The Best Way to Respond to a Boss Who Emails You During Obvious Holidays

The Best Way to Respond to a Boss Who Emails You During Obvious Holidays was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

I check my work email every single day. Sure, there are caveats unique to my situation: I like my job, I have flexible hours, and I’m the kind of person who’ll sleep better Sunday night if I get a jumpstart on Monday morning. But even me—the person who checks my inbox during off-hours and saves responses in drafts—I dread the idea of seeing an email from my boss on Thanksgiving.

That’s because when it’s hard (and rare) enough to unplug, a message from your supervisor makes you feel like you have to switch your work brain back on. It could fill you with panic that something major went down—or with annoyance that nothing important happened and your manager just thinks you should always be available. Regardless, emails over the holiday are a situation you want to nip in the bud so you can enjoy the rest of your day. Here’s how to do that:


1. Set Up an Out of Office Message in Advance

There’s an easy way to respond instantaneously without even thinking about it: Let your auto-responder do it for you! If your boss sends you an email and then has to wait for a reply, it feels like any other day. But if they receive an auto-reply that you won’t be checking email until the next workday, it’s a reminder that you’re taking the day off.

Take the opportunity to infuse some personality and show that you’re busy doing something other than work. It looks like this:


I’m currently out of the office for Thanksgiving. I’ll be spending the day traveling to my hometown to see family/running my first Turkey Trot/ seeing just how much stuffing I can eat/ praying I don’t burn the pumpkin pie/ rooting against the Dallas Cowboys.

I’ll be replying to emails again on Monday.

[Your Name]


I’m currently away from my desk. I’ll be spending the afternoon practicing opening all the bottles of champagne. Kidding! But in honor of New Years, I won’t be checking email until January 2nd.

[Your Name]


2. Send the Shortest Reply Possible

Maybe you forgot to set it up and now your boss is sending you message after message. If they preface their note with something like “no need to reply,” go ahead and ignore it! Sure, it’d be preferable if they didn’t write any in the first place, but—coming from someone who’s had that boss—it’s easier to turn off your email notifications than convince your manager to change their habits.

Now, if you’re confused as to whether they expect to hear back and start feeling uneasy, send a one-line note that makes it clear you didn’t intend to work today. Even though you’re communicating with them in real time on a holiday, you’ll want to skip the small talk. That’s because responding as you usually do (think: Starting your note “Happy Holidays! Can’t wait to hear how your pie turned out!” ) normalizes and encourages their behavior. Instead try one of the following:

“Just made a note to respond to this more in-depth as soon as I’m back in the office.”

“I can’t give this my full attention today, but am happy to review it first thing Monday morning.”

“I’ll look this over when I’m back in the office next week.”

Your boss might not have the email boundaries—you may feel tempted (or pressured) to send back the same response as you would on a normal workday. But keep in mind that they might just have found a window to catch up on work, and if you respond in a typical manner, they’ll assume you’re doing the same. By clearly expressing that you won’t be giving a thoughtful response, you’re drawing an important boundary for this holiday, and future ones as well.


Photo of person checking phone courtesy of dolgachov/Getty Images.

By The Muse
The Muse
Expert advice to answer your career questions.