How to Craft an Effective Out-of-Office Message

By Robert Half November 19, 2018 at 12:30pm

The holidays are approaching. You’ve crossed everything off of your to-do list, and your inbox is clear. There’s one last thing for you to do before you take off: Write and activate the out-of-office message on your email.

It may seem like a simple thing, but if your out-of-office message is unclear or incomplete, it can cause problems while you’re out and when you return.

For instance, if you don’t clearly state the dates you’ll be gone, your office coworkers and clients might send you multiple emails, clogging your inbox and making it difficult for you to catch up when you're back. And if you don’t include the name and contact information in your outgoing message for the coworkers who can help in your absence, your well-earned vacation time might get in the way of ongoing projects in the company.

Here are some do's and don’ts for crafting an effective outgoing message, along with some out-of-office message examples, below:

What to include in an out-of-office message

A good out-of-office email reply incorporates the following elements:

  • The exact dates of your time off — If you are simply re-activating the message you used during your last time away, make sure you change the dates, and double-check to ensure they’re right.
  • The reason for your absence — People might still attempt to get in touch with you if they think you’re on a business trip or at a conference. They’ll be less likely to try to contact you if they know you’re on vacation or out of town for the holidays.
  • The people who can help while you’re out — Provide their names, phone numbers and email addresses. If you handle multiple areas, specify each person’s area of expertise so colleagues and clients know exactly where to go for assistance.

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What to avoid in automatic replies

While you’re writing and activating your out-of-office message, sidestep these pitfalls:

  • Giving too much detail/trying to be funny — Sure, you’re excited about your upcoming week on the beach, but send too much information in your message and people might think you’re bragging. And unless you’re a comedy writer, resist making jokes. They can easily be misinterpreted and give the wrong impression.
  • Committing a colleague’s immediate help — You can’t predict how quickly your coworkers will be able to respond to emails in your absence, so make sure you don’t promise their immediate assistance. On that note, ask your colleagues for permission before you provide their email addresses and phone numbers in your out-of-office message; they might have a big project coming up that will make them too busy to serve as your substitute.
  • Telling people you’ll respond as soon as you return — You’ll have plenty of work to catch up on the day you get back, so avoid saying you’ll return emails in a particular time frame. You don’t want to make a promise you might have to break.
  • Typos — Your out-of-office message could go to anyone, from your manager to your top client. Avoid embarrassment by proofreading it carefully.

Some out-of-office message examples 

With all that in mind, here are some templates for effective automatic responses to those inside and outside your company:

  • “Thanks for your email. I’ll be out of the office from Dec. 24-28. If you need assistance while I'm away, please contact Jane Jones at [email and phone number] for marketing questions, or Bob Brown at [email and phone number] for accounting questions.”
  • "Thank you for your message. I am out of the office today, with no email access. I will be returning Jan 2. If you need immediate assistance before then, you may reach me at [phone number]."
  • "I will be away from June 1 to June 15. For urgent matters, you can email or call Mary Smith at [email and phone number]."
  • "Thank you for your email. I am out of the office at this time and will not return until Dec. 26. If this is an urgent matter, please contact James Johnson at [email and phone number]. Otherwise, I will respond to your email as soon as possible after my return."

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