What to Do When Your Boss Still Expects You to Be Available During PTO

You’ve been planning this vacation for what feels like ages, and you’re looking forward to some well-deserved rest and relaxation. 

Unfortunately, if the past has a way of repeating itself, you know that’s not exactly what you’re in for. Why? Well, your boss has a knack for completely ignoring your scheduled time off. 

Despite your best efforts to unplug, your inbox is constantly overflowing with “quick” requests and urgent questions. It doesn’t take long for your vacation guilt to kick in (hey, you don’t want to leave anybody in a bind!), which means you always tap out a response when you’re supposed to be putting your toes in the sand.

You’re desperate for this trip to be different. You want your time off to be a true break from the office, and not just a change of scenery.

But, how can you make that happen—especially when your boss seems to think you’ll be available around the clock and being constantly tuned-in has become the norm (a whopping 59% of U.S. workers check in at least once a day while on vacation)? 

Use this as your guide to take some guilt-free PTO—and actually enjoy your time away.

 

1. Set expectations as early as possible

Your stress-free vacation starts long before you pack your suitcase—the earlier you can prepare people (especially your manager!) for your upcoming time off, the better off you’ll be.

If your company requires that you get your vacation requests pre-approved by your manager, then he or she should have an early heads up about when you’ll be out. But, don’t expect them to commit that to memory.

Two or three weeks before you sign out, remind your boss about your upcoming time off. Make sure to mention:

  • The dates that you’ll be away
  • Your plans for availability (i.e. whether you’ll be checking in or totally incommunicado)

If you have access to your boss’ calendar (and are allowed to make edits!), it can also be wise to put a note on their own calendar about your PTO, so that they have a constant reminder of your absence when you’re actually out.

 

2. Loop your team members in on your time off

Your boss isn’t the only one who needs to know that you’ll be unavailable during a set period of time. You should let your other immediate team members (or, really, anyone that you work with frequently) know when you’ll be away and what your expectations are in terms of communication.

There are a couple of reasons it’s helpful to have your colleagues in the loop. First and foremost, this notice means they’ll do their best to avoid pinging you when you’re out of the office. Secondly, hopefully they’ll be in your corner and issue some polite reminders to your boss about the fact that you’re unavailable.

For example, if and when your manager tells them to ask you a question, assign you a task, or give you a status update, they’ll be able to respond with something like, “Oh, she’s actually out this week—but I’ll jot a note down to tell her when she’s back in the office!”

 

3. Find a vacation replacement

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t stop when you’re on vacation. Things might still come up. One of your larger projects might hit a snag or one of your regular clients might need something urgently.

That’s why it’s smart to pick one of your coworkers to serve as your replacement while you’re out. This should be someone in your department who handles relatively similar responsibilities to you. 

They still won’t have all of the answers (they’re not you, after all!), but they’ll at least be able to provide some direction until you return.

Filling in for you isn’t an easy job, so make sure you thank this helpful person with a special treat (grab their favorite coffee or take them out for lunch!). And of course, be willing to return the favor when they head out on a vacation of their own.

 

4. Send a final reminder email

You’ve made it to the last day before your vacation, and you’re tying up loose ends—like cleaning all of those coffee mugs off your desk and asking someone to water your plant while you’re away.

There’s another thing you should add to your list: a final recap email. This message is one final reminder that you’re about to sign off for a while, and should also touch on other helpful tidbits like:

  • What important tasks you wrapped up
  • What pending tasks need to be addressed while you’re out
  • Who team members should reach out to for answers in your absence

You’ll definitely want to send this over to your boss, but make sure that you cc any other team members (including that person you identified as your stand-in point of contact) so that they’re in the loop on where you’re leaving things.

 

5. Set your out of office message

This should be the very last thing you do before strolling out of the office and kicking into vacation mode. 

The right out of office autoresponder serves as a constant reminder of all of the important details you’ve already emphasized—how long you’re out, whether or not you’re checking in, when people can expect a response, and who people should contact instead.

If you know that your manager is skilled at filling your inbox despite the constant out of office responses, make sure that you’re explicit in your message that you won’t be responding to any emails during your vacation.

 

Here’s an example of what that could look like:

Hello,

Thanks for your email!

I’m out of the office until [date]. In the interest of completely unplugging and mentally recharging, I won’t be checking my inbox until I return from my time off on [date]. 

[Name] has agreed to step up to the plate for any urgent requests while I’m out. If you need something immediately, you can reach [him/her] at [contact information]. 

If this isn’t urgent, you can expect a response from me once I’m back in the swing of things.

All the best,

[Your name]

 

6. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground

You’ve checked all of the above boxes, and your boss still isn’t getting the hint—your phone won’t stop buzzing with messages while you’re in line at Cinnabon at the airport. You haven’t even left yet, and the madness has already started.

Remember that you teach people how to treat you, and this pattern isn’t going to change if you continue to excuse the behavior and respond to messages.

So, with that in mind, you get to respond to one email—that’s right, just one. And your response shouldn’t include addressing any action items or fulfilling requests.

 

Instead, your reply to your boss should be short, sweet, and look something like this:

Hi [Boss’ Name],

Just a friendly reminder that I’m out of the office until [date] and am not checking my inbox—I’m actually signing out after responding to this message.

[Name] is taking care of urgent requests while I’m out, if you need this immediately. Otherwise, I’ll review this note and get back to you once I’m back in the office.

Thanks for understanding,

[Your Name]

 

After that? Fulfill your word by signing out of your email and refusing to check the messages that come in. Even if your boss does keep sending constant notes your way, at least you can unplug and maximize your vacation time. 

We’re all entitled to some time away from the office to recharge. But, unfortunately, some bosses aren’t as understanding about that as others.

If you’re working for someone who doesn’t seem to value or honor your PTO, use this as your guide to enjoy some stress-free, guilt-free, and (hopefully!) email-free time away from your work responsibilities. After all, you deserve it.

 

How do you set yourself (and your boss) up for your guilt-free time away? Any tips to share?

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  • Cara

    Time to get a new job!

  • Setting boundaries is key! We want our team members to enjoy their time off interrupted. It’s key to building a nice place to work!