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Boss and team member make passive aggressive jokes about my vacation time

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I would love to get everyone's read and advice on how to respond to situations like this.

Recently, I went on a long vacation (about a month but with a week of remote work in between) since I hadn't been able to come back home in a few years due to Covid.  I have also made sure my workload is being properly handled during my time off, meaning no one on my team had to take on additional work in my absence.

During my first day back from vacation + remote work, my boss made a passive-aggressive comment as below during a meeting with the whole team

By the way, I will be taking a few days off later this week and early next week. Now that XXX (referring to me) is back, I can take some vacation right, XXX? Hahaha.

I was taken aback by that comment and just proceeded to say that I am glad to be back and that I had a good time. But I was feeling slighted by that comment - I read it as he was not satisfied with me taking such a long vacation and I didn't deserve it. There were also other team members during that meeting so the comment felt like a public attack on my decision to take time off and see my family.

Later on, I had a 1-on-1 meeting with a team member and she said:

Welcome back. How was your vacation? You were away for such a long time!!

In this situation, I responded with

Oh I wasn't away for that long. I already started working a couple of weeks ago.

Then I proceeded to talk about something else.

In both scenarios, I felt like I was in a power-losing move and could have restored the power balance better. What would you do if you were me?

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Lucio BuffalmanoKavalierPower Duck

All considered, you did well for such a tough situation:

  • Sudden power move
  • Covert power move
  • From the boss
  • Public with the whole team

That's an hell of a tough situation.

Quote from dsnw2022 on July 9, 2022, 9:53 pm

just proceeded to say that I am glad to be back and that I had a good time.

Technically, your boss one-upped, such as disempowered you, and you "one-crossed", such as, replied but didn't directly disempower him.

HOWEVER...

You avoided most major pitfalls, including defending or justifying.

And uou did regain some power because you ignored both the nastiness and the content of his attack.

You ignored his frame, and set your own.

Quite good and high power considering it was the boss.
Now if you did it with a strong delivery, this might go from "OK", to "good".

Some potentially good replies:

  • Just make a facial expression saying "what the hell was that"

Just to remind ourselves that solid basics work in almost any situation.

Something "fancier" now:

------

You: yeah, you can take vacation independently of when I take them

= in this frame you're higher power and so important for the team that your boss reacts and moves around your schedule)

Or:

You: feel free to go now, I'm back here now making sure things are fine (smile)

Again, you take the opportunity to showcase how important you are in your team.
All in jest, but still shows high confidence (plus, we know that humor almost always has a backdrop of truth).

Or:

You: Yeah, was great, I hope you didn't miss me much

This is more of a classical one-up back.
If you have enough power and leverage in the team, it's a good one to enforce boundaries and display (and increase) that high-power (personally, I'd have gone for something similar). That sends a strong message you're not to be F*** with.

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Ali ScarlettJohn FreemanKavalierBeldsnw2022Sharon PaynePower Duck
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I forgot that one, thanks Lucio or I would have missed it.

My perspective: their envy is not justified. They're trying to guilt-trip you for being on holidays. Basically, stealing your enjoyment from the holidays.

With the team member I would go collaborative, reject the guilting frame, stay warm and state the facts:

You: Yeah I had a good time, thanks. Soon it's going to be your turn! When do you have holidays? (there you stay on an equal foot)

With the boss, I would say:

You: You're the boss! You're the one who's deciding! hahaha (I would acknowledge his upper station, take it as a joke and laugh along. You would lose a bit of power, but would align with the boss)

Personally as in hospitals there is a lot of guilt-tripping and manipulation around taking holidays and/or being sick, sometime ago I said: "F**k to all of this"

If I'm sick, I'm sick. If I'm on holiday, I'm on holiday. It's a right in my contract and everybody has the same rights.

If they have a problem with this, then there is something wrong in the organization/culture. Which is often the case.

On top of it, it implies that you're lazy and/or not working hard which is highly disrespectful and false. So if you're working during your working time with dedication, then you have the right to enjoy your holidays. If they're longer than the rest, it's because the boss accepted so it means it was a fair deal.

Turkeys are scratching! You can listen to them, smile and soar. 🙂

Edited

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Lucio Buffalmanodsnw2022

Quote from Lucio Buffalmano on July 10, 2022, 8:47 pm

You: yeah, you can take vacation independently of when I take them

= in this frame you're higher power and so important for the team that your boss reacts and moves around your schedule)

Or:

You: feel free to go now, I'm back here now making sure things are fine (smile)

Again, you take the opportunity to showcase how important you are in your team.
All in jest, but still shows high confidence (plus, we know that humor almost always has a backdrop of truth).

Or:

You: Yeah, was great, I hope you didn't miss me much

This is more of a classical one-up back.
If you have enough power and leverage in the team, it's a good one to enforce boundaries and display (and increase) that high-power (personally, I'd have gone for something similar). That sends a strong message you're not to be F*** with.

Lucio, this is PU worthy.

I also encountered the same situation albeit in reference to “sick leave” and to “pale skin color” after summer, and these would have been invaluable.

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Lucio Buffalmano

thanks guys!

@lucio : thanks for the feedback and the extra steps I could have taken. personally, I prefer your 2nd suggestion, saying - it feels more natural to me, however, I'd like to take a stronger stance to establish boundaries.

You: feel free to go now, I'm back here now making sure things are fine (smile)

With the 3rd suggestion, it might have worked for someone else, but with me being a female and the boss being male, it didn't feel quite right to me. Is there a more appropriate option that still establishes strong boundaries?  Something along the line of  'Yeah, was great, I hope things were going fine while I was away!' ?

You: Yeah, was great, I hope you didn't miss me much

@amerok: I like both of your suggestions, especially the one to the team member. I was very much annoyed by her comment - she didn't have to take on additional work while I was away and not even my boss, so why would she feel ok making comment about my vacation length? I wonder if there's any way I can communicate that sentiment to her in my comeback.  What if I say something like the below?

Yeah it was great and the vacation didn't feel long to me since I actually spent time in between to work remote

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John Freeman

I would not say this. Even if you did. Because you self-frame as someone who's a slave to his work. This is low-power I think.

Who works on their holiday for their job? Someone who's not high power enough not to do otherwise.

Please excuse me if my words above are direct. I'm also included. I took 2 weeks of holidays to write hospital discharge letters and 2 more to prepare an exam. However, I do think it's low power since I did not have any choice. So admitting that you're using your free time to work sends bad signal to your equals. To your boss in a 1-on-1 he might appreciate it IF he does the same. Then you're part of the same tribe: the hard workers (or workaholics depending on the way you view it).

Here is another suggestion:

You: Yeah it was great and the vacation didn't feel long to me. You know how it is right? It's never long enough (smiles)

Here you own the fact that you were on holiday and enjoyed it and would have not minded a longer time. As does everyone. 

What is she going to say? "Well, when I'm on holiday I cannot wait to get back to work"?

Well, that is what someone who has nothing else than work in his life would speak. Or someone with a life mission. If you're an employee making a living who likes his job, hates it or bears with it then it's low power.

If you're on a mission, it's your company, etc. Then it's high power as your mission has more value than you spending time on holiday.

Holiday is about rest, self-love, self-care and relaxing. Not appreciating these things is not conducing to your happiness. I personally value my happiness above my job. It took me years to come to this. What good is a job if it makes you miserable? Not much.

Your colleague might pretend all that they enjoy doing is working, but it's a lie in a context of a normal employee.

We enjoy free time because we enjoy being free. On holiday we feel what rich people feel most of the time: you can do whatever you want. This is high power.

I was away and not even my boss, so why would she feel ok making comment about my vacation length?

Again, she's envious and try to take away your joy. Don't let her. Enjoy your Life! 🙂

Lucio Buffalmano has reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmano

Yeah, I would say something within the frame that "I am so important that everybody notices when I am gone".

For boss, I would be more cautious, but if you are truly indispensable, then you can say:

I'm glad to be back to take responsibility again, boss. I hope you enjoy your vacation wholeheartedly as I take care of things here.

For the colleague:

Wow, was my absence that noticeable? Didn't know that I am so important in this team, I appreciate that. Let me show you where I went, amazing place, you should go there some time!

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Lucio Buffalmanodsnw2022
Quote from John Freeman on July 10, 2022, 8:54 pm

My perspective: their envy is not justified. They're trying to guilt-trip you for being on holidays. Basically, stealing your enjoyment from the holidays.

With the team member I would go collaborative, reject the guilting frame, stay warm and state the facts:

You: Yeah I had a good time, thanks. Soon it's going to be your turn! When do you have holidays? (there you stay on an equal foot)

With the boss, I would say:

You: You're the boss! You're the one who's deciding! hahaha (I would acknowledge his upper station, take it as a joke and laugh along. You would lose a bit of power, but would align with the boss)

Personally as in hospitals there is a lot of guilt-tripping and manipulation around taking holidays and/or being sick, sometime ago I said: "F**k to all of this"

If I'm sick, I'm sick. If I'm on holiday, I'm on holiday. It's a right in my contract and everybody has the same rights.

If they have a problem with this, then there is something wrong in the organization/culture. Which is often the case.

On top of it, it implies that you're lazy and/or not working hard which is highly disrespectful and false. So if you're working during your working time with dedication, then you have the right to enjoy your holidays. If they're longer than the rest, it's because the boss accepted so it means it was a fair deal.

Turkeys are scratching! You can listen to them, smile and soar. 🙂

Edited

Yeah, great point, the first step is mental.

And it's not to let guilt-trip you into taking holidays.

Come to think of it, this is a very common power move in workplaces the whole world over.

I remember a boss "forgetting" I was on holiday starting next week, then "forgetting" when I'd be back and asking me about it. And then of course flinching with a "daaamn" facial expression.

My mental answer:

Yeah, it's gonna be so awesome being away from you 🙂

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Quote from dsnw2022 on July 11, 2022, 8:47 pm

Yeah it was great and the vacation didn't feel long to me since I actually spent time in between to work remote

Of course it depends a lot on how you say it.

If you say it very flatly, or with a tone of "what the hell are you talking about", then it's high power and can shut it down very effectively.

But if we look at the words alone, the issue is that it reeks a lot of defensiveness.

As in:

Sub-communication: No please, don't judge me badly, I'm a good worker, I did work

So better to stick to higher power, non-defensive options.
And if you can use that opportunity to show you're an important part of the team (and in some of the replies above), then it's all gravy.

Another good option is the exec attitude of "cut the crap, don't waste my time. I'm here now, let's discuss what needs to get done".

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Yeah it's quite common. That's how you can see good colleagues: they genuinely are happy for you to be on holiday and genuinely want to know how your holiday went.

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