Career Advice, Watercooler

What Should – and Should NEVER — Go In An Out-Of-Office Email Reply

Your vacation is just hours, if not minutes away but before you dash out of your office for some well deserved time away from work, don’t forget to set up that incredibly useful out-of-office message. However you may be thinking: “I know I need an out-of-office email reply, but what exactly needs to be included?” and “please let this little out of office message keep things at bay till I get back.”

Here are some questions to consider when crafting your auto-response that will keep your contacts informed and give you the chance to get away:

  • When will you be gone and when do you get back? Be clear in your message and let people know the date(s) that you will be out and when you return.
  • Do you have an alternate contact while you are out? Do you want your cell phone to ring incessantly while you’re out of pocket or have emails just go unanswered? (Or are you one of those who never actually shuts down? If not for yourself, try to do this so you don’t bother your friends and family.) Determine if another colleague could assist in handling inquiries while you are out and make sure they are ok with you listing their phone and/or email address in your out-of-office reply.
  • If there is an emergency, is there some way to reach you? Let’s face it; it’s not easy for everyone to step away, especially as you become more senior in your career. Consider letting someone know the details of your whereabouts so you can be reached in a true emergency – or consider including a note that reads: “For emergencies only, contact me at 555-1234.” This way emailers can use their own judgment. But, if you are afraid that this emergency number will be abused, use your head and do some early planning of your own and let your key contacts know ahead of time that you will be away from the office.

And for the sake of your career, here are a couple important pieces of advice:

  • While you may have buddies at work, remember that the out-of-office message is part of your professional brand – as well as your company’s.  Don’t leave an out-of-office email message that reads, “Off to Vegas for heavy drinking and strip clubs.” Clients, prospects, recruiters, your boss and other senior executives can all be on the receiving end of the auto-response emails. A poor choice of words in your auto-response may leave you feeling that you might be better off hiding out there for longer than you intended.
  • Don’t forget that there’s more than one way for people to know what you are up to while you are gone.  You know those followers and friends you’ve been racking up – how many are clients, coworkers, or vendors are watching what you do?   Remember, things that happen on your vacation can stay on the internet…for a long, long, long time.  Do you really need to upload to Facebook the picture of you and your friends cutting loose? Does your status update on Twitter really need to made at this time? And even if you do manage to take some photo or update down later, think about the hundreds — or thousands— of people who may have caught on to your ‘fun’ before you had a chance to think about the consequences of what it could mean for your job and career. Remember this is your vacation, try and unplug a little.

Lastly, just for kicks and giggles, here a few humorous out-of-office reply’s from Zach Whittaker of ZDNet:

“You are receiving this automatic notification because I am out of the office. If I was in, you wouldn’t have received anything at all.”

“Hi, I’m thinking about your interesting e-mail. Stay right by your computer until you receive my response.”

“I will be unable to delete all the unread, worthless emails you send me until I return from vacation on the 18th. Please be patient and your mail will be deleted in the order it was received.”