my boss says I should always be available on my days off

A reader writes:

I’m a managing attorney working in-house in a large corporation. I manage an attorney and two paralegals currently, and expect my team to grow in the next two years.

We have a policy that there always needs to be coverage when someone is on PTO. Generally, that’s not a problem. Recently though, the attorney I manage and I both wanted to take PTO on the same day. I told him to go ahead and take it, and I proposed to my boss that I would check email regularly but otherwise would also keep my PTO day — it was likely to be a quiet day anyway.

My boss approved this plan, but said (I’m paraphrasing), “Since you’re a manager, I expect you to always be available on PTO anyway.”

That was a record scratch moment for me.

I’m highly compensated and generally understand that the trade-off for that is access and time. Earlier in my career, I would joke “they’re not paying me enough to do XYZ” – but I know that at this point, I am in fact paid to be available more than 40 hours a week, or in the early morning/evening/weekends as the job requires.

The thought of needing to be available every day though, with potentially no respite — that feels impossible and is definitely not worth the salary, at least for me personally.

My boss and I work well together and occasionally run into differences that she generally chalks up to generational differences (I’m a millennial; boss is gen X, with about 18 years between us). I also know that my boss is a workaholic (as much as I work, she works more – or at least I perceive it that way).

I’m feeling a little panicked about this, in part because I’m overwhelmed right now. I have time off planned in two weeks, during which my whole team will be available except for me. I have a good plan for coverage, and I really, really need to be able to disconnect for this vacation. Is it unreasonable to be able to expect to? Is there a certain level at which you have to expect that boundaries and work/life balance can’t be sustained or are fundamentally incompatible with a role?

This is a big enough deal for me that I would consider taking a pay cut to move into an individual contributor position if it meant a better work/life balance. I don’t aspire to be a general counsel because to me it does represent basically no boundaries, but I’m several levels below that. And, I hate the idea of capping my development and growth. I have a lot to offer, I’m good at my job . I just occasionally need a break! Is that a ridiculous pipe dream?

No, it is not a ridiculous pipe dream. In the vast, vast majority of jobs, including senior ones, it’s unreasonable to expect someone will be available while they’re on vacation.

It’s true that there can be some circumstances where you do need to be available. For example, if you wanted to take a week off during a key time for a project you were involved with, it might only be possible if you agree to be reachable should an emergency come up. Or if your department was understaffed and there literally wouldn’t be anyone else who could handle certain types of problems, in a sufficiently senior (and well-paid!) job you might agree to be reached in emergencies only — as long as there was a plan in place for this to be a short-term solution, not a permanent one.

But those are exceptions for specific, narrowly defined situations, not the rule. In general, people need to be able to take real, uninterrupted vacation time. That’s part of your compensation when you get PTO. Even aside from that, it’s in employers’ interest to ensure you can fully disconnect because that’s a key way of preventing burnout. Being able to disconnect fully makes it much more likely that you’ll come back refreshed and productive; not being able to will make your job far less sustainable in the long term.

So in most jobs, it’s understood that when you’re on vacation, you’re off of work, and the bar for contacting you should be very, very high (if it even exists at all). When an employer thinks it’s no big deal to bother you when you’re on vacation, it’s usually a sign of bigger dysfunction within the organization. In fact, in a decade and a half of answering letters about workplace issues, I don’t think I’ve ever heard about a workplace that didn’t respect people’s time off being an otherwise healthy and well-functioning environment.

One caveat to all this: In particularly senior and/or key jobs, you still might get contacted on occasion in emergencies, but (a) that should be reserved for true emergencies, not, “Oh, it would be more convenient if we could ask Jane rather than finding another solution,” and (b) even in a true emergency, people generally understand that they may or may not be able to reach you while you’re away. There’s no expectation that you’ll ensure you’re always reachable and available. And it’s not uncommon for people in those jobs to say, “I’ll be in the mountains with no cell service, so while you can try to reach me, I can’t guarantee you will,” or “I’ll be on my honeymoon, and we’re not answering calls at all, so before I leave let’s figure out what you should do if X or Y happens.”

With all that said, I wonder whether your boss meant her statement the way you heard it. “Since you’re a manager, I expect you to always be available on PTO anyway” doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect to hear from your office while you’re away. It might mean you’d only get a call in the case of an emergency, and that it might not happen at all, which is different than being expected to answer routine calls and emails.

It could be worth going back to your boss to try to clarify exactly what she expects. You could say something like, “You mentioned that you expect managers to always be available on PTO, and I wanted to clarify what you meant. Do you mean that in the case of an emergency, I might be contacted, or that you expect me to proactively remain in contact while I’m away, even for routine things?” And then, depending on her answer, you might also say, “Of course, if a real emergency comes up, I understand someone might try to reach me. I also want to make sure you know I’m not always reachable when I’m out; for example, I’ve traveled places with unreliable cell service and no Wi-Fi. But I also make sure my team knows what to do in case something comes up while I’m away.”

Alternately, depending on what you know of your boss and how she’s likely to respond to something like that, you might find it’s easier to just continue functioning as if of course your time off will be respected and wait to see if it ever actually becomes a problem; it may not. (Sometimes acting as if of course something reasonable will be respected makes it more likely that it actually is.) But as a preventive measure, you also might choose to proactively announce before your next vacation that you’re traveling somewhere without much cell coverage and, too bad, will be hard to reach.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 227 comments… read them below }

  1. Random Dice*

    I sincerely hope the boss meant that only for emergencies.

    Can you imagine if PTO were not actually time off?! That’s crazy.

    1. Petey*

      Sadly, yes. At my previous job, I was essentially on call all the time, including on PTO. They even called me during my wedding ceremony (my phone was in a different room but I saw the missed call later on). It was one of many reasons I left.

      1. Itsa Me, Mario*

        Jesus, I got pressured into working the day of my rehearsal dinner and then being back in the office on Monday (it was a very specific high-volume day/week for our project), and it was enough for me to never want to work with any of those people ever again.

      2. coffee*

        What was the thought process?! “Oh, it won’t be at all disruptive if one of the people getting married just steps out during the ceremony”?!

      3. OMG, Bees!*

        Minor compared to a wedding, but I recall while on helpdesk 1 person’s email & computer password expired while she was on vacation and her manager tried to get me to reset it and tell him (hard no) so he would pass it on to her. I waited until she called in herself… which happened to be the day she got back after vacation.

    2. Bird Lady*

      I can easily imagine it because I lived it. My last manager continued to call my phone while I was having a mammogram done (I’m fine, it was a routine exam) at 8:30 AM, which was before my office even opened but I had taken a bit of sick time in case I was called in late, or held in the office to re-check anything. Everything she needed I had emailed her the afternoon before with a reminder that I would be out of contact due to a routine medical exam until I arrived in the office. When I reminded her that I wasn’t allowed my cellphone in the exam room, she expressed her frustration about needing senior leadership to be available 24/7 due to the nature of our work.

      Readers, we worked in a museum. And I wasn’t senior leadership because there was a hiring freeze and no promotions were allowed. I was still in a mid-level role performing two senior leadership roles, yes, but my classification and job descriptions had never been changed and when I asked if that was possible, my manager laughed at me.

      And yes, I did bring this up in the exit interview.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “Readers, we worked in a museum.”

        Holy shiz. That is massively unreasonable! So glad you got out of there.

        1. Workswitholdthings*

          I too work in a museum. It’s not that kind of ‘matter of life and death’…

          (and yes, I’ve made that joke…)

      2. 2 Cents*

        Aside from “the exhibits have come to life,” I really can’t imagine a scenario that deems this level of !!!!

        1. Freelance Historian*

          I live in the Boston area, and sadly I can think of one: the heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum.

          1. Daisy-dog*

            But wouldn’t that be more of a matter for the police? Yes, the staff would be vital to the investigation, but not the immediate pursuit. Bird Lady can still complete her mammogram.

            1. OMG, Bees!*

              I’ve heard of cases where people call IT for a literal fire or even a dead coworker because their thinking short circuits and they think “helpdesk can be helpful…”

          2. Lydia*

            Maybe, MAYBE, if you worked there. If you didn’t, then when you got to work at your museum, it would just be the most interesting gossip of the day. Week. Maybe lifetime.

        1. Laser99*

          They call you during your medical appointments even? “You have to come in, the mummies came to life!!!”

          1. Bird Lady*

            We had mummies, so it was possible!

            I’ve had museum managers call me while I was on vacation asking me to develop and launch a fundraising campaign. When I asked how I was being compensated for working while on vacation, I was told I was being difficult!

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        Okay, were mummies coming to life? Did an ancient meteorite suddenly start glowing and making all the vermin on the streets of the city suddenly become giant slavering demons?

        Because otherwise…

    3. Anonymosity*

      I’d quit. That would be a total deal breaker for me.

      I see where OP is coming from, however. They’ve put a lot of time, effort, and money into this career, but this is a lot. Corporate law is not something I know a lot about but I can’t imagine that many emergencies cropping up that can’t wait. It’s not like criminal law, right? Even if you need to be reachable, for the boss to issue a blanket “PTO is not really PTO” edict, that’s bananapants controlling.

      1. LW*

        at the time, the idea to quit did cross my mind – I was truly overwhelmed with what has happening. when I spoke to my boss about it further, I understood better why she said what she did, but I think fundamentally we just don’t agree on certain things, with this being one of them. we have a great relationship otherwise, and she is a great mentor so I’m invested in trying to figure out how we manage our different expectations on things like this. but in the moment, I really, really needed validation that I didn’t need to choose between ocassionally being a human being and being a great employee!

        1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

          Is your boss the Senior partner or the Managing partner? Or can you go over their heads?

        2. Lydia*

          Lemme just say, this feels very out of sync for a fellow Gen Xer. We were, after all, the original slacker generation. ;)

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I need you constantly on call and in your Goodwill corduroy pants to hang behind the strip mall and smoke, young lady!

    4. Kes*

      I mean to be fair, unless they just started, the fact that this is only coming up now suggests that is the case. And to some degree it’s understandable that for particularly high level roles and big enough emergencies, people may be contacted even on vacation. But the bar for that needs to be pretty high on both sides. For many people, knowing you could be contacted is still going to make it harder to really relax and get the break they need from their time off

      1. LW*

        Actually, this was (and continues to be) my expectation, and something my staff and I are on the same page about. they know how to triage stuff in my absence and I trust them to reach out if they REALLY need me. I also know that my boss generally doesnt reach out just because its convenient – boss is personally pretty respectful of boundaries. the difference for me is getting a true code red vs having to proactively check in periodically, which makes it really hard to unwind.

    5. Erin*

      Even my brother, who retired from the Air Force as a General, was able to take vacation.

      I also don’t equate GenX with working 24-7. I’m firmly in GenX, and none of my contemporaries have ever been cool with the idea of being available 24-7-365.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Yeah, that’s not an umbrella Gen X thing.
        That’s a personality thing.
        My friends are lawyers, doctors, teachers, computer specialist. Nobody is selling their soul to the company store.
        If OP is just hearing this from manager now, it seems like her expectation and not the company culture. Take your time off over the next six months or so. See if manager means “available in an emergency” or just available or if everything that happens when you are not there is an emergency.

      2. Arts Akimbo*

        This! I am also GenX and remember when they used to call us “slackers” because we, too, love our work-life balance.

        1. Lydia*

          100% this. They even named a movie Slackers that was supposed to depict older Gen Xers and their slacking ways! As a (now) older Gen Xer, if you try to get me to do something after hours, during my time off, or on the weekend, you’re in for a disappointment.

      3. Texan in exile on her phone*

        I actually think the military is better about designing processes to allow for absence, as in theory and in reality, people in the chain of command get killed. The military is about process, period.

      4. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

        Gen X here and if you are calling me on my day off for any reason other than “Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are on the premises” you’re gonna have a bad time.

      5. Corporate lawyer*

        I’m firmly in GenX, and none of my contemporaries have ever been cool with the idea of being available 24-7-365.

        Are your contemporaries corporate lawyers?

      6. House On The Rock*

        I’m also solidly Gen-X and find I’m the one telling my Millennial staff to absolutely not work during their PTO and to maintain work life balance!

      7. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think GenX is starting to get lumped into the substantially larger generations that sandwich us in. We’re tiny and everyone’s always ignored us anyway, but at least let me have my cynical GenX street cred.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Boomers are beginning to develop this if their finances are secure; we’ve been interchangeable and replaceable since we were born. But as we hit/approach a secure retirement, it’s more like ‘Medicare is actually cheaper than the company’s health insurance, and no, I’m going to be asleep if you call me at midnight”.

    6. Loredena*

      A few jobs back I was hired for a developer job that included being in the rotation for on call support nights/weekends. At first it wasn’t too bad, but as one office was slowly eliminated and other team members changed roles it became steadily more disruptive. Eventually, I was the only person left which was especially fun during year end processing.

      I did not have a laptop nor phone issued by my employer so was expected to use my personal devices and vpn when not in the office. When technically on PTO over the last week of the year, I was still expected to be available. Which meant I was given grief when I took a day trip into the mountains, leaving me without cell coverage for 4 hours.

      By the next year we had offshore support, but the regularly called with questions, expecting me to return calls to India. Including when I vacationed at a lake camp and warned I would have no coverage unless we drove into town.

      I absolutely was not paid enough for this, and I was never promoted. I stayed with that employer way too long, in retrospect.

      1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        We have an on-call rotation, too, but what I tell candidates who ask about it is that it’s not my favorite part of the job, but the thing I like about it is that when you aren’t on call, you aren’t on call — and by and large are not expected to be available. I can’t imagine working the on-call “rotation” solo, though. We have a smaller rotation than we used to (now about two weeks out of every three months) and people found that to be A Lot, so we made some significant changes in expectations about how available you needed to be, and what sort of alerts you needed to respond to.

        Your situation would not necessarily lead me to quit on the spot, but is definitely in “I am seriously looking for a new job” territory.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      If OP has been there for several years and is only realizing the expectation now, I think that’s a good sign that it is in fact the case that it’s only for emergencies. (Or as here, two people who are backup for each other can be out if 1) it’s expected to be quiet; 2) one of them will check email for any urgent stuff that comes up.)

      I am thinking of the OP whose coworker “Meg” had taken photos of coworker “Jim” sitting on his porch with his colostomy bag visible, and sent them to all the clients, and the response “omigod yes bother your vacationing boss, someone with the ability to fire Meg needs to be brought in RIGHT NOW.”

      1. LW*

        I’ve been at my company several years, but not always with the same upline, and our reporting relationship is somewhat newer. so part of it was that, and part of it was that I had not taken more than a long weekend during that time. there are some pto days where I AM proactively checking emails – if I’m just bumming around or running errands, it does not bother me to remain engaged. just not *every* time.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I would encourage you to treat your PTO as time completely away from work every time. You don’t want to train people into thinking that they can contact you when you’re out, and disconnecting completely is modeling good habits for more junior staff.

          Your letter sounds like you might be approaching burn-out. The best way to prevent that is to enforce consistent boundaries.

          1. Lydia*

            Yes, to this. In this specific case, you might want to consider training your boss to not expect you to be engaged at all. Especially if she’s mistaken your past casualness to be permission to assume you’re always available.

    8. I Have RBF*

      I have been called on a holiday while I was sitting in a hotel ballroom so I could talk a person in India through a problem they should have known how to fix at one job. At another I was called on the road while on the way home from my father’s funeral, because no one else could be bothered to fix the problem.

      It sucked in both cases.

    9. Matt*

      Well, but how do you know in advance if it’s an emergency? If you have to be available for emergencies, you have to be available.

      1. amoeba*

        Well, yeah, but in those cases I’m personally a big fan of giving out private contact information to trusted people (only if you actually trust them not to abuse it!)
        That way, they can contact me if the lab is on fire, which I’d definitely want to know even on vacation – but I don’t have to check emails and in 99% of cases, there won’t be any contact and no need to think of work during my time off.

    10. Nina*

      Literally the only work emergency call I’ve ever had (in a field where ’emergency’ could plausibly include seventeen separate and distinct kinds of violent death, an explosion that flattened the area of a city block, or shutting down the main transit route from one city to another) was ‘hey, I know you’re on vacation in a different country, but everyone else who knows this is asleep and FAA regulations are really strict that if we bother them in the next six hours they can’t [do the incredibly time-sensitive task] tonight, I have a pen, braindump me and I’ll do all the legwork’.

      If something was on fire? call the fire department, why are you calling me? if someone’s seriously injured or dead? call the ambulance and then the police/OSHA, why are you calling me?

  2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Days off are days off. No matter how well you are paid or high a position you have.

    Just because Boss is a workaholic does not mean everyone else has to be. There’s a reason lawyers have some of the highest rates of substance abuse — and self-medicating burnout is one of them.

    For the record, Gen X and I never wanted to be available 24/7.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Yeah, this idea of being constantly working or on call is not something I associate with Gen X in particular. It sounds like the box is using “generational differences” to account for things that are not related to generation, but simply to her workaholic tendencies.

        1. Rated G*

          Gen X started the slacker movement. Boomers are the workaholics, and thankfully most of them have retired.

          1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

            Heck, I’m a Boomer (tail end, though, almost an X’er), and for the past 20-25 years, when I’ve interviewed for a new position, one of the questions I ask is about work/life balance.

    2. Higgs Bison*

      There are very few exceptions I can think of for this rule. The main one I can think of is President (or other leader) of a country.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        which to me, just brings to mind how much Obama (for an example) aged over his eight years in office. human beings are not built to work without breaks!

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          His poor hair! The only other man I’ve seen turn grey so dramatically is Richard Dean Anderson during SG-1. (Guess running the country and saving the universe will both turn you grey.)

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        This. I was also trying to come up with a job where you would HAVE to be available 24/7, and besides POTUS all I could come up with was “only doctor/firefighter in town,” which is its own set of absolutely no good at all.

    3. M2*

      My spouse is an executive in the public/ non profit sector not private and they are on call during PTO for emergencies. And my spouse is not making probably even close to what OP is making salary-wise. As a lawyer there might be actual emergencies that even the lawyer you manage can’t answer. If you are GC for say an ice cream company that has a listeria outbreak? That’s an emergency and the head lawyer or GC should help deal with that.

      Can you ask your boss to hire another lawyer if this becomes a thing? Also, have you had your vacation interrupted before or was this just an off the cuff statement?

      If you’re a superintendent or a principal of a school and there’s a school emergency? Should they let you enjoy your vacation end not call you? Most of the time people take vacation over breaks but not always.

      This also happened for me when I worked in the humanitarian sphere, I was always on call, but I did emergency response. I had to shorten many vacations, but didn’t have kids then and was fine with it because why should I complain when people were fleeing Syria or Akbar? Should I just ignore a text when there was a cholera outbreak in a refugee camp instead of talk to our WASH lead? People know this (or should know this) going into the job and it should be clear in interviews what is expected and what time. I ended up leaving not because of this, but for a variety of reasons.

      So yeah I think there are some jobs you need to be available for emergencies on your PTO days and most of those jobs you either get excellent salary, excellent benefits, or you’re doing it for other reasons.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        There are emergencies, and then there are jobs that expect you to be available 24/7 for routine business, PTO or not.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Yeah absolute emergencies – sure. But,believe it or not, very few things are absolute emergencies. They should also be rare.

        Listeria outbreak should not be a regular thing. School emergencies, well usually there is an acting principal ifthe principal is out even if its another teacher. That’s why you have a chain of command.

        1. President Porpoise*

          Or, in the corporate law world, you can also keep outside counsel on retainer for this type of thing.
          But really, the lawyers need real vacation too. If the company can’t afford to have adequate coverage, the outside counsel route is a good way to mitigate that gap.

          1. Corporate lawyer*

            Believe it or not, outside counsel needs to be instructed by internal counsel. The process of engaging outside counsel isn’t self-executing.

            1. President Porpoise*

              Sure – you have to establish a relationship and run rules well in advance, but if the company can’t invest in enough dedicated legal professionals to keep the operation running when one’s out on leave, an outsourced option is viable.

      3. sunbathing squirrel*

        I understand this point well; I also worked in the humanitarian/emergency response sphere, and it is true that these situations happen around the clock at any given time, and leave schedules may need to play second fiddle. However, it is important to remember that it is CRITICAL for those working in this sphere to have time off to disconnect, or even lean out for a little while for their own mental health. Compassion fatigue is a real thing, and without the ability to disconnect, those working in this sphere are at risk of leaving the sphere altogether. I will confess that it’s part of the reason that I switched specialties. The relentless nature of war and post-conflict reconstruction, and the literal horror stories I was immersed in all the time disillusioned and disenchanted me quite a bit, to the point that I was in utter despair constantly and had at best burnout, and at worst depression. This is a specific example, but PTO needs to be held sacred for all kinds of reasons, not least of which it being part of overall compensation.

    4. Too Many Tabs Open*

      Also GenX, and not available 24/7 — if I were, I’d expect a salary that puts my family well above median income for my city rather than squarely in low-income. Also, no one is going to die if I’m out of reach for a few days, and the business-urgent things can be done by someone else if it really can’t wait for my return.

      1. LW*

        this kind of gets to the crux of my uncertainty. you’d expect a salary well above median income… I have that. and so when I work nights or answer emails on the weekend or log in early to take a meeting first thing, I’m generally ok with it. but I still need a break sometimes.

        1. coffee*

          Leave aside the money, which pays for other expectations of your role as well like the early meetings or late nights. Being on call is bad for your health and doesn’t allow the business to benefit from a well-rested employee. Also remember that the idea of the eight hour day was incredibly radical and hard fought, but the world has kept on going after we brought it in.

        2. riverofmolecules*

          yeah, I think the salary where people would be okay with always working is higher than they think.

      2. Corporate lawyer*

        Also GenX, and not available 24/7 — if I were, I’d expect a salary that puts my family well above median income for my city rather than squarely in low-income.

        I would be gobsmacked if a general counsel at a large for-profit corporation were anywhere remotely near “low-income,” even if compensated well below average for the field.

    5. Malarkey01*

      Idk- my brother had a job where he made in 5 years what I’d make in 50. In exchange for that he was on call and would work a few hours even on vacation. In exchange his family is set for life, kids don’t have to worry about college and he retired at 40….

      There are absolutely jobs and salaries where being completely disconnected isn’t a reality.

      1. allathian*

        True. I’m a government employee with a slightly below median income for my area. I can fully disconnect when I’m on vacation. My husband works for the private sector as a first-line manager with three direct reports, he earns more than twice my salary. But even when he was an individual contributor/PM with no reports, he was expected to be available by email and phone when he was on vacation. Granted, people very rarely contact him when he’s OOO unless it’s an emergency even now. He’s come to terms with it, but I wouldn’t want to work like that.

  3. Warrior Princess Xena*

    Ha. No. It’s one thing to expect very senior C Suite people to be available in emergencies – one friend I know worked at a bank where they had to call their CEO who was on a Caribbean cruise when Covid kicked off and they needed approval to shut down lobbies/send people home. But that’s the bar you should be setting it at.

    1. ferrina*

      Yep. I’ve been in a position where I was available for true emergencies (for example: we thought we had been hacked and sensitive data was compromised), but if it wasn’t a true emergency, there was a designated cross-trained member of the staff who could help (we only had 4 people on the team, so if you went to the wrong one, they’d quickly point you to the right person). It worked out so that I could relax more on vacation, because I knew that there wouldn’t be a fire when I came back.

      Of course, this depends on the boss to enforce- one of my bosses would call me regardless (because in her mind, if I hadn’t prepared for every single contingency before I went on vacation, I didn’t deserve a vacation- and not just normal, likely contingencies, which I provided- things that I had absolutely no way to know would come up). Other bosses I’ve had have been way more reasonable.

      1. Transatlantic*

        I had to (virtually) chase my CEO for signatures during Covid while he was on his yacht, sorry “sailboat”, in the Mediterranean with almost no signal. It was a stressful day of him telling me when he might be close enough to shore to get enough signal to receive a pdf because of course he didn’t want to use DocuSign and if I sent it before he was in range, it would get hung up in a queue and he wouldn’t receive it.

    2. CR*

      This is also an example of why there should always be someone else given the authority to deal with major problems when a CEO is away!

      1. Brain the Brian*

        Bingo! Setting out procedures for handling emergencies when the usual senior leadership is away before an emergency happens is critical. Trust me, even if someone is “the” decision-maker, they will not be at their best to make a decision if they’re drunk on a cruise ship or you woke them at 3am or whatever else.

      2. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Oh, no question! In fairness to them they were pretty well set up for every other kind of emergency, this one just hit a level of ‘unprecedented’ that they hadn’t planned for and from what I heard they improved their disaster recovery plans following that.

      3. bighairnoheart*

        Yes! I was just thinking about this–even if it’s a true emergency, there are situations where they can’t do much of anything to help. What if they’re off the grid, so they can’t even be reached? Or what if the emergency requires them coming into the office, and they can’t find a flight home from oversees on short notice to do it?

        Leaders have to be willing and able to delegate authority to someone else in their absence.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        This! There’s always going to be the possibility of 5 Alarm Fire emergencies where it would be irresponsible not to contact someone on vacation or PTO, or even medical leave, but that should be a very distinct set of circumstances and not just “Urgent” or “I forgot where you said X was” or “Just wanted to pick your brain about…” For those setups you need a designated chain of command with people clearly understanding who can okay what.

    3. Lacey*

      Yes. I worked a job where two years in a row we had to call the owner back from his vacation because of a catastrophe we didn’t have the standing to handle.

      But 1. That’s the owner 2. Those were emergencies

      The owner would never have called any of US to handle something while we were on vacation.
      I think once I got a text asking where a file was for an important project.

  4. Jim was The Office villain*

    I haven’t read the reply yet, but I vividly remember my sister (also a millennial), then a fifth year associate at a prestigious, very well-known, very large firm, frantically answering emails and calls during her baby shower. She’s in house now and supposed to be working more limited hours, but the company just figures as long as they’re paying her it doesn’t matter if she works more than the 20 hours per week they’ve agreed on. I’ve worked in law firms years ago that had better work life balance, but they were very small and niche (family and estate law). That doesn’t seem to exist in larger firms, unfortunately.

    1. LW*

      I think the biggest benefit to working in house is not having to bill hours anymore, but I am definitely not working a 40 hour week (dare to dream!) and most of the time that’s ok!

    2. Michelle Smith*

      Ding ding ding. This is the expectation in those kinds of roles. She should transition out to something else.

      As a recovering lawyer myself, I can promise OP, those sacrifices aren’t worth it.

      1. LW*

        hearing this loud and clear. I’m quietly working on a side business that I would love to become my second act, but I’d ideally like to slog along 10 more years, to set myself up financially before making that switch. we’ll see if I make it that far!

  5. And the Skeletons Are… Part of It*

    This is a celtic knot of No: no it’s not possible, not reasonable, not desirable, and not necessary for anyone to be “always available” on their days off, and the fact that their boss would want or even allow that speaks very poorly of them. Days off means OFF! Otherwise it’s basically more like a series of half’s-days.

    1. Green great dragon*

      I don’t have a problem in principle being on call – I’m going to be on call over Christmas, and I’m not paid attorney money. But that just means if there’s an emergency, someone can ring me, and my work laptop’s going to be somewhere I can get to it. It doesn’t require any effort on my part, since I’m not checking my phone any more frequently than I otherwise would, and it’s very unlikely anyone will call, so my days off are still my days off.

      Having to actively check in with work would be a whole other issue, but hopefully that’s not what’s meant here.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is how I feel about it too – but it sounds like maybe this is a hard line for OP! That’s a good thing to know about yourself. We all need to figure out our boundaries.

      2. Chocolate Covered Cotton*

        Are you being paid for being on call over a holiday? Maybe not corporate lawyer money, but something? Because to me, being on call and available to work means no doing anything that would cause me to miss a call or be unable to work, which means no traveling, no drinking in bars, no going to concerts or movies, no dinners in nice restaurants, etc.

        That’s an unacceptable imposition into private time and needs to be compensated somehow other than “you get to keep this job.”

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is not how legal tends to work as a whole. There is very much a culture of being on-call/available at all times in exchange for a handsome salary, more so in larger firms that in a GC’s office. Telling your boss that your days off are your days off, especially after they’ve stated their expectations to the contrary, is going to look out-of-step and potentially stymie growth opportunities.

      I am completely aware that legal culture is bonkers, but it is bonkers and trying apply the standards that don’t really apply to it are not going to do OP any favors.

  6. GerminatingPollinating*

    As a lawyer w a spouse in BigLaw, I feel OP on that expectation within law that demands constant availability regardless of PTO. I do think that it’s not reasonable to be available during PTO as a blanket rule as an in house attorney though. I work in a role that’s akin to GC for the govt and my office has the same expectations as yours to the point where I can reliably count on something coming up when I have medical leave scheduled (on top of being available during annual leave and weekends/nights). Of course, I’m not in a managing role and you are. In my experience, this issue is largely cultural and you kind of have to decide whether this is a dealbreaker or not.

    1. And thanks for the coffee*

      Oh dear, I’m imagining that they have to wake you up during open heart surgery to have you solve an important problem. Or the firm gets pissed off if you’re in the ER after a serious auto accident and are too sedated to answer emails.

      1. ferrina*

        Actually….yeah. I met someone who was being prepped for heart surgery and was planning on answering emails on his Blackberry. His wife took it away before they got to the hospital. So he pulled out his second Blackberry and continued working on that. The surgical team was not amused.

      2. CR*

        You should read some of the stories about BigLaw. Yes, firms can and do expect you to be available during medical emergencies, holidays, funerals…

        1. AnonORama*

          My friend’s wife was a BigLaw associate who had only planned to take two weeks of maternity leave in the first place, and wound up answering discovery requests from her hospital bed after giving birth! And she was proud of it, too — or at least so caught up in the craziness of the expectations that she considered it a badge of honor.

    2. GerminatingPollinating*

      To be clear, for me, it is absolutely a dealbreaker and I am actively looking to get out.

    3. zuzu*

      The first time I requested a vacation in BigLaw, one of my senior associates mocked me (“Already?”), the other told me (again) about how she destroyed her knee while running to catch a train while loaded down with books to research stuff over the weekend she was spending with her fiance’s family, and the counsel told me proudly of the time the firm sent a park ranger on a mule to fetch a vacationing associate from the floor of the Grand Canyon because the firm wanted him back. I was also required to call in every day from my vacation just in case something “came up” that required a random first-year associate to handle.

      Needless to say, I didn’t last long there. They may give you 20 days’ vacation, but they don’t let you take them.

      Now I work as a law librarian in academia, where the pay is lousy, but no one yells at you, and you can take your vacation time. All of it! Though my director still has to hold my hand while I trauma dump every time I request more than a few days at a time; some scars run deep.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Yes because there are so many things that only a random first year associate is qualified to handle.

        Seriously BigLaw suffers from the I had to Go Through It So You Do Too syndrome. There’s a reason I never even considered biglaw. I like having a life outside of work.

        1. GerminatingPollinating*

          +1 and not limited to just BigLaw unfortunately. I never thought in my life I would be working 60 hours as a government attorney but here we are. If your boss thinks everything is an emergency because he views everything as an emergency, then you’re expected to be tethered to your devices day and night. My office is happy to restore use or lose leave because people end up not taking leave at all since what’s the point. All to avoid actually giving people the leave they need to be restored and refreshed.

        2. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

          Yeah, when I was looking for an off-ramp from academia, I considered law because I think it’s a really interesting subject and I enjoy learning about it. But one of the main reasons I wanted to get out of academia was that I was tired of feeling guilty for not working at 11am on a Saturday, and so it didn’t take the internet long to convince me that law wouldn’t be a good fit.

          1. zuzu*

            Law school libraries have so far been pretty great. I’m currently in one where I’m very clearly staff, vs. we’re-going-to-call-you-faculty-but-treat-you-like-staff-unless-it-suits-us-to-count-you-as-faculty-but-pay-you-like-staff-and-forget-a-contract, which was the situation in my last two jobs. Much cleaner.

            I mean, I can put up with a lot of indignity after getting yelled at so much and so nastily I seriously contemplated how to open the windows in a skyscraper to arrange an urgent meeting between the screamy partner and the sidewalk, but I have low tolerance for the fauxculty dance.

    4. Grizzly Barrister*

      When I worked in-house for a defense contractor I was on call 24/7, and my boss tried to talk to me about a case while I was in the emergency room. The doctor took the phone and said he was giving me morphine and I shouldn’t be allowed to make any decisions at all, and that barely shut her down. I agree that this is a largely cultural issue and is going to be an expectation in many legal jobs. It’s wrong, but you have to decide for yourself if you’re willing to do it.

      1. zuzu*

        The same senior associate who loved to tell us how dedicated she was to her job that she sacrificed her knee also complained that the client called her while she was in the limo on the way to her MIL’s graveside, and then had the nerve to complain when she turned her phone off at the gravesite.

        But she never seemed to see how warped it was, and how hurtful it was to her husband, that she took the client’s phone call on the day of the funeral in the first place. There was no emergency. There were no emergencies in that case except of the client’s own making, and she didn’t have to be the one to handle them. But she’d just been saturated in the ethos of that place for 15 years, working a “part time” schedule of 40 hours, and couldn’t see that she could have and should have just sent the client to voicemail.

      2. Laser99*

        But can’t we have it both ways? Why should everyone just accept that some professions treat people like this?

    5. LW*

      I think you hit the nail on the head. it’s a common expectation in the legal field, but there’s definitely a cultural element at play too. my boss and I discussed this further and I now understand that part of her intent was to try to convey that, because she’s also been mentoring me to continue moving up the ladder – and in that sense, I appreciate getting her unfiltered view of the landscape. it’s something I’ll have to take into consideration long term, but I also feel wary about ever finding something different tbh! And in the spirit of “grass isn’t always greener,” there are a lot of really good things about my job. I might have to become a culture change advocate instead…

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      I worked in BigLaw (non-attorney) for years, and this is the nature of the beast. Sometimes, it’s a true need – the court deadline’s not going to move and the client physically can’t get you the documents you needed until the 11th hour; the other party filed an absurd motion that you now have to respond to immediately; your client was served a new complaint (lawsuit) that you have 15 calendar days to answer and you’re the person most familiar with the issues/facts. Other times, it’s a manufactured emergency, one that could have been avoided with better planning/client management, or a sadistic partner doing some sort of loyalty test (these are the people bragging about the stupid things they’ve done to demonstrate how devoted to the firm/client they are).

      The clients are paying upwards of $500/hour for junior attorney time, and, a that rate, they expect that you will drop everything to handle their needs and make things happen (and will go elsewhere if you don’t). They also don’t like seeing multiple people on the bills (some explicitly forbid it in their billing guidelines), and they will not pay for any sort of knowledge transfer/loss of institutional knowledge. So, if the person most familiar with the facts/client/issue is on vacation, they’re going to get a call because it’s faster, cheaper, and more accurate.

      This is why BigLaw pays such ridiculous salaries. I think starting for a brand new associate with zero experience except maybe summer internships is over $200K. They’re paying you for the lifestyle. I have worked with tons of people who do it for a few years to pay off their law school loans and save a downpayment and then find something more sane.

  7. anon for this*

    This is why I took up camping (in the mountains). Because there was always an emergency and they always reached out (or emails went to phone) and my spouse just could NOT disconnect. So now we go to the mountains.

    1. LTR FTW*

      I also go “to the mountains” when I’m on PTO… but sometimes those mountains are just piles of laundry, in my house. Nobody needs specifics of exactly WHICH grid I’m off of…

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      If anyone else needed a reason to keep their work and home electronic devices separate, this is a big one right here. Can’t contact you if the phone is off.

      1. LW*

        when I started, I wasn’t given the option of not doing BYOD.. but have definitely considered asking to switch sense then, in part for this reason!

    3. Nina*

      One of my coworkers always goes rock climbing in the mountains on vacation. Whether he actually does or not, I neither know nor care, but hot damn is it a good excuse for turning your phone off.

  8. RunShaker*

    as a GenX woman, your boss is wrong. This isn’t a “generational” thing. For whatever reason, your boss is just a workaholic. Go with Alison’s advice.

  9. Boris the Lady*

    I thought people went In-House to get away from this bs. This is absurd.

    Also, you’re not a litigator. Your client is a corporation. No one’s getting picked up by ICE or the cops. No one will die. What kind of emergency is actually going to happen while you’re on PTO that can’t be avoided by your coworkers engaging in basic time management? What kind of actual emergency is going to happen that, realistically, wouldn’t be handled by a contractor specializing in litigation or couldn’t be kept at bay by your junior attorney?

    1. Boris the Lady*

      And just to sort of reply to some of the folks with spouses and partners in BigLaw—I would agree with you if OP was in BigLaw. But they’re not! They’re in house! People dream of leaving BigLaw to go in house for exactly this reason!

      Sorry I don’t know why I’m getting so passionate. That coffee is hitting hard this morning, I suppose

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I’m in-house at a very large company, and we are constantly told that there are zero expectations for us to be working on PTO barring absolute emergencies. Generally, I do believe they hold true to this, too. So, yeah, this BS definitely doesn’t need to happen in-house.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, I am sitting here trying to think what could be an emergency requiring in house counsel to drop everything. I don’t reject the possibility, but the scenarios I can come up with mostly involve someone screwing up and not doing something until they are about to blow a deadline.

      1. Jules the First*

        I have had to call our in house GC on her holiday because a major client (think a national government) threatened us over a contract. I’ve been called on my holiday over a security clearance that wasn’t clear, over a client’s unexpected request that was too complicated for my team to decipher, and for advice on tricky problems. Is there a process in place for emergency cover when we really need to be offline? Yes, but in most cases our senior level managers will take the call if they can because we have the context and the experience to solve the problem quickly and thoroughly, where our emergency cover (such as retainer legal or my out-of-house cover who would cover if, say, I were having major surgery) might need significantly more time or more involvement from other senior people in order to handle the same query. So, for example, I can signpost the C suite to a solution on a call, where my most senior team member or out of house cover would need to consult five or six other senior leaders in-house to build the right knowledge base to solve this specific problem.

        So yes, in a role like this I expect senior managers to be accessible, though not necessarily available. I also insist that the managers who report to me do *not* do that – they are less specialist and easier to find one to one cover for, and they should be fully disconnecting on their vacations. I knew the expectation when I took on this role and while I may not be perfectly compensated for being available like this, but it is a very standard expectation for a role this senior in a company of this size and type.

      2. LW*

        major data breach, failure of a key vendor, urgent dispute with a key client that puts material revenue at risk, inquiry or allegation by a government regulator (depending on industry), inquory from media about a company decision that needs legal vetting. just to name a few. in house, it’s not that the problems are always straightforwardly legal problems, but when an operational problem comes up and shit hits the fan, you’re expected to be available in real time to issue spot, help control the message, and provide strategic direction in real time.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        All I can come with is Enron when all that started hitting the proverbial fan…

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      This is out of touch with what many GCs manage on a day-to-day basis. Ransomware/data breaches are increasingly common, supply chain issues, business-impacting service failures, contracting relationship breakdowns, labor disputes/walkouts, PR nightmares, inspection failures/regulation compliance citations that shut down production, three-letter agency raids (if someone’s up to no good) – even if you are using outside counsel, someone still has to authorize, select, fund, and direct. GCs are not just sitting behind a mahogany desk sipping coffee and reviewing contracts. There should be far less PTO intrusion in-house, but there are certainly emergencies and an increasing number that handle basic litigation matters themselves to contain costs.

  10. LegalBeagleMom*

    I’d love to know how long OP has been with the company. If you’ve taken PTO before and never had an issue why leave a great gig over fear of what maybe could potentially happen in the future? If the concern is because you anticipate the team growing over the next few years, that’s definitely something to bake into the management structure and PTO authorization when you make those hires.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This. It came across to me like the boss was speaking hypothetically: Some emergency might come up, and if it does, the OP will get the phone call. If this is the case, I would maintain my equanimity.

  11. Picard*

    Gen X here and C suite level for a very small company. There are certain things I do that no one else in the company does (ie payroll) I run that whether Im on vacation or not. There is no on else to do it other than the CEO and… hahahahaha yeah no.

    I do think that its very much a factor of your position and company size – executives are paid the big bucks to be responsible for stuff IMHO and if there simply isnt a body to do the job if youre gone, it just doesnt happen or you take care of it on break.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Yeah, small business life can be rough. That said, it’s best practice to always have a backup for key tasks, because you never know when you might be hit by a bus/be out of power/have your computer hit by a cyberattack. Having a system with only 1 point of failure means that sooner or later you’re going to have a failure, and when it happens it is more likely to be bad than not.

      1. goducks*

        Sometimes that’s not entirely practical, without assigning access to banking or payroll systems beyond what should be appropriate. Usually the way I handle is is that the CEO technically has access and authority, even if he has no practical knowledge of how to manage systems. If I were to be hit by a comet, he could contact the appropriate vendor and they could help him through the crisis. But yeah, sometimes the contingency plan is “this is going to suck if we have to use it”.

    2. goducks*

      Yep, same. There are just certain things that are my responsibility to deal with, even on vacation. My family knows that my work laptop comes with us no matter where we go. I’m well compensated, and other than a few very specific tasks that I can plan my time around (specific banking approvals, etc), my vacation time is generally untouched. But it always could be, if things blew up at work. There are certain things that only I can handle. The idea that vacation should never be interrupted, no matter what is nice and a good idea where possible. My staff is never interrupted, I’ll cover for them. But they can’t cover for me in every instance, that’s why I get paid the larger salary. In 25 years at several companies it’s never been a major issue.

  12. Goldenrod*

    I’m just weighing in to firmly debunk the generational theory (that this is somehow a “normal” expectation for a Gen X’er).

    This is NOT generational. I am Gen X and I have never heard of anyone having an expectation such as this! I mean, we were the slacker generation, so if anything, we’re LESS likely to be workaholics (although I think generational explanations are usually nonsense). To the extent that there is such a thing as a Gen X Boss, they would be looser and more relaxed than average. Like mine is.

    This is not normal! Your boss is a workaholic and a freak with unreasonable expectations.

    1. An Australian In London*

      Ditto from another GenX. I’ve never directly encountered this and would push back instantly and totally.

      This is *not* the same as being on call. That’s a big topic in my field (IT) and employers are divided about how much or even if to compensate workers for being on call… but even the places that demand it unpaid have a rotation intended to spread the burden. This is specifically because it is understood that it is not reasonable to expect it from all workers all the time.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I am also Gen X and while I’m not a full-time slacker (I don’t handle down time well), I can confirm I have never ever felt the need to work 70+ hours weeks. (I worked very long weeks when I was a teacher and it was…not…worth…it.)

    3. doreen*

      I don’t know if the following applies to the LW, but while it’s not a generational issue, it is true that being reachable even on PTO is a requirement of some jobs. Not most jobs, but some. Someone earlier mentioned leader of a country and that’s one example, but it’s not nearly the only one. I had a job where I was expected to be reachable nearly all the time and it isn’t necessarily a big burden. It meant I had to keep my work phone with me, but I don’t think I got one call a year while I was on vacation. I got maybe one a month after hours or on weekends – and I was OK with that , given my pay and the fact that my normal workweek was 37.5 hours

    4. beep42*

      Well, now that all of us boomers are retiring, someone has to take all the generational bashing and get blamed with a broad brush for individual actions. Amiright? Ha.

      1. Bee*

        It’s the boss who’s doing it! “My boss and I work well together and occasionally run into differences that she generally chalks up to generational differences.”

        1. LW*

          correct. I believe this is less about “what’s true for Gen x” and more about how millenials are perceived. and I guess I’m leaning into the stereotype hard lol!

  13. Butters*

    I feel this. I work in accounting (in-house, not dealing with external clients) and my manager told me that if I want to reach the next level I have to start being available in the evenings, on weekends and on vacation. I am so incredibly burnt out that I am planning on telling her that I do not want to reach the next level and actually don’t want to take on any additional responsibility. I don’t care if this limits my career growth at this point. Travelling is simply not fun and relaxing for me if I have to be connected at all.

    There are simply no accounting emergencies that demand my availability.

    1. stefanie*

      also in accounting, also feeling the “everything is an emergency” push. I’m in a technical accounting / sec reporting role at a publicly traded company and some of our deadlines just…. aren’t movable. and in a very real way, peoples livelihoods DO depend on our work.

      HOWEVER. we are not ER doctors. we are not saving lives. there is no real EMERGENCY. my suggestion is twofold: hold your boundaries, and be dependable with what you can do. i have two small children, so i DO NOT work past 6PM (and my usual workday ends at 4) unless it’s absolutely critical (maybe 3-4 days in a quarter). BUT – I tend to log on early in the morning – I like to start at 7 while everyone else starts at 9:30ish… so they know that any “EOD fire drills” will be handled by me before they log on.

      stay strong. you can move up in this industry even if you’re not always on – you just have to push back.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I would think those hard deadlines would be known far in advance, and you could plan around them. This is much like a tax accountant simply knows that tax season is what it is.

        1. stefanie*

          Yes, they are.

          But then companies do things, like buy other companies, or refinance debt, or enter into complex transactions with other companies that require interesting disclosures, etc, with little to no regard for those deadlines, and you can easily get in a situation where you’ve been in “busy season” for 9+ months.

          Or someone dies during your deadlines.

          Or you (or your kids or your spouse or your parents or your best friend in the whole world) get sick.

          Or you get a life altering cancer diagnosis.

          Or a close family member plans a wedding that requires time off. Like hell am I going to tell my sister that she can’t plan her wedding when she wants because of a work deadline.,

          life happens, and you have to do your best to make work fit into life, not the other way around.

        2. Warrior Princess Xena*

          The other problem is that while the accounting staff tends to know what the deadlines are and what’s needed for them, most of the other business sectors don’t – they know the deadlines exist, but only vaguely, so the accounting group can often be stuck in a state of crisis since getting information out of other departments (or God help us all, other countries) can be like pulling teeth.

    2. Alsalsals*

      I’ve seen this across the finance and accounting industry. The people the level above me don’t even put out of office messages on their email because they check in and respond multiple times a day. I’ve had one colleague that called into a meeting while she was in labor at the hospital! I’m completely burnt out!

  14. I should really pick a name*

    I’m curious how long the LW has been at this job.

    Their reaction suggests that so far, they’ve never been contact during PTO, so if they’ve been around for a while without having their PTO interuppted, it might mean that it’s really just a “be available for emergencies” thing.

    1. LW*

      a few years, and most of that not under this boss. most of my pto has been a long weekend or a random day, where I have checked email for at least part of it, which is why this one hit me so hard – I really needed a genuine break. This isnt my manager’s fault, but it definitely contributed to how I “heard” the guidance and expectations around this.

  15. Peanut Hamper*

    Serious question, though: What is it about law that attracts so many workaholics? I cannot wrap my head around this. Why? WHY?

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        New, improved question: Why does law school attract so many workaholics? Or does law school turn you into one? (In which case, I guess I’m happy I never had even the slightest inclination to go.)

        1. Delta Delta*

          I’ve been a hyper-performer my whole life. I have a shocking capacity to get work done. I am also freakishly good at puzzles. These two things make me a very good lawyer. If I didn’t do this I am not sure what I’d be doing because I need to have that massive churn of work all the time – it’s just how I’m wired. That said, I also take vacation time and don’t work during vacations. Since, you know, it’s vacation.

        2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Survivor bias. The non-workaholics that started law school were less likely to finish it.

          1. LW*

            I’d agree with this. law school does a good job of weeding other people out, first by reputation and then in practice.

        3. J*

          The parents. So many are second or third generation (or more!) lawyers and they learn this behavior at home. I used to train up young attorneys and I swear when someone was super neurotic with poor boundaries and obsessed with competing for billable hours I could ask why they decided to be a lawyer and they’d mention one or more parents were lawyers. Or doctors, since they also had a bad work-life balance.

    1. zuzu*

      Those are the ones who don’t burn out and make it to partner, to set the culture for the next generation of lawyers in the firm or GC office.

      It takes a whole lot to change the culture in a law firm, which mostly happens because someone starts a new one.

    2. GerminatingPollinating*

      +1. In my line of work, I have a lot of senior managers who are either former BigLaw partners so they take a lot of their bad habits with them, or have never been in private practice but have a complex about it so they’re trying to prove a point about their legal credentials by working ungodly hours.

    3. LawBee*

      I don’t know if we have more than the average number of workaholics in the law. What we do have is not enough hours in the day, so you end up acting like a workaholic just to keep up.

      It’s also very practice-dependent. Some fields just have long hours and that’s what it is. Others can be basically a 9-5.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I interpret “not enough hours in the day” as “we don’t hire enough people to do all this work” or “we take on more work than we can handle in a normal workweek”. And that’s a separate problem entirely.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Not necessarily. Many law firms live and die by the billable hour. The associates, in the meantime, are paid flat salary. So every minute that associate spends eating or sleeping is lost income for the partners.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I think that’s it right there, that and the fact that because of that, the law has trained people to believe their lawyers are and should be always available

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Law is not just something you can hire more bodies and throw at. There’s a lot of institutional knowledge of the client, facts, and case that is not always fungible or efficient to pass off. It’s not like an assembly line where you can train someone in a day or two to pick up a task/project.

          Demand can also be unpredictable, and you can’t just hire credentialed (jurisdiction-specific barred), qualified people off the street when things tick up. We have an enormous case that is snowballing now due to some unexpected decisions by the court and we’re staffing up but it takes time to get people hired, read in, and client-ready, which is putting a lot of time pressure on the existing team.

  16. I should really pick a name*

    A number of people are latching on to the comment about generational differences, but that’s not regarding this specific issue (which hasn’t been discussed). It might be a bit of a red herring.

  17. Lobsterman*

    As a GenXer, I am just so incredibly happy to have a generational theory that assumes we exist.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Hahahahhahaha, Lobsterman for the win! That is the most Gen X comment I’ve seen in a while. So true!!! :D

  18. Stuart Foote*

    I am a millennial, mid-level employee, and I have never felt comfortable enough to truly disconnect on vacation. I have always checked my email multiple times a day.

    I can’t be the only one? I know in theory PTO should be fully time off, but in practice I’m not sure that is the case for most workplaces.

    1. Celeste*

      Gen X, but me too. I check in, respond to some e-mails, and occasionally do a little work. I know I should just deal with the repercussions of missing whatever was going on when I was away, but that stresses me out, so I rarely fully disconnect.

    2. UmbrellaDown*

      Have you looked into the source of your discomfort and interrogated whether it’s really valid?

      I ask because sometimes I share that urge (same age / career stage), but as often discussed on these pages it can be annoying for staff who would otherwise just deal with stuff as if you’re not there, it sets a bad culture example etc.

      So have you checked if there are repercussions if you just…don’t?

      1. Stuart Foote*

        As a project managers on time-sensitive projects, not giving an answer could legitimately cost the company and client money, maybe even a lot of money.

        On the other hand, my reward for being very available at my previous job was basically nothing, so maybe it wasn’t worth it. Hopefully that is not the case at my newish job.

        1. DrSalty*

          I also work in a project focused deadline driven industry, and this sounds to me like the problem is a lack of coverage for PTO. There should always be a clear plan in place for who is covering when a team member is on PTO. That person should be responsible for giving the answer.

        2. J*

          I’m a project manager too. I build in time for people to take annual leave. If I don’t, I’m failing at the resource monitoring part of my job.

    3. HonorBox*

      Stuart, I’ve been in your shoes before. And then a couple of times when I was away, I just … didn’t check my email. And nothing went wrong. I’m fortunate in that I’m not in a legal or medial field, so nothing too bad will happen if I miss an email while I’m away. But it is worth trying if you can. Try it when you take a random Friday. Just don’t look at your email. Turn off email notifications on your phone. It might give you a sense of peace that everything went OK, and that you can do it then next time you’re out for a few days. I was just out of the office for a couple of days, and I did take and make a phone call for work, but it was a one-off situation where there was a deadline. I didn’t check my email and nothing was amiss when I got back to my desk the following Monday.

      I’ve always found that when I’m away and did check email, I don’t have the same sort of thought process I might when I’m in the office. I respond more quickly or urgently, and sometimes that’s not what I should be doing.

    4. Hermione Danger*

      I’m a senior-level individual contributor on a creative team. We are not doing rocket science and no one is going to die if I can’t be reached while on vacation. But my boss tries anyway. This is why I do not use my personal phone for work, and also why I block the entire company on my phone when I take PTO.

    5. Lisa*

      Gen X, and me as well. I work for a judge, and I check my email constantly even at night and on weekends. I don’t usually answer it unless it’s something super quick, but I like to know what’s coming when I get back to work.

    6. DrSalty*

      Try not checking it next time you’re PTO and I bet you’ll be surprised by how smoothly everything goes without you.

  19. LegalRealityBites*

    I do generally believe in being able to disconnect during vacations, however, one big issue for the legal field is that a complete disconnect may not always be possible because of our licenses being on the line. Judges and the legal system are still somewhat archaic on societal norms and there is not always the ability to completely disconnect because of the issues with malpractice. Most judges aren’t going to accept – but I was on vacation – as a reason you did something that may amount to malpractice or ignoring a legal issue. I am not sayin that this should be the norm, but that is the reality for lawyers.

  20. BellyButton*

    In my role, occasionally I might be asked to do deal with something on my time off. The thing is I trust my boss, if I am on PTO and texts me, not reaching out on Slack or email, I know it is an emergency. I also trust the judgment of my team, if they were freaking out about something big, they would text me. Otherwise, they all respect my time off and after hours time.

    I think that is really the question- do you trust your boss and team to respect your time off and know when something is truly an emergency and needs your attention?

    1. LW*

      I trust their judgment in reaching out to me. what I am trying to avoid is proactively checking email. I’ve never declined a work call outside of work hours for a client or a colleague in my company. But what I’m after is the difference is coming home from the beach and waiting for my turn to shower. am I using that time to check email, or am I using that time to sit on the deck and watch a deer meander through the meadow nearby? hopefully – for me – the latter.

  21. Czhorat*

    At one of my old jobs the guy running the department (one of the best bosses I’ve ever had) would sometimes say he was taking his vacation in a cabin in the woods, with no internet anywhere nearby. It became a bit of a running joke when anyone went on vacation to give a reason they’d be incommunicado:

    “I’m climbing a mountain”
    “I’ll be sailing in uncharted waters”
    “I’ll just be napping at home in my faraday cage”

    Joking aside, not only is this part of your compensation, but you might REALLY be out fishing/in the woods/using a sensory deprivation tank. There has to be SOME freedom (ideally as much as possible) to have your time be as much yours as it can be.

    1. Clisby*

      That’s how it was in my IT job when I was essentially on-call 24/7/365. Sometimes when I went on vacation I said, “Cellphone and internet are pretty sketchy – don’t count on it” and just didn’t answer. Other times, I answered the phone and took care of a problem – but that didn’t mean I spent PTO hours on it. We took PTO by the hour, so if I spent a couple of hours fixing a problem, that was a half-day that got charged to work, not PTO, and I had another half-day in the bank.

  22. Addison DeWitt*

    My wife has the kind of job where a day off could come to a screeching halt because a client has a sudden need. But not the kind where you can’t go to an afternoon movie because you have to be ready to answer your phone. And if she’s in London, all you’re getting is “I am out of the office, try Jenn in my department.”

  23. Captain Swan*

    I am a manager that is also in a position
    that requires coverage.
    Everyone I work with has my cell phone number and they are advised that they can call me in an emergency.

    Now the person that I designate to cover for me, they get told that they can call me at anytime if they need to (doesn’t mean I will pickup or return a call but I will listen to a VM and decide if I need to respond). I feel confident that they are prepared enough that if they feel the need to call it’s an emergency.

    In 25 years, I have only had 2 calls while on leave. One was a direct report who forgot I was on vacation and wanted to alert me to a timecard problem. The other was my designated cover who had a genuine emergency going on and did need me to weigh in immediately.
    Maybe I just work with people that have enough sense to leave me alone.

  24. HonorBox*

    I think it is reasonable that you *may* be contacted in the event of an emergency…an actual emergency. But that should be it. Also, there needs to be understanding from the workplace that even if they can contact you, you may not be able to actually do anything to address the issue.

    A friend of mine regularly schedules her vacations in places that are either remote – so very limited cell/wifi service, or international, or many time zones away. She’s been proactive before vacation in telling people where she’s going and setting her team up for success in case something comes up. But when she’s 8 hours away, she may be sleeping when a question comes up.

    Is it reasonable to expect employees at certain levels to be available should something come up that no one else can answer? Probably. But businesses should be set up so that no matter who is out, things can continue well enough until they come back. Maybe there is a hiccup or the road is a little rougher than normal, but things will still get done.

  25. Samwise*

    My dad was the principal for a huge public high school.

    Nights, weekends, vacation — he made it clear that he could be contacted for emergencies only. This was before mobile phones, so everything went to the answering machine, or one of us kids would take a message (we were trained to say, I’m not sure he’s home now, can I take a message?)

    Dad said that in practice, he only called back when the head janitor left a message, because anything else was not really an emergency.

  26. Mainer*

    This seems like a big reaction to a one-off comment. Take your PTO as planned, disconnect, and if it gets brought up after you return, deal with it then.

    She may have been joking, or you may have different ideas of what “available” means. Maybe she just means “building is burning down” level emergency and just her having your cell number is enough.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I agree that it’s likely (as Alison also points out) that the boss actually meant to imply that this was only for extreme emergencies. Just continuing on that assumption, as she suggests, would likely be a solid strategy for the OP.

      But I don’t really agree that OP had “a big reaction” – or at least, not an inappropriate one. I think the boss should have been more careful in how they discussed PTO with an employee. They should have been more sensitive to the impression they were making, and made their meaning clear.

      Vacation time is part of compensation, and bosses should encourage employees to use the PTO that they are entitled to – instead of casually implying that they can’t take vacation time.

  27. Kyrielle*

    Many years ago, we had a senior person on a vacation on another continent while we were rolling out a new piece of code that he had worked extensively on (he had booked the vacation when the schedule had all that being finished before the vacation – but then the schedule slipped right into his vacation, unfortunately).

    Without telling any of us, he left his satellite phone number with the VP of our department, because he knew any issue critical enough to need him would rise to the VP, who could then pass that info along and we could reach him. He also knew that we’d work hard to figure it out on our own before raising it to the VP.

    Which I know because, sadly, we did have such an issue and needed to reach him, but I think that call was less than 10 minutes and only one was needed, and then we had the info to continue fixing things.

    Which is to say, no, you really shouldn’t need to be in contact during a routine vacation, and even if your routine vacation coincides with an event you may need to assist with, the bar for calling you should still be high.

  28. Brain the Brian*

    We have one C-suite exec where I work who *insists* on being bothered while she’s on vacation for every little thing that she would normally handle. It drives the rest of us nuts! We’re constantly waiting for answers and approvals that she can’t give instantly because she’s — ya know — hiking or visiting family or at a wedding or whatever else. A much better system would be to establish protocols for temporary delegation of responsibility depending on how disconnected she expects to be — and then just emailing us all before she leaves to say “Use Protocol A next week.” Sometimes, an emergency needs a response before a vacationing person even sees the notification on their phone. Good grief!

  29. Two Pop Tarts*

    In house attorney (a unique position within corporation).
    Highly compensated.

    I’d say being available at anytime is part of the job. I suspect the reason they decided to go with an in house attorney to begin with was to have instant access to an attorney should the need arise.

    Think of a worse case scenario: someone dies due to using the company’s product. Do you think the company would want to wait till you got back from vacation to talk to their lawyer? No, they’d need to talk to you as soon as possible.

    It doesn’t sound like they’ve been abusing the situation. I’d just be aware that should an extreme emergency arise, they would need to talk to you.

    1. costume teapot*

      But this person isn’t the only lawyer–*and* isn’t the General Counsel. These are pretty key facts. They are one of what appears to be at least three lawyers, if not more, since LW didn’t specify if their own boss is the GC or not. If a customer died while using the product, I would imagine a mid-level attorney isn’t the top of the to-call list.

    2. Matt*

      Well, even an “in house whatever” is an employee of a company and not its property or slave. As such they can be expected to work reasonable hours but not to not have any private life to report to work at the drop of a hat. If the company needs 365/7/24 staffing, they need more than one physical person to staff that post and a rotating on-call schedule.
      (That’s how it should work, I’m aware that law seems to be a whole different planet, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.)

  30. Delta Delta*

    GenX lawyer here. Stop it with the ageism and generational nonsense. Our generation motto is “oh well, whatever, never mind.” We have to fend for ourselves and we kind of don’t care that we hold everything together and nobody pays attention to us.

    OP’s boss is an idiot and needs to be told that PTO is for time OFF, not for being constantly on call.

  31. Angstrom*

    If true, this sounds like poor management.

    I had a field service job where some of the calls were of the “customer is down — you need to be at the airport in two hours” level of urgency. We were encouraged to use PTO and disconnect completely because our boss understood that it was important to prevent burnout, and had planned staffing and cross-training to ensure coverage.

  32. Roses By The Stairs*

    I just wanted to chime in to say that there’s no such thing as a work emergency. There is no such thing as a work emergency big enough that anyone in a certain position should expect no vacation. Even the president has a vice president that can make calls. No one person is that integral, no business is that important, nothing is that serious where someone can’t expect to unplug, ESPECIALLY when prep and coverage is involved.

    People can get hit by a bus and the org will find a way to keep on trucking. Go on vacation. Don’t answer your phone. Don’t even bring your phone. Auto responses should be “New phone, who dis?” You’ll more than likely still have a job when you come back. And if you don’t, well, you really didn’t need to be on call then, did you?

  33. el l*

    Two ways to get the rest you need:

    The fully-transparent way is where you use your seniority and experience to say, “All a question of the priority of item. For this vacation, I need you to only call me if truly an emergency. Such as ___.” This will work for many but not all workplaces.

    For all the others, just find a way to lose your phone.

  34. Bookworm*

    I am sympathetic, LW! Not in law, but had a boss like this. Person was known to call in the evening (7:30), would email at all hours and on weekends, would “forget” to check the calendar. This was not communicated to me until it came to a head and this boss clearly expected that we answer messages outside of business hours because (I paraphrase) it did not happen often and we had a flexible schedule.

    This line of work was not in any sort of emergency services (more like producing teapots customized per customer requests sort of thing) but I could not convince this boss otherwise and things did not improve.

    I also somewhat wonder about your reaction and that it’s not about you, but rather this is a boss that makes you feel this way is either totally clueless or is a tyrant. Only you really know and I do hope it was just a misunderstanding! Good luck!!

  35. Aspiring Great Manager*

    Eeek… no, I’m going to have to disagree with Alison on this one.
    If you are senior enough, and it sounds like it, you should not ask your boss such an open ended question because that opens up the opportunity for them to give you an answer you don’t want. In the case of a senior manager, you should be able to go back to your boss and clarify your strategy and explain why it has worked and will work. Most people will agree with something presented them as a fact but asking an open ended question can get many bosses to be more strict than what they would otherwise be ok with.
    in summary: be careful with asking questions that can give you an answer you do not want

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I disagree. If you don’t ask questions because you might get an answer you don’t like, then you’re not going to ask any questions at all. That’s not an effective strategy as an employee, and as a manager, you definitely don’t want your employees not asking questions.

      Part of being a manager is that you should expect your employees to feel free to come to you with questions, and another part is that sometimes you have to tell them things that they’d rather not hear.

      Avoiding uncomfortable situations, as you’ve described, is a great way to be both a bad employee and and a bad managers.

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        I think the issue here is the direct report and the manager (aka LW) are both going to be out at the same time and the big boss is addressing that by saying the LW needs to be available.

        I agree with Aspiring Great Manager, that the LW left this sort of open ended and so the grand boss give some direction that is stressing the LW out.

  36. costume teapot*

    I feel this so much. SO much. I’m in-house, mid-career attorney at a large company. Relatively recently, I was supporting a new facet of our team with one specific customer before I went out on PTO on a Friday. Since I’d heard nothing from the other attorneys working on the project all week, it seemed like there would be no need for support on my side. I’m the only one who had been doing this work for months, and I was only going to be out for one day, so cross training at that moment didn’t seem necessary.

    Of course, at 4PM on Friday while I was out, it became a HUGE HUGE ISSUE THAT HAD BE RESOLVED IMMEDIATELY and my cover wound up being reamed out by the other attorney on the project, and my manager stepped in and listened to that person rant about the fact that I needed to be available 24/7 for the whole month until this project was finished. My manager, bless her, said that was completely unreasonable and she wouldn’t ask it of me, had the other attorney walk her through what was needed, and was able to do it herself…..and of course, the end product wasn’t sent to the customer until halfway through the following Monday, so it was not that big an emergency.

    This was six months ago and I still can’t talk to the attorney who pulled this without feeling a type of way about it.

    1. Matt*

      The most shocking thing about this “24/7” expectation for me is not only that one is expected to be glued to their phone all day long, but there’s also the expectation that one sleeps with phone on and loud beside their bed and be ready to be woken up any time, jumping out of bed ready to work. It’s probably healthier to eat one Big Mac a day than living like this.

  37. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    Oh nooo. I choose to check my work email when I’m on vacation by myself (because I’d rather clear out the junk and know what I’ll be coming back to as I go, because that’s what works for my brain) but my boss explicitly tells me that she does not expect it of me and that if I don’t get around to something, that’s perfectly fine, nothing will explode before I get back.

  38. DinoGirl*

    I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel like I had to be available during time off. Interesting to read comments. Now I’m wondering if this is reasonable or not.

  39. Pita Chips*

    As long as there are people who glorify being busy, we will have workaholics, no matter what the generation. Some people seem to feel guilty if they take a moment to breathe, and don’t get why everyone else doesn’t feel the same way.

    I (GenX) had an Millennial intern several years ago that I had to tell multiple times to please stop taking work home, there was no need to do so. They weren’t under a deadline, they hadn’t fallen behind on anything, their work was great (all of which I told them!).

  40. Abogado Avocado.*

    I am an attorney for a local government and my job includes freedom-of-information act requests. I don’t get PTO without some work because a member of the public could make an information request and it’s my job to handle all that. (In my jurisdiction, there are time limits on getting the information to the public.)

    Although I make significantly less than a new lawyer at a BigLaw firm (even though I graduated with honors and was law review), I have great bennies — including that rare animal, a pension.
    Thus, if the result is that I have to check email while on PTO and ensure the public’s right to know is made manifest, I will do that. But my willingness can be laid to my being 10 years from retirement. I think I’d feel a lot differently if I were lots younger.

  41. Tiger Snake*

    I don’t think that its fully unrealistic as an expectation – I think its just missing the ‘within reason’ and clarity.

    I’m the manager. It’s a part of my job to make sure the workplace keeps ticking along when my staff have emergencies. So, when someone does have an emergency and can’t come in, it’s my job to find someone to cover them. And if I can’t, then in most circumstances it’s my job to cover that shift instead.

    There is a ‘within reason’, yes. And I still take time off and fully disconnect during that time. But it means that when I’m scheduling my PTO, I’m scheduling that with the plans so that we do have enough staff and avoiding being off when others have time off already, so that there are others who have said they are prepared to handle those emergencies instead.

    I think of it as a part of the “digging the trenches” work that a manager is responsible for. It’s a part of the same bucket as when there’s one particular date for on-call work that no one wants; everyone gets cycled to suffer and the bad on-call date is shuffled around. But when there’s an odd number of dates, the person who has to take the extra bad on-call shift is me, because I’m the manager.

    1. Matt*

      I see the point, but I don’t like this often brought up point of “emergency only”. There is no such thing as “being available in an emergency only”. The point of emergencies is that we don’t know in advance if or when they’ll arise, so if you’re expected to be available “in an emergency”, you’re expected to be available *always*.

      I’m also a strong proponent of official, documented and rotating on-call schedules whenever a job is deemed that important that it has to be covered all the time. And yeah, obviously you need more than one physical person to accomplish this. For me it’s just inhumane to expect ony person to be available 24/7. (For the record, I’m right on the brink between Gen X and Y :-)

      1. Tiger Snake*

        Respectfully, I don’t think you see my point.

        We have people who are meant to attend these events and be on call. They are scheduled to be do. But if someone has an emergency on their life which means they cannot be on call that weekend as was originally scheduled, that means that it’s the manager who needs to find someone who can be on call that weekend. She gets the literal on-call phone, and she needs to pass it on to whoever is covering that shift.

        But if no one can cover for the shift, that’s then on the manager. It’s her responsibility to make sure someone is on call. If it cannot be handed onto someone else, the on-call phone stays with the manager, in both the figurative and literal sense. If the phone rings, she is holding the phone.

        That is a part of her job. And that means that if, for some reason, she won’t be available to collect the literal phone that week, it was also a part of her job to make sure someone else was the emergency backup who can. Making sure emergencies are accounted for is a part of being the manager.

  42. Mimsie*

    “but I know that at this point, I am in fact paid to be available more than 40 hours a week, or in the early morning/evening/weekends as the job requires.”

    We need to push back on this perception. Post pandemic, billionaires going to space and ruining companies on a whim. I don’t know about y’all but I am TIRED. let’s kick this assumption to the dumpster.

  43. Luckier*

    Senior in-house Gen X lawyer here, currently on vacation and realizing I don’t know what time or day it is ‘at work.’ I do check emails and can be reached on vacation – I’m in a critical role that does require some monitoring and has occasional urgent needs – but I’m able to thoroughly check out otherwise. As does my Gen X general counsel boss.

  44. Grith*

    There’s a big gap between “you might get a text once every 3 or 4 holidays asking you where something is” and “you must take your laptop with you and answer emails every day” and people do seem to like to conflate the two on here.

    Given this has never come up in your time at this job before, and that offering to keep an eye on emails is a stretch to you, it stinks much more of the former than the latter to me. I personally have no issue with the former and I don’t think LW benefits from overreacting as if it’s the latter when there’s been no sign of that outside of this specific situation where both covering staff are off. If the requirements escalate then escalate your response of course, but don’t go overboard too fast.

    1. Matt*

      For me the question is: What are the consequences if OP would not react to that text at all or not react to that text in “acceptable” time?

      If I get such a text and answer it – no problem, it won’t ruin my holiday.

      If I’m given a hard time because I don’t answer that text same day or not at all, because I go somewhere without phone coverage or without my phone or I’m doing phone-free things in my holidays, then even the slight possibility of such a text seems like a not too small imposition.

  45. Salted French Fry*

    I’ve experienced a subtler form of this in the past. I developed a love of extremely remote fishing. I never seemed to catch anything. Huh.

  46. Analyst J*

    I’m late to the discussion but amazed how many commenters can truly take real PTO without interruptions. I’m in my 50’s and since the advent of mobile Outlook (20? years ago), I’ve never had a true vacation day. This is through 3 industries and positions (individual contributor and manager) with small private companies up to a Fortune 50 company. All have been drive by lean practices so no crossovers between roles. I admit I’m lucky in my current position as overtime is rare and working the weekends is unheard of. I don’t know anyone who has the ability to truly switchoff either – I wonder how many of us are out there completely burnt out because you can’t ever get a real break from work.

    *forgive any fat finger typos*

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