I work for a company as an algorithm developer, recently promoted from software engineer.

I am very valued both by management and by peers, as is evident from management by constant positive feedback, bonus, promotion, raise, and from peers by multiple people coming to me with questions, or even just to talk, every day. I wouldn't want to appear cocky, so I tried to stick to facts, there are more but it seems irrelevant to go on with this.
I am only writing this to stress that I can refuse this as bluntly as I want, and I will keep my job. Thing is, I don't want to burn more bridges than I have to.

As software engineer, I was responsible for several key features for the company, which I developed pretty much from scratch.

When moving to team Algo, I made sure to pass on the knowledge (which was not much, as the code is very readable and external documentation exists).

Today, I have a week off after maybe 18 months with maybe a day here and there.

I already got 2 calls and 2 whats-app messages from peers "I know you are on vacation right now, but..." and the week just started.

I will also note, that when people near me at the office say "Wait, we'll call X she's on vacation, but it's just one minute" I strongly object, in front of peers and management. I thought it should make clear how I feel about this.

I need that vacation, and am certain they can handle things on their own. Just the fact I have to write here about this doesn't allow my vacation to be like it should.

I want to hold my ground regarding my vacation. I have no intention of working during this time.
At all.

I believe this is fair.

How can I decline to solve problems for my peers, some of which I consider friends, and vice versa, without appearing something I don't want to appear as?
At least one of them seems to work very long hours and even weekends. I don't know why, even though I tried asking one time. He probably thinks it's fine and normal, thus expects the same.

How do I not hurt them?

How do I not hurt myself?

How do I not appear to be "non-cooperative"?

I didn't even make sure this isn't urgent, and frankly I don't think it should matter.

How do I make sure this is the last time, or at least make them think hard before doing this again?


This is Israel. This behavior is common in many work places, more so for ones with relatively old employees (I am by far the youngest).

My former boss even had a saying that made him laugh in sad irony "vacation in [our company name] isn't really vacation".

Leaving is the first thing I'll do, in about 1-1.5 year, due to more reasons. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
However, There is an upside that keeps me here, which is not important for this question. Bottom line, I am staying for now, and a year is a long time to be pissed off by people that are generally with good intentions.

Until then, and for the rest of my work life, I would like to be able to handle this properly.


Ways I can handle this, which seem bad to me:

  1. Lying "I am at XXXX and not near a computer, or have no reception". I never lie my way out of trouble, and it has proven itself over and over again in my life.
  2. Ignoring them. That is passive-aggressive. Everyone is on their phone every once in a while. Not replying is a non communicative way of saying "f*** you" Also, this will assure the calls will continue, and I will keep being stressed, thus my vacation will not be a vacation
  3. Saying to their faces "I am not going to work during my vacation" will make me appear too full of myself, as this is not the norm in this workplace.
  4. Giving a very long speech which explains my point of view seems to be the best option, but I will have to make 100% sure I don't get anything wrong while giving it, and I will have to do it in person for 5 different people. Very error prone.
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 14:07

14 Answers 14


An angle that is not well touched on in the other answers is culture. Israeli culture and company culture will both come into play here. If the regional and company culture is such that you are expected to behave in a certain way, failing to do so is an obvious risk in terms of relationships (regardless of how things work in America or western Europe). This is especially true as your manager has explicitly said "vacation in [our company name] isn't really vacation".

I would suggest not answering anything in real time. Set aside a specific time each day to return calls and messages. When they don't get immediate answers people will often figure stuff out on their own. By approaching it this way you are not breaking cultural norm and limiting interruption to your vacation.

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    I like this idea of setting aside a time, especially for the Whatsapp messages the OP is receiving where the sender can see that you're active and expect a real time answer, a quick "I will have time to look at this at 11:00 tomorrow morning" reply can help push everything to that time the OP has set aside so that they aren't being pestered all day.
    – Davy M
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 18:06
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    Your are not actually on vacation if you set aside time for work.
    – user29390
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 11:22
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    @Roland: That's like saying "You're not actually at work if you don't turn off your private phone." Pragmatism beats dogmatism.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 11:49
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    @Roland ...and if the cultural norm is that you make yourself available during vacation, how do you prevent hurting relationships by failing to meet the social contract? Pretend the cultural norm is the same as it is in America? Seems like terrible advice.
    – Myles
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:27
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    This is the selected answer because it was possible right now, and because after not having set up anything prior, causes the least friction. It also educates everyone right now to leave me alone. I would have selected a "do this and that beforehand" answer for the future. Thanks for all your help everyone!
    – Gulzar
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 17:36

I send an email to all my colleagues a few days before going on vacation (also setup an auto responder, and a similar worded one for external contacts (clients)).

It says something similar to:

I will be on annual leave from start_date and returning on the return_date. If you need me for anything urgent please contact the project_manager.

Please re-send any emails after I return. (optional line: as I will not be available via phone or email during this time)

Regards my_name.

You can then talk to your project manager and tell them, that during vacation you will be away from your phone and computer, so you won't be checking any messages.

Then you can ignore all work calls. Even better, keep a dedicated work phone, then you can just turn it off during vacation.

And no, I don't see any of this as "passive-aggressive". - but why are you worried about that, considering your collages are contacting you on vacation?

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    I'd also add that in the case where you have clients, let the clients know in advance the dates you will be out of office and provide them with the name of your backup. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 14:37
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    The project manager is the backup, or more precisely the person responsible for finding the right backup. Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 15:02
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    I will surely do something similar in the future. What about now?
    – Gulzar
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 15:25
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    Just send an out of office email now; no need to be bothered by your co-workers for the remaining days of your week-long vacation.
    – aem
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 16:35
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    I fully agree that this answer is the way to go (so +1), but I doubt the email is going to help OP here since the coworkers calling him are already aware that he's on vacation and persist with calling them anyway. OP's case is not a lack of the colleagues not being aware that OP's on vacation, but rather that they still want their questions answered regardless.
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 13:46

Saying to their faces "I am not going to work during my vacation" will make me appear too full of myself, as this is not the norm in this workplace.

That's it. You can do it politely. Most e-mail system have an automated reply feature for that exact purpose. "I'm currently out of the office with limited access to e-mail and messaging. I will be back on 11/16. In case it's urgent please contact XXX (typically your manager)".

It's best to set expectations around this BEFORE you go on leave. Make sure your manager knows about it and is reasonably okay with it.

If your manager objects, you can have an in depth discussion with them around rules and expectations. What's the point of vacation if you can't take it ? How do you avoid burn out and churn? How do you maintain motivation and enthusiasm in the work place? How does this fit into the regulatory frame work and labor laws in your country & culture? How would you ever be able to take a trip to a different part of the world?

Now it's possible that your manager will dig in their heels and still object. If they do, you only have two choices: give up on vacation for the rest of your work life of find an employer that actually honors vacation.

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    Or spend lots of vacation time in remote places with no cell coverage. Easier in some parts of the world than others, sure.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Nov 8, 2020 at 18:47
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    @JonCuster Nono, just start a new hobby: During vacation you send your phone around the world to track package delivery lines. So if they are lucky some UPS guy will unwrap it when it rings and help them out XD I.e. once you made clear you're on vacation you could do whatever weird shit that makes you unreachable. If your contract doesn't say otherwise, you can do what you want and no one can expect you to be there. If your contract says otherwise or there is a threat to be let go, yeah, time to go. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 19:11
  • "Reasonably okay" - you're either on holiday or your not. If your manager doesn't like it, introduce them to the employment laws.#
    – Alan B
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 16:37

How to refuse to work when on vacation while keeping relationships as best as possible?

You want to establish a boundary with your boss and management that while you are on holiday you should not be reachable about work. Your problem is that you are expected to be, and that's expectation from both your management and teammates (with the business benefiting the most, at least in the short term), and whatever you do is going to ruffle some feathers as you are the problematic one where everyone is living with the pain.

My personal way of handling this boundary is very simple - I do not share my personal phone with people at work. And if ever presented with a work phone then I will have clearly defined expectations of when is that thing supposed to be on - and not once I have agreed to "on vacations on too" rule because that's no vacation if you keep thinking about work. If I need a phone for 2FA and other nonsense like that (but not given a company phone), I have a cheap android permanently bound to my desk for that very purpose and nothing else.

And you know what's the magic of it? If they don't have your phone then they can't call or text you, and in vast majority of cases that obstacle is more than enough for everyone else to solve the problem without bothering you. If they care enough that they will scour google for 40 minutes and find my actual phone number then it's clearly an emergency big enough to interrupt my vacation time.

But that's a lesson for your future employment as here you are already too far gone and everyone seems to know your number and treat it as a work hotline and now solving it is not going to go without some pain. It will be good pain, learning pain but pain still. And you even recommended the best plan of action already in your question with:

Saying to their faces "I am not going to work during my vacation" will make me appear too full of myself, as this is not the norm in this workplace.

As this is assertive and doesn't leave the matter up for debate. You simply state that you are on vacation to escape from work and will get back to help them when you are back on the clock. This isn't being full of yourself - it's being assertive and it's a skill that you (and many people) need to train and develop as it's a cornerstone of having a healthy relationships in your future (and not only at work). It's more of an art than science, and there are many courses and articles online that you can read on how to be more assertive - pick one and stick with it.

Ironically what you suggest as best option:

Giving a very long speech which explains my point of view seems to be the best option, but I will have to make 100% sure I don't get anything wrong while giving it, and I will have to do it in person for 5 different people. Very error prone.

Is the very opposite of what do you want.

Instead of stating that this is your vacation time and trying to establish a boundary you are putting the whole matter up for a debate. So even if you will manage to get your perfect speech prepared and delivered you are rolling a dice over something that shouldn't be a discussion in the first place. And even if you will convince those 5 people, they can easily get overridden by their higherups and you are back to square one.

Of course you need to figure out whether the juice is worth the squeeze in the first place. You already know that your time with the company is limited, but also that you do not want to leave for some year and a bit for one or another reason. That's total of what, three weeks of partially interrupted vacation time? I can't tell if you it's worth stirring the pot to have them uninterrupted instead, as no matter how well you will tackle the issue there will be negative connotations (some people think around the lines of: "now I have to work around this one guy who doesn't answer phone while on vacations, the selfish prick") and it may be best to just suffer your time in silence.

No one can make that decision for you, you have to weight your own pros and cons.


What you want to do is unrealistic. There may be an emergency only you can deal with or other very valid reason for disturbing you.

However you should not be contactable by colleagues. Just ignore any attempts by them. If your manager contacts you then that is different. It means that it has been escalated to a higher level before bugging you with it.

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    Many managers disturb their employees' vacations with reasons that are not at all valid.
    – wimi
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 12:37
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    @Kilisi An alternative explanation is that you have only had bad managers, so you have never seen good management behavior. And "having emergencies that only one of your subordinates can deal with" is a classic example of how to be a bad manager.
    – alephzero
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 17:25
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    @Kilisi, if you are the only one that has the key or other physical item, it doesn't help your coworkers of management if you are halfway around the world from them. If that was the case, you should have left it with them, not taken it with you or even left it at home. Also, everyone should have a backup. A bus-factor of 1 is almost universally bad. Calling someone on their vaca is just bad form. And being "on call" during a vaca isn't a vaca. And calling for a fire should be a notification of the disaster, not a call to arms, unless you're CxO level. Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 21:20
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    if it's an emergency then they better have a backup plan because I tend to be unreachable on vacation. And I mean really unreachable. It's most likely my cell phone doesn't have reception.
    – Joshua
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 22:01
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    The advantage of funneling contact through the manager is not predicated on a manager that won't forward unimportant requests. It is because the co-workers have to confess to the manager that they are unwilling or unable to help themselves.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Nov 10, 2020 at 19:55

How do I not hurt them?

How do I not hurt myself?

How do I not appear to be "non-cooperative"?

I didn't even make sure this isn't urgent, and frankly I don't think it should matter.

How do I make sure this is the last time, or at least make them think hard before doing this again?

I understand your dilemma as that you really want to respect your own needs and boundaries, while at the same time you want to show that you care because you value the relationship with your colleagues. It's difficult to balance this, as you need relaxation and freedom during your vacation, and you think they expect or even demand that you're available to help.

Ideally you would have communicated you needs and clarified the expectations before the vacation started. However, you're already where you are, and need to do something right now to both respect your needs and the relationship with your colleagues.

So first things first, take care of your own needs. If you don't do that you won't have any energy to listen to your colleagues. This is incidentally one of the purposes of a vacation. Since having an outdrawn debate with each colleague right now might make it impossible to utilize your one week of vacation, I'd simply use something called protective use of force*. That is: say no assertively yet as compassionately as you can, still respecting your needs. Send an email to all your colleagues, turn on auto reply, and ignore all the calls (or, if you decide you have the energy for it, reply with a reference to the email). You want to communicate something like this (adapt the language to suit your context):

Hi all!

I've already received several calls on the first day of my vacation, and that makes me tired and stressed since I really need this vacation to relax and clear my mind. This is very important to me. I ask you to please consider my need to be completely off and not contact me directly, but instead refer to my manager X until I'm back.

I regret that we didn't discuss this before my vacation, I mistakenly thought we agreed, so until I'm back this will have to do. So I do want to stress that I really want to hear how this feels to you all when I'm back, and how we can make this process better for everyone in the future.


To make it less likely that you hurt yourself or someone else, focus on communicating your own universal needs*, and make a clear specific actionable request*. You can mention how you feel* if this is suitable to your context.

Note that this is the first step, not the last. Depending on how they react you will need to respond to that. If you want to build stronger relationships with your colleagues it's important that you follow up when you're back and show that you really do care about their needs as well. This is an opportunity to actually talk about what needs are not being met when people are not unavailable during vacation, finding a solution that works better, and to create a stronger sense of trust in the group.

*These are some aspects of Nonviolent Communication, if you're interested to learn more about this approach.


Your situation is in no way specific to you being such a high performer. The solution is the same as for any other person, and pretty simple:

  • Make sure that everybody who needs that information knows about your vacation. What I do is that about 2 weeks before the vacation, whenever I have a more intense discussion with someone, I shortly mention the vacation at the end of the talk. That way they don't expect me to magically deliver something in that timespan.
  • Determine someone who can stand in for you during your off time, maybe several people. They do not need to be as high-level as yourself, but should have a passing chance to figure out problems in your absence, albeit with much higher effort. Make sure they have access to any relevant information, accounts, servers etc. as needed (and as appropriate regarding security guidelines of course).
  • Set appropriate email autoresponders and list your stand-ins there.
  • Turn off your work phone and work email client etc. on the first day of your vacation. Turn them on on the first day you're back at work.
  • Enjoy your vacation. Don't even think about switching any work related device on.

If you don't have a private phone, get one. If you have someone in the company you trust to not bother you with anything except life-or-death situations, then you may give your private number to them, but it should be absolutely OK not to. Only do this if it gives you peace of mind, by no means do so if you feel pressured.

All of this should not burn any bridges, but is regular professional behaviour. If you need to use your clout to "enforce" these regulations, then just do it. If that burns a bridge, you want it burned, because else it would suck you dry over time. You had 1 week of vacation after 18 months of high-performance, visible work; this would not only be illegal in my country, but yells "burnout" like nothing else.

If the company needs you to survive, even in the 2 weeks vacation, then this is a major problem (for the company, not for you). What happens if you get ill? What happens if you have a vacation, or leave the company? Being able to be completely offline for 2 weeks is a perfect benchmark of these things - if even this is not possible, then there are bigger tasks ahead of the company than this issue...

  • I like this answer because it also outlines an obvious reason why the company should actually want the employees to do the self-care thing: Encouraging this behaviour increases documentation and information sharing among peers and minimizes the bus factor without having to involve an actual bus.
    – lucidbrot
    Commented Nov 11, 2020 at 8:45

Build a culture of shared knowledge, and shared system ownership

In companies with a business need for great uptime - Amazon, gmail, youtube - there's no important knowledge that lives only in one person's head.

After all, if there were any secrets only one person knew or problems only one person could solve:

  • If they're not on call, they could have driven into the city to see a play or concert, or in the middle of a marathon training run, or falling over drunk at a beer festival. It could be an hour or more before they can get to a computer - which would be a completely unacceptable response time for a critical problem.
  • They could win the lottery and resign instantly - or get hit by a bus and die (the so-called 'bus factor')

As such, one of the most important responsibilities of managers and senior developers - more important than delivering features - is to avoid hoarding knowledge, and make sure there's nothing you know that no-one else knows.

This means, for example:

  • Don't worry at all about hoarding knowledge to be 'indispensable' for job security. It stops you being promoted, and it's only relevant in shrinking, failing companies - in which case you should move jobs anyway.
  • Instead of having parts of the codebase only one person works on, several people should know every part. If one guy can make a change faster than anyone else, he's the last person who should be doing it.
  • Everyone's code should be reviewed by someone else in the team, who should be able to understand it
  • When people come to you with questions, give them as much nuance and detail as they can handle - try to build them into experts as good as yourself.
  • Run training sessions and suchlike for anyone who wants them
  • Whatever type and extent of documentation your team thinks best
  • If there's any boring paperwork (what's the status of the order for Joe's new ergonomic chair?) either hand it over to someone else when you're going on holiday, make it somehow shared so other people can check it themselves, or make sure the people involved can tolerate a delay while you're away.

And perhaps most importantly, for your case:

  • Establish that people who are on call dealing with a critical issue can call you whenever they need to and you'll do your best to help - but that it'll be a big red flag, and that not needing to call you is one of the team's most important goals.

Once you've established this as a goal and got everyone to support the idea - while stressing it's for the good of the business, not just for your personal benefit - you should find calls drop a lot.


If I don't know what is the issue, I assume it can wait until I'm back

  • they just called and didn't leave a message
  • the message has no details: "Are you available" / "There is an issue"

Maybe they will contact me again to give some details, only then will I call them back.

If it's the first time I'll call back and explain things briefly

  • I don't have much time, but I'm willing to help
  • Depending on the person I call back or my situation: I give a maximum duration for the call
  • If there is another issue they will have to wait until I'm back from vacation

At the end of the call and depending on the person, I remind them that

  • I don't want to be contacted when I'm on vacation
  • I won't help next time.

They get help and they know what to expect next time.

I could call back again if the manager/team changed.

If a few month later, you have a situation where you know something can go wrong during your vacation and you're willing to help. Just say that if this specific situation arise they can call you and you will help as much as you can.

I left a company this year (never had the issue during vacation). Two days after leaving I had a call about work. They got help, it didn't happen again and it didn't burn any bridge for me.


Vacations is your time designed for you to rest from work so you will be able to maintain your sanity and work more effectively. Period.

Your response shall be adequate to your behaviour on the workplace.I copy flexi's and Hilmar's answers. Tell your colleagues you are to be on vacation; set automatic response. In emergency be responsive to your superior's call; but set the rules beforehand. That's it.

BUT! If you are calling your colleagues during their vacations, asking them for help, assistance or whatever... Forget it! Get your phone and enjoy how you treat them.

another big BUT: There are work positions where 24/7 emergency response is mandatory. But it is set in the contract, anyway.


I've asked this in a comment on your question, but regardless of what you may want, your work contract and/or company HR policies may very clearly state that you must be contactable at all hours. If they do, then you can do nothing about this state of affairs, except find another job.

If your contract/HR explicitly specify that there is no expectation around you being available outside of work hours except for emergencies, then you should send your colleagues a message reminding them of this policy, and informing them that if they continue to bother you for non-emergency purposes, you will file a complaint with HR upon your return. Then enjoy your vacation. This may seem exceedingly rude, but your colleagues were rude first, by violating company policy to bother you in your personal time - a little bit of rudeness in return is entirely justified.

If your contract/HR are vague around work/life balance, you need to try to get that language tightened up upon your return from your vacation, to explicitly state that employees may only be contacted outside of work hours in the case of a genuine emergency. If your company won't allow such language, time to job hunt.

  • "Contactable" requires payment. Not a large payment, but a payment. Say two dollars an hour, 48 dollars a day. But that's not payment for doing any work, that's payment for having a charged phone with you. Doing work on work is at least 150% normal payment.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 9, 2020 at 22:46

Going against the grain

Saying to their faces "I am not going to work during my vacation" will make me appear too full of myself, as this is not the norm in this workplace.

If you go against the norm, no matter the topic, you're going to rub people the wrong way when those people expect you to adhere to the norm. Whether that's about after hours availability, dress code, general attitude, ... doesn't matter. You're doing things differently than people expect/want you to do them.

Just to be clear, I am 100% on board with your opinion on the separation of work and private life. But you're trying to deal with people who disagree. So I'm skipping on labelling either opinion as objectively wrong or right, since this is a matter of how to deal with differing opinions.

If "the norm" at work was the belief that anyone who doesn't wear orange socks must be intent on murdering the company CEO, and you think that's a silly belief; would you still wear the orange socks?

You're not required to wear them. You may even want to not wear them as a point of principle. But it's inevitable that when you don't wear the orange socks, people will be looking at you as if you're going to kill the CEO. And if it's inevitable, you shouldn't be surprised that it happens when you don't wear the socks.

What you're asking for is how to convince everyone that what they consider to be the norm should not be applied to you. By definition of what a "norm" is, that's going to be an uphill battle, one you're much more likely to lose than win. You're asking people to change their belief on a certain topic, based on the fact that you believe something different. When you look at it in this light, it becomes clear just how difficult this is going to be.


  • I want to hold my ground regarding my vacation.
  • How can I decline to solve problems for my peers, some of which I consider friends, and vice versa, without appearing something I don't want to appear as?

You can't have your cake and eat it. You're adamant about going against the grain here (again, I'm not saying you're in the wrong, but you are going against the company grain), which effectively pushes back against your company's expectations of you.

You have no control over how someone chooses to respond to your behavior. Whether they get upset or not is wholly their decision. All you can do is choose your own behavior, and based on what you've said here, your mind is already made up on what to do, and you're not going to bend.

Right now, you have to accept the reality that no matter what you say, there's never any guarantee that you've actually mitigated the social damage from pushing back. We cannot predict your colleagues' behavior any more than you can (less so, even).


But there's still the question of how to phrase this refusal to work during your vacation. There are different routes you could take, but each of them work on different people, and they all have their own drawbacks.

1. Argue the legalities. You're not required to work during your holiday, and they can't make you. So you won't work.

This is likely the most effective way to not actually have to work during those holidays, but the social impact is going to be noticeable. If you use this argument, you're being a stickler for the rules (in their eyes), and therefore will likely be treated similarly in the future.

If you enjoy any loose enforcement of rules in your day to day work life, expect that to disappear, instead being reminded to stick to all the rules as much as you did for not working during your vacation.

2. Argue the subjective personal side. You really want this holiday to relax. You'd prefer to not have to work as it detracts from your relaxation.

By opening this up as a discussion, rather than you telling them how it is, you're going to significantly decrease the defensiveness from their side. This might be the right way to sway certain people, who are trying to be polite and won't intrude further when you've expressed a genuine feeling.

On the other hand, you open yourself up to people outright disagreeing with your need for rest, instead pushing through and hammering on about what they care about (problem X, which needs answering).

This approach comes on softer and minimizes the impact, but opens the door to unwanted discussion.

3. Do not pick up the phone or respond to messages at all.

This is again a very effective way to not have to deal with work. If your local culture has reasonable worker protection, no one can force you to work (based on your adamant position, I infer that this is the case for you).

This also puts the onus on the other party, who has to actively engage you to complain about your unavailability. This gives you the conversational advantage, as you can just repeatedly point out that there is no expectation of availability during vacation.

Don't focus on whether you saw the messages or not, because that is not the point. Act as if it's an unspoken but commonly understood truth that one does not work during vacation. This puts the onus on them to explicitly argue that you should work during your vacation, which is a shaky argument from the get go.

However, this is going to rub some people the wrong way. The kind of people who don't deal well with being ignored, or who feel personally insulted by you not catering to them.
My personal opinion is that these kinds of people are liable to dislike you for anything you arbitrarily do in the long run anyway. If you're damned and you do and damned if you don't, then just do what you want to do and be damned anyway.

4. Lie about not having been in the position to respond

This is a more ironclad position than number 3, but it plays out the same way. You simply add an additional argument on top: you were unable to respond, rather than unwilling.

This will help a lot with negating the social impact. Coming across as unwilling to help (which, in truth, you are) is going to reflect worse on you than not being able to help. It also helps with the argument that your vacation comings and goings should not be dictated by your company/colleagues.

However, this cuts both ways. If you act willing-but-unable (to avoid the repercussion of being seen as unwilling), they may outright ask you to ensure availability in the future, at which point this scenario repeats and you've lost the ability to claim that you were unavailable because you weren't expecting calls.

5. Turn it around on them. Would they appreciate being called during vacation?

This doesn't need to be an explicit question; just find a way to make them consider being in your position, being called during holiday.

This is a very useful argument, though risky to use with a certain kind of selfish person.

If this person genuinely believes that employees should remain available at all times, you will damage yourself using this argument. They'll just outright state "yes", and put you on the back foot.
If this person is known to willfully lie to get their way, they will say "yes", putting you on the back foot, even if they won't end up liking it when they are the one on vacation being called.

But if you're dealing with someone who is genuine (not known to lie for personal benefit) and doesn't generally break the work/life boundary for themselves; then it's possible that their current call is nothing more than forgetting to realize what being called during vacation means to you.

While it seems like I'm having to add a lot of ifs here, the reality is that most people are like this. Most people don't mean to barge in or override your vacation. They just honestly misjudge the importance of their problem versus the impact on your vacation, and a gentle reminder often gets them to realize their mistake.

Anecdotally: this approach is actually a great tip if you work in a call center and are trying to finish a conversation because there are other people waiting. We were trained to state "I am going to end this call, because we have many of your colleagues queueing". Pointing out that there are other people (equal to them) being forced to wait, makes most people think to themselves "oh, I wouldn't like to be queueing either, that's a fair point".
But, sad to say, there's always the occasional caller who responds much more selfishly, along the lines of "F** them, it's my turn now!". But they are a tiny minority.*

In all cases, pick your argument based on the person you're talking to.

In the end, different arguments work on different people. There is no one-size-fits-all panacea that convinces and pleases everyone. Some people will be easily convinced, others might never agree with you no matter how well you argue your point.


Over all, before you decide on how to approach this, you need to decide where your priorities lie.

If push comes to shove, and you either have to end up working during your holiday or rubbing people the wrong way, which will you pick?

If you prioritize the not working, then you can speak considerably more assertively when telling them "no" when they call. That doesn't mean being rude, but rather treating your unwillingness to work during vacation as an immovable fact. This gives considerable weight to your position.

However, if you would rather end up folding instead of rubbing people the wrong way, then you're going to have to take a much softer stance on arguing why you shouldn't be working. This is going to smooth the transition to (potentially) having to fold, but it comes at the cost of undercutting your position in the discussion.


To do what you're asking might be best handled before you go on holidays. On the day before you go, tell everyone, "hey folks I'm going to be out of contact for the next week, so if there's anything you need will you let me know now?"

Then at least you can "miss" their calls and then text them back later (maybe after hours? so they don't call you back straight away!) saying that you're currently on holidays and you'll get back to them the following Monday.


Where I work it is common to name a substitute person when you go on vacation. There is even a field for the substitute's name and e-mail address in the vacation booking form on the intranet.

Even if it's not official, you can still verbally agree with a colleague working on similar topics to act as each other's replacement when going on vacation. At this point, your out of office notification looks like

I'm out of office until XX.YY. For urgent matters please contact John Doe [email protected], phone +12 345 6789.

If there are still urgent questions that your substitute cannot solve, you may give them (and only them!) your personal contact details, and instruct them to contact you with matters that (1) they cannot solve and (2) are genuinely urgent.

And BTW, not replying to someone is passive-aggressive when a response is expected. You can't expect to take work off your mind and insult your colleagues by not replying to work-related questions at the same time.

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