people who over-share in out-of-office messages

Posts this week will include some reprints of older posts that I still love. This post was originally published on September 28, 2010.

A reader writes:

I work in R&D for the computer industry, where technical staff have few meetings with customers and generally are given a fairly flexible schedule. It’s not uncommon for people to send to a broad team mailing list (~20-50 people) messages like:

“I’ll be in around 10:30. The contractors are just starting to pour the new foundation this morning.”

or

“Leaving early at 4. I need to take my kid to the dentist.”

Now first, I really don’t think the details of why you’re going to be away from the office are important. We’re all adults here. We trust you to make good decisions on what constitutes a good reason to be gone. Besides, work hours are flex. If you take off a couple hours in the morning or evening one day, maybe you do some more work later that day, or sometime in the next week.

But what I take the biggest exception to is the lack of discretion when deciding on what to send in a mass email to the team. Sure, you should let your direct manager know, and any core people that you work with very closely who might be looking for you. But to send it to the entire team seems overkill. Seriously, what are the odds that someone other than your manager or your closest co-workers will need you while you’re out? Especially in the era of smartphones.

Back when I managed people, I used to tell my employees to just block the time off on their calendar and make sure that at least I had their cell number. Seriously, you don’t see people sending messages like “I’m going to be in a 2 hour strategy meeting this morning, but I’ll be out by 10:30 if anyone needs me.” If the time you’re out of the office is about as long as a meeting you might be in while at work, I don’t think you really need to tell anyone your plans.

Ok, so it’s not really a question. More of a recurring situation that I’ve seen at every company I work at. What are your thoughts on this situation?

Before anyone complains that this is too nitpicky, let me say: Nitpicky stuff can be fascinating, and I think this is a perfect example of it. No, you don’t want your company to issue policies and directives about things at this micro of a level, but it’s interesting to dissect nonetheless, especially when you enjoy over-thinking things (as many of us do).

I agree that the reasons you’re going to be away aren’t relevant. What’s relevant is simply that you will be away. And yes, sometimes even that is overkill. As you point out, at least in cultures like yours, a good rule of thumb for people who aren’t regularly looking for you or aren’t your boss is, “If the time you’re out of the office is about as long as a meeting you might be in while at work, you don’t really need to tell anyone your plans.”

Sometimes the over-sharing of plans can even come across as suspect — similar to how when someone’s calling in sick with genuine illness, they usually just say, “I’m going to be out sick,” but fakers will generally give you a long list of overly specific symptoms, like they feel they have to convince you.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s interesting to hear that your colleague is remodeling his kitchen or taking his kid to her first day of school.

But it can become too much. I used to work with a guy who used to all-staff his every move: “I’m running some errands after lunch and will probably be back by 2:30 but it might be 3:00.”  “I’m leaving 15 minutes early today, so see Dan with any end-of-the-day questions.” “I’m going to be on a conference call about our new report all morning.” It got to the point where I started to expect to receive, “I’m headed to the bathroom. Probably back in 5 minutes, but it might be 10.”

And then there are the self-aggrandizers. Another guy I used to work with was notorious for messages like this: “I’ll be late today because I pulled an all-nighter getting our new ad ready.”  He claimed to have “pulled” so many “all-nighters” that people generally assumed he was either (a) lying in a bizarre attempt to inflate his image or (b) really, really inefficient.

Overall, though, I’d argue that this kind of thing adds entertainment to the day. You’re best off simply appreciating its amusement value and not getting too annoyed by it.

(By the way, for people who enjoy analyzing this sort of minutiae, the Wall Street Journal recently ran a piece about overly-personal auto-replies.)

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. Jane

    My pet hate is people who start their “out of office” with an apology:
    “Sorry, I’m on holiday until xxx” or
    “Sorry, I’m attending xxx and will only have intermitent access to email”.

    Why apologise!? You are entitled to take leave, go to meetings, be ill, etc. Save the apologies for when you do something wrong!

    1. And if

      I have always wanted to leave a message for them that if they are so sorry, then why did they not cancel it. But I am too nice.

    2. Scott M

      I don’t see the problem with this. It’s just a social convention. It’s like saying “How ya doin?” in the hallway. You don’t really want to know how that person is doing, it’s just a standard greeting.

  2. Sabrina

    If it’s just cement pouring or taking a kid to the dentist, be happy. I’ve been told someone would be out for various and disgusting medical problems of theirs and their children which no one wants to hear.

    1. Catherine

      Reminds me of STFU Parents and all the overshare that happens on Facebook.

      Also reminds me of my office’s admin assistant, who will visit each person in their office to tell them why she is leaving early that week for her various medical appointments, and spend about 20-30 minutes with each person, telling them the same story. I probably know more about her health, finances, and family problems than I do about my own.

      1. Anonymous

        I worked in a company where over-sharing was expected – in fact, if you didn’t, you were usually gone within a year or so (either voluntarily or otherwise). Minor personal details given to a colleague on the phone would then be emailed to the entire 60+ company eg “Sorry Jack is off sick today he has food poisoning and was up until 4am”. This often spilled into personal life – you were expected to introduce your partner to your colleagues if you had one, go out drinking, your desk drawers would be raided for sweets or snacks if you were out of the office etc.

        This only became a major problem when I had a medical issue of a rather personal nature and *because* everyone expected to share everything and I’d kept quiet to spare people, it was assumed I had cancer or something terminal!

        1. Elaine

          I worked at a similar place: After having to take a week off of work due to suffering a miscarriage (which I begrudgingly mentioned to my boss after she kept insisting I tell her), it got all around of the office. So, years later when I had to take emergency leave due to a family illness, I left it at that. Well, then I was branded as a liar with an attitude problem, and my career with that firm was short-lived. Best thing that ever happened to me…

  3. Katy

    Our manager has done this when someone called in. Sending a blast email to everyone telling them that I’ve had to rush to the dentist is a little overkill. Tell my back up if I’m going to be out and keep the details to yourself.

  4. Kou

    The reason this makes me uncomfortable is how it would then become suspect if someone didn’t want to share why they were leaving. I like the idea of not giving everyone an explanation of what you’re doing for the purpose of allowing people to just not share if it’s personal.

    Every time I’ve been in a setting where explanations are expected by every person, it makes me super uncomfortable. It frequently leads to people judging your explanation, too. I remember calling out once because my allergies had sparked a lovely sinus infection and asthma flareup, and afterwards this one woman would periodically say the forecast had predicted bad air quality later in the week, then ask me sarcastically if I was going to stay home.

    1. Catherine

      Agreed. I have been job hunting and needed to take off some personal time for interviews. I usually don’t put an explanation in my requests for time off, and I’m glad my supervisors don’t expect one. If you set the pattern of explaining every little absence then you can’t break it when you really need to. And you get unwelcome, snarky comments, a la Allergy Police.

      1. Jamie

        “If you set the pattern of explaining every little absence then you can’t break it when you really need to”

        This. In some offices if you offer up that you’re going to the dentist or waiting for the plumber then the next time you just have “an appointment” it can be seen as shady or cryptic when really you just don’t feel like telling your boss you’re gong to the gynecologist.

  5. JT

    I think you’re over-thinking this. Just ignore this stuff. And if you don’t want to share, don’t. There are more important things to worry about at work and in life.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I really don’t think anyone is agonizing over this; it’s just an interesting thing to consider (as evidenced by the number of comments it’s generating here!).

  6. Jen

    I know someone who not only will send messages with details about his illnesses, he’ll actually be pretty specific, which is pretty disgusting when it involves GI-tract issues.

    1. Ellie H.

      I work at a university and we once received an email from a grad applicant saying that he suffered from diarrhea during the test and it had adversely affected his performance. We were quite taken aback.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy

        One my most-remembered student excuse emails was from a student with IBS who let me know about an “accident” on the way to class.

        1. Ariancita

          Heh, yes, I’ve gotten similar student messages. I actually don’t mind because I usually think they’re lying anyway, so it’s interesting to see what they come up with. Also, I’m not easily grossed out by that kind of stuff.

        2. Kou

          Student get into this pattern because they’re used to professors pressing for info and/or generally acting like no excuse is good enough. It depends on the professor, naturally, but I’ve had everything from being in the ER to my grandfather’s funeral rejected as not good enough reasons to miss class. Students who’ve had experiences like that either end up not communicating at all (assuming their excuse will be rejected) or oversharing in the hopes that they can prove that is REALLY WAS necessary and not get snark back.

          1. B

            I think you’d be surprised at how many “grandmothers” “die” at inopportune times for students. Your professors probably don’t believe you, because everyone’s grandmothers start dropping like flies right around due dates. I’m sure that wasn’t the case for you, though.

            1. Kou

              And you’re kind of proving my point with why students feel the need to really, really emphasize that they’re not lying when something goes wrong.

              It’s completely ridiculous to just assume any excuse is a lie if your student is also offering you verification, which I always do. In the case of the funeral, I notified them in advance and had my family send a letter to verify it. When I was in the ER I had pleeenty of paperwork to show where I was and when, which I offered upfront when I came back. In both cases (and some others) I was just missing class and attendance was mandatory. I’ve actually never had to miss a test or get an extension on a project due to an emergency– I’ve only ever just missed classes, and that’s still met with defensiveness and dismissal from a sizeable portion of my professors.

      2. Anonymous

        Ah, my university was much more sensible – if you had such problems on the day, they had an agreement with the local doctor’s office that you would go straight to the doctor on the day, then stay there until you felt better (perhaps a few hours/etc) and sit the exam with medical supervision from a special room at the GP surgery – with knowledge that the person hasn’t been able to go get the questions from a classmate. This kinda works best when everyone is either NHS or privately paying for the treatment via the university (international students), as you don’t have to worry about whether the doctor is overly sympathetic or not, as everyone gets the same ones.

        Any allowance made for an exam after the fact would mean the only option would be to sit the next “cycle” of exams, normally in August. And that required medical evidence as well, usually far beyond the self reported “stomach upset”, and fairly recently they now charge a fee to process the form, which deters most “attempters”.

    1. Kou

      I would find that cute coming from someone I actually knew. From a stranger, blaaah.

      But JFC Gawker, way to get worked up about nothing.

    2. Jubilance

      Ha, I thought the same thing!

      I’m not a fan of the oversharing, and luckily I’ve had managers who are totally fine with a “I’m going to be out for an appt” or “I need to take a personal day”. Having to give more detail than that would just be irksome to me.

    3. danr

      Well, compare this with the discussions about being on call all the time, even on vacations. It’s the proverbial 2×4 to the back of the mule to get the attention of folks who will insist on contact no matter what.

      If I got that kind of out of office message, I’d chuckle and wish them well.

    4. The Other Dawn

      Ick. That’s an annoying out-of-office reply. I was ready to stop reading after the first sentence.

      I once received a reply like this from our account manager at our mission-critical vendor. She said she would be out of the office until X date because she was on her annual deer hunting trip. She included a picture from the previous year’s hunt which showed her with her hunting group all dressed in camo and she was posing with a shotgun in one arm and a dead deer in the other. Lovely.

      1. BW

        Some stuff is just so outrageous, I find it hard to be annoyed by it because I’m chuckling and sharing the ridiculousness with other people I know. Camo lady there would fall into this category.

        1. Aja

          Oversharing about a wedding is irritating but basically harmless. Mailing clients a picture of a dead animal has the possibility to be extremely offensive. If I were the recipient of that from a vendor, the vendor and I would be having a very unpleasant (for them) conversation about it.

    5. K.

      I thought it would be about the Gawker post, too. The entire thing is obnoxious, but “beckon call” is what really gets me.

  7. Kimberley

    The mass e-mails like this don’t bother me, the barrage of “reply all” messages that get sent back do. It’s bad enough that I now know all about your root canal, do I also have to get 15 messages wishing you good luck too?

    1. fposte

      Heh. Or the congratulations emails. It’s not enough to wish people good luck or congratulations privately, apparently.

    2. Natalie

      I feel like hitting “Reply All” should result in at least one customized warning screen.

      “Are you sure the 97 people on this email string need to receive a reply that says ‘Thanks for the update’?”

      1. Rana

        Oh, please, yes.

        I’ve seen more than one ridiculous list-serv blow up when some fool replied to the list about there being too many notifications, and then about ten other fools also replying to the list complaining about that, and then…

        *shakes head*

        1. SaraD

          I can beat that. Long enough ago that my office internet was dial up, someone at the city council marketing bureau sent an email openly copied to all 17,000 business addresses in the council directory. A 3 line email became over a MB in size (due to all the addresses) …which took around 15 minutes to download. And the number of idiots who hit ‘reply all’ to complain about it! It took 3 days constantly online to clear incoming mail.

  8. B

    This does not bother me as I did have the bathroom manager. Every single time she went to the bathroom she would tell me, including when she got back. And I was to acknowledge this with some sort of remark, every time….in both directions. As in – ok, not a problem, see you soon, etc. And if I did not acknowledge it I was spoken to.

      1. B

        My boss spoke to me as she wanted me to acknowledge everything she did.

        Oh yes, I did have lots of fun thoughts running through my head:
        – Did everything come out ok?
        – Wow guess you ate a lot of fiber for breakfast.
        – Lunch didn’t work out so well for you huh?
        – Good thing to go right before you leave, very smart.
        – You should be going more, you obviously are not drinking enough.
        – Would you like some Pepto?

    1. Jamie

      What? I would seriously have spent hours coming up with odd and completely inappropriate remarks.

      -It’s so nice that you have a hobby you can practice at work!
      -Do you want me to come with you?
      -Oh, I’m so sorry – I hope you’re okay.
      -Who else is going? Is this some kind of team building exercise?
      -Be careful in there, many have been hurt.
      -Run silent, run deep.
      -Are you bringing a sketch artist? Then I can have a picture and it will be just like I was there.
      -I used to do that too, but I’m much happier since I gave it up cold turkey. If you ever want to quit I have some literature you can read…
      -Next time please notify me by email and cc accounting. Thanks.

    2. Ariancita

      Not in the workplace, but among friends, I like to say things like: “I’m going to the loo. Can I bring you back anything?” :)

  9. Anonymous

    my old job wouldn’t approve your time off if you didn’t give them a good enough reason. one girl asked for a day off that NOBODY else had off. they said we cant approve it without a reason so she told them it was personal. finally, she had to say it was the anniversary of her child’s death. you’d think the manager would have felt like an ass but instead she said “well, ill approve it but it’s a monday.” WTF!?!
    I always called out instead of scheduling time off. (I was a temp and it was unpaid anyway (not that i called out a lot)) “This isWORKER. Im not going to be coming in today. this is my number if you need to reach me.”

    1. Kou

      Yeah see, this is the kind of thing I was thinking of. It’s bad enough when you have to share something you didn’t want to, it’s even worse when people then have a crappy reaction to it– and most people have crappy reactions.

      1. Anonymous

        I asked for the day off because I needed to drive to Boston to pick someone up for the airport which would have been in the middle of my shift. My manager didn’t think that was a good reason so she made me work the night shift. I hated her. OH. SO. MUCH.

      2. Jamie

        Yes – unless it’s something like jury duty where it affects payroll and isn’t docking PTO, I think just taking a personal day (or hours, if allowed) is fine. I don’t think you owe work an explanation if you have time on the books.

        Unless you’re calling in sick and it wasn’t prearranged – then I think “I’m not feeling well” is just fine – no one needs the specifics.

    2. Anon1

      That’s my place. We’re not all adults. I’m a 58 year old kindergartener. I have to explain where I’m going. I really object to having to explain doctor visits. I’m perfectly healthy (no gross medical details here!) but there’s optometrist, dentist, doctor, mammogram radiologist… and I have to specify each one to explain all the doc visits. Thank God I’ve outgrown telling my male boss, “I’m going to the gynecologist for a checkup tomorrow!” Folks ask questions when anyone says, “I’ll be out tomorrow” without an explanation, if not because they’re curious, then because they’re jealous that someone else might get away with going AWOL.

  10. The Other Dawn

    We do this all the time at work. It’s no big deal. It’s not like someone is saying, “Hey I’m leaving early today because I have a terrible case of diarrhea. I took some Immodium, but it’s not working. And my ass is raw so I can’t sit in my chair any longer.” Rather, people normally just say they have a doctor’s appointment and will be back in a couple hours.

  11. Lisa

    Like when working from home, even if I have all the files I need… I will email my boss (at 7:30 am of course) asking if he has X file since I “forgot” to email it to myself. Some bosses are like this, and want to be treated as all-powerful. Its all a game for some, and if you want to get ahead, you play it.

  12. cf

    I did note in my out of office that I had jury duty because I didn’t want anyone to expect me to check email and voicemail while I was out. I also wanted to make sure my company did not count it as PTO.

  13. AnotherAlison

    The thing I find most annoying is when people refer to their email-checking status in their out of the office autoreply.

    “Hello, I’m out of the office & will not be checking email.”

    (I assume you aren’t checking email, since you went to the trouble of turning on your autoreply.)

    Or, they say “Hello, I’m out of the office & will have access to email & cell phone.”

    (Okay, so if you’re checking email, then why don’t you just reply instead of having the autoreply on?)

    Mostly, this annoys me because I send something to a group of about 100 each Friday afternoon that no one needs to reply to individually, yet I get about 20 O.O.O. replies every week. I realize it is nice to know how to reach someone for the person who really was trying to get Person X to answer an immediate question, but this is almost never the case when I am on the receiving end of an autoreply. : )

    1. Jamie

      I’m guilty of this one. People are so used to me checking email all the time, if I can’t (dentist, doctor, whatever) I tell them otherwise it causes problems – and I refuse to give specifics about where I am in an autoreply.

      And if I tell them I’m checking sporadically, it will buy me some time before people start blowing up my phone if they don’t get a reply within a few minutes of sending me an email.

      But I can see how it would be irritating in the situation you described. Which is why I don’t use an out of office reply – I just send out an email to the people who need to know about being gone. So I guess that’s not the same at all.

      Never mind. :)

      1. AnotherAlison

        Yeah, I think there are people who expect email to be an instant messenger, so even if you are checking email a couple times a day while out, you have to turn on the autoreply for those people who send you the email that says, “Have question for you. I’m coming to your office right now.”

        1. Jamie

          Yes – and as much as I’d like to advocate learning the difference between email and IM, I can’t because in the past I’ve worked too hard to get people to email me for non urgent issues (i.e. nothing is literally on first right now) rather than call me.

          I really hate the sound of my phone ringing and will do anything to avoid that – even if that means answering emails immediately always.

        2. twentymilehike

          Ohdeargod. These people just kill me. I have a customer who bombards me with emails all day (and I already have a very high email volume, so people that I regularly work with know that if they send me and email they will get a response either by the end of the day or the next morning), then she will call me later and say, “did you get my email? Well, this is what I need …” I don’t understand why if she needs something right away, she doesn’t just call me. If she picks up the phone, she will get me right away, but if she emails me she KNOWS that I probably won’t see it for a while. This has been going on for almost ten years ….

    2. Lore

      See, I’m just the opposite: I have the kind of point-person job where people tend to expect answers from me quite quickly, but I often have to track people down to get those answers. So getting a response that tells me when I’m likely to hear back (whether that’s “not till I get back from vacation because I’m not checking email” or “at some point today but probably not as quickly as you’d expect if I was in the office”) will let me set a reminder for when to follow up, and getting my out-of-office with specific parameters will let people know whether they should wait to hear back from me or try to get someone else into the loop.

      My pet peeve is people who seem to be out of the office but have no indication on their email or voicemail, because then I have no idea if they’re working from home, sick, gone for two weeks…

      1. Anonymous

        +1 for this. I have the same kind of job (software support). If I don’t turn on my OOO, then people will waste time waiting for me to get back to them, rather than contacting someone else.

    3. Ellie H.

      I don’t know, I can kind of see the benefit of this. I was previously assistant to someone who had a very busy period of year (academic calendar) and wasn’t able to respond to email during that time, so she had a message like “I’m in the office, but cannot respond to email at this time, so please email Ellie H. with any urgent queries.” Of course, some people will persist anyway, but I think that if you really get a lot of urgent queries from persistent people, it can help manage their expectations and not harass you.

    4. Anonymous

      Exchange 2010 and above automatically shows out of office replies while you’re adding recipients to your message in Outlook, which is rather nifty. I’m beginning to value short out of office messages, as it means I can see lots of them in one go!

  14. Jamie

    Another email pet peeve of mine is sending me an email and then coming to tell me you sent me an email and what it said.

    I can read, you know. If you sent the email and it’s in English chances are I’ll be able to figure out your message without you stopping me on the way to get coffee to tell me you emailed me.

    1. Bridgette

      Yes!!! My boss does this. He’ll duck into my office with, “I just sent you an email, but I wanted to tell you…” and then proceed to spend 30 minutes explaining way more than I need to know, and also make commentary on the situation that is usually slightly racist.

      1. EM

        Oh good lord. Maybe if you started acting confused asking lots of questions for more explanation about the racist parts that you just “don’t understand” he’ll stop coming into your office. :)

    2. Natalie

      Good lord this is annoying. I have been working with one person who does this, and will also respond to all emails by walking down to my office to tell me the answer. I know you are literate, dude! You’re not fooling me.

      1. twentymilehike

        will also respond to all emails by walking down to my office to tell me the answer

        Goodnessgreif. I am getting so worked up about email ettiquette today reading this! Haha.

        But THIS. Oh this bugs me so much also. If we work in the same building and I send you an email, I would think it would be obvious that I would like a response in writing. There are many, many reasons for this. There are SO MANY times I need a paper trail, and for the life of me cannot get the other party to put one thing in writing. Just makes my life so much more difficult.

        Also, someone mentioned somewhere about someone not needing to address their messages stating who it is to and from because of the obvious nature of email … well I hate to break it you, but since we’re bitching about email … but I *MUST* do this at my work because of coworkers that are barely computer literate and just cannot figure this out using Outlook. Everytime someone forwards me an email that I was already CCed on I want to scream and punch them in the face. The worst is when I get the same email THREE TIMES from THREE PEOPLE that were all clearly CCed in the first place.

        1. Jamie

          As to your third paragraph I concede your point – I was basing the lack of need on myself and I do know how to read a to and from field…but you gotta do what you gotta to do with co-workers like that.

          And YES to the responding verbally to an email – what IS that??

          I’ve known people who do this so consistently I was actually surprised when they wrote something and brought it to a meeting, because I had very real doubts about their ability to write at all.

          FFS – if I send you an email hit reply to tell me what I need to know…that’s what it’s for.

        2. COT

          My husband had a boss who couldn’t grasp how to send an email to multiple people. She’d put one person in the To line, one in the CC, and one in the BCC, and then rely on one of those recipients to forward said message to the rest of the (small) office. Every single time.

    3. The Other Dawn

      I have one guy that will print out the email I sent to him, come into my office, put it on my desk and then say, ” I got your email…” I really don’t need a reference copy. I know what I wrote and have a copy in my Outlook Sent folder in case I need to refer to it. He’s the biggest tree-killer I’ve ever seen.

      1. Jamie

        I’m now convinced we work in the same office and you’re using Dawn as a pseudonym.

        I totally know that guy.

        1. twentymilehike

          Dawn and Jamie … I’m looking around at my coworkers computers right now expecting you to be them … Does your “guy” always print them on legal paper, too?

          You do NOT want to get me started on my bosses insistance on printing EVERYTHING, no matter how tiny and/or irrelevant on LEGAL PAPER.

          1. The Other Dawn

            No, just standard paper. He definitely does print everything though. He wants ALL emails printed for clients’ files, even if the email just says “yes” or “no”. Aggravating. And wasteful.

        2. The Other Dawn

          LOL No, Dawn is my real name. Maybe you’re using a pseudonym? Kidding. I’m sure every place has one of these. What sucks is that he has trained his direct report by example to do the same thing. I now make it a point to say, “You forgot something,” and then hand it back to them as they’re walking out.

          1. twentymilehike

            I now make it a point to say, “You forgot something,” and then hand it back to them as they’re walking out.

            Oh Dawn, let me express my great love and respect for you because of this comment.

            This whole thread is making my Monday. You and Jamie are tied for the award for who can make me snort my coffee today.

            1. The Other Dawn

              Well, thank you. :) I do it at the grocery store also when the person in front of me empties their three items from the cart and then leaves it there.

              In reference to one of the two email printing people, I once let slip, “Don’t leave your shit on my desk.” She turned right around and took the email with her. *sigh* I find as I get older my brain-to-mouth filter is disappearing.

      2. Natalie

        Our organization automatically deletes everything older than 90 days (gotta love companies run by former lawyers) so I understand why some things need to be printed. But the things I found in my old boss’s files were just baffling. She must have printed the entire contents of her inbox as it came in, including out-of-office replies and simple “Got it, thanks” emails.

    4. Cassie

      My boss does this sometimes. “Hey, I sent you an email about XYZ.” Me: “Okay”. He walks back to his office and then walks back to my cubicle in 30 seconds: “Did you get the email yet? How about now? Try refreshing? I know I sent it. Let me send it again.”

  15. Catherine

    I think this is related to email signatures as well. I don’t really like email pleasantries anyway, so when I see a signature that has some overshare in it, I cringe. Like your favorite quote (in 14pt purple Comic Sans taking up 3 lines), your 10+ social media handles, or your myriad of acronymns that don’t matter to anyone except a very small target audience.

    There I go being misanthropic again.

    1. Jamie

      If you’re starting a misanthropic club, I would very much like to join.

      And as a PSA I will agree that the pithy comment you think is so clever that you added it to your sig tag is never amusing the second time you read it. Certainly not the 100th.

      Do your audience a favor and skip that. Also feel free not to start emails to me with Dear Jamie or sign your name…I know who I am and if you sent an email from your own account then I know who you are as well.

      I know it doesn’t matter – just a pet peeve.

      1. cf

        I wish I could leave the formal signature line off my email. But it is REQUIRED at my job. Honestly. Like I can’t tell who is emailing me by looking at the ‘from’ line?

        1. Natalie

          I can see the value of included a standard signature that has, say, other contact information (phone number, website). I have certainly had need to mail something to a vendor and, instead of asking them, just grabbed their mailing address off their email signature. (These are obviously external contacts.) But the corporate signature should be minimal.

          1. Anon

            Agreed; also there are times when the job title or qualifications are necessary. Sometimes it’s important for me to know whether the person e-mailing me from a law firm is an attorney or not, for instance.

      2. Ellie H.

        I typically agree. However a girl I went to school with had in her signature that quotation, “I have made this letter longer than usual, because I have not had time to make it shorter” and I always appreciated the reminder!

      3. Michelle

        “Also feel free not to start emails to me with Dear Jamie or sign your name”

        This is a pet peeve of mine as well. We all know where the email came from and who it’s intended for. Most people I work with receive over 100 emails/day so I thought I was doing them a favour by getting to the point. Apparently not – I’ve been told that it’s only polite to start/end with a proper salutation and signature. I’ve also noticed that I get better results from people if I keep all the salutations, pleasantries, etc. I think some folks still see email as a formal means of communication (like a letter). Not that it can’t be used as such, but it doesn’t need to be super formal for the day to day stuff. But again – it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things….adding it to the list of things I’d change if I ran the company I work for :)

          1. H

            To a co-worker you deal with regularly – acceptable and appreciated
            Outside client contact you email once a month or so- not acceptable.

            Really annoys me to find emails to clients where people have written something like “when are you going to pay this invoice???” and not even a cursory “Hi X” or signature (or phone number) on the email.

        1. khilde

          @Jamie & Michelle – I’m one of those that can’t help myself by writing the person’s name or saying “Hi, XYZ.” Often I’ll end with my name (but not always; I’m trying to get better about that). I will nearly always do this if it’s an intial communication with someone. But if we’ve been going back and forth I’ll just get right to the point.

          So here’s the difference between you guys and me: I’m a people/relationship focused person and I have found that this style tends to do that. On the other hand, there are more task focused people (I know Jamie is, I bet Michelle is, too) and they just don’t see the need for the additional greetings. Fair enough on both sides.

          One major revelation I had teaching a behavioral style class is this: Task-focused people can get the job done regardless of the relationship with others. Good relations is not a primary consideration for getting the job done: getting the job done is the primary consideration. On the other hand, the people-focused people need to know there’s a positive relationship present in order to get the task done. The task and the relationship are heavily entertwined. For task people, they are not.

          So I think this email greeting thing is one way we see these differences play out.

          1. Jamie

            I think that’s really good insight into the social aspect of this.

            For the most part it only bugs me on a practical level because if you do a Jamie and then start on the next line with what you want I only see my own name in the email preview.

            Where as “I was just wondering…” in the preview means I can wait a little bit and “HELP!!!” means click over to Outlook asap.

            But I couldn’t agree more when it comes to managing projects, about the task vs people orientation. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of people with whom I work and have pretty good relationships with them…but that came about as aftermath of just getting to know them – you’re right in that I don’t need it.

            Hands down the most energy depleting part of project work for me is making sure the relationship people are engaged. Although it’s kind of exhausting for me, I do think it’s made me a better person – absolutely a better manager.

            And it’s not like I’ve learned to be disingenuous – I’m not – it’s that I’ve learned that in worrying about what other people need to be motivated it broadens my own perspective as well. I now know that it doesn’t kill me if we talk about other stuff while the pizza is here and then everyone is happier about getting back to my gantt charts.

            1. khilde

              You know…..I never really thought about the preview pane only displaying the recipient’s name if I start it off with that greeting. I don’t use preview pane so I have no idea how that looks. Then that’s totally understandable. Hmm…..that’s a good perspective for me to consider.

          2. Cassie

            I consider myself a task-oriented person (definitely not focused on personal/relationship stuff in the workplace) but I still like to see a brief salutation (Dear, Hi or Hello is enough) and some kind of closing (Thanks or Regards). I don’t know if other people adjust their emails based on their emotions at the moment, but if I’m not happy with someone, I am more formal in emails. So if I get an email from someone (like my boss) that is curt or cold, I wonder if I’ve done something wrong.

            Granted, I don’t expect emails, esp from someone like my boss to be all elaborate like a business letter, and I know it’s just me being silly, but I still like to see it.

      4. AnotherAlison

        The only reason I keep my signature (just -Alison for internal emails) is that most of my important emails go to someone who’s reading it on a phone. You can’t see the contact info at the top once you are reading the email, at least this is true on my phone, so I don’t want the reader to have to think “now, who is this again” and have to click out, click back, etc. It’s also very confusing when a 5 person chain gets going to keep track of who said what, but that’s when people seem to omit the signature the most.

      5. Ellie H.

        I like signature too. Admittedly kind of because it makes me feel important (in a fun, not self-aggrandizing way . . . I’m 25 and this is my first office type job) but also I really find it quite helpful to see people’s titles and affiliations easily. I also do like using the social niceties type headings at least for people I don’t email every day; if it’s people you get multiple emails a week from, then I think just starting “Hi, this is what I think about x” is fine.

        What I DON’T like is when people just do “Sincerely,” and then their form signature follows, because then I don’t know whether it’s OK to go to first name or not. I work at a university and typically address professors “Dr. x” the first time I email them, then go to “Dear Julia” as soon as I get the response ending “Thanks, Julia,” but if they just use the signature “Julia X, Senior Lecturer, Anthropology etc. etc.” then I feel uncomfortable going to first name.

        1. Jamie

          I think work sigs have their place, although we’re small enough to strip them out of internal email. I was just referring to the formality of the greeting and the close.

          I can see how doing this would be beneficial in a workplace like yours where first names aren’t assumed.

      6. twentymilehike

        How about people who add a “-Jamie” to their text messages? I mean, if I know you well enough to be texting, then I would assume that you’re number is in my address book and I really don’t need you to “sign” your texts …

        1. Jamie

          This is a problem. Those people texting you need to stop impersonating me.

          You can tell they’re imposters because I would never do something as silly and signing my texts.

          Although I do spell things out completely in texts, which is cause for mocking apparently. So what do I know?

          1. louise

            Can I be your texting friend? I believe it keeps the universe in balance to spell out everything in a text message. I can count on one hand the number of people who do (and I’m including myself). If I wanted to speak to you in code, I’d use Morse.

  16. Scott M

    Well, in today’s flat organizations, there may not be a specific hierarchy or group of people who would be most likely to know that you are out. If you are working on a lot of varied project teams, with lots of people from different departments, then a mass email may be the best way to cover your butt.

    Yeah, it’s annoying, but people wouldn’t do it so often if they didn’t find that it served a purpose. It only takes one “Where the hell were you?” statement to make sure that EVERYONE knows where you are and why you’re out the next time you can’t be in the office.

  17. Emily

    My coworker puts this stuff all over the calender in great detail. It’s also hard to tell if she will actaully be out or not because instead of “Jane off” she’ll put “Jane to take son to xxx event” so we don’t know if she’s just dropping him off or where this event is and how long it will take or what. I am highly amused by it though.

  18. Ariancita

    Eh, none of this stuff bothers me. Is it appropriate, probably not. I don’t over share at work, but I have no problem with those that do. (Probably helps that I’m only in the office a couple of times a week and mostly work from home, so I’m spared the majority of it.) But in general, I rarely even read the auto reply. They are typically titled: Auto reply: out of office” so I have no need to actually open it unless I really need to get in touch. And I don’t even read email signatures either. Who has time to read all these things?

  19. Construction HR

    It ain’t Twitter, folks.

    My favorite auto-reply:

    “Hey, thanks for the email. I am out of the office time traveling. I’ll be back last week. If I didn’t answer your question before you asked it, , I’ll get to it when I get back”

  20. Diane

    I just received this:

    “To be more efficient, I only read and respond to email between 10:30 and 11:30 am and 2:00 and 3:00 pm. If you need need to reach me immediately, please call me.”

    In comic sans.

    I don’t see why this is necessary or effective.

    1. khilde

      I suppose it’s one way of trying to establish expectations with others so this individual can improve their time management. I teach a time management class (and detest it; I suck at time management so I’m a total fraud on that topic), but that is one of the classic suggestions in the email management arena.

      I think the goal is to convey the fact that this person seriously will not be checking email at those times, so don’t expect a response. Phone calls are a better way to go during that time. I actually really like the idea for those that have a hard time pulling away from their email and need to establish some “email office hours,” if you will.

      But I can’t defend them on the comic sans. I’m with you on that one.

    2. Rana

      The Comic Sans is inexcusable, but I could see the benefit in some jobs, like college teaching. A lot of students have no sense of boundaries, and will expect instant responses to their “emergencies” at all hours of the day and night. A response like that could be useful in training them to think before they panic-email.

      1. JT

        Yeah, what Rana said. It’s actually useful info. I had a professor put the same thing into his syllabus.

        Overall, I’m impressed by how many people posting in this thread let little things bother them, or even “cringe” over things that are not very important. If someone’s email signature is so bad it’ll hurt your organization – perhaps making the organization look bad to customers or clients – then tell them. If not, you should probably ignore it. Or if it really bother you for some reason, tell them.

        I’d just ignore.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I don’t think people are really bothered about this stuff — more than it’s a little thing that isn’t that big of a deal but is still interesting to talk about when you’re invited to have an opinion about it! (Or at least that’s my impression.)

      2. Diane

        Good point. I used to teach college, and I put my office hours and contact preferences on my syllabus, including when students could expect a response (within 24 hours for email, though usually sooner in practice).

    3. H

      Must work in Accounts Payables ( supplier payments). I swear that every accounts payable I deal with only takes calls/reads emails for 1 hour a week… (and has about 3 weeks holiday every month!)

  21. KellyK

    I find Out of Office emails useful, but if I’m going to be gone any length of time, I specifically email the people I expect to notice or care that I’m not around–people I’m working with on projects, the receptionists, and my boss (who in theory should know, having approved the leave, but reminders are helpful when you have a whole bunch of direct reports).

    I do think both auto-replies and mass “I’m leaving/late/not coming in” emails are overkill for absences of less than a day. “Will you be unavailable longer than you would be if you had a meeting?” is a good rule of thumb. If you frequently have people emailing you and needing a quick turn-around, then they might need more than that, but unless those requests could potentially come from anyone, the whole office probably doesn’t.

    It doesn’t necessarily bother me if you include why you’re going to be unavailable, but I really don’t need to know. It’s not any of my business, so I don’t care either way. Unless it’s TMI, in which case you need to keep it to yourself. If you’re not feeling well, that’s enough; I really don’t care to know which body parts are involved.

    The only info I really want is how I can get whatever it is I’m bugging you for in the first place. Should I ask someone else? Will you be back soon enough that it’ll wait until then? Is it okay for me to call you even if nothing is literally on fire? So the reason you’re gone might be relevant if it helps me figure that out (e.g., if you’re out sick, I won’t bother you unless it’s urgent) but I don’t need it if you have a backup person or will be back soon.

  22. The IT Manager

    Uggg! My team is virtual and many people (not me yet) work from home. As such managment tries to use technology to manage us. We must be on communicator/IM if we’re at work. If we are out of the office for any length of time we must send calendar announcements telling everyone (50+ people) when we’ll be out and set up the OOO message.

    Seriously I do not need to know if people are going to be away for two hours. I personally have no expecation that anyone will respond to any email I send within 2 hours.

  23. Cassie

    The last time I went on vacation, I didn’t even have an OOO – those who sit in my area knew I would be out (as did my boss, and I had emailed my students ahead of time to let them know who to contact instead). I was keeping an eye on my emails while I was away but not replying. Most of the emails were just CCs anyway and didn’t require any action on my part. I did get a few emails that required a response, so for those – I would send an “OOO” email to that person so it looked like it was an auto-reply, but it actually wasn’t.

    I’m going on vacation in a short bit, but probably won’t have email regularly. I think I’m going to have to bit the bullet and set up an automatic OOO. Thunderbird doesn’t do OOO messages, though… arg.

  24. KT

    I have an overly dramatic colleague who uses her Out of Office for attention. Her Out of Office last week was “I’m out of the office until further notice, as I have fallen ill.” It sounded like she had scarlet fever or consumption! Turns out she had a cold. Her son’s daycare closed early, so she had to leave to pick him up. Her Out of Office? “I’ve left work unexpectedly for a family emergency.”

  25. Kinrowan

    I find it self-aggrandizing but mostly just roll my eyes. I think at least with one co-worker it can backfire because the person was announcing so often they were sick, even on days they were scheduled to be the person dealing with the public that day. Now, you want to take what people tell you at face value, and it’s legit to not come in when you are sick, but I’ve heard others who had to scramble to cover those shifts start wondering because of their frequency (and maybe the person had something chronic going on but we did not know about it – just that the person was sick a lot, like every other week).

  26. Amouse

    I tend to overshare when I am genuinely sick. I don’t go into gross details or anything but I’ll say like: I woke up with a sore thrat, etc. I think I tend to do this because:
    1. I feel guilty about missing work even though I am genuinely sick
    2. Co-workers I’ve had have tended to be really critical of people taking a sick day.

    Currently I have a co-worker who has told me she tracks all of my other co-worker’s sick days in case one day she “needs to make a case” to our boss. She basically thinks our co-worker is lying every time she is home sick and I can only assume she thinks the same of me.
    Once when she was venting about our co-worker being off sick I said to her: “How would you feel if every time you were really sick and called in, you knew your co-workers were thinking you were lying? Would you want that?” She basically had no reply but “No”.

    Some people are just suspicious of others and lack empathy. That makes it hard to just keep your messages really simple even though they really shouldn’t have any control or say over how you act.

  27. Alex

    I sent one today , “I’ll be out of the office after 11am tomorrow”
    I got 2 replies
    1. “Who cares!!”
    2. “I did not know you are ever in the office, no one never picks up the intercom”.

    Wow. What a bunch of douchebags.

  28. OOOF

    I am a traveling salesman and my territory involves driving 4-8 hours in certain instances. When not in front of a custoemr, much of the business is handled over teh phone or via email. My boss is semi-retired ( 4 hours a day, no travel) and complains when I have my out of office reply auto-responder turned on to my email. He sent me this email today,

    ” I see no purpose in this constant notice at all .You have all the electronic equipment to stay in the loop you are never out of the communication path for any length of time.And it appears you receive the inquiries and react to them with (my assistant) so why notice the account .Inquires today are made first person to the individual and not to a place .Why can’t you review an direct to (my assitant) as needed that needs her follow up .”

    Does he have a point or is he micro-managing?

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