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I am the only web guy in our firm and get asked to work on client issues even while on vacation (PTO). It's understandable if it's an emergency production issue, but even for non-production/test environment-related issues, when clients reach out, I get called or emailed to address the concern by one inconsiderate coworker.

It's a very small company, so 'To make the customer happy' policy is followed.

How should I handle this situation? Is this scenario common in the industry or should I be drawing boundaries on when I will be available while on PTO with the coworker?

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    Why are you answering work calls while on vacation? – sf02 Mar 11 at 17:38
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    Do you call this coworker when they are on PTO? – sf02 Mar 11 at 17:43
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    @sf02 - Of course not, I simply reply the clients he's out of the office and needs to wait. But the coworker is a jerk and selfish/inconsiderate person with no professional etiquette towards colleagues. – y2k Mar 11 at 17:47
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    what does your manager say – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Mar 11 at 17:53
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    Where in the world are you? I believe there are laws against this in some places – Kat Mar 12 at 5:55

13 Answers 13

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It's understandable if it's an emergency production issue

It certainly is not understandable. As online joke goes, PTO stands for Prepare The Others, as I am not going to be there.

I get called or emailed

Don't pick up work-calls on PTO, and don't check your work email. Put an automatic out-of-office on your work email saying that you won't respond until the next working day. If they continue emailing you on personal email, kindly inform them that you are on PTO, and if they insist still, that's what email filters are for.

Is this scenario common in the industry or should I be drawing boundaries on when I will be available while on PTO with the coworker?

I cannot answer how common it is, but you are the one who has started it by being reachable after work. Good thing is that you can also fix it by enforcing the boundaries. Simply next time they call email offer solution to their issue and inform them that any future emails/calls will only be answered when you are back at work.

If you will not respect your time off, neither will your boss or colleague. This is the only way for businesses to realize that they need to prepare for you being away, and get away from just dumping problems at you, no matter on duty or off.

UPDATE

I've read the other answers and I am honestly a bit terrified by the tone which I think is best summarized in this quote:

unfortunately some of us have to live in the real world of underresourced IT departments. I know that if I wasn't prepared to handle a client emergency when on PTO, I wouldn't be at that job very much longer.

While I can appreciate where that person (and others expressing similar sentiment) come from, the bottom line is that lack of redundancy is not something you've caused, nor is in any way your responsibility. You are an employee of a company, and if they've decided to not have wider coverage, relying on a single person instead, then this is a problem they've caused. Yes, hiring a second person is not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than having a critical problem with production and no one around to handle it. Would you also feel bad about leaving that job, knowing that there is no one left behind to fix it? I hope you wouldn't, as the savings from not hiring another person went to a not-yours pocket.

This is ultimately what it boils down to. If with just you the business knows that they can get you to fix it, no matter if you are on vacation, on a date or doing anything that you are not being paid for, then they have no reason to fix that situation. On the other hand, if you create and enforce strict boundaries then they will either have to negotiate with you on-call deal (IE, we pay you extra XXX every month, but then if stuff goes down [specifically xyz sort of stuff], we expect you to be around to fix it within a reasonable time) or hire/train other people to cover the gaps. The idea of getting your PTO back (for just the amount spent working), or getting paid for the time, that gives all the upside to the company, and none for you - they just make you whole, and only when they need to.

If having reasonable pay for additional duty means you will have to find another job, good, as not being able to properly take a break, instead of having to constantly think about work, monitor email and field phone calls is something that burns people in a matter of years if not months. And that is not how it is in most companies as far as my experience goes, and I've worked with oh so many of them, from tiny startups to thousand people conglomerates.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Mar 12 at 20:15
  • This answer, and especially the update section, comes across as being based on an adversarial relationship with your employer. This may not be the case, and it should be recognized that there is a continuum of possibilities between the extrema. – MooseBoys Mar 14 at 20:57
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There's actually a few different facets of your question.

A) Working while on PTO during an emergency.

I've worked in jobs where, if you weren't able to handle an emergency situation (even during PTO), you wouldn't have a job there very long. Some places are like that, and you've indicated that you don't have a problem with that - that your problem is the non-production problems that they're disrupting your PTO over.

But this is why answers like "Don't answer your phone" or such don't work: you need to be available if there is an actual emergency situation.

B) Getting bothered by minor things during PTO by clients.

You didn't indicate this was a problem, but generally, something along the lines of, "Sorry, Bob Bobson, I'm on vacation until Tuesday next week. Since this isn't a critical production issue, it will have to either be handled by someone else or wait until I come back." Basically, polite (because you don't want to hack off the clients) but being firm in not doing any non-critical work while you're on vacation.

C) Getting bothered by minor things during PTO by an annoying coworker.

This is a similar situation to B, except it's a lot less forgivable coming from a coworker. They know you're out on vacation. They know what they're doing is rude and that what you're being contacted over isn't critical. The first time, treat it like it's B, but if they persist and keep calling? "Bob, you need to stop contacting me while I'm on vacation for non-critical issues. Do not call me again unless there's a critical production issue - this is my vacation, understand?"

TL/DR; Essentially, you need to keep the line of communication available while insisting that only a few things should ever be going through that line.


EDIT: Regarding the schism that seems to be appearing in answers/comments about "Should you be accessible for work during PTO?"

I worked a few years in an IT role within Manufacturing. Which places IT in a very central spot in terms of revenue: if critical programs/computers/etc go down, it's directly costing the company about $10,000... per hour.

At that point, it's not an issue of bus factor. We were expected to be able to fix and troubleshoot problems from any programs and have at least a minimal knowledge of what all the programs/databases/etc did. But if it'll take me 2 hours to solve a critical downtime and my coworker can solve it in 15 minutes? Well, the company has $17,500 at stake in my coworker doing it if possible. If it's not critical? Then the 2 hours is fine.

This by itself isn't nefarious. When I was interviewing for this job, they indicated that this was a high-availability role - that if there was a critical uptime issue, we were expected to be on-call regardless of vacation or holiday. Which is why they were paying about 5% more than other roles, as well as offering an average 18% yearly contingent salary bonus. I accepted this, and had no problems with this (the company had all sorts of other problems, but expected availability was communicated up-front and was suitably compensated, in my opinion.)

Just something to keep in mind - not all IT roles are the same. Not all have the same expectations or requirements for availability. As long as those expectations/requirements are transparent and up-front - and are happily agreed to by all parties - then there's not really an issue. And with that in mind: the OP isn't asking about critical production bugs while on vacation - they've said that they're fine with that. It's the non-critical stuff that a coworker is bothering them about.

Second Edit: Dear lord people! This keeps getting comments about "Kevin got screwed over by the company" or "Oh, the company should handle it like this" or "They should do a reward scheme like this". Two huge, major points:

  1. My company Did reward me. They wrote me a freaking check for ~$13,000 dollars as a yearly bonus - and that's the after tax amount. I knew going in to the job I'd be doing off-hours support or even potentially during PTO/holidy. It didn't happen often, but when it did, I certainly felt well compensated for my time! Arguing about different financial compensation schemes is way off point.
  2. The OP's question isn't even about production support during PTO/holidays. It's about non-critical stuff. The OP has said that they're fine with the occasional interruption to fix a critical issue. The thing that's bugging them is the obnoxious coworker that's pestering them with trivial stuff. That's their question.

In short: everyone seems to be assuming that the OP is getting crushed, burned-out, and destroyed by critical production issues while they're on vacation. That's not what they're saying, and there's no indication that there's a problem on that front. OP's question is about trivial stuff - that's the question they're looking for an answer on.

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    I agree that IF the line of communication is available AND your manager reaches out in an emergency case it is probably prudent to offer your help. BUT I whole-heartedly disagree that you have any obligation what-so-ever to keep this line of communication open while on PTO (unless by prior agreement). Heck, you could be skiing in the mountains, on some tropical beach, in your cabin in the woods... – fgysin reinstate Monica Mar 12 at 7:14
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    Sounds to me like you worked for several companies where management did an awful job, decided to push their incompetence down on their workers and then rationalized it. But no, a bus factor of 1 is simply a management decision and not a god-given thing. What happens with all those emergencies if OP decides to quit or gets run over by a bus or is simply in a location without internet access (I assume you just shouldn't go on slightly more interesting holidays to avoid that?)? Should've had someone else know what to do after all. – Voo Mar 12 at 9:12
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    @Voo a bus factor of one is just one of the many risks of being a startup or small business. if you don't make enough profit to hire 2 people, you just can't. It's not because management is doing a awful job. – J.Doe Mar 12 at 9:39
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    @Voo - not exactly. One place I worked was a manufacturing plant - and if there was a complete stoppage because one of the components wasn't up, it cost the company about $10,000/hour. If Alice's coworkers could solve it in 3 hours, but Alice (on vacation) could solve it in 1, the company saves $20k by calling Alice. But it's nothing nefarious - that's the expectation going in, and it's generally reflected in the salary offering for such positions. It's less "Bus Factor" and more "Rapidness of response". And if it isn't a production issue, they don't bug you when you're on PTO. – Kevin Mar 12 at 11:09
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    @Kevin sounds like with that amount of money at stake you would have 3 alices, taking shifts. But it's much cheaper (for them) to just keep onto people until they burn out. Though at least in your example the burn out is agreed up front and paid for, which is fine - you accepted it. – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 12 at 12:32
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To answer your question: yes, it's common. Other answers stated this already. But no other answer mentions what burnout therapy looks like.

A friend of mine answered his phone almost 24/7, on vacation, whenever, wherever. When his colleague, who did the very same, broke down, he had to take over his part, too. Finally he broke down, too.

They put him in the psychiatry. First thing they did there was remove his phone. He was only reachable by landline, the number was only given to his wife. No internet. After three months they let him out, but told him to look for a hobby and spend x hours a day on that hobby or something else except work, to calm down.

Think about it. Do you have to break down before drawing a line? Your body and your soul need time off.

I worked on my last 3-week PTO, too. I was reachable for my colleagues as I love that they're reachable when I'm in trouble, too. This is completely voluntary and I would not let myself be forced into it. They respect to call me only when in trouble, else I would cut them off. I didn't do any customer calls, just wrote quick mails containing "call my colleague". I take off single days, though, where I go on wellness and there I am not reachable.

I'm located in Germany. By law here time off is time off - that I'm working in PTO is even illegal. Laws are very different based on your location, though...

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  • I wholeheartedly agree. Don't wait until it's too late. – Kingsley Mar 13 at 0:09
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    Everyone have different needs and ability to cope with stress. Self-awareness is key. – Alex Mar 13 at 11:29
  • The sad thing is that in those cases, rarely zhe company is reprimanded.. – guest Mar 13 at 17:39
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Is this scenario common in the industry or should I be drawing boundaries on when I will be available while on PTO with the coworker?

Is this scenario common? yes. Should you be drawing boundaries? yes.

If you are the only web dev, I think it's fine if they notifying you of production issues during PTO. I also think that if you have the ability (and you feel like it) you should fix the issue, but only if you rectify your timesheet by marking the time you worked as non-PTO. For smaller stuff, just wait till you get back to handle it.

I think there is nothing wrong with not checking your phone or email during PTO (Its what I do). You may just want to do it to look more helpful/needed in your companies eyes. It also wouldn't hurt when asking for your next promotion. Never the less, you should always be compensated for the work that you are doing!

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    Thanks for the response. As I stated, it's a very small business firm and hence the typical big company policy/work style is not followed here. Even if its the client's fault, it's OUR fault, that's what I was told once by the coworker. Pretty much 'rear-end kissing' mentality and doing anything to PLEASE them. – y2k Mar 11 at 18:29
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    @y2k That has nothing to do with company size. Working during PTO means it wasn't actually PTO, so you need to be compensated. Either those hours count towards overtime and you get to take additional time off at another time of your choosing or you get some other compensation for it. Going above and beyond is nice for the company, since they get more work out of you than they pay for, but in the long term it's bad for your health, which is more important. Talk to your boss about interruptions of the PTO and suggest solutions/compensations that you'd really be fine with, or turn off the phone. – Morfildur Mar 12 at 10:45
  • @Morfildur Overtime rate works well here. Say, being called in to work during PTO gets you paid at 10x salary, or you get 5 days extra vacation per day you were called in. You get something significant in return, and the company has a real reason to reserve it for genuine emergencies. – Graham Mar 12 at 12:05
  • All too often, you can only take PTO in 4 or 8 hour chunks, so modifying your time sheet, if the OP even has one to modify, might cause problems with paying out the PTO. Also, many company's policy's don't let you get OT pay the same week as PTO. While this answer seems like good advice, actually trying to implement it might cause more problems for the OP. Talking to a manager how to handle the time sheet would get better answers, if this route is taken. – computercarguy Mar 12 at 20:10
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Do not answer, unless your position is "on call" status then you should not be expected to answer emails or calls outside of work period. Especially if you're using PTO.

Edit: Unless it is obviously an immediate emergency which if you do not respond it may impact your employment.

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    in IT (and no doubt elsewhere) it's common for people, especially senior people, to be "on call" 24/7 whether it's explicitly stated in their contracts or not. It's just part of the responsibilities that come with having that job. – jwenting Mar 12 at 5:06
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    @jwenting: It is, however, then also assumed that you are compensated accordingly. Just as a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation (using typical number from my country): a work-year has ~250 workdays. Of those, you get 30 days vacation, so a "normal" work-year has ~220 8-hour days. If you are on call 24/7, you are working 1095 workdays, i.e. 5 times as much. – Jörg W Mittag Mar 12 at 14:22
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    If you are on call then you should be expected to answer emails or calls outside of work. – pacoverflow Mar 12 at 14:28
  • @JörgWMittag, unfortunately not everyone gets 30 days of vacation. In the US, no vacation days are required to be given by the employer. Getting 10 business days is considered average and may only be available after 1-2 years on the job. And many employers increase that only 1 week per year of working there. And they might cap it at 20 or 30 days even if you stay there +10 years. I realize you are using your country's numbers, but I thought I'd let you know how bad other's have it. Also, when people work "on-call", they aren't literally working 24/7, so that's off, too. – computercarguy Mar 12 at 20:17
  • @computercarguy: I wasn't suggesting that you should get paid 5 times as much. But you definitely should get paid more. Being on call is not time off. You are severely restricted. In my company, there are no specific rules that I know of, but there are some common sense ones: you must be sober, you must be reachable (no hiking in the mountains where there is no cell reception), you must be somewhere where you can set up your laptop (e.g. somewhere near civilization where you can find a café), you must be able to join a telco (so, no music festival or club). If your employer has control … – Jörg W Mittag Mar 13 at 8:39
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It's PTO as in Pretend Time Off.

I would have a discussion with your supervisor. Bring up the "bus" factor. What would they (your employer) do if you were unable (for whatever reason) to do your job? Short-term, long-term or permanently.

Now, develop a plan (with your supervisor) on how the company would react in unexpected situations. Use a contractor (short-term)? Train someone else in your company to back-fill when your're not available? This not just for your PTO (which is expected and planned) but for the unexpected that can (and will) happen to almost any company. The term used when I was in a really large organization (285k employees) was Business Continuity Planning.

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  • I don't understand the first sentence about "pretend time off", can you elaborate? – FerventHippo Mar 16 at 8:43
  • @Toivo. PTO is usually called Paid Time Off. Sadly, in many organizations "time off" is not the reality. I used to work for a large (275k employees worldwide) that gave a generous PTO allowance. However, even with scheduled vacation we would get work calls on days off. The is the 'pretend" in my re-labeling of PTO to Pretend Time Off. – JazzmanJim Mar 16 at 17:00
  • Ok. I think en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law applies here – FerventHippo Mar 17 at 7:50
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There are two additional factors that need to be considered:

  1. Whether the company is also flexible when you need time off, when you need to come later or leave earlier, or when you have an emergency etc etc. If they are flexible, ok, you should be as well. If they aren't, you have no ethical obligation towards them.
  2. Whether it's a rare and short event or it happens often and lasts long. Even if the flexibility described above is mutual, it has its limits. The company might let you leave early a day or two, or give you an extra day for an emergency, but if you ask for 10 extra days in a row, they would have an issue with that. So, in the same way, if they ask for one extra afternoon of work once in a blue moon, ok, you can give it to them... but if it turns into day after day for 2+ weeks in a row, they need to pay extra or give you extra PTO for that.

Of course, it all relies on your ability to find another job if you cannot find a solution agreeable to both sides. If you can't, then that's what you should work on.

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There isn't a 'standard procedure' here. Different companies have different expectations.

The one common thing is that it's important to discuss in advance what your boss expects, and how they plan to compensate you for out of hours work.

They may expect you to always be reachable, always sober, always have a laptop with you, or always be available to come in to the office within an hour. You want to avoid the situation where the web site goes down and the boss freaks out because he expect you to always be available, but you're swimming with your kids, or whatever.

Discussing the requirements naturally leads to discussing what the company offers in return. Maybe they think it's just part of the normal job, maybe they'll offer overtime or time-off-in-lieu. Maybe they'll pay a bonus for being on-call, maybe it's optional.

All these things limit your private life, and it's your choice whether the benefits of the job balance the demands, or whether you'd be better off in another job.

It's worth remembering that in a small company, the boss probably owns the company. When the company loses money due to an outage, it's his money. He'd be happy to lose one day from a $5000 holiday to save the company $50,000, but there's no such link for you. If an emergency crops up and you've not discussed anything in advance, you've pretty much got to help, but when you get back you need to agree what is expected and how they compensate you.

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While I agree with the responses saying 'Don't answer the phone/email', unfortunately some of us have to live in the real world of underresourced IT departments. I know that if I wasn't prepared to handle a client emergency when on PTO, I wouldn't be at that job very much longer.

Firstly, I assume that you have some sort of ticketing system. If not, get one; they're essential. Also set up monitoring on your production systems so that you know when they go down - uptimerobot is free, but a paid system such as PagerDuty or Wormly will give more flexibility.

When you go on PTO, make sure that all your clients know that for the next week/two weeks, whatever, you will not be handling routine support requests. This should include any non-production systems. Set up your monitoring on prod only, and send non-vital alerts to someone else. Any other issues should be raised as tickets, to be addressed when you get back.

Talk to your boss about coverage - as in, if you end up doing work on a production system, you should get 4hrs of PTO back (or similar). That should dissuade people, knowing that you'll be paid from their budget for their deliberate interruptions.

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    In most cases it would be better to let the organisation talk to the clients (if that needs to happen at all!). +1 for living in the real world though. – Gregory Currie Mar 12 at 7:41
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    If you are the only one who can fix the issue then they cannot afford to sack you either. – Ian Turton Mar 12 at 17:33
  • Except in tiny companies, the customer should not have direct access to the "line workers", even in IT. Maybe especially in IT. And people should be cross trained enough to handle situations without a certain specific person, except for maybe a 5 min phone call max in extreme emergencies if the expected fix doesn't work. And the "real world" comes from the unfortunately permanently understaffed departments that require people to burn out for the sake of the owner's pocketbook, which does happen all too often, but that doesn't make it right. I'd be glad to get fired from that position. – computercarguy Mar 12 at 20:24
  • If more people wouldn't take the calls, the companies had to reconsider there "we do not hire enough people" policies. – guest Mar 13 at 17:42
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    "I wouldn't be at that job very much longer". Bingo. Imagine 2 workers who are equally competent at their job, but the only difference is one of them doesn't answer their phone when on PTO. Which is more likely to get promoted? Which is more likely to get laid off? – Sam Mar 15 at 0:21
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You didn't include a country code.

Check your laws.

I mean that seriously. In my home country as well as the country I now work in, the law forbids work during holidays. It explicitly says that any work that prevents relaxation during holiday is illegal - that includes not just your job but also side-jobs. It does not include volunteer activitiy and such.

It most definitely does include any and all activity in the job you are taking a holiday from. Some court decisions made it clear that even answering an e-mail counts as working. You're supposed to be off work.

If your laws say something similiar, then by law your employer can make no such requests. Not even for emergencies. In fact, if I recall correctly, if your employer reaches out to you for an emergency reason, your holiday ends right there and he must give you the unused holiday days back and reimburse you for any costs you suffered, such as booking a flight home or days already paid for a hotel that you lost.

So check your laws and applicable court decisions for your jurisdiction, they almost certainly already detail all of this. You are not the first person in this situation.

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If you work you cannot be on vacation (and notably insurance etc might not cover). I understand that for some places you are a key person, but then again you might have been hit by a bus.

You need to discuss with your manager what exactly to expect - they might need you but then you need to be compensated appropriately. For instance, being needed means they have to give you another day off. Or the coworker may be told not to do so unless it is a real emergency (because it is so expensive to have you involved).

But again, that depends on what laws are protecting you. Unionized work tend to have better conditions than at-will work.

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What you should do is subjective to your priorities and your current strategy in life.

Some people are fine with being available during vacation, some people find that very stressful. Some people are willing to endure more stress in order to gain career benefits, some people value health and well-being higher.

This challenge of how to balance this is common and one of the constants in life.

Do some introspection, find out where you want to be and try to shape your environment after that. If you find out that you are not happy with your current situation, then try to change the expectations that are placed on you or try to find another job.

As you can see by the other answers and votes here, you'll be able to find support regardless of what approach you want to take.

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It's understandable if it's an emergency production issue, but even for non-production/test environment-related issues, when clients reach out, I get called or emailed to address the concern by one inconsiderate coworker.

Ideally you shouldn't be getting called at all. But a precedent has been set whereby people expect to be able to contact you at any time. That's an unhealthy situation for both you and the company, and needs to change.

A pragmatic way to improve the current situation would be to filter these requests through someone else while you're away.

You'll need help from a manager or a senior colleague for this. Direct all requests to them for a response. Let them decide whether or not there is reasonable cause to get you involved. Most things can wait, workarounds can be put in place, and many things turn out not to matter after all.

Please make sure your manager supports you in implementing this. If not, then unfortunately you have bigger problems at this company that will not go away. Part of a manager's job is to handle this sort of thing, including saying no to the troublesome coworker.

Don't receive and forward requests yourself. Just by reading an email you become involved in the situation and expend energy thinking about it. Triage is work and involves responsibility, so let it be done by someone at work!

Set up a simple email autoresponse telling everyone exactly what to do: "I'm away until X and will respond then, please contact Y if your request is urgent".

Once you have this process in place you can start to reduce the issues for which you do get called. Document some common procedures that people can try first (how to restart services, restore backups etc). Work with the company to reduce how indispensable you are. This may sound counter-intuitive, but isn't. The less you handle these support requests (which presumably happen when you're not on holiday too), the more productive, revenue-generating work you can do. You build resilience within the company this way.

Lastly, make sure the company takes it seriously each time you are contacted in future. They should be exceptional events, by definition involving some risk to the company. A response from you mustn't hide the fact the risk was there. Should there have been no response, the company needs to know what happened and how it would deal with it.

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