I'm currently on holidays, and I'm a software developer.

For the first time in my 10+ years of work, my boss tried to reach me during my holidays, on my private phone (while I have a company phone that I left turned off at home). It's not my project manager who would normally call me for daily emergencies, but my actual hierarchical superior with whom I interact between one and two times a month, sometimes less. He's the one who had the final word in giving my my holidays. I couldn't answer the phone because where I am, I barely have any network, and if I had heard the call, I wouldn't have answered anyways (because it costs me very much, being abroad).

Additionally, I contacted him once during his holidays, on his work e-mail, explicitly stating that the matter could wait until his return. That time, he answered me back within the hour. I didn't expect him to do so, and now I feel I have to answer him because of that, but I don't want to. I took all precautions to let him disconnect entirely. He didn't, and now I feel he expects me to not disconnect entirely as well.

I want to enjoy my holidays to the fullest and would like to send a text message to tell him to stop trying to contact me and that I will deal with whatever he wants upon my return, just like my "Out of Office" message says. How to professionally formulate anything that will convey my ideas?

  • 44
    If you send a message it means that you can send a message. If you can send a message, all your reasoning about not being able to answer falls down. Don't send a message. If you can't answer you can't answer.
    – walen
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:23
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    @JoeStrazzere Why wouldn't OP be aware of that expectation if it actually existed? Wouldn't OP's boss need to have made that explicitly clear prior to OP being hired, or at least at the moment it changed after the fact?
    – code_dredd
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:34
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    How many times did he try to reach you? From your description it sounds like it was one call, but you ask how to tell him to stop which makes me think he's being persistent. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 2:27
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    @phresnel I'm aware of that, but OP does not want their boss to stop contacting them just at certain times or places. OP wants their boss to stop contacting them while on holidays, no contact whatsoever, at any time or place, period. And intends to use "physical inability to send or receive calls or messages" as a reason to be offline 24/7 during holidays, whether true or not. The moment OP sends a message while on holidays, they are blowing that cover.
    – walen
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 12:26
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    When I'm "off the grid" I give my management my mother's phone number and tell them that if it is really so urgent, they can explain the situation to my mom, and she knows how to reach me. Oddly enough, no one has ever tried to contact me while I'm on vacation, even though my mom is super nice. Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 12:59

6 Answers 6


I beg to differ from my other posters. You are in a different country, it costs you time and money to contact them. More importantly, it takes your mind off holiday.

Don’t answer at all. If you get back home, just blame it on the roaming that you could not answer. Just because your boss is setting a bad example by working his holidays does not mean you should follow. If he didn’t know you were on holiday - it’s the responsibility of you organisation to organize holiday-calendars.

If they have some absolutely urgent life or death thing going on, they’ll continue trying to reach you, send you an SMS, an e-mail etc. Then you can call them back when it is convenient to you. Make sure to not let you be compelled to help them if you feel it is not urgent. You can’t really remember right now, have no computer available etc. They’ll get used to what ever standard you set for your holiday-availability so don’t blow it by doing them a one-time favor.

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    Accepted answer for the "they'll get used to whatever standard you set for your holidays". It solves the issue now, once and for all.
    – Someone
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 14:13
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    I´d beg to differ. Not answering send another message, being "I did not even get your request" which might actually be more polite. Also, to call back after a few days means that you have to keep it in your mind - holidays are to get your mind off of work. Last, anything that could wait a few days can also wait a few more day´s till you are back on paid time. (Assuming you do not usually have a month-long holiday)
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 14:37
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    I'm not sure I'd even "blame it on the roaming". When you get back and people ask why you didn't respond, point out that it was a work message, and you were on holiday. Unless your job requires you to be on call, that's all the explanation you need. If they're being extraordinarily persistent to the point where you feel it may be an emergency, then maybe answer it, but even then, only to the extent necessary to determine whether it is an emergency, and resolve it to the point where the rest can wait til your holiday is over. (and if it isn't an emergency, just go back to ignoring it). Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:45
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    This is great advice. In addition, I would recommend preparing your coworkers with this expectation by using some kind of messaging on your email auto-reply when you are on holiday that essentially says, "due to travel I will not have access to my email or phone."
    – user48276
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 16:14
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    @Ellesedil "If you make it clear that you'll be out of the country". I disagree. The employer has no business knowing what/where OP will/won't be doing/going during his off-time. Whenever I took FTO, my location in the Calendar would say "Not @work😉". That's all they need to know. If you wish to say more, that's up to you, but they should learn to respect that.
    – code_dredd
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:44

I'm going against the current trend but I think you should answer. I'm assuming that your boss had a good reason to CALL you. He didn't send you an e-mail (even on your private e-mail address) which you can read when you want. He CALLED YOU. I may be wrong but to me it means he had a compelling reason to do so. You didn't answer and it's absolutely your right.

Imagine, just for example, you changed (or you're the only one to know) the administrator's password of an internal service. Are you willing to block all the other employees until you come back from your holidays for an issue you can solve in 1 minute? Worse, imagine that this was your fault. The limit is just imagination and there may be many other possible reasons.

Unless otherwise proved you should assume good faith, no malice and no abuses.

What I'd do? I'd send him an e-mail (a phone call may be better). IMMEDIATELY. You had the time to discuss this issue here then you probably have 5 minutes for this. Just two lines where you politely and respectfully explain that you don't have network but for emergencies he can send you an e-mail and you will try to answer as soon as possible. The message is clear (if you feel you really need to convey this message) but you behave with responsibility and in a professional way. You also have the opportunity to decide if it's an emergency or not (in case he will behave unprofessionally this or another time), obviously with greater responsibilities will come also annoying episodes (and how you handle them is the screen of your maturity for higher duties).

If you worry that someone else (I'm still assuming that your boss will behave professionally) will try to contact you and you do not want to set a precedent then you may follow the wonderful Eric Lippert's tip but for now I think you should deal with this case.

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    I can think of several reasons for a call. For example, if a colleague I knew well had died I might want to send condolences and flowers before the funeral, rather than waiting until my return. If the entire office had been laid off it might be better to know immediately rather than come back to find a locked door. Even things that the PM would normally communicate might come through the hierarchical manager if they both felt contacting you on vacation was a really serious step. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 19:41
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    "..you should assume good faith, no malice and no abuses". I agree. At least for people that you know personally. It makes live so much easier if you do. Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 20:22
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    I agree. Note also that the this is the first time in over 10 years that this happens, and it's the boss himself who calls. This doesn't have the signs of lightly assuming you'd be available during your holiday. I'd call back. If it's a non-critical issue, you can quickly decline to deal with the issue. All you've lost is a few minutes. However, if it is critical, and you're the only one able to fix a costly crisis, it will pay off.
    – Abigail
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 22:20
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    I agree with this answer 100%. Its the first time this has happened and nowadays we do not live in a bubble. Unless the OP is pretty close to the bottom of the totem pole and doesn't have any real responsibilities,it is very possible that something was done that can't necessarily wait until the end of your holiday without significant loss to the employer. The professional thing to do is to answer the call and if it is unimportant let them know you will attend to it on your return. You don't want to come home from holiday and be the reason the company suffered significant losses.
    – yitzih
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 1:56
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    I disagree. If the purpose of the call was for anything serious they would leave a voicemail and follow it up with an urgent email and/or text asking the OP to get in touch as soon as possible. If they didn't do any of those things then it was just some minor need for information that wasn't important enough to really bother someone on vacation - in other words it is completely ignorable.
    – NotMe
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 14:24

You've done what you can.

All you can do is quite clearly state that you're on vacation and don't have a reliable connection or capacity to work.

All you can really do is give a brief answer, provide an alternative resource if you have one (someone else who can provide fuller answers) and enjoy the rest of your vacation.

And then ignore future voicemail/emails unless they're business critical in nature.

  • 3
    Actually, even if it is business critical in nature, there is no good reason to contact the OP. In fact, there are actually no good reasons I can think of that requires this. Even if the company is found to be doing illegal activities, and they have a warrant out for his arrest, this will be handled when the OP comes home. The only thing I can think of is family emergencies.
    – Nelson
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 9:06
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    In fact, there are actually no good reasons I can think of that requires this: one. The company needs a new manager, you're on top of the short-list, are you interested? If yes, can you be here within 2 days to get the job, sign the contract, and get the $$$ bonus? OK boss, BRB.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 10:20
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    @OldPadawan even for that it seems weird that it can't wait for a few days.
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 11:19
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    @Erik : fair enough. I wouldn't be bothered in that case :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 12:11
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    @OldPadawan That's super contrived. If they want the employee as a manager, they can certainly wait until he's back from his vacation.
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:40

Don't. You're on holiday. Whatever it is, it can wait until you get back. But of course you can't do that, the thought will keep nagging you.

Try to reach him via phone or email. Ask what the emergency is. To be fair it might as well be an emergency, but you don't know yet.

I would assume competency and brace for extenuating circumstances, at least for show. If it turns out it's nothing urgent, there's nothing wrong with saying

I'm on holiday. I don't expect to be contacted on the phone for anything other than an emergency

...after you verify that he knows you're on holiday. If you think this brusque or curt, remember that the guy interrupted you in the middle of your holidays, which means he doesn't know where your boundaries lie.

  • 3
    Ask what the emergency is. - I am very strongly in the camp that believes that if something is an emergency the caller would mention that in the voicemail, email, text, etc and ideally include what the problem is and why it is urgent. A message with no content is not an emergency.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 21:43
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    @Zoredache True. My thinking is to give the benefit of doubt, as in Hello! I have a missed call. What's the emergency? This establishes that you expect to be disturbed in the case of emergency only. A bit passive-aggressive I admit, but there we go.
    – rath
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 9:16

It seems no one noticed the following (emphasis added):

I contacted him once during his holidays, on his work e-mail, explicitly stating that the matter could wait until his return. That time, he answered me back within the hour. I didn't expect him to do so, and now I feel I have to answer him because of that, but I don't want to. I took all precautions to let him disconnect entirely. He didn't, and now I feel he expects me to do not disconnect entirely as well.

This is your feeling. You're overthinking this.

You already told him the matter could wait until his return. He decided to answer early. For all you know, he is expecting that you won't see his answer until you return from holidays.

Just mark the email as unread and let it sit there until the end of your holidays. Absolutely nothing wrong has happened here.

I reread your question, and it's a little bit unclear whether the phone call from him came before or after the email. I don't think this modifies the situation at all, though.

In the future I recommend you not send work emails while you are on holidays. But the simplest and best solution now is to enjoy your holiday and do your work when you return.

IF the matter comes up when you return, I wouldn't even discuss the holiday aspect. Just talk about the work. "Hey, I was trying to reach you about ____ project." "Yes, how is that project going? What do you need? Etc." This is much better than "Yes, but I was on holiday, you shouldn't have called me," and starting an argument about it.

  • 1
    Precision: the e-mail I sent was while I wasn't on holidays, but he was. Two days ago, he tried to call me. -- now indeed, you seem to be the only one to notice my use of the word "feel", and thank you for addressing that bit, I... feel... it's important ;-)
    – Someone
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 6:19
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    @Someone, ah, that definitely affects the situation. In that case, I actually agree with this answer. There may be some emergency going on that's not just a project emergency, but something more drastic. If it turns out that's not the case, you can ask the person involved to please use emails only (not phone calls) when you're on vacation unless it's truly a life or death matter. But better safe than sorry.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 6:31
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    @Wildcard: Completely agree with that assessment. We don't know what responsibilities or knowledge expertise compared to his/her colleagues the employee has, so the phone call may have been warranted (although an email or IM would probably be better in this situation). At this point, though, it may not have been a big deal if the manager has not bothered reaching out again. I'd think in a true emergency requiring the employee, the manager would make repeated attempts across multiple channels to make contact.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 8:32
  • @Ellesedil yes, agreed.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Sep 20, 2017 at 8:33

A blunt(ish) but effective solution is to stop responding when you are not in the mood for it. This doesnt mean never reply, this means that when you feel a call would disturb you, you just switch phone off.

Very probably the boss will understand and do not disturb you (mine did), if he decides to confront you about it you got a massive headstart.

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