicly. Putting anything makes it seem locked in, you should be ashamed of not knowing, you should always know, or you HAVE to be out. Refusing to use them makes you a bigot, when in fact you’re the opposite.

    What can people do without outing themselves??

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