When your Mind is Already on Vacation

Tips to handle a slave driver boss during the holidays

Posted Dec 18, 2016

Source: Pexels.com

I’m not sure about you, but my mind goes on vacation in early December. I’m physically in the office for most of the month, but my head sure isn’t at work. It’s hard to stay focused during such a fun and festive time of year. Our extra hours are spent with family and at holiday parties and gatherings. So, we’re more tired than usual when at the office. And, we don’t want to do a pinch more than required at work.

During the holiday season, most bosses understand this unwritten rule that we get to slack off a bit. But, what do we do when our boss is a slave driver who expects us to perform at peak capacity even when our mind and desires are pulling us elsewhere?

Slave drivers are those overly ambitious bosses who overload you, enforcing a faster pace than necessary.

You’d like more time for your personal life, but you don’t know how to ask for it. What can you do and say that won’t jeopardize your job yet still give you much deserved time with family and loved ones during this holiday period?

What You’re Thinking

This is really too much. I always do everything the boss asks. Everyone else slipped out before she could attack them with her to-do list. So, guess who’s going to be here late tonight? Great. Dan and the kids are going to be pretty upset. I promised them that we would go shopping tonight and plan the menu for our holiday dinner. I need to find a better way to balance my professional and personal life. I could stay better focused at work, if I knew for sure that I’d get to leave on time.

A Slave Driver’s Thoughts

I know I promised the team that they could leave early today, but I don’t want to save this project for tomorrow. I will earn brownie points with the Big Boss if Peyton drafts that report tonight. Peyton wasn’t too happy to work late again. She may sulk a bit, but I can depend on her to do what I want to get done.


Your goal is twofold—to gain some balance and devise a plan that will reduce your hours without hurting your career.

  • Negotiate for a reasonable workload. Ask your boss to prioritize present duties. Matter-of-factly discuss the overwhelming pace, explaining that leaving on time is important to you and your loved ones, especially during this month.
  • Tell your boss the specific hours you will not be available. If you are spending precious time with family, then let the boss know that. Show that you are a team player and let the boss know when you will be available. Further, offer to stay late one evening when you know that you do not have family or personal obligations.
  • Allay the fear that you’re not there when needed. With today’s technology, you and the boss can be in contact instantly. If there’s a serious problem, your boss can always text or call you. Set clear boundaries around those times when you will be free to respond to an urgent message, even when you are not at the office.
  • Get your agreement in writing. This will help avoid misunderstandings or reneging on a promise. Offer to draft an email recap of your agreement. Copy any relevant party on the message.

Tactical Talk

You: Boss, I enjoy working for you, and I’m always ready for more responsibilities. But, with the holiday season upon us, I’m feeling overwhelmed. You know I want to be helpful. But, I find that I’m unable to meet my family and personal responsibilities when you assign me last-minute projects. Frankly, I can’t keep going at this present pace, but I’m not asking for overtime for my extra hours. What I need is to leave on time more days than not for the next two weeks.

Boss: I don’t see how that’s possible. Some of your colleagues have taken vacation days and we are really behind.

You:  I have a way to make it work. I’ll come in early on Tuesdays and Thursdays this month, and make sure that all of my deliverables are finished well before 5. That way, I can leave on time and enjoy the holiday season while not leaving you in the lurch.

Boss: But that won’t do. I need you to be here when a last minute issue comes up, like it did this afternoon.

You: I find that most of our clients are much more forgiving this time of year. But, if there’s ever a dire emergency, I’ve got a smartphone and I can log-in remotely after I finish with my family obligations. You can be in instant contact with me if there is ever a serious problem. Now, how should we handle this? Do you want me to confirm our agreement by email?

Tip: Negotiate to reshuffle your responsibilities. Slave Driver bosses are more interested in getting the work done than in making you miserable. They appreciate a focused and driven employee. Speak up and show them how you both can benefit from this proposed solution.

Want to learn more about handling difficult people in the workplace? Follow me on Twitter (@amycooperhakim), LinkedIn (Amy Cooper Hakim), and Facebook (Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D.). Read my book Working with Difficult People or visit www.amycooperhakim.com.

Copyright© 2016 Amy Cooper Hakim


McCord, S. (2015, November). How to stay focused at work during the stressful holiday season. Mashable.  Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2015/11/18/focused-at-work-holiday/#qpqI1UHxugqj

Smith, J. (2015, January). 3 things about negotiating your boss doesn't want you to know. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/negotiating-tricks-your-boss-wont-tell-you-2015-1