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Before You Check Out, Check Your Out-of-Office Message

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Chances are, at least one person you emailed recently is on vacation. You'll know that because you're likely to get an out-of-office reply telling you so. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, people spend 28 percent of their working week reading and responding to emails, so crafting an effective and appropriate out-of-office reply is important.

First, you need to decide whether or not to send an out-of-office reply at all. For those who are in client service roles, you may not want to send an out-of-office reply. It is inherent to how we work at The Alexander Group to be available to clients at all reasonable times. One of our clients, a senior partner at a consulting firm, confessed that if a potential client calls her for an engagement, she does not want to make it easy for her competition by not being available.

It's a thin line to draw, and ultimately a personal choice. If you choose not to set up an out-of-office reply, be prepared to check emails frequently and send a timely response to important emails that hit your inbox, you'll know them when you see them. Here are some examples of out-of-office replies that may send the wrong message:

1. No Out-of-Office Message

There are a small number of executives who are cavalier about letting co-workers, clients, and customers know they are out of town. One entrepreneur commented, "My clients know where to find me. They don't need an auto-response." This response may work well for those who prefer cell phones and are available in that manner, but for most professionals, it appears inconsiderate and tone deaf at best.

2. The Out-of-Office Humblebrag Reply

I'm out of the office, sunning in the French Riviera.

Good for you, really, but if you only include a location in your out of office message, it leaves too many questions unanswered. When are you returning? Who will handle your work in your absence? And someone who doesn't know you at all may want to check out that empty house while you are sunning on the Riviera.

3. The Overly Complicated Reply

If your message is urgent, please contact me at 555-555-5555 and then text the word "HELP," then shoot an email to johndoe@gonefishing.com...

You have already lost the battle.

Remember the person emailing you needs something immediately and is already thinking of how to accomplish their goal. Why leave a maze of contact information to decipher? Even in your absence, you want to communicate effectively through your out-of-office reply.

4. The "I'm Not Going to Respond to Email until after a Certain Date" Out-of-Office Reply

If you want to reach me, please re-send your email after September 3rd.

If someone emails you and receives this response, you are creating work for them by having them message you again after a specified date. An out-of-office message like this one suggests that you don't value anyone else's time but your own.

5. The Perfect Out-of-Office Reply

A good rule of thumb is to always include these three components in your Out-of-Office Auto-Reply

  • Date of your return that will give people an opportunity to follow up.
  • Provide the name, email and phone number of the person in your office to contact in your absence.
  • Give clear boundaries in your message by stating if you'll be checking emails, or if you will have limited or no access at all.

Taking these cues, your out-of-office reply should look something like this:

I will be out of the office until [date] with limited access to email. If you need an immediate response, please contact [colleague] at [phone number] or [email]. Otherwise, I will respond when I return. Thank you, [your name].

6. A Riskier, Yet Funny Reply

If you work in a creative field or are known for being clever, you may be able to get away with a cheeky out-of-office message like one of our favorites:

One of our favorite, funny out-of-office messages

Or this one, by a marketing professional:

404: Marketing Manager not found. I'm not in the office right now, but if it's important, tweet me using #InterruptYourVacation.

You could even go viral with your clever out-of-office message, like this internet sensation by Guardian writer Michael Hann.

The Last Line

Don't wait until you are on the way to the airport chatting it up with your Uber driver to set up your out-of-office reply. Crafting a professional, appropriate message is important. Once it's done, you can finally unplug and enjoy your much-deserved time off.

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