How to Craft an Effective Out-of-Office Message
You’ve crossed everything off your to-do list and cleared your inbox. Now, before you officially step away from work for an extended period, whether it’s for a whirlwind getaway over a long weekend or a few glorious weeks of summer vacation, there’s one more thing to do: Create and activate an out-of-office message for your email (and likely, for some other communication channels you use for work, too).
If your out-of-office message is unclear or incomplete, or you don’t bother to create one at all, it can cause problems while you’re out — and when you return.
For example, if you don’t provide the specific dates you’ll be gone, your office coworkers and clients might send you multiple emails, clogging your inbox and making it more challenging for you to catch up when you’re back. And if you don’t include the contact information for coworkers covering for you in your absence, you could inadvertently derail ongoing projects at the company or leave valued clients unsupported.
So, what does it take to create an effective out-of-office message? Here are some top tips for crafting one, along with a few examples:
What to include in your out-of-office message
An effective out-of-office email reply incorporates the following elements:
- The exact dates of your time off — If you are simply reactivating the out-of-office message you used during your last time away, make sure to change the dates and double-check that all other information in the message is current.
- The general reason for your absence — You don’t have to offer specifics about where you are going and why, but it’s helpful to note whether you’re taking personal or vacation time. Otherwise, colleagues might still attempt to get in touch with you if they think you’ll be checking in with work.
- The people who can help while you’re out of the office — Provide the names, phone numbers and email addresses of any coworkers who will be covering for you while you are taking time off. Specify each person’s area of expertise so colleagues and clients know exactly where to turn for assistance.
What to avoid in an out-of-office message
While you’re writing and activating your out-of-office message, avoid these pitfalls:
- Trying to be funny or bragging — Resist making jokes in your out-of-office message. Attempts at humour can easily be misinterpreted and fall flat with the wrong audience (for example: your boss). Also, don’t imply in the message that you’re happy to be out of the office or flaunt the fact that you’re going somewhere fun (while your coworkers aren’t). Boring as it may be, the best approach is to keep your out-of-office message clear, simple and most of all, professional.
- 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 stand-in.
- Telling people that 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.
Out-of-office message examples
So, what does a well-composed out-of-office message look like? 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 Mar. 6-10. If you need assistance while I’m away, please contact Sheila Jones at [email and phone number] for marketing questions or Chad Miller at [email and phone number] for accounting questions.”
- “I will be away from July 25-29. For urgent matters, you can contact my colleague, Marilyn Morales, at [email and phone number].”
- “Thank you for your email. I am out of the office at this time, and I am not checking email. I will not return until Aug. 26. If this is an urgent matter, please contact Jim Ricci at [email and phone number]. Otherwise, I will respond to your email as soon as possible after my return.”
Consider other outlets for an out-of-office message
It’s good practice to create an out-of-office message for your work email when taking time off. Even if you only plan to be out for a day, your colleagues and clients will appreciate being kept in the loop about your whereabouts. You don’t want to leave them wondering why they aren’t hearing back from you promptly or what they should do in your absence, especially if an urgent matter arises.
If you’re going to be out for several days or longer, consider whether you should set up out-of-office messages for other communication channels you might use daily at work. For example, Slack offers some tips on its website on how to set up a custom status and manage your notifications while you’re out. And Microsoft provides instructions for scheduling an out-of-office message in Teams.
Also, take care to set up your email settings appropriately so that only your colleagues in the organization and select external contacts you need to keep informed will receive your out-of-office message. And don’t forget to block off your time in any calendar programs you share with others for work. If needed, create an out-of-office message for your voicemail, as well.
Once you’re confident you’ve set up out-of-office messages that make it crystal clear when you’ll be out, when you’ll be back and who will be handling things in your absence, you can grab your suitcase, hit the road and focus on having fun!