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I'm taking two weeks off in the month of December to attend a meditative retreat where phones & other electronic devices are banned during the entire duration of the course. The center will only allow my family members to contact me, in case there's an emergency in my family or friend circle. I have already discussed this with my manager and have added a calendar entry marking them and my entire team stating that I'll be out for two weeks.

Problem -- there's an explicit expectation that I should "at least be available over text" when people are on long-term PTOs. This came directly from my skip-leader, in a team meeting. Usually we're not bothered during our PTOs. But I have seen my some colleagues of mine asked to do fetch a certain file/report/finish an admin task or even work full fledged for a day or two on their vacation. (Some team mates have complied too).

It's a toxic expectation and I plan on leaving soon, but not before this vacation in December. Knowing them, I believe my leader will do their best to not bother me in the two weeks if everything goes well, given that I've provided sufficient advance notice that I will not even be able to check my phone. However, also knowing my leader - if something does come up (such as a deliverable), I also fear that my leader will leave negative feedback (oral/written) to my skip-leader or blame me for not being available.

My question: should I top up on the calendar entry (sent a week ago) and add that they will not be able to contact me during the two weeks? I'm considering this because I don't want complications during those two weeks or a blame-game stating I was not able to fetch X file or do Y admin task. At the same time I'm worried that my manager will think I don't trust her enough (something along the lines of "he had already told me verbally; why another email?") I know ideally I shouldn't have expectations that I work when on PTO, but provided the culture of my team - how should I handle this?

Clarification: this explicit statement was generic and was not told to me during my verbal conversation with my manager when I explained that I won't even be available over text. My manager did not raise any concerns to that statement. This is the reason why I want to put this on email - if it's verbal, they can just agree now to the no communication situation and backtrack later if something come up. If it's written, they'll either have to ask me to cancel my PTO, write to me that I'll have to be available on my PTO or just approve it. In other words, an email would force them to something about it NOW rather than later. I'm 100% sure that they will not be able to ask me to cancel my PTO or ask me on email that I'm available during the PTO.

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    Would it be reasonable to give them the contact info of a family member in case there is a work emergency or is the expectation that you are available even for routine communication needs?
    – steve v
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:27
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    They already have my dad's number on file. My manager can get it if they wants to. I don't want to make it easier for them because I don't trust (again, going by past trends) that they'll use it for legitimate business emergencies. I've seen other colleagues work during a PTO for things that really could have waited until they were back from vacation.
    – WorldGov
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:46
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    "he had already told me verbally; why another email?" <<< No manager has ever thought such a thing in good faith. In fact, when you tell something to someone orally, it's not rare that they will answer "That's good, but can you send it to me by email as well?" so they don't forget about it.
    – Stef
    Oct 17, 2023 at 9:22
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    You did not mention your country. In some countries, such expectations are against the law and there may be informal arrangements at some levels of management but they are just thi s- informal arrangements. This cannot be a requirement.
    – WoJ
    Oct 17, 2023 at 16:07
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    2 weeks is not "long-term PTOs". is that explicit availability requirement in your contract, and (depending on your locale) are you explicitly paid for it?
    – njzk2
    Oct 18, 2023 at 21:06

7 Answers 7

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You don't need to explain the nature of your PTO. You need to simply emphasise that you will not be reachable by phone or text, and won't have access to a computer or the internets between such and such dates.

Adding an explanation does not resolve the underlying conflict between the declared PTO and an explicit expectation that you work during your PTO (which is what "at least be available over text" actually means). In some jurisdictions it may be illegal for the company to ask you to work during PTO; if it is legal in yours, you may need to weigh your desire to work for this company against your other life goals.

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  • But op was already told that they must be reachable at least by text but their manager. Are you saying they should just ignore that and there's no downside to doing so?
    – Aida Paul
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:25
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    I answered the question as stated: "should I explain the nature of my PTO". Explaining why you won't be reachable does not resolve the conflict with the requirement, and is therefore not productive.
    – mustaccio
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:33
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    Thanks for answering. I should have clarified this in my original question (edited now) - but the reason why I want to do this on email is not because that this way they won't "expect me to be available at least on text", but because putting it on email means they're forced to either ask me to cancel my PTO or reply stating I should be available over phone during those two weeks. The expectation I mentioned is not company-wide. It's just my time. I'm 100% sure they will not deny my PTO or said what they said verbally in a meeting, over email.
    – WorldGov
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:56
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    @WorldGov: Sounds like you've got a great team leader... :/ Sending positive vibes your way! Oct 17, 2023 at 9:44
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    I agree that most people need no explanation. However, I would explain it to the leader (manager). Saying that this time you really arent available implies that the next time you are (a little) available, but that isnt an issue as OP remarked he's leaving anyway.
    – Martijn
    Oct 17, 2023 at 10:34
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I would not be inclined to detail the nature of my PTO, the whole point is that it is my time, not the companys. This is doubly so if you are actively pursuing other opportunities.

What you can do is to write a helpful Out of Office message or calendar entry if your business doesnt use Out of Office. Give the person contacting you other people to speak to in the event of an incident, something along the lines of:

Thank you for your email. I am currently away from the office and I have no access to email or text messages, and will return on the 20th December.

If you need help with Widget Maker A, please contact John Body on 555-1234 or [email protected]. If you need help with Gromit Tuner 2, please contact Janet Person on 555-4321 or [email protected]. For anything else urgent, please contact Mi Boss on 555-3214 or [email protected].

I will address all other queries on my return.

Kind Regards, WorldGov

This gives the person contacting you suitable alternatives as to who to contact in your absence, pointing them specifically to who can help them. This is pretty much how my own Out of Office is worded.

On a personal level, I deliberately book holidays where I am not contactable for exactly this reason. I go out of my way to find places with no cell service or wifi. Enjoy your PTO, I have to say it sounds amazing!

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    I feel like this answer strikes the most reasonable middle ground. Sometimes you are the person people think is the only one who can solve their problem. And maybe you are, so when you go away it helps to connect them with a short-term alternative. Oct 17, 2023 at 13:36
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I wouldn't worry about it. If you were hospitalized and in a coma, they'd figure things out. Mark your calendar as out-of-office, and have fun on your vacation.

If it's not explicitly in your contract, time off means time off. These policies are ridiculously oppressive. You really have to read expectations as desires (especially if you work in sales!) or you'll quickly end up on the funny farm.

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    Thanks - it's not in my contract and it's not even acceptable by own company-wide standards. My team is a bad apple
    – WorldGov
    Oct 16, 2023 at 15:58
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    just to further this, even if it is in your contract, that doesn't mean squat (usually, depends on country), since there are usually laws against this kind of thing.
    – Aequitas
    Oct 18, 2023 at 2:51
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Many people in my company put, "I will have limited access to phone/email and will get back with you as soon as I can". At other times, I've seen these same people state, "I will have no access to phone/email and will get back with you when I return". (emphasis added)

I have always been in the latter camp - if I'm on PTO, it's time off.

My out-of-office message is always along the lines of:

I'll be out of the office from date x to date y and will not have access to phone or email.
If this is an urgent matter relating to project 1, please contact backup person 1.
If this is an urgent matter relating to project 2, please contact backup person 2.
repeat as necessary
For other urgent matters, please contact Manager.
Otherwise, I'll get back to you as quickly as possible upon my return.

Put this as both your email OOO response and your phone voice mail. Copy that in an email to your manager ASAP to let her know what your response will be. Tell her that you won't have phone service where you're going (which is true - your phone will be off/not with you, therefore it's out of service), so you won't be reachable except via the emergency contact they already have for you which is appropriate for emergencies.

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I want to take a slightly different approach here. I think you should remind anyone who might either contact you or assume others can contact you that this will not be possible. They are probably all in the habit of treating everyone as available all the time.

I think you should not

  • explain why you can't be reached (just literally say my phone will be off)
  • worry that it will be held against you (you plan to leave anyway, so who cares?)
  • comment on whether "actually you never really get a vacation, you just work from home sometimes lol" is a good policy or a smart way to run a team
  • construct a long autoreply that tells your team mates all about this

Just put in the calendar entry, and reinforce in at least one other way (group chat, personal conversations, whatever) that it will be literally impossible to reach you, which is fundamentally different from "I might not see your message for a few hours and if I'm at dinner with the family I might not answer right away." People will forget this and assume they can get you if they need you. So educate them that they can't. But don't discuss why your phone will be off or your opinions on having to be reachable throughout your vacation.

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If it's not in your Contract that this is the expectation, then I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Something not clear from your question - was this additional expectation made in writing or just verbally?

If it was verbally - I would straight up ignore it. Your contract trumps everything else and without anything in writing - you can (and should IMO) ignore it.

If it was made in writing, I would reply to that email specifically and state something along the lines of:

"During my planned PTO I will be uncontactable by any means"

Nothing more - don't try to elaborate or justify it - simply state you aren't going to be contactable.

If they kick up a fuss, cite your contract and the employee handbook to your manager and CC in HR.

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The best answer I have ever heard for this is "What would you do if he was in the hospital?".

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