Holidays, Vacations, and Office Etiquette

holiday, vacations, and office etiquette2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on holidays, vacations, and office etiquette, but you may also want to check out our other posts on holiday business etiquette, or if you’re a working mom, check out our discussion over office etiquette, family vacations and coworker jealousy.

I thought today might be an interesting open thread — how does your office handle the holidays? Is it big enough that you can take time off whenever you want? Is it so small that you have to ask for permission before you schedule holiday plans? For those of you who do usually work over the holidays, is it generally slow — and if so do you use the time to be super productive (e.g., zeroing out your inbox), or do you take it super slow yourself (come late, leave early, have long lunches)? Do you travel over the holidays, either to visit family or to take advantage of some of the great vacation deals we see around now? (Pictured.)

For my $.02: I’ve always gone home to Ohio for the holidays. When I was working in BigLaw it was never an issue when I booked the flights — I was usually lucky enough to not be doing anything that required me to be in the office, so I could always work from afar if I needed to. When I moved to a much smaller office for a nonprofit, though, it was considered a courtesy that you had to ask (pretty far in advance!) if you wanted to take time off, to ensure that our vacations didn’t overlap too much. Funnily enough, I don’t even remember what the “office etiquette” was in my first few years out of college (which tells me that I was probably totally ignorant of it and planned my holiday vacation whenever I wanted to).

Let’s hear it, readers — what are your thoughts on holidays, vacations, and office etiquette? IS it rude to book a big vacation? How much advance notice is needed? Have you ever worked with someone who you thought really breached office etiquette around this time of year?

Pictured above: Deposit Photos / KonArt. Originally pictured (2012). 

Trying to plan a vacation around the holidays? Don't forget to check the office rules, both spoken and unspoken -- if you're the most junior person on the team you may not be ABLE to take time off around the holidays, or you may have "reserve" your spot early.


  1. Totally depends on the office!

    I work from home now, so I just sent my boss an email saying “I plan to take off days XYZ. Does that work?”

  2. For our firm, we were asked to give our managers a heads up “as soon as we knew” before the Thanksgiving holiday what our plans were for the rest of the year. Since I work in a large pool of paralegals for approximately 7 attorneys and usually end up backing someone up (including my manager) on a weekly basis, I let him know I was headed home before Thanksgiving. As soon as my tickets were booked (about mid-November), I sent in the formal request for FTO.

    Everything seems to be working out swell, but he was very glad for the heads up I gave him pre-Thanksgiving that I would be gone for Yule.

  3. Not appropriate to schedule a long absence between Christmas and New Year’s for this transactional ‘r e t t e (i.e., this year I will be out 24/25 but in the rest of the week). Year end deals are too common for it to be acceptable to even ask for the week off far enough in advance to make serious travel plans).

    Sometimes the deals die and the week is slow, which means a mix of productivity (organizing files and shipping stuff to storage) and taking it easy (lighter hours).

    • Similarly, as a transactional lawyer, taking time off at the end of the year is difficult for me. At the moment I have two deals to close before the end of the year. I’ll be taking the 24th, 25th and 26th but other than that have no holiday plans. Who knows, if things end up being spectacularly under control I may be able to take an extra day, but I haven’t formally scheduled anything.

    • Being a litigator by training, I never realized what a nightmare the end of the year is for you guys! I work with a former transactional lawyer now and she’s in heaven NOT having to be glued to her cell phone throughout Christmas dinner since she retired from practice.

    • emcsquared :

      Ugh, our transactional tax practice was already down 1 person due to maternity leave (she feels terrible, but we knew it was coming and the higher ups could have easily staffed around it), lost another one to an injury, and then one of the partners decided to take a month long trip but didn’t tell anyone until a week in advance. It’s awful – working until midnight, waking up in cold sweats worrying about how I’m going to get everything done, partners screaming at me in the halls because I don’t have capacity to review their tax allocations or whatever at the last minute and there isn’t anybody else available.

      So much as I would be put out to have to request vacation time, I really *wish* my section had some kind of vacation policy to protect the employees from burnout. I suspect we’ll see some attrition in January as a result.

      • What a nightmare. Transactional practice is always terrible at year-end, but I forget that it is 10x worse for tax specialists, especially when the corporate partners have no sense of how many people are vying for your time.

        • Well oops I didn’t realize this was from last year. Hope emcsquared survived last year and that your group is managing it better this year!

  4. I work in a two person office, so it is a very informal policy (besides, we are generally closed for the holidays anyway).

    My husband, on the other hand, needs to put in formal requests and get holiday time approved, but that is because he works in a 24/7/365 operation.

  5. I try not to be a scrooge, but I am a fan of communicating early on vacation day requests – especially in a small office around the holidays. I encourage my staff to schedule their vacation at least 6 weeks out and make sure the entire department knows. This can impact when meetings are scheduled, realistic deadlines, etc.

    Also – and again this may be unique to a small office – I want at least one person from a department present on any given day. That means that if you didn’t put in vacation request time around the holidays in time… well, sometimes it takes some teamwork to plan vacations and make sure someone is there to represent their department.

  6. Diana Barry :

    Unfortunately, my area requires year-end work a lot of the time. At my biglaw #1 job, it was fine for me to take off bc I wasn’t really involved in the complex year-end gifting instruments. At biglaw #2 job, my boss really looked down on anyone taking time, so I think I was off 23-26th and back in the office for the 27-31st (and still got disapproval from the boss). Now at my small firm, I check in with my boss and see what time I can take off.

    This year is particularly bad bc the tax laws may be changing, but nobody knows to what…

  7. I work over the holidays because I don’t’ celebrate Christmas and everyone but one other person in my department does. It is SO BUSY. It’s the end of the year, there is a ton of year-end stuff to wrap up, plus I have to cover for all the people who are out. My office usually gives us a floating day off to use around the holidays in addition to Christmas Day and New Year’s, and I have never been able to take it because there’s so much work. I’ve pointed this out numerous times and asked that the floating day be available for use anytime so that those of us who aren’t Christian can use it, but so far, no dice. So the winter holidays are basically the bane of my professional existence.

  8. We have a vacation calendar that covers the whole year – where everyone plots in their vacation days. Theoretically I guess we’re meant to ask the boss if it is okay, but as long as we try to manage to schedule it around each other, so at least one person is in the office – she’s good.

    It usually helps that without kids and SO, I’m fairly flexible so I’ll try to take my holiday time in the summers or autumn when the schools aren’t out yet so those with kids can get that part of the holiday. This Christmas, though, I’m taking two weeks. (It sounds much more than it is, but since we’re closed for 24, 25, 26, and the weekends come strategically, and we’re off on 1 & 2, I’m only spending four of my vacation days for 2012 – and using some saved up time for the remaining day.)

  9. Small law firm. Typically we schedule things so the holiday season is dead, and, as most of our opposing counsel and judges are also out, it’s unlikely that there will be any fires to put out. Because of that, most of us just stay on top of our emails, maybe put in a half day here or there, but otherwise tune out between the 22nd and 2nd.

    Otherwise for non-holiday season vacation, plans and scheduling are just sort of figured out as they arise. If I’m going to take a 3 or 4 day weekend, and I’ve got nothing on my plate, I’ll just tell people. If I’m planning a longer, real vacation, then there might be a back and forth discussion about when to schedule it.

    • TO Lawyer :

      Ya this is us. Our firm generally closes for the week in between Christmas and New Years (although this hasn’t been confirmed yet) so I can work from wherever I am (although hopefully I won’t have to)

  10. I think this is office-specific.

    In advertising, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is extremely slow. Last year, our office gave us two extra days off and I spent the rest of the time organizing my inbox. This year, husband and I decided to take advantage of the slowness and fly to Tokyo. I formally told my manager about 3 weeks ago and put in my official request last week. Several people in the office are taking trips that week and management doesn’t care- no one’s around to do business anyway.

    Husband is in biglaw. He was pretty slow over the holidays last year. However, he sends notifications and has conversations with the partners on his cases about being out months in advance. I think he first notified his group about our Tokyo trip in October.

    Perhaps that’s just a law thing. He made sure everyone was aware he was taking some days off for our wedding, and his blackberry still lit up with emails from Senior Associates asking for stuff.

  11. We get Dec.25 and 26 and Jan.1 off as statutory holidays (or the days nearest if anything falls on a weekend). I actually really like to work on the days between christmas and new years – the office is quiet, customers are usually off as well, and it’s usually a good chance to catch up on some side projects. This year I need to stay anyway as part of a major IT change taking effect Jan.1, so I volunteered to be the point contact for my department (we need someone to be in the office as a human voice, even if it’s just to say “we’ll take care of it next week”).

    I host my family on the 24th, and have never had trouble getting that off. Then again, I always put in a vacation request in January for any known dates I need to be off for the calendar year (routine medical tests that I have booked a year out, christmas, and this year I’ll even be reserving a week for early next December for a family vacation). If I don’t know about days I’d like off in January, I request them as soon as I do know. Sometimes my requests are more of an FYI than a real request though (see: medical tests that I have to book a year out and are a huge PITA to reschedule). While I do have customer visits to work around, I’ve never yet had a problem finding a mutually acceptable date (for example, having to delay a site visit for a week because my spouse would be out of town the week the customer first suggested, and I wasn’t willing to leave my kids with a sitter overnight for 3 days).

    I think being willing to cover for other folks is helpful though – I’m in the office on the 27/28 this year, so someone else is willing to cover my calls for the 24th.

  12. Despite being in a larger firm, we’re a bit lax about vacation time. With the exception of larger, multi-day vacations, it’s not uncommon to take a day or two providing your schedule permits. I’ve taken most of my time off piece-meal, with the exception of a week-long trip I took earlier in the year.
    I never travel for the holidays (my dad’s my only close family locally and there’s no extended family I particularly want to go see), so I tend to not take time off around the holidays. I’d rather let people with families and such they want to see have that chance. My firm and the courts tend to get really quiet the last two weeks of the year. So I use this as a chance to catch up on emails, discovery, and take the occassional 2-hour lunch.

  13. Woods-comma-Elle :

    In my small-ish team in BigLaw this has proven to be a bit of a drama. Two of our families are 2000+ miles away, one guy worked last year so is taking off this year, one person who recently started already booked Christmas off and the office is closed on Christmas Eve. So it’s been difficult because basically everyone will be off and if something kicks off workwise, I will not be getting home for Christmas.

    It’s hard because even though on the one hand I don’t expect special treatment because my family is so far away, but on the other hand it is much more of a hassle for me to go home over Christmas than the people whose families are 20 minutes away. If my parents were in London, then I would have no problem working between Christmas and New Year, but when it takes me 7 hours and $500 to go home every time, it’s a lot harder. Also, Christmas Eve is a holiday at home, so if I had to work Christmas Eve, I would basically miss Christmas as there are no flights on that day (and this is when we celebrate Christmas).

    I’m quite happy to work remotely, but I can’t help but feel that if there is an option where someone misses Christmas with their family and an option where nobody does, the logical option would be the latter…

    Of course I realise that I’m fortunate that I have time off even though it is subject to work, when in many other firms everyone would probably be in all over Christmas every year working on an end-of-year deal…

  14. I work in the court system and we are actually encouraged to take that last week off. I have to let the administration know in advance if I plan to come in because the default is that you take leave.

  15. Temping in finance = vacation what vacation? I get the 25th off and I get the 1st off. Beyond that and the office closing early on the 24th, that’s all I’ve got.

    Of course, I could probably schedule unpaid time off, but I just started in mid-November, so it’s not happening.

  16. Socksberg :

    I will be working the week of Christmas from home, rather than in the office because most of my coworkers are taking off. I don’t celebrate Christmas so I always plan to work so others who do celebrate can take the time off and know there is coverage. The upside to working when everyone else is off is that it will be very relaxed and I am unlikely to have full days of work.

  17. Diana Barry :

    Shoot, just remembered I have to get my assistant a gift. Can I get a quick poll of how much you plan to give your assistant if in a smaller firm? I am a senior associate, if that matters.

    • Also senior associate, but in Canada so perhaps the norms are different? Not planning to give cash, but maybe a $100 gift card to our very nice department store here.

    • emcsquared :

      I give $50 for every year my assistant has been with me, plus flowers or a small decoration or dog treat that I know my assistant will like. DH gives $100 per year, but that’s getting a little rich for our paychecks now so we’re thinking of capping it.

    • I give my assistant $150 and a small gift that I know she will like. She is a huge loose tea fan, but it is a luxury for her so this year she is getting two tins of loose tea and a cute individual steeping tea pot – plus the Amex gift card. I am a senior assoiate in a 15 lawyer firm

    • I share an assistant with another attorney, and we were going to put in $50 each for a gift card. The office also does bonuses, so this is not the only thing she gets, just something extra to show our appreciation.

    • Another question: I had my assistant for the first time last year. I gave her $100 and a small gift. Do I have to give her a “raise”? I’d prefer to stick with $100 again. I’m not sure if it matters, but I was out for four months this year.

  18. anony ms. :

    Of course workplaces have to coordinate people’s vacation so that there is coverage. I realize someone always gets the short end of the stick, but if the business is open then you should expect that if you are new, or if you have already used a lot of your vacation, then you might have to work. The good news is that the offices will be quiet and you can probably take long lunches.

    What I don’t appreciate is when staff gets all pouty that I’m even asking. Naturally, they all expect the 26-28 off, but didn’t think to tell anyone in advance.

    • WorkingMom :

      That’s how we are – you can’t have PTO unless you have a back up in the office. We are part of a massive corporation, but our local office is quite small (about 150). We used to be closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s, now we are open and I asked someone to be my back up in August for the holidays. It sucks because half the team has to be in the office. The office is closed Christmas Day and New Years Day. So, while I’m enjoying time off this year, next year I’ll likely have be in the office covering for someone else.

      Year-end in corporate wellness is very busy, and I have several major accounts kicking off in Q1, so even while I’m off I plan to check email on my phone periodically, and probably log in on my laptop once a day.

  19. We’re spending a very quiet Christmas with my in-laws, who live nearby, so I’m not taking any time off to let others (especially those with family on the west coast or those with children who will be on school vacation) take that time off.

  20. SugarMagnolia :

    I work in a 20 attorney public interest law firm, and this is my first Christmas here. Based on my experience with Firm #1 I worked at previously, I will likely be not working at all the 22nd through the 25th, and with a light day (come in late, leave early if work permits) on the 21st and 26th.

  21. Gail the Goldfish :

    I live far from my family and have to fly home, so I usually take the entire week of Christmas off. It’s not a problem in my office–we’re purely litigation, and the courts are basically dead between Christmas and New Year’s anyway, so as long as there’s at least a couple of people around, we’re usually fine. I’m not entirely sure my boss even actually looks at the dates before approving our vacations.

  22. I have alot of time off but NEVER GET to take it because I am the onley one who can do a lot of things, and the Manageing partner does NOT like to fill in for me. I am hopeing that when am a PARTNER that mabye I will get to take my VACAETION! Yay! I will need to hire 2 ASSOCIATE’s to work FOR ME the Manageing partner says,but I will have to train them myself! FOOEY!

  23. Research, Not Law :

    Usually it’s just a matter of alerting everyone in advance, but I had a micro-managing PM call me out this year for not going through the formal (and unused) process. I didn’t mind doing the formal request, but I did mind that she nearly denied my request for four days off over Christmas when I did/will be providing full coverage for Thanksgiving and New Years.

  24. saacnmama :

    Have any of you read “The Lump of Coal” by the author of the Lemony Snicket books? Do you recommend it? What are your favorite books for this time of year?

  25. Migraine Sufferer :

    Just a quick treadjack-vent: We opened presents from the in-laws yesterday. Everyone (husband and grown child) got very nice $45.00 gloves, except me. I got gloves but they were the knit kind you pick up for a dollar at the drugstore. I’m not one to complain about gifts- in fact I’d rather they just sent nothing- but doesn’t this seem designed to bother me?

    • Maybe they were shopping last-minute and the place where they got the nice gloves didn’t have your size? Maybe they’ve noticed you already have a pair of nice gloves and thought you would want a cheaper pair for when you don’t want the nice ones to get ruined? Maybe they really wanted to get you a particular color, and there were no nice gloves of that color?

      I realize all these are pretty far-fetched, but I assume your in-laws are going to be in your life for the foreseeable future. Whenever I’m in a situation like that with someone, I try to imagine all kinds of reasons they might have acted the way they did with the best intentions. It helps me feel more warmly toward them. And it has actually happened before that a person has done something that really offended me, when they did it completely on accident.

    • karenpadi :

      Not married. But yes, I’d be bothered. I wouldn’t say anything though. Maybe your husband can ask his parents for an explanation?

      Forget warm feelings towards your in-laws. They made the first move. I’d respond in kind when picking out their gifts next year–I was raised to be amazing at fighting passive-aggressive battles.

    • Is grown child male or female? If female, yes. If male it sounds like they just bought guy gloves and girl gloves.

    • My mother’s in-laws always did this to her. Unless this seems totally out of character, I believe you that it was probably intentional. Be the big person and take the high road. Get them the gift about as nice as you normally would, but don’t spend too much time on it and don’t spend any of your time dwelling on their insensitivity.

  26. This is a wrinkle I hadn’t even considered, in my move from academia (near-complete control over my own work times) to a non-profit legal office that involves Islam. I had thought about hours and summer vacay and work attire that is professional and not somehow anti-hijab (I tend towards schlumpy khakis for the classroom, flirty sundresses elsewhere, and neither will suffice) but how to ask off for a holiday they aren’t celebrating –gotta figure that one out too!

    • As a Muslim that had to fight to get excused absences for Eid, believe me when I say that your office will have NO PROBLEM giving you time off. Muslims know what Christmas and other holidays are. You’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.

      • Anonymous :

        Thanks Ru!
        I remember that, while living in another country, it was my Muslim friends who saved me when all the stores closed for 3 days for Christmas in the middle of the week and then again for New Years a week later. And they had gingerbread, oranges, and candy canes!
        At least Christmas is on the same date on the (Julian) calender every year–must be a real pain to ask for a holiday that doesn’t just seem to get earlier every year!
        No one has asked me yet if I’m a Muslim (we talked a little bit about discrimination against hijabis at my interview, and fiqh came up somehow, and a couple of other Arabic terms, so I hope they don’t think I was trying to fool anyone), but I guess that if that haven’t figured it out yet, they will soon.

  27. I will never forget my year in the Americorps*VISTA program, working for a HIGHLY dysfunctional nonprofit organization for less than minimum wage — I was newly married and I saved up my measly vacation days all year for a longer (1.5-2 week) Christmas trip to California to visit my husband’s family. I gave everyone notice months in advance… and they STILL gave me grief about it when the time came. What a freakin nightmare.

  28. Small law firm, gave 1 month notice for Dec. 19-25, but know that if the federal estate tax exclusion really drops to $1 million for 2013, I have to be prepared to cancel skiing with the extended family to work.

  29. I’m in a very small office, so we all have to coordinate because they don’t like to have more than one person (two under special circumstances) out on any given day. The office is closed the 24th, 25th, and 1st. I’m becoming frustrated however because the other associate has “claimed” the entire week between Christmas and New Years every year since she started. While I know her family is further away, I would like at least the 26th off to travel back from visiting my family (nobody else in the office travels at all for the holidays). To add another layer, I’ve got four vacation days left which are use-it-or-lose-it by the end of the year, and I’ve been trying for three weeks to get the partners to agree to days I can take them.

  30. I work for a mid-sized PR firm that mercifully recognizes that the week in between Christmas and New Year’s is a dead zone for reaching clients and media contacts. We tend to have a “work from home” week where no one is expected to come in and can work remotely if they need to, or can just check in via email if there’s nothing on their to do lists. It’s great for things like visiting the in-laws — I’m available and happy to jump in on projects as needed — and getting my inbox and files under control. But if I want hard core time off, I save up my vacation days.

    Since I work with upper management and manage a reasonably large team, time off comes with strings attached. I tend to schedule it out months in advance and put it on anyone’s calendar who might be affected (but I also prefer to take honest-to-god vacations rather than shorter trips or out of town visits). They can see my time off coming, they know who’s backing me up and it reduces the amount of frantic phone calls I get if I am available, or the “where are you emails?” if I’m (mercifully) on a cruise or somewhere completely unreachable.

  31. In the past I haven’t really taken a lot of time at the holidays, usually just a day of two. But this year I’m taking the 21 through the 2 off. For some reason I had a ton of use it or lose it days to take. This absolutely mystifies me, since I took a bunch of time earlier in the year when mr. Gov Anton’s Dad was sick. I think somewhere there is an official coverage policy, but I’ve never had a request for time off be denied. And historically thinks are usually slow between Christmas and New Year here.

    For a number of reasons, including work stress, generally low/crappy morale in the office in general, home stress, and mr. gov anon’s stress, I probably should be /need to be taking time away from the office. But every time I think about it, I envision horrible amounts of panic coming from a sister agency because I’m not here to deal with whatever “thing no one thought to tell me about until the day before it’s due and now it won’t get done because I’m not here to do it” and people who are really angry at me for not being available. Just typing this put a knot in my stomach. I believe I might have issues surrounding this.

  32. I’m in the retail industry, so probably not applicable to most people here. When I was in the stores, November and December were blacked out, no vacation requests period. Now that I’m on the corporate side, things are much slower around the holidays (since the bulk of our work comes the months before when we are getting everything to the stores in time for the holidays).

    Both my and my husband’s families are here in town, so I do not take extra time off in order to make sure those who do have to travel to see family are able to take off and still have coverage in our department. (We are closed Thanksgiving and the next day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Years’ Day.) I typically take off the week between Christmas and New Years, either to travel or just relax at home. I haven’t had a problem being able to take off, I usually put in the request a few months ahead of time.

  33. Big Four, we are closed Dec 22-Jan 1. And I. Cannot. Wait.

  34. Vacations :

    We are *required* to take time off at the end of the year (at least between Christmas and New Year’s Day).
    And also required to have 3-week vacation during summer.

    Which is paradoxically very, very annoying.

  35. Every office I’ve worked in has closed between Christmas and New Year’s. The first office you had to save the vacation time to take, the other 3 office we would get it off in addition to our vacation days.

    My first job at a non-profit did have the most liberal vacation. While standard starting vacation is 10 days we we’re given 15 (5 to be taken over Christmas). In addition we receive time in lieu. If we worked an hour of overtime we got to bank an hour as time in lieu. If we worked over 44 hours we got time and a half. If we went over 60 hours in a week we got double time. Did I mention that we could carry unused vacation days, sick days, and lieu time?

    After I was there for 2 years they gave me another 5 days of vacation.

    By the time I’d been there for 3 years I had 5 weeks vacation and 6 weeks of overtime in the bank, all of which they would have to pay me for if I left. They were practically begging me to take time off.

    Finally I said “You know I’ve always wanted to go to Europe but the tour I really would like to take is 4 weeks.” Their response…”Great….Are you sure you don’t want 6 weeks????”

    I’d still be there if it wasn’t such low pay and my boss hadn’t been a maniac.

  36. I’ve always tried to do the work from home thing. In years where I couldn’t, it was very slow and most folks came in around 9, left after 330. My husband worked at a horrible place that did a mandatory work furlough from Christmas to NY, unpaid! So, you either used up all your vacation time or you didn’t get paid…a real win win for the Scrooge boss. She had to by law inform them that they’d be eligible for unemployment insurance minus the 7 day waiting period.
    This year, I’ll be working from home the entire time while having children in the house. My vacation will start when school resumes.

  37. Solo. In the last 3 years, I closed the office (e.g. changed outgoing voice mail and email auto response to “the office will be closed from x to y,” and didn’t return phone calls and emails) from 12/24 through 1/2. This year though, I have a particularly demanding client that paid big bucks for me to get some things done over Thanksgiving weekend. Times are tight; if they say “jump” over Christmas as well, I’ll probably say “how much are you willing to pay?” and do the work.

  38. I work in a pretty small IT department (9 ppl) supporting a 42 station fire department. As we’re under the city, we (the administration) are closed Xmas eve, Xmas, and New Years eve, but obviously operations is open 24-7-365. So IT is on call to support them. Luckily a third of us (and a third of my sub-department (3)) don’t celebrate Christmas so it makes it pretty easy to come up with coverage.

    The IT Head posed a december calendar in the office in October and told us to block of when we’d be gone, and my manager pretty much said as long as one of us is in the office we’re good. It’s my first year with a big girl job (yay!) so I’m a bit worried about navigating the Christmas season (as a non Christian) in the office, but so far its been much better than academia