Dear DFS: How Do I Get My Boss to Leave Me Alone While I’m on Vacation?

Dear DFS,

The last time I took a vacation from work, it seemed like my direct supervisor never stopped calling me and my vacation really wasn’t much of a vacation at all!  I understand that there are times when emergencies come up, but I really feel like my boss stepped over the line.  I am planning on taking another vacation this month and I would like to ask my boss to please only contact me if the matter is urgent, but I’m afraid that he’ll think I’m not dedicated to my job and that this could be held against me.  Should I just suck it up and just deal with the interruptions on my vacation or is there a way that I could bring this matter up with him in a polite manner?

Hoping to get the R&R that I deserve, 


Portland, OR

Dear Sammy,

It’s great that you have a vacation on the horizon! We all need time to rest, relax, and recharge our batteries so we can give our best and take pride in our work.

As someone who has been on both sides of the equation – as part of a support team – and as a supervisor – my advice is to take a proactive approach that lets your boss know:  1) you put a high priority on your responsibilities and 2) you really want to unplug during your vacation – you deserve it!

If your group doesn’t already have one, create a one-page ‘Work in Progress’ (WiP). The WiP should include any projects you’re working on, their current status and next steps, any team members collaborating, and the projected completion date in an easy to read format.  It’s also really helpful to include a list of vital contacts, too, including phone and email, that your boss or a team member can contact directly in your absence, should the need arise.  I’ve included a sample WiP here for your review.  

Creating this document will probably take you an hour or so, but it will ensure you won’t be bothered with anything other than emergencies during your time away (let’s hope there aren’t any!) – definitely a positive return on your time investment!  If you work with a team, make sure to review your WiP with them before you meet with your supervisor to ensure everyone’s in agreement, so that there’s no confusion when you’re away.

Once you’ve completed your WiP and reviewed it with your colleagues, reach out to your boss about a week before your scheduled leave.  Let them know that you’ve been proactively documenting your current project status and would like to review with them prior to your time away from the office.  They’ll be elated!  Share the WiP and contact list document and ask if they have any questions or any loose ends they’d like you to tie-up before you leave.

When wrapping up your meeting with your supervisor, share that you genuinely enjoy the work that you do and respect their professionalism (if this isn’t true, you should spend your vacation time looking for a new position!).  Express that during your last vacation, you take responsibility for the fact that you hadn’t prepared thoroughly prior to leaving and this led to them reaching out to you for information they needed, but that you’ve taken the proper steps to make sure that everything will ruin smoothly while you’re away.

Ask for feedback. Does your boss believe the WiP provides a thorough overview of current projects?  If they agree, let them know that you’ve shared the WiP with your co-workers and that they are happy to answer any questions your boss may have during your absence. Tell them that you really believe you’ve done a better job preparing this time, making your absence easier for everyone, and you look forward to your vacation with this access to pending project and contact information listed in the WiP.

If it’s your company’s policy, make sure to create an out of office auto-reply email that states when you’re leaving, when you’re returning, and who can be contacted during this time. Here’s a quick sample: “Thank you for your email. I am out of the office and will return on Monday, August 25. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Tamara Jones at 222-222-2222 or [email protected] Thank you for your patience during my absence.”  

Additionally, create an outgoing voicemail message for incoming callers with the same details. I know it seems ‘understood,’ but confirm with the colleague to whom you’re forwarding incoming communication that they will follow up with those emails/calls initially reaching out to you.  During your meeting, let your supervisor know these tools are in place for emails and calls.

On your last day in the office before leaving, double check with everyone that the information you’ve provided is clear and thank them for their support during your much-anticipated vacation! And share that you look forward to supporting them when they have their time away from the office! ‘Team work makes the dream work’ is one of my favorite sayings!

Remember when you return from leave to thank your supervisor and colleagues for their support! If you can, it’s a really nice gesture to bring in a treat for the team to enjoy – cookies or cupcakes in the break room with a note from you – “Thanks All! Vacay was AWESOME! You Rock!”  – goes a long way to ensure your next leave will be smooth sailing!

Sammy, I hope this information is helpful to you and that you have a tremendous holiday!

Make it a Successful Day!

Vicki Bowen Hewes, CEO

Dress for Success Columbus

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