how to write the perfect out-of-office message

When you’re out sick or on vacation, crafting a perfect out-of-office email message probably isn’t something you’re terribly stressed out by. It’s a simple message – how tricky could it be?

Well, to that I say, have you ever paid attention to other people’s out-of-office messages? There are some weird ones out there. Some give way too much information (we don’t need to know that you’re out for a day of medical testing or that you’re watching a new concrete foundation being poured for your driveway). Others are confusingly complicated (listing a dozen people to contact for various things in the person’s absence), and still others exude such obvious glee about getting away from work that recipients have to wonder if the sender will ever return.

So at New York Magazine today, I have tips for writing an out-of-office message. You can read it here.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Becky*

    I just always do “I am currently out of the office. I will return {Date}. If you need immediate assistance please contact {backup/point of contact}.”

    Short, simple.

    1. Choux*

      “I will be out of the office on X date (through X date). If you need immediate assistance, please contact Y. Otherwise, I look forward to replying to your message when I return on X date. Thank you.”

    2. Lauren*

      I love how SVPs always say contact Greg or call my cell, but give no cell # or email or even a last name. Which Greg????

      1. CMart*

        I work for a multi-billion dollar corporation, and once received an OOO message from a division president that said “not in office get karen”

        “Karen” was his executive admin and he really should have let her set up his auto-response. It gave me no end of amusement for the week he was gone.

      2. Emily K*

        In my email client I can set up a different message for internal vs external contact. On the internal one I list my cell number but on the external one I do say, “If this is an emergency you can reach me by cell,” without giving the number out. I don’t have a dedicated work phone and I don’t need every salespeople who cold emails me to get my cell number from my out of office response, and I’m confident that anyone external who has a true emergency has my number already – or worst case scenario will email someone else from my team for help. There are very few external contacts I have who only work with me and nobody else – even if I’m the only one who handles a particular function or I’m the main point-of-contact, they’ve seen other people CC’d on emails or invited to meetings.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          Agreed. I say, “For urgent matters, call the on-call phone.” You either have that number (because you’re supposed to have it) or you don’t (because you’re not). Likewise with “Email X in my absence” — if you don’t already have X’s email address, and don’t know anyone you can get it from, then we’re almost certainly not the right people for you, anyway. (Or you’re not the right people for us!)

    3. Liz*

      that’s exactly what I do. nothing more. As long as there is someone they can go to IF it can’t wait, i’m good. and I don’t recall anything that was ever a huge deal that couldn’t wait for my return.

    4. Goya de la Mancha*

      Ditto. And I only use it when I will be out of the office for more then two business days.

    5. Venus*

      As a thought for the {backup/POC}, we have been told not to put any email addresses as they increase spam. So I put a name for the contact, and assume that anyone who needs immediate assistance will know how to reach that person (this might not be true for everyone, but it works for me).

  2. PlainJane*

    My pet peeve with out-of-office messages: the ones that tell you to email again when the person is back in the office. Apparently it’s a thing in some quarters to just delete all the email you receive while you’re out so you don’t have to slog through it. That seems like making your time off everyone else’s problem–at least to me–comes off as really entitled.

    1. RandomU...*

      Yeah, I don’t get that at all.

      If I’m out for more than a few days, I’ll just make a folder and shlep all of the email I received while I was out into it. Then I’ll start reviewing it for things that are jumping out at me that needs attention immediately. After that I do a more in depth review to find the not urgent but still need to read/take action emails and flag them/move them back to my inbox. This usually leaves me with all the stuff that I was just copied on and is now resolved to be used as reference later.

      I’ll admit to missing things with this method and end up with a reminder or second email on something. But that doesn’t happen very often.

      1. Anonomoose*

        I have a request to send emails again in my out of office, and for me, it’s really a matter of honesty. I’ll probably eventually dredge through the backlog, but it might take me a week, the most likely response you’re going to get is “still need me to look at this?”, but if you email me when I get back your request is at the top of the pile, and I know it still needs to happen. I’m a sysadmin though, and typically user stuff ends up behind keep the lights on stuff.

      2. BethDH*

        I like this idea. It sounds like it would make re-entry feel so much more manageable. I hate starting to dig through the pile of accumulated email while new email is piling up on top of it.

      3. Kitryan*

        I do this (dump all the emails in a separate folder) and then I start dividing them up by categories with outlook’s colored categories. Once I start a new category I search the folder using a keyword specific to that category, like the name of the client, and then it’s super quick to add them to the category en mass. Then I quickly have a folder with each client/project in its own color coded category. This way when someone asks about client X I can quickly skim just the relevant emails and get myself up to speed quickly without missing thing or having to hunt around.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The only time I’ve understood this is when they’re out on an extended leave. I have had a few people on maternity leave included a note about how you had to reach out to their coverage team because they would not be reading their old emails when they returned.

      However that doens’t mean you have to wait to get an answer, it tells you immediately to “not here for a long time, so talk to Nancy.” I would be enraged if someone was all “Sorry, I’m in Cancun, call back next week, no messages will be returned.” To the point that I would find a way to never work with that firm again if possible, which it’s usually possible.

      1. Emily K*

        Yeah, if the leave is long enough that the person doesn’t need to deal with back email when they return, then really their email should be forwarding to or checked by someone else while they’re out.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        Yeah I just batch-filed everything that came in while I was on maternity leave. I didn’t put anything about that in my out of office reply, though. I assumed 90% of the stuff I got emailed about was already addressed (or dumb announcements that didn’t matter, like that there were cookies in the break room 5 weeks ago) and the rest eventually came up again in one forum or another.

        But if you’re just gone for a long weekend, then just read your email when you return. People send emails because they’re thinking of it at that moment, so you’re asking them to do extra work of remembering the thing they needed to ask and also remembering when you get back so they can send it then.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      It is really, really common for me and my colleagues to do this. We routinely get 150-200 emails per day. That means that if I am out for a week, I have almost 1000 emails to wade through, all while I’m still getting the usual requests and phone calls and meetings. If it’s important, send it again.

      1. Choux*

        I was just out for two days and came back to roughly 150 emails. I am expected to go through them all, though not all are actionable for me, many of them are just status updates.

      2. RandomU...*

        Nope, I have similar email quantity, which is why I go through the exercise that I described. I’m pretty sure I’d damage my professional reputation (not to mention my bosses reaction) if I just said too bad email me again when I get back.

        1. Emily K*

          Same. It usually takes me at least a full day to catch up on email for every week I’m out of the office. Occasionally I’ve done a 2-week vacation right before or after a conference or other off-site work that took me away from my desk for most of a week, and it’s like Thursday before I am really all caught up. But getting caught up is what’s expected of me, and it’s what’s expected of everyone else, so everyone is always very understanding that it takes a few days for your response time to return to normal after a long vacation.

          1. nonymous*

            When I’m on conference travel I take 20min in the early morning (usually while I’m preparing for the rest of conference stuff) and triage emails from the day before. The categories I’m concerned about are:

            1) fyi stuff (delete or file immediately)
            2) stuff that can be delegated to others
            3) stuff that I need to handle when I get back (goes on my calendar)
            4) stuff that hopefully the sender resolved before I get back (set up an auto-sent email the day after I get back asking “still need me to look at this?” so I don’t accidentally forget)

        2. PlainJane*

          Exactly. I use SaneBox to filter vendor messages and other unimportant stuff, so I don’t have quite as much to go through on my first day back, but I still have a pretty good pile. I skim it for stuff that looks important and do that first, then work my way through the rest over the first few days I’m back. I also try to block out about 3 hours of my first day back to process email. It’s part of the job.

    4. Antilles*

      I think it only makes sense if we’re talking a really long leave on the order of several months in a row (maternity leave, sabbatical, etc).
      But even then, I’m not sure it’s really necessary – if your away message simply says you’re going to be out until September, that itself conveys a pretty clear implication that “you better email me again if this is still relevant in three months, because duh”.

      1. Lucy*

        The emails tail off pretty quickly in my experience – depends on the workflow cycle but within not very long external contacts are dealing primarily with your colleagues and only occasionally email you.

    5. Gwen Soul*

      It really depends on the workplace. Here I get 200-300 emails a day and the effort to figure out if something was done in my absence if I was gone more than a day or two (since 3/4 are “urgent”) takes more time for both of us then re-sending a request as needed.

    6. Zombeyonce*

      My only idea for a valid reason for requesting this is that some programs have auto-archive functions. At my company, every email auto-archives after 3 months and emails just disappear from your inbox. There’s no way to turn this off. I took a 3-month maternity leave and only just now remembered this auto-archive function because of replying to your comment and I’ve been back for 2 weeks. I now need to go dig into my archive (which is a totally separate program w/a different login that I have to try and remember)!

    7. Kit*

      So much of the email I receive when I’m out for more than 3 days is irrelevant by the time I return that I could very easily delete it all with no consequences. I don’t, but I do click through it at light speed and it honestly might be better to give a clear signal that if the issue is still gonna be relevant when I get back you should just… send it when I’m back.

    8. Ann O'Nemity*

      I did this the second time I took maternity leave!

      The first time I took maternity leave, I came back to thousands of emails, the vast majority were completely irrelevant. What a waste of time trying to sort through it.

      The second time, I shared my backups’ contact info and invited people to contact me again when I was back from leave.

      1. Lucy*

        It took probably close to an *hour* just to filter all the “cake in kitchen” and “spouts team is going to happy hour on the corner at 5pm” messages and delete them.

        But I was OoO for over 13 months for my first maternity leave. That’s a LOT of email. I’ll never know why my account couldn’t have been suspended in that time.

        1. Emily K*

          Ha, the first thing I do when I get back from leave is sort by sender, so I can mass-select and delete all the emails our office manager sends that are only relevant for a limited time (food in the kitchen, building will be conducting fire drill testing, parking garage will be closing early, fridge cleanout is happening tomorrow, etc).

          There are a few other senders I can usually highlight every email they sent me and then scan the subject lines to deselect the few, if any, that look like they might be relevant to me and drag all the rest over to my archive folder in bulk without reading them, like people who send recurring status updates or the person who sends all of our press releases to the all-staff list.

          Then I use Outlook’s “Clean Up” feature to auto-archive all the emails that were replied to and the content of them exists at the bottom of another email, so I’m just left with the last email (or emails if the thread branched) that was sent, plus any emails that had attachments, and I only have to read one email per conversation and I can read the entire thing and know I’m up to date before I waste time responding to an earlier message because I’m not fully caught up yet.

          1. Lucy*

            That particular maternity leave was before Outlook automatically linked emails into conversations. Conversations can make that process MUCH easier as you can dump a dozen or more emails at a time.

            1. Emily K*

              It’s honestly one of my small pleasures to take note of the number of messages and unread messages in my box and then see how much the numbers go down by after I hit Clean Up. I even use it sometimes during just a busy week when I’m not out of office and I’m always a little bit saddened when it doesn’t make much of a dent!

      2. londonedit*

        I’ve just finished a year covering someone’s maternity leave, and I had access to her email inbox during that time. Because I am an incredibly nice person, before she came back I copied over any useful correspondence from my email account to hers, then deleted all the crap and useless emails she’d received over the previous 12 months.

        As far as the out of office goes, she had a message saying she was on maternity leave and to contact me (here in the UK most people are on leave for 9-12 months and an entirely separate person will be brought in, as I was, specifically to cover their leave, so people would know she wouldn’t be doing any work during her leave time).

    9. TechWorker*

      I don’t do this though I have similar quantities of email as other folks here. Our OOO always say ‘I’m ooo until date, for project, contact project_alias. For anything else contact my manager, bob’ – my colleague adds ‘I will not be reading emails received in this time’ or something like that.

      This puts the onus on the sender to resend to the alias or to his manager, or if for some reason neither is appropriate, to remember to resend to him the week after. (There’s not many occasions where it wouldn’t be appropriate). If truly only that person knows the answer then an email to the alias means it goes on a team backlog and so doesn’t get lost/will get a holding response anyway.

      I’ve (like you) found refusing to read emails a bit weird – but – there are advantages – if someone emails me, gets OOO and instead emails the alias, then the email chains usually get separated into different folders. This means not only do I have ~1000 emails to skim read but in some cases I have to do an extra search to work out whether they’ve already emailed elsewhere and got a reply.. it’s not a good workflow!

    10. Aquawoman*

      Doesn’t this also likely increase the load on the person covering for the vacationer? I think there are plenty of times when emailer might be perfectly happy to wait for a response but then they get that message back and instead of waiting, just forward it to the person covering.

      1. Emily K*

        Yeah, I do a less extreme version of the “list of a bunch of people to contact” described above. There are specific tasks that my team has decided internally are time-sensitive and other tasks we have decided are not time-sensitive regardless of what the requester may feel about it. Roughly –

        “I will be out of the office [with no access to email, checking email only a few times a day, etc] from X to Z.

        If you are requesting [Very Specific Thing], please contact Lucinda and Fergus to get the ball rolling in my absence.

        In the event of an emergency I can be reached by phone or text at zzz-zzz-zzzz. For all other requests, I will return your email when I’m back in the office.”

        There will always be some people who reach out to Lucinda (my counterpart) and Fergus (my report) for something that is neither Very Specific Thing nor an emergency, and that’s fine – Lucinda and Fergus can decide between the two of them whether to fulfill the request or tell them to wait for me to come back. But definitely by only listing Very Specific Thing it discourages people from doing that unless they think they have a pretty solid case for not waiting that Lucinda and Fergus are likely to agree with. We all work closely together and are very aligned on priorities so we can make those judgment calls. (Lucinda does something similar by listing me and her report for coverage.)

        Usually if they do anything beyond Very Specific Thing for me they’ll at some point reply to me privately or forward me a summary of what they handled while I was out.

    11. Therese*

      I don’t get this either. Like are people not reading emails? I do get it if you are on maternity leave..because that can be over 1-3 months.

      I also don’t get a ton of work emails and I have them on my phone to review as well so it’s not really a big deal.

      But I guess there probably are jobs where you are getting over 200 emails a day.

    12. Old Cynic*

      I usually write something akin to “I’m out until the 23rd, if you don’t hear back from me by the 26th try again” because there is so much to slog through and most of it will be handled already by someone else or just missed by me.

  3. Seifer*

    Ahahahaa. So we usually put a line for “should you need immediate assistance, please contact Jane Smith at [email].” Since I am the only person that does what I do, the last time I set an out of office, I panicked and wrote:

    I will be out of the office with no access to email. Should you need immediate assistance, please contact

    And then it was too late. I talked to my boss about it and he agreed that there really was no one to contact and we had a good laugh about it. He was also grateful that I didn’t put him down because we’re veeeeery different types of engineers.

    1. hermit crab*

      See also: emailing someone, only to find that they are out of the office and that your name is listed after “should you need immediate assistance, contact…” Guess I’m answering my own question, then!

      1. Holly*

        This cracked me up. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to tell the person that they are being designated as covering you…

      2. CMart*

        Once for an outside contact of mine, I received a nesting doll gift of OOO auto-responses. I always e-mailed Manager and copied Director.

        So I got pinged back from Manager: “out of office, please contact Director”
        And simultaneously from Director: “out of office, please contact Manager or Other Department Director”

        I needed a same-day response, so I tried Other Department Director even though I didn’t think they could help me, and got “out of office, please contact Other Department Admin or Original Director”

        I just gave up.

        1. Evan Þ.*

          At that point, if I really needed help, I’d be going through our online corporate directory and emailing their managers.

        2. Wheee!*

          I got this once. I needed to get something from our team in the Philippines. I emailed the first person, who had an out of office that sent me to the second, who sent me to the third and so on, until 6 emails later, I was back at the beginning. Then I remembered that it was Easter, and the entire team got Friday and Monday off.

        3. Lemmy Caution*

          Yeah, that happens to me when one of the global offices has a local holiday. You shoot an email and get swamped with OO’s telling to contact the guy who is OO… yeah, there is nobody in that office except the poor intern if even them.

    2. BRR*

      It was like that for me at my last job. I Really wanted to write if you need immediate assistance you’re sol.

    3. Washi*

      At least that was by accident! I remember I once got an external office message that said “If you need any assistance in my absence, please call anyone else.”

      Not sure if it was an attempt at humor, but it sure wasn’t very helpful!

    4. RabbitRabbit*

      My whole division was out for a couple days. Our old grand-boss made us do detailed contact messages about how they should contact *her* on her cell in emergencies (even if we were only out for a few hours). New grand-boss? “Everyone’s out, anyone who actually needs help knows to e-mail me if it’s a real emergency and half of them probably already have my cell number. Just set an OOO message with when you’ll be back.”

    5. The New Wanderer*

      This gets me too – by management decree, I have to designate a point person for when I’m unavailable. Except I’m a team of one, so I end up putting my manager as my contact. I don’t work in an area where anything is so urgent people can’t wait a week for a response so I doubt it will ever be a problem, but even if something comes up she’d basically have to wait for me to respond anyway.

    6. Blue Horizon*

      Now I am thinking of Mordac the Preventer of Information Technology in his submarine under the Arctic (that should be enough information to Google for anyone interested).

    1. Delta Delta*

      I appreciate getting out of office messages that specify maternity/paternity/new baby leave. That’s a pretty clear signal (to me, at least) that the person is out for many weeks and you will not hear back from them.

    2. Lynca*

      It’s pretty common at my office to say “I’ll be out on vacation until (date).” Not everyone does but I have and others do. I have also said in my away message that I was out on maternity leave.

      I’ve also seen someone with a message about being deployed before.

      1. hermit crab*

        Yes, I think distinguishing between work reasons and non-work reasons is useful. It helps people gauge how likely they are to get a response.

      2. Kathleen_A*

        I usually don’t specify if it’s vacation (there’s nothing wrong with doing that; I just generally don’t). But if I’m away at a conference, I do specify. My reasoning is that because I work for an organization and I often get calls from our members, I want them to know when I’m away for business purposes. They probably don’t even notice much after “I’ll be out of the office until _____,” but in case they do notice and wonder…well, they’ve got an answer.

        1. BethDH*

          I specify the conference because in my role, it’s likely that at least some of the people emailing me will be at the same conference. Not so many that it will become a distraction from my conference-related tasks, but often that gives me a chance to do something in person that would have taken longer by email anyway and shore up a relationship at the same time.

    3. Samwise*

      When I was out to take my son to the ER or other unexpected medical treatment, I would include that I was out for “a family medical emergency” in the foolish hope that people would be more likely to contact my backup. Very foolish. It made no difference whatsoever to how frequent and how testy the follow up emails were, and it made *me* angry that people were not reading my message. Now I just keep it short and to the point, with no additional info.

    4. Memyselfandi*

      I found that people assumed that I was out on vacation when most of the time I was traveling for work. I now put that I am on work-related travel if that is true. Also, as a public employee I don’t want people thinking I am on vacation all the time. And, I always feel awkward when someone tells me to enjoy my time off when I am not off.

    5. High Score!*

      I would not recommend stating the reason you’re not available even if it is for maternity leave. I would just use something like: “I’m out of office on extended leave. Please contact whoever for assistance” That way when you return, you won’t have to share baby stories with everyone who emailed you during your extended leave. If something awful happened, you really won’t want to discuss it.
      Remember your out of office message goes to everyone who emails you, don’t give any information you wouldn’t feel comfortable publishing in a newspaper or handing to a stalker.

  4. your favorite person*

    I’ll be going on maternity leave within the month… Any thoughts on how to phrase that? I was thinking, “I am out on maternity leave until October. Please contact _ at __ or __ at ___. ” Do I need anything else?

    1. RandomU...*

      Nope, I think that works. I agree with a longer leave you should indicate that so people will realize they shouldn’t hold on to things until you get back.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s the standard notice I’ve gotten for those on parental leave [thankfully I’ve seen it for both mothers and fathers!]. It shows you’re out long-term and therefore don’t just and wait for your return, that you really do need to contact the person who’s backing you up!

    3. The Ginger Ginger*

      You may also want to have your incoming stuff forwarded to your manager or backup during that time, if that hasn’t come up in your planning yet. That way someone is still seeing everything that’s coming to your attention during your longer leave.

      1. your favorite person*

        Yep, that’s standard here- but it’s a good reminder for my boss to set that up!

    4. Mrs. Psmith*

      That’s almost the exact phrasing I did for maternity leave with both of my kids. Especially since I wasn’t sure of the exact date I would return but knew it would be by the end of a specific month. And providing two (or even three) points of contact was good in case one of those contacts were out when the person emailed/called.

    5. Evan Þ.*

      Can you be more specific than “until October”? Even something like “until early October” would give your correspondents some idea of whether you’ll be back closer to October 1st or October 31st. (For instance, if I’m emailing you on October 5 with something not really urgent, that’d probably make the difference on whether to reach out to your backups or wait for you to get back.)

      Other than that, it sounds great!

      1. your favorite person*

        As I get closer, I might be able to. As of now, I’m just shy of 36 weeks, so there’s a good bet it will be in October, but when I come back depends on when I leave!

        1. FancyNancy*

          Leave it generic. First, like you stated, you likely don’t know when you will return. And second, I liked that when I came back only my core team knew for a week or so while I got caught up/settled in. The masses don’t need to know the second you will return.

    6. Holly*

      I have no idea if this relates to you or not at all but there were quite a few people at my job who ended up extending their leave – they told internal folks when they’d be expected back but did not give a range in their OOC that is sent outside the company, as far as I can recall.

    7. Me*

      If you’d prefer not to specify the exact reason, you could always say you are out on extended leave.

      My preference would be not to field “How’s the baby?” Questions from relative strangers when I return.

    8. A Nonny Nonny*

      Mine last year was “I am currently on maternity leave. Please contact [Temp] at [email] for assistance.” I wasn’t 100% sure when I’d be back which is why I didn’t include that info. It worked pretty well.

      1. Jen*

        Yeah, I am out on medical leave now. Definite starting date (unlike most parental leaves), but my return date when I left was a guess plus or minus two weeks in either direction. So I put “several weeks” in my message. It felt awkward, but was the best I could do. Luckily I work in a tiny department, so if people from outside the organization haven’t continue to copy me on emails they are theoretically directing toward others, communication with my co-workers will be efficient and easy to get things sorted out when I return. (Which will be earlier than I should thanks to short term disability shafting me. Ugh.)

    9. Cafe au Lait*

      I think mine was:

      I will be out of the office until DATE. I will not checking be checking email during this time.

      For questions about _____, contact SUPERVISOR NAME at (XXX) XXX-XXXX or heremailaddy@domain.
      For questions about ______ (technical), contact COWORKER NAME at (XXX) XXX-YYYY or coworkeraddy@domain.

      I included the not checking email due to a faculty member who likes to email and then doesn’t read the OOO messages. I wanted to cover my butt for when she inevitably became upset over the lack of communication.

      1. Lemmy Caution*

        Yeah, mine is usually the same, except with maybe 2-3 different pointers, also I vary between internal and external OO’s.

  5. IV*

    I love the feature to have one message for internal recipients and one for external. This allows me to give more detail to my colleagues (“I’ll be available via email on Monday, but completely unreachable the rest of the week. If you hear from remember to “) and a nice professional and succinct one for external folks.

    1. RandomU...*

      Agree.

      Internal responses will get a list of different people to contact (usually in list form) since my team has 3 separate functions. External msgs just get one contact.

      I also love the ability to schedule when the responses go out.

  6. CorpHotelGuru*

    Alison, I’m curious about your thoughts on changing voice mail greetings when out of office. The general rule of thumb in my office is if your’e out for more than a day, then change it. I have some clients who I call that have changed their voice mail greeting every day “It’s June 9th and I’m in the office!”.

    1. Angelinha*

      I worked somewhere that wanted all 150 staff to manually update our voicemails each morning with “Today is X date and I am…” in the office/off site/at work but in meetings all day, etc. This was only a few years ago. I still work with some of their staff and will occasionally call my old boss, and get a voicemail that says “Today is [date 3 weeks ago] and I am in the office.” Has pretty much the exact opposite effect of what the CEO intended by instituting this weird policy.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      We have canned messages that we can turn on, the idea of walking in every day and recording a new voice message sounds exhausting and like one more little ridiculous hoop to jump through. But I’ve often worked in places that I may be caught right in the door to do something and not get to my office for hours.

      Then you get the snarky messages from people who inform you that your date is wrong.

    3. hbc*

      It can be helpful if I’m trying to reach a person whose schedule is unpredictable, but I would never ding someone for *not* having one or expect it. I mean, even if it bothered me, it’s not substantially different than “I’m not able to answer the phone right now.”

      But if you turn on auto-response for being out for a couple of hours, I will come for you. That’s worse than indiscriminate read receipts.

    4. Kathleen_A*

      I used to change my voice mail greeting daily, but jeez – so tedious. And yeah, not good when for some reason I didn’t or couldn’t update it for a day or two. So now I have a standard greeting that I use most of the time, but when I’m going to be out more than a couple of days, I use the alternate greeting, updating it with specific information.

      In other words, most of the time, it’s just “I’m Blah of the Blahblah Team, and I can’t take your call right now. But blah blah blah. Thanks for blah.” But when I’m away for more than a long weekend, I’ll update the alternate greeting to make it specific: “I’m Blah of the Blahblah Team, and I’ll be away from the office until Blah. If you need assistance before then, blah.” And so on.

    5. Matilda Jefferies*

      I’ve had jobs where that was a requirement. It’s a PITA, and nobody has ever been able to explain how it improves customer service, but we’ve always done it this way, so.

      (Or else there are two people in the office with unpredictable schedules, so a daily VM update makes sense for them, but we can’t have one rule for them and another one for the rest of the office! So obviously the solution is to make everybody update their VM every day, even if they never leave their desks.)

      Never the hill I was going to die on…I just filed it under “this is weird, but whatever.”

    6. Catsaber*

      I think it’s good if you are gone for a long time, like FMLA or something like that. I wouldn’t set it up if I was just gone for 1-2 weeks on a vacation, but I did set one when I was out on maternity leave for 3 months.

    7. Emi.*

      I accidentally left my “I am furloughed due to a lapse in funding and will not be able to respond to messages until the government reopens” message up for months and months.

    8. Aquawoman*

      Well, and with tech, really seems redundant. If someone calls, it shows up on my laptop screen (and rings to my iphone) and if they leave a message, it shows up in my email as well as my phone. There’s no possible way for me to NOT know someone called short of a black-out.

  7. Job interview today...eeek*

    My coworker leaves an out of office that starts with this:
    “I’m sorry my out of office message gave you false hopes of my enthusiastic response…”

    Another coworker I once had said something like: “I’m not in the office. Having a meltdown”

    1. RandomU...*

      Oh dear. I’m not sure that either of those would go down very well in my organization.

    2. Close Bracket*

      I find those both hysterical, but I know they wouldn’t go over well in the environments I work in (large engineering corporations are universally filled with drips.

      1. TechWorker*

        I enjoy the first one but then the emails I get are basically all internal (there are plenty of teams whose job it is to interact with customers, mine is not one of them). I wouldn’t want to send it to a director though sooo probably still not appropriate…

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      I have a coworker who once said “I am out of the country from X until Y. Please do not email me until I return as last time I got back to about 250 and they take up a lot of the time I have left until I retire “. He was spoken to for that one.

  8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Thankfully we do business with people who are no nonsense and don’t try to be funny. They all tend to say “Out of the office until X, for immediate assistance contact Y.”

    Though I did have someone who turned on their OOO the afternoon before they left. I assume they didn’t change the time correctly or something. So I got their OOO, sent the request to the other contact, only to get a response from the original person a bit later. *face palm*

    I save my jokes for when I get back/catching up and am talking to people personally because rule 101 of jokes, know your audience, dude. Always know your audience.

    1. Cat Fan*

      I did the same thing recently. My admin ended up getting a call and came by my desk to tell me about it. It wasn’t a big deal though. If I’m going to be out for a week or more I might turn it on the afternoon before just in case someone calls or emails with something that I’d rather put off until I get back.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s not a big-deal internally, that’s for sure. But depending on how the issue is handled, it can be annoying on the other side of things. Especially when it’s a customer, you may lose someone for coming across as unorganized and being shuffled around. It’s not something that I’d axe a vendor for if it’s a one off thing but if I was constantly being shuffled to an admin, who then puts me on hold and transfers it to the person I just called/emailed, it’d wear on nerves. Especially if it were a problem that needed to be addressed and not a routine question.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          Doesn’t sound like Cat Fan’s admin transferred the caller. Sounds like they took a message and then passed it along directly because Cat Fan was actually still in the office. (“Came by my desk to tell me about it.”)

    2. Ella*

      To be fair, I often turn my OOO in the late afternoon the day before I leave, so that I don’t risk someone emailing me right at the end of the day and not getting my OOO message in response. Occasionally, I’ll end up working later than planned and responding to those people just to clear things out before I’m away. (I do usually clarify in any followup emails that, yes, I will be out of the office the next day even though I’m responding now, in case they require further followup.)

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I’ll often put on the OOO a little while before I stop looking at email, so people with big projects know to bring them to someone else, but I’ll still respond to quick things/things I’m wrapping up. It never occurred to me that might be annoying, so maybe I’ll stop doing it!

      1. ChimericalOne*

        Eh, you’ll annoy just as many people by NOT doing a thing as you’ll annoying by doing a thing, most times. I wouldn’t stop — especially if you have reason to think people might be emailing you near the end of the day & expecting a reply that’ll never come! I think most people find it perfectly reasonable to get an OOO near the end of the day when someone’s going to be out the following day.

    4. ChimericalOne*

      I always set my OOO to start going off the afternoon before I leave (late afternoon, of course). I’d hate for someone to email me at 4:00 PM, expecting a response in the morning, & never get one. I don’t always have time to reply to emails late in the day, especially if I’m rushing to wrap up a project before I go on vacation, so it just makes sense to me to start warning folks near the end of the day on Thursday if I’m going to be out, for example, Friday through Wednesday.

  9. Kari from Up North*

    Last summer, I went on a 17 day tour of Europe with my teenage daughter. I did a ton of prep before I left and crafted an OOO email with dates, who to contact and then ended it with this:

    If you super, duper need to contact me, you can find me on Facebook or Twitter and use the hashtag
    #i’mgonnaruinyourvacation

    I’ll be back in the office on August 7th and if all of the stars are in alignment, I’ll respond to this email
    before Labor Day.

    Slap on some sunscreen and go enjoy the day!

    I had a lot of emails that started like this: I was told to email you to see your OOO. But no hashtags and questions on social media.

    Also, highly recommend deleting the email app from your phone. The temptation to peek would’ve been too great.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      When I was out last month for a memorial service, I disabled email notifications on my phone but kept the app. I still occasionally checked, but there was no Pavlovian response that I had to check once I saw that I had new messages.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      My coworker and I add a link to .gifs in our OOO messages, so we often email each other when we’re out for this reason as well.

    3. BottleBlonde*

      Ha, I love this! Second the recommendation for deleting the email app from your phone (I keep my personal email app but delete Outlook every time I go away). It’s so freeing. For my last vacation I literally deleted it while walking across the parking lot on my way out my last day.

    4. Ann O'Nemity*

      I deleting the email app from my phone on maternity leave. So glad I did.
      I’m toying with the idea of not adding it back.

    1. adk*

      I hate the ones with the Wrong dates. Either they say in July that they’ll be back in the office on April 7th because they didn’t update it from their last vacation, or they accidently write that they’ll be back on July 24th when they meant June 24th.

      My out-of-office says “I’ll be out of the office until X, if your message cannot wait until then, please contact Y.” Y rarely gets an email for me.

      1. Kes*

        Yep, definitely seen those, where the person clearly just turned on OOO without actually updating it. “I’m out of office until [date 2 months ago]”. Uh, maybe make sure you actually update the message first
        And the typos that totally change the date… seen those as well.

      2. Elizabeth*

        Mine is:
        I am out of the office and plan to return on {date}.
        If you need immediate assistance, or to report  a problem, please call the Help Desk at extension xxxx, or email {email address}. 

        When I was out on medical leave for 4 weeks, I did have something of a phone directory, with separate directives for different issues that people called or emailed with repeatedly. That saved us having to renegotiate a contract that I had been working on, as my boss was able to pick up where I’d left off and get it pushed through, instead of waiting until I got back and have had the pricing expire.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Oh yeah. I was so glad someone who reported to me put up her out of office message early before she had surgery, because it just said “I’m out of the office and will get back to you when I’m back” (or whatever). She was going to be out for six weeks!!

  10. Economist*

    I’m of the keep-it-simple view with “I’m out of the office from date1 to date2,” without explaining why I’m out of the office. However one exception is jury duty. Callers get overly concerned if they get a message that someone is out of the office and does not know when he/she will return.

  11. Amber Rose*

    Mine literally just says I’m out of the office until [date], if your request is urgent please contact the office. Unless I’m out on business, in which case I add that I will be checking email sporadically. Our international sales person usually has a line about what country he’s in, and that he’ll be checking emails in the evenings local time.

    I didn’t realize this was a complicated thing for some people.

  12. Popcorn Burner*

    My current employer (nonprofit) once *strongly recommended* that we craft a creative, brand-friendly out-of-office message, even when we were on vacation. (Think “I’m out serving our volunteers in X capacity/event” and the like.)

    Fortunately, I got out of it by pointing out to my then-boss that A) I was hired to work with data, not in any traditionally “exciting” capacity and B) I was a nonexempt office-based employee, so why would I advertise that I’m working when I’m off the clock?

  13. Dracarys*

    This is my out of office: “I am currently out of the office and will be returning on DATE. During this time I will have limited/no access to my e-mail and will respond to you upon my return.”

    If my office is closed during one of those days, I’ll add “(Please note: TeaPots Corps office will be closed for the holiday on DATE, regular business hours will resume the following day.)” at the end of it.

    1. Dracarys*

      Just to add —

      I usually put it on like 15 minutes before I leave the office and leave it on until 8am the day I get back.I do this incase anyone e-mailing before I’m officially back at 8am knows I was out of the office and it may take awhile to get back to them.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Depending on the length of my vacation, I’ll put it on early, too; when I was out for 3 weeks last year, I put it on 4 hours before I left per the advice of my supervisor (so I wouldn’t have to worry about last-minute, time-consuming requests).

      2. Amber Rose*

        I do this definitely, because it’s very normal for me to get emails for up to 2 hours after we close, and up to two hours before we open.

      3. BottleBlonde*

        I do the same thing, I also turn it on a couple of hours before I leave on my last day. I try not to leave any unanswered critical emails in my inbox but…if I get a really time-consuming request at 4:15 pm that’s not critical, I’d rather the person think I’m already out.

  14. CubeFarmer*

    My boss was once out on an extended medical leave and wrote an elaborate OOM. Over several paragraphs is basically said “Contact CubeFarmer,”

    So people did that. Then she contradicted her instructions by responding to her emails. At one point, I had to ask her to either change her message or to let me handle it because people were getting confused about multiple responses.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      I’ve had times where I emailed someone, got an out of office, emailed the backup, and then got an email from the person who was out of the office anyway. My question wasn’t urgent and could have waited until they returned. Sometimes I didn’t even bother to email the backup!

      Other times the backup answered the question, but then the original person came back and started going through their emails to answer my question again, but because the day was different, the answer was different, or they were concerned I was waiting on a response when I wasn’t.

  15. Clare*

    Commenting from Blighty here. One person reporting to a friend of mine set up an ooo saying I’m out till….please call…in my absence. She’ll pretend to care and help but she won’t; she actually doesn’t give a damn. This went out to numerous important external stake holders; HR and IT had to be called in to reset the message. The guy himself didn’t care; he simply laughed on his return and said it was worth it. Sadly, he died not long after.

    1. Czhorat*

      OOO messages are like any other professional communication – one needs to act like an adult. That kind of message is very nearly a firing offencse.

    2. Lady Sod, MR*

      Ha!

      We have a running joke in my office that whenever a particular colleague, Fergus, goes on holiday, a disaster happens.

      A couple of times, when Fergus was on holiday, the sewer under our building backed up and spewed raw sewage out of the overflow – which is in our filing room, underneath the server cabinet.

      Once, when Fergus was on holiday, we suffered a ransomware attack. Then a couple of months later, when Fergus was on holiday again, we found out the ransomware attack was a cover for data exfiltration, and the attackers tried to blackmail us by threatening to release sensitive client data: Fergus got home from his holiday, flicked on the tv, and saw a local news segment “Teapots Ltd suffers serious cyber attack”.

      Another time, when Fergus was on holiday, our toilets lost water pressure and we had to beg the office next door to let us use theirs.

      When Fergus is on holiday, the fire alarm goes off, and IT systems die spontaneously.

      Most recently, when Fergus was on holiday, the power went out. The other companies in our building got power back after about half an hour, but not us! We waited 3 hours for the man from the national grid to show up and finally get things working again, during which time Fergus received several panicked text messages asking if he was sure he’d paid the utility bills.

      So on his most recent holiday, Fergus left an OOO that said “please note that in the event of any utility-related disasters, all bills were paid on the 14th, and I will not be checking my phone”. It was wildly inappropriate and I loved it.

  16. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I always say I will be out, whether I will be checking email, how to get urgent requests answered. Luckily I don’t get many of those.

    When I was away a couple of weeks ago, apparently I closed my OOO message with “Thank!” and didn’t realize it until I was setting up my next OOO. My co-worker told me that when he sees typos in OOOs, he just assumes the person really, really needs a vacation.

  17. Tigger*

    The only time I get into the details of why I am away is if I am at an industry show or event. Other than that its a simple “Out of the office until x. If this is urgent please call y”

    I do give some more details on internal away messages so my team (we are spread out all over the place) knows to call me or not

  18. Traffic_Spiral*

    I prefer Rat’s method from Pearls Before Swine. “I am on vacation this week. If this is urgent, that is funny, because I’m drunk on a beach and don’t care.”

    1. Close Bracket*

      I wish I had the harbles to do that … I would be in soooo much trouble when I got back.

  19. Adereterial*

    I’ve always wondered why people find this so difficult. It’s pretty simple, really:
    1, Thanks for your message
    2, I’m out of the office until xx/xx/20xx
    3, If urgent please contact so and so on xxxx
    4, Thank you.

    Admittedly, mine is complicated by needing to be bilingual (1, Diolch am eich neges, 2, Ni fyddaf yn y swyddfa tan xx/xx/20xx, 3, Os oes brys, cysylltwch â xxxx, 4, Diolch), and the English has to come second so I often get messages from people who’ve not read past the first 2 lines to the English, but still.

    The amount of people who’re not able to be professional on an out of office baffles me. I once had to put someone on a PIP for inappropriate messages. I’d have fired her, but I didn’t have the authority and my boss declined to take disciplinary action so… a PIP it was.

    1. Czhorat*

      How bad were they?

      I’m baffled by this too – your OOO message is professional correspondance!

  20. Peaches*

    I have a coworker who clearly uses the same OOO message every time he’s gone (and simply changes the date). This would be fine, but it has a misspell – “for time sensative requests, please email such and such.” Is it worth saying anything? I mean, he’s worked here for a few years and has misspelled ‘sensitive’ as ‘sensative’ every time he’s ever had an OOO message. Lol. I should mention also that he’s a very smart, solid employee….just not a great speller!

    1. LQ*

      Tell him! Just hey, FYI “sensitive” is spelled wrong, and hope your time off was good. (This could 100% be me, that box doesn’t have spell check so I’m lost.)

  21. OtterB*

    Mine usually distinguishes between “out of the office, but checking email intermittently” (business travel and some personal travel where I don’t mind checks and quick responses, but I want people to know I may be slower than usual) and “out of the office and offline until [date],” will respond when I get back. If I’m on business travel I will often say what conference or workshop I’m at, since some of my correspondents will be there also.

    A couple of years ago I had surgery during the peak period of an annual cycle, where I knew there would be people calling or emailing for help. I am normally a one-person department, but my boss and I brought someone else up to enough speed to manage the common requests with backup assistance from our vendor contact, and my OOO told people if they were emailing about Project, to resend the email to [role@myorg.org] and another staff member would help them; if they were emailing about anything else, to contact my boss at [email]. The email for [role] was routed to my backup while I was out, and then back to me when I was able to start working from home. It worked pretty well.

    If I’m in checking-email mode, I don’t bother with a phone OOO message since I get emails about phone messages and can return the calls from wherever I am. If I’m offline, I leave a message to that effect and say when I’ll be back.

  22. Renata Ricotta*

    I got one once from opposing counsel stating that he was on vacation, and that because he “intended to ACTUALLY take a vacation” I should not expect any response whatsoever for two weeks. Which well, fine, but it seemed a little bit aggressive, especially directed to external senders which would have no way of knowing he was on vacation, so it’s not like I was trying to screw with his time off by sending him an email about a court-ordered deadline to confer with each other.

  23. PretzelGirl*

    I worked for a place that was obsessive over out of office messages. We had to put one up every night when we left for the day. It had to be date specific, even if we coming in the next day.
    Today is 6/25/19 and I have left the office for the day. I will be back tomorrow 6/26/19 at 8am.

    Towards the end of my time there, I got sick of it and stopped doing it. We also had to do it for voicemail. I hated that place with a passion.

    1. Peaches*

      That’s so annoying! How would you have handled it if say, you were on a cruise with no access to email each morning? Not that anyone should have to do that on vacation, WiFi access or not!

      1. PretzelGirl*

        We could have an Out of Office for lets 6/25-6/30 (for a vacation). But each day when we left the office we had to put one up, to communicate we were gone for the day and wouldn’t get to their email until the next day.

    2. Jellyfish*

      That’s just irritating. If I email someone after about 4:30 pm in their time zone, I don’t expect a same day answer.

      1. PretzelGirl*

        Apparently a client sent an email at 5pm and got all bent out of shape that they didn’t receive a reply til the next day. This was their solution. I could go on for hours about the all the annoying stuff the company did.

  24. hbc*

    I think I have a Madlibs version. “I will be [traveling/on vacation/out for US holiday/unavailable] starting [date] and returning [date]. I will [be checking email daily/responding only to urgent emails/have no email access]. If you need a faster response, please [email coworker/text me/call the main number.] Otherwise, I will respond to your email when I return to the office.”

  25. Rez1123*

    Our work place has a standard message that everyone needs to use. We need to write it in 3 languages. The problem is that I don’t actually speak one of the languages. We have 10 000 employees and the examples are geared towards the majority employees so it doens’t incude my job title/department etc. so I’m just guessing it. Especially if for some reason I need to go rougue from the script, I really cannot write it. It’s so nice to rely on google translate.

  26. Construction Safety*

    “I’m out of the office, time traveling. If I didn’t call you back last week when I’m in next, I’ll catch up with you on Monday.”

    1. JessB*

      Haha, I love this! It makes me think you’re off travelling with Doctor Who and will return at a different time than you expect!

  27. Argh!*

    Why would anything we do at work have to be “perfect?” Perfectionism is paralyzing, and totally unnecessary. An “appropriate” message would suffice, in my opinion. Too many people worry about the exact perfectly right thing to do when there are many perfectly acceptable ways to do something.

  28. Jerk Store*

    Also, check your font. The default in Outlook is 8 or 9 pt. which is difficult for some people to read.

    And when you get back, read *all* your emails or turn on conversations before you respond to anything. I worked with a guy who would send frantic emails to the team his first day back from every vacation about something the rest of us resolved four days ago and forgot about.

    1. PlainJane*

      Ugh, yes. I often sort by conversation (rather than my usual reverse chrono) to avoid exactly this issue.

  29. Administrative Manager*

    I work in a non-profit adjacent field, and our OOOs are either mission-oriented (think: ‘I’m out of the office today participating in our Annual Dragon Wrangling Competition! I’ll be back on Tuesday, and respond to e-mails then.’) or they’re mission-adjacent (think: ‘My team and I are out of the office today participating in the Annual Cook County Clean-Up Day. I’ll return Wednesday and respond to e-mails then.’)

    Otherwise, my OOO is, “I’m out from [date] to [date] and will respond to e-mails then. If you need immediate assistance, contact [name].”

    Because our org is non-profit adjacent but highly public and visible, our VP of Marketing really wants our OOOs to reflect when we’re in the community doing things (all of which count as work time, are paid, etc.)

  30. Rebecca*

    I also add a note in red, bold, italic font at the bottom of my Outlook signature the week before I’m going to be out of the office for more than a few days simply stating, as an example “I’ll be out of the office from June 17-21, returning June 24” . That way people know I’ll be gone, in hopes that I won’t get an urgent OMG I NEED THIS NOW!! 5 minutes before quitting time on Friday. I also add a simple out of office for when I’m actually out.

    1. Suz*

      I received an auto reply like that today but I’d listed her vacation schedule for the next 4 months.

  31. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    There’s folks in my org (not on my team) who set their OOO not only every night when they leave for the day, but also set them for lunch breaks and even 15-minute breaks. That baffles me. Like, full-on, “I am away from my desk on 15 minute break. I will respond to your email on my return.” Talk about unnecessary.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      Do they reply instantly then to any email they get outside of those times?

  32. Close Bracket*

    we don’t need to know that you’re out for a day of medical testing or that you’re watching a new concrete foundation being poured for your driveway

    I always wonder why people do this. My new boss does this. Is this a relationship building thing? Like, “I am whole person, here is my life, I’m bonding by letting you in?” I’m very much a functional person, as many spectrum people are. My boss is a whole person, but I kind of don’t care. When I need to be out, I just say I will be out. Should I be return bonding by saying why? If I don’t give a reason, should I be worried about the people who think that I am just slacking off (and if I am slacking off, it’s my PTO, I can use it however I want)? To be clear, I don’t worry about people who think I am slacking off, but should I be? As a strategic thing? If it’s a good idea for fitting in, I can certainly fake taking the concerns of people who want to know what I am doing into account.

    1. CMart*

      I think it’s just a relationship building thing. You don’t need to reciprocate if you don’t want to.

      I enjoy having a friendly rapport with my colleagues, managers and coworkers alike, and think it’s nice when they know things about my life outside of the office. There’s nothing to be gained from them knowing “CMart is visiting her in-laws in Iowa” per se, but it gives us something to chat about when getting coffee and it helps “humanize” each other. I don’t know, for me it’s nice to know things about people.

  33. Approval is optional*

    A tad weird for an Australian to see ‘OOO’ in so many messages! Or maybe it’s because it’s after 3am here.
    Anyhoo, my manager once worded his OOO along the lines of, ‘I’m unavailable until X. My assistant will forward your message to the appropriate person’. He then went on leave without giving his assistant access to the account. Poor guy had some very confusing conversations before he realised what our manager had done.

      1. Approval is optional*

        Yes, and 3 zeros is our 911 equivalent. The number sort of jumps out at one.

  34. A tester, not a developer*

    Our OOO has the option to craft one message for internal recipients, and another for external. In theory, this should mean you can craft a less formal message for your team members and other co-workers to see, right? WRONG. It turns out that the software isn’t great at distinguishing one from the other. We’ve had people get the super casual message who definitely should not have…

    1. LizB*

      I’ve always wondered what the point of that internal/external distinction is. All it does for me is make the process of setting up my message slightly longer. Why can’t my coworkers just read the same message that other folks get? What extra information would I really need to give to one group that I definitely wouldn’t want to give to the other?

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Internal you can provide more detail, for instance, tell the person e-mailing you that for Project X, contact Bob. Project Y, contact Sue. Project Z, contact Geraldine. You may not want to advertise to an outside customer/supplier that you’re working on Project Y and Project Z, just their Project X, so you would just say “I’m out of the office. If you need immediate assistance, contact Bob” if Bob is your main backup. Bob could then get ahold of Sue or Geraldine for specific project information.

      2. Pat Benetardis*

        Some people don’t want to give their cell phone numbers to external people, who could be Spammy strangers or recruiters.

  35. Paper Jam*

    After telling her to put an out of office message up, a recent grad I supervised once put up a message that simply said “I am not here.”

    I learned to be pretty specific with instructions with her after that.

  36. LGC*

    Ah man, I’m actually guilty of putting in my office directory! (This is because when I’m out, our department’s billing runs through multiple people so I cover my main job AND that, which is an entirely different set of people.)

    This is perfectly timed as well because my boss just nagged us to set OOOs. I’ll set mine if I’m out more than a day, but I think she wants us to set them whenever we’re out. (We get a lot of external contacts.)

    Finally, I’ll set different internal and external messages. My internal messages are more informal and personal – if there’s a noteworthy thing I’m doing, I’ll mention it. My external has more comprehensive contact info (right now at least) and rarely says anything more personal than “happy holidays.”

  37. Catsaber*

    My former boss had the most convoluted OOO, it was just awful. He was trying to create like a self-service flowchart within the OOO message. “If you need help with X, contact X-person, but if it’s Y, contact Y-person, unless it’s XY, then contact Z-person, with the following information…” He was just a long-winded person in general so it wasn’t surprising his OOO was verbose as well.

  38. Squeeble*

    I appreciate that in Outlook, you can set your OOO to have different messages for internal vs. external emails. So my internal ones are usually pretty casual, while the external-facing ones are more formal and usually include more information about who to contact in my absence.

  39. Amber T*

    I’m curious as to what people think about Out of Office notices when you email outside of business hours. One vendor we work with has their employees put up notices when they’re gone for the day (stating their hours are 9-5 and they will respond first thing in the morning) and when they’re gone for lunch (generic “I’m away from my desk but I’ll be back by 1”). I thought it was a weird quirk of my one contact there, but it seems everyone at that company does it. On the one hand, it seems like the company is pushing livable working hours (leave by 5 and leave your work at work) which is great. On the other hand, it just seems odd when I’m emailing back and forth with someone and get an Out of Office at 5:02 when I had just received an email from them 3 minutes ago.

    1. CMart*

      The practice seems really weird to me. I think most people assume if you e-mail someone before 9am, between 12 and 1, or after 5pm there’s a chance you won’t get a response right away.

      Exceptions always apply, but I would hope most people who are e-mailing at 4;59 wouldn’t be surprised if it was just silent until the next day.

    2. Anon attorney*

      I have done this when working on genuinely urgent cases (mid litigation/settlement) where 30-45 minutes delay while i got a sandwich/walked round the block so i wouldn’t have a panic attack actually might have made a difference. I haven’t needed to do that as I have become more senior, which in an odd way means i need to be less available externally, but more available internally to junior associates.

  40. OOOliar*

    My exboss at Old Toxic Job would always lie in her OOO messages and have her staff lie to clients who called for her when she was out, saying that she was in an all day meeting/at a conference etc, something business related when she was really on vacation/at the spa/getting her hair done/shopping, because she wanted clients to think that she was working when she really wasn’t and she took a ton of time off. She often would then send very elaborate emails to clients to cover for herself after she got back. She often would throw in fake family/household emergencies etc for the reason why she didn’t get back to them.

    I never really understood it and found it quite ridiculous and disingenuous. Glad I do not work for her anymore.

  41. JK*

    I once got an OOO that said something along the lines of “I am currently out of the office on a family vacation. I may take longer than usual to respond to your message, as I promised my wife I would not do work on this trip, so I have to hide my phone under my beach towel.” It was worded more cleverly than that, but that was the general idea. I was still left thinking: Dude, no one is that important. Just enjoy your family and your vacation.

    1. Adric*

      Or, he’s being sneaky-clever and figures that people will be more worried about annoying his wife than him.

  42. ggg*

    There is a guy that I work with occasionally, in another department. He doesn’t report to me and I have never needed to contact him for emergency information. Yet he always includes me on the list of people that he notifies when he is going to be out, in addition to his OOO message. And he always says why. Dentist. Power outage. Lunch with his mom. It’s kind of hilarious.

  43. A Simple Narwhal*

    Has had anyone ever had issues with mail systems that will only send an out of office message once?

    I just got back from a two week vacation and everything turned out fine, but before I left I was worried that someone would email me, get the out of office message and react accordingly, but then would email me later (while I was still OOO) and then get mad/have no idea the request wasn’t being filled.

    I’m usually very responsive so I’m sure they would have/did figure things out when I didn’t get back to them quickly, but I can foresee a scenario where this could cause problems for people.

    1. Amber T*

      I know with Outlook, it will only autoreply once per person and I think there’s a time limit on an individual in general – so if Sally emails you and receives your OOO, she won’t get one within a certain time period if she emails you a separate email. The issue could arise if Sally emailed you and Bob – Sally would receive your OOO but not Bob. Hopefully Sally would communicate with Bob that you’re out of the office. I think as long as you have a clear time period of when you’re unavailable, the onus is on the person emailing you.

  44. Booksalot*

    I freaked out a couple of months ago when an international colleague had an OOO and I completely forgot that Europe writes day/month instead of month/day. Fergus was away until March 10th and I was all “WTF, this dude is gone until OCTOBER????”

    Now I write out the month in my own OOO, to avoid confusing anyone else.

    1. Lucy*

      Tbh I think it’s good practice to put months in words in text anyway. But I work in an international field where we have been stung by “did that predate the relevant date or not?” puzzles before, so I always ask (beg) signatories to use their words.

  45. Commentor*

    I am now NOTORIOUS for forgetting to change my phone from the OOO reply. Email I can set up, but I hardly ever (read never) get calls to my direct line (all calls are routed through a front desk and we really do not give out our direct lines to those outside the office) except from other people in my department. I once forgot for like 2 months before I got a phone call from a colleague. They still tease me about it! Almost all correspondence is done via chat or email, so I can literally go weeks without talking on the phone (which makes me super happy as I hate talking on the phone). I am pretty organized in every other way, so everyone thought it was funny.

  46. Blushingflower*

    We use Outlook which allows you to differentiate between internal and external recipients when setting up your OOO. If I were inclined to use humor, I would be more likely to use it in the internal reply where the recipients were more likely to know me and then get the joke. This also lets you provide different levels of detail (e.g. I was once working on multiple projects but my boss asked me not to let my primary client know that because they would get snippy even though I was still 100% on top of my work for them, so my internal message stated where I was and why and who to contact for which project, whereas my external was just “please contact another member of the team”)

  47. drpuma*

    Present-tense for OOO messages!! Always!! My big pet peeve.

    Sure, when I’m writing it I “will be” out. But when the other person receives it I currently AM out. I’m writing for them, not for me. Always use present tense!!!

    1. Lucy*

      “I will be OoO until July 1st” where the autoreply is set to send only until June 30th is still appropriately tensed, isn’t it?

      1. drpuma*

        If a coworker receives the message on June 29th, you ARE at that moment OOO until July 1, right? So it would still be “I am OOO until July 1”

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          Both of those statements are true. You are currently out of the office, and will be until the 1st.

        2. Lucy*

          My point is that “I will be” is not incorrect. You may prefer simple present tense but it doesn’t necessarily feel like natural phrasing to everyone (and they’re deliberately not doing it at you).

  48. Suz*

    I have an annoying situation with our out-of-office messages. My department recently switched a ticketing system instead of customers emailing us directly. So everyone has their external ooo message tell people not expect a reply to their email and they should submit a ticket instead. But Outlook makes us have a message for internal people if you have one for external. So every email sent to coworkers get an auto-reply that says to ignore the auto-reply.

  49. Veryanon*

    I keep my OOO message simple as well. We use Outlook and it lets you set when to turn it on and off, because I’m notoriously bad at remembering to turn it off. I used to have a colleague who asked why I put an “[my name] OOO” appointment on her calendar, and I told her it was to remind her I’d be out of the office (we worked at different sites, but interacted a lot). She said, “Oh, I just thought you meant OOOOOOOOOHHHHHH I’ll be on vacation baby!” It still makes me chuckle when I think of it.

  50. JustKnope*

    I received advice a while back to write “I will have limited/no access to email” instead of “I will not be checking email regularly,” since it seems less like a choice? It’s a perception thing, but I’ve followed it ever since. This might be overthinking it though.

    1. SezU*

      That’s a good one. It sets a realistic expectation that the writer will not be hearing from me anytime soon!

    2. Not Today Satan*

      I actually prefer “I won’t be checking” for that very reason! We need to push back against constant availability. I don’t need to be in a cabin without wifi to have a true vacation from work.

      1. JustKnope*

        You make a great point – we should all be able to say “I won’t be checking” and have it be OK! I agree with the CMart below though that it’s probably culture-dependent.

    3. Lily Rowan*

      I always tell my lower-level staff not to put “limited access” when they are on vacation. Don’t check email on vacation! *Unless you’re the boss, or in other specific situations.

    4. CMart*

      I think this comes down to company culture. The people in my office are notorious for checking in while using PTO and responding/managing more urgent matters. So when they will truly be unresponsive it’s important to say so, otherwise chances are high if there’s something critical that they ordinarily would have broken the PTO cone of silence for but won’t be, there’s no ambiguity that the person with the critical issue should seek help elsewhere.

      1. CMart*

        Well, upon re-read I see it was a question of semantics, haha. So 1) it’s probably not that big of a deal given I didn’t even notice or read the question correctly… but 2) I agree with using the passive “I won’t have access to” in general. The active “I will not be checking” sounds more like you’re making a point.

        To that: I used “I will not be checking my e-mail during this time” in my OOO message when I was on maternity leave. I wanted to be clear that I was fully unplugged during that time.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          I like “I will not be checking my email during this time” for maternity leave, where you should be explicit about that choice, IMO, but for run-of-the-mill vacation, I prefer, “I will not be reachable by email during this time.” It sounds less like you’re making some kind of point about not checking your email while still avoiding the “I won’t have access to” language (which is usually… not true?).

    5. ChimericalOne*

      I don’t like “limited/no access” wording unless that’s actually true (nitpicky, I know). I usually use, “I will not be reachable by email during this time.”

  51. HigherEd Person*

    The only time I get specific is when I’m out to observe the Jewish high holidays. I work at a Catholic institution, so I need it as a reminder to faculty/staff/students/parents that I’m out for a very specific and special reason, I’m not checking email b/c of this reason, and it serves as a good reminder that not everyone there is Catholic (gasp!). “I am out of the office for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and will not be checking my email. Should you need immediate assistance, please contact __________. I will respond to your message when I return.”

    There’s this innate sense of instant gratification that people have nowadays, where they expect that you or someone get back to them immediately.Our Outlook will automatically turn someone’s name blue in the “To” field and their auto-response will pop up if they’re in network and OOO. I *still* get emails that start with “I know you’re out of the office, but….” I find that putting the bit in about my religious observances reminds them that I really won’t be checking in or responding.

    1. Lucy*

      I love that function. It tells me I’m not going to get an answer BEFORE I spend time and effort crafting the question properly.

      1. HigherEd Person*

        It’s the best! I immediately alter my email to something like “This isn’t urgent, so let’s chat when you’re back…” or abandon it altogether and find someone else to help me.

  52. Aphrodite*

    I haven’t read all the replies yet but–please!–make it as short as you can and still say what you need to say. This should never include the phrase “I am either away from my desk or on the phone..” It’s boring as all get out and completely unnecessary..

  53. SezU*

    Also remember to update your out of office message each time you use it. Last week someone was out until January 3, 2019.

    I had a colleague that used to list every possible person you should call. For X, call; for Y, call: for Z, call… it was ridiculous. And in my experience, no one reads them anyway, so just say, I am out of the office until…

  54. Evil Admin is Evil*

    My boss, a CEO in a Communications field, had three typos in the out of office message he’s had up for a week now.

    I’m enjoying it. Probably more than I should.

    1. Mr. Shark*

      Not in communications, but I’ve seen some annoying typos in OOO…

      “Sorry for my absents. Thank you for your patients while I am out.”

  55. patricia*

    I had the flu a couple years ago and included in my out of office a note to the effect that “I’m really sick and actually trying to take time to rest and recover, so please consider whether you really need me during this time.” I’m a lawyer and expected to be available at all times, so I felt it was necessary. My clients mostly ignore my OOO for any other reason. I didn’t like being so specific but figured I’d get better respect for my need to Not Read Email.

  56. Seeking Second Childhood*

    And for the love of bacon pants, CHANGE THE MESSAGE when you go out the next time.
    I’ve seen too many people using the same message repeatedly – it can make you wonder if someone left the company. Or if they have a time machine.
    Because if they have a Tardis they have to share.

  57. MoopySwarpet*

    OOO responses breed spam. I’ve suggested to our people who want to do an OOO response that they can, but they either need to lock it down with specific rules, or they are just confirming their email address is a good one to every spammy message that comes through. I’ve even walked them through how to do that (and exclude the ones to/from group emails), but they all choose to glance while they are away or take their chances that people will reach out to other contacts when they don’t get a response. We’re also small enough to have someone monitor emails during an absence. We also don’t deal with anything that needs an urgent response.

    I only use an OOO when I am truly not going to be able to check email. I keep it to a brief “I am going to be out of the office until MMM DD with limited access to email. If you need immediate assistance, email group@llamasrus and someone will assist you in my absence.”

    Most of our emails that would possibly be urgent are already being sent to a group email where there is already coverage if someone is out of the office.

  58. Beach Lover*

    My biggest pet peeve about OOO is when you go to the contact listed and they are OOO also.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I just told my team not to bother putting an alternate contact for next week, because everyone is going to be out at some point during the week, and I assume most of our internal customers will also be out, and nothing will be urgent. We’ll talk to you on the 8th!

  59. Sangamo Girl*

    I work in the arts. My OOO is simple . . . poetry. A haiku.
    Emails. Sit in my
    inbox unopened while I
    am away today.

    I will send replies
    on {six syllable date goes here}.
    My apologies.

  60. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “I will be out of the office until the 30th of Narnia. For immediate assistance, please contact Jenny Tutone at 867-5309.”

  61. OrangeSage*

    My favorite ever: “I will be out of the office from 17:00H, 10/8. I will be back on Tuesday 10/20/15. Please refrain from sending e-mails until then. It is important that my computer not crash due to an overload of messages. I appreciate your kind understanding……..” And knowing her, I’m pretty sure she seriously thought her computer might crash if she got too many emails.

  62. Not Me*

    My favorite is when I send an email to a colleague and get an OOO response directing me to contact…Me.

  63. SchueylerSeestra*

    Depend on how busy I am, and why I’m out. For events and conferences, I note that I am out of office for____ and will be checking my email intermittently. If I have a cover I direct people to reach out to them for urgent matters. If I’m on vacation I’m not checking or responding to emails. I just note when I’m out and when I’m back and direct to whoever is covering me. I spent 7 days on a cruise last year right in the middle of a busy time. I tied up all loose ends, made sure to remind everyone I was in contact know I was unreachable and set up 1:1 call with whoever was covering me. I did check occasionally when were at the port but didn’t respond to any emails.

  64. kiwidg1*

    I have a tiny bit of humor in mine and people seem to appreciate it:

    I’m sorry if my astonishingly quick auto-reply led you to believe I responded to your message with lightning speed, but I’m out of the office from [insert dates here] and I will not be checking email or voice mail.

    If you need immediate assistance, please contact {contact 1} at {phone number} or {contact 2 if needed} at {contact 2 phone number}. Otherwise, I look forward to catching up with you when I’m back in the office.

    Mahalo!

  65. Wren*

    The only time I’ve been specific in a OOTO message was when I was leaving office last minute for a funeral. I had told my manager my grandfather had died, but I don’t think he circulated the news, so I had upper leadership repeatedly congratulating my on my “last minute getaway”. It wasn’t until they got the OOTO message saying I was in fact memorializing the recently deceased that they emailed me with an apology.

    Also, no one pinged me directly through our IM system (which is linked to my phone), which I think is in part because I said where I was!

  66. Heidi*

    I recently went to an international conference and I put the time zone in my OOO notification. That way, people emailing me from the office during the day would know that it was nighttime where I was. I think it went over okay.

  67. Not Above Basic Courtesy*

    Had a very unpleasant colleague that when she took an extended leave (six weeks) left an OOO message stating that she would automatically delete all messages received while she was gone and if your message was important you had to email again when she returned and was looking at messages. Don’t miss that woman at all.

    1. Susana*

      I don’t actually blame her. That’s a long time away, and a long time to go without your question/request/whatever unaddressed. So yeah – if it’s still relevant when she returns, email again.

    2. PlainJane*

      I hate it when people do this (so self-important), but I can kind of see it for extended leaves. At some point, it isn’t very practical to go through that much email, most of which will be irrelevant after so much time has passed.

    3. SaltyNuts*

      I did this at a job I hated that sent way too much email the majority of which was not important. And then when I returned I deleted it all. We all lived.

      1. Deejay*

        I once came back from a week’s leave to find 500 unread emails. My initial “Oh crap!” was quickly relieved after I read the first few “Please take me off this distribution list” and “STOP DOING REPLY-ALL TO THE ENTIRE ORGANISATION!” messages.

  68. Anon for This Please*

    Funny Story – I once got an out-of-office message from someone who had clearly called his assistant and told her “put my out of office on; tell them I’ll be back on the 5th; they can call my cell if they need me.”

    We know what he told his assistant because that’s exactly what she put in the out of office. So if you emailed the person, you received a bounceback of:

    — Put my out of office on. Tell them I’ll be back on the 5th. They can call my cell if they need me. —

    I still find this very funny, and it’s been years.

  69. Susana*

    I am amazed at the people who think you’re lying when you write that you are on vacation and not checking email (knowing, maybe that you might check your personal email).
    Serious question: how bad would it be to write:
    “I am out of the county on vacation until X date. I will not be checking email; if there is an emergency contact XX XX in the office.
    Anyone who sends me an email request during this time that starts with the words, ‘I know you said you wouldn’t be checking email while you are gone, but….’ will be blocked from my email account. No joke.”

    I know it’s obnoxious, but I also sort of feel like the people who will be really offended by it are ones I’d prefer not to hear from again, anyway.

  70. Teapot Gal*

    I always do something rather basic in terms of I’ll be gone between xyz and abc. If you have an urgent query please email xxxx with questions. Otherwise I’ll reply as soon as I’m back in the office.

    BUT then I add on something like:
    While you wait please enjoy this adorable collection of kitten/ferret/puppy images.

    Too weird?

  71. HailRobonia*

    I like responses that say “I am OoO” (Out of Office, obviously). It sounds so spooky.

  72. Fluff*

    Going through all these – would love “best out of office” section / comment time (maybe for Friday free for all)? I like the haiku and the OOOs that could be somewhat professional and maybe fun.

    We had a guy who retired or quit (not fired) on seemingly good terms who did this OOO:
    “Popped open a beer and slid out the emergency ramp. Arrival time: never. Checking email: never.”

    It was completely unexpected as he would never crack a joke or even talk non-work. ever. And nope, we are not even remotely related to the airline industry.

  73. ENFP in Texas*

    I will be out of the office from Monday, July 5, through Friday, July 9, with no access to email or voicemail. I will respond to email when I return on Monday, July 12.

    For Llama Grooming questions, contact Arya.
    For Llama Herding questions, contact Sansa.
    For Alpaca questions, contact Tyrion.

  74. Plant*

    I’m bad and don’t put a return date on my OOO.

    I like to keep my options open–I’ll never know when I need to take a Don Draper style road trip.

  75. Amerdale*

    A few days ago I got a out-of-the-Office-message saying “out until April 28” so yes, please turn it off when you return.
    And if your email program allows it please make sure that it sends your message only once to a singe person. I have to mail some people quite a few times a week (with non urgent stuff, they are just copied in for updates and reports) and it is annoying to get that message every single time.

    I always write out of the Office from day x until day y and will answer your mail after that as quickly as possible. For urgent queries in the meantime please contact my colleague xy.

  76. londonedit*

    If I’m out of the office on a work-related thing then I’ll put ‘I am currently out of the office with limited access to email’ and give a colleague’s email address to contact in an emergency. If I’m on holiday, I’ll put ‘I am currently out of the office on annual leave, returning on X date. I will respond to your message on my return; alternatively please contact Y colleague or Z colleague if you have an urgent query’.

  77. Pandop*

    I work in a University, and one of my colleagues has the record for the least helpful out of office ever recieved. An academic from the Geography department had an out of office which simply said ‘on fieldwork’

  78. bdg*

    I’m late to this, but I’m about to be out of the office for 3 weeks… but I’ll be changing to a new (internal, in a different state, completely separate) job the day I get back. I’m not sure if I need to mention that in my OOO — as in, you really should contact my backup because I won’t be doing this work when I get back. Any suggestions?

  79. Deejay*

    My favourite Out of Office message was from an airline.

    “I’m out of the office. If you’d like to be out of the office too, go to our website to book a flight”

  80. ceiswyn*

    Of course, it doesn’t matter what you write if nobody bothers to read it.

    Last time I went on leave, a number of work deadlines had shifted such that I had to leave a much-desired teapot design halfway through the review process. So instead of ‘if you need X contact Y’, my OOO explained that the teapot design was in review, and that I’d placed the design document on Y server so that it was ready to go if the reviewers signed it off in my absence.

    While I was away, a bunch of people emailed me to ask where the teapot design was. Fair enough, they had to email me in order to receive the message. But when I got back the SAME people all emailed/IMed me to ask how much longer I’d be with writing the design, and if I could send them the latest version.

    I may have got a little grumpy.

  81. Deejay*

    Double-check the availability of whoever you’re asking people to contact in your absence. It’s very frustrating to encounter the following:

    Person A’s OOO says to contact person B.

    Guess what person B’s OOO says?

  82. Not a Blossom*

    When I started at this company, no one in our small department was using OOO messages at all. I struggled so hard to get them to start and then had to fight to teach them appropriate messages. This is one of those things that I never thought was complicated, but apparently I’m wrong. The only time I put why I’m out of the office is if our office is closed for a holiday (lots of overseas contacts who might not realize our holiday schedule) of if I’m at a work-related event about which I want to spread the word, like a large conference.

  83. Frinkfrink*

    I used to work at a large university that had two full phone prefixes assigned to it. The last 4 digits of my phone number were the same as someone over in Grants Administration, although the first 3 were different. They went on vacation and left a message saying “If you need help, call 1234” without the first 3 numbers. I had to deal with SO MANY professors and researchers panicked about their grant funds who called me and then who argued with me that I was the phone number they were supposed to call when I tried to tell them to use the other prefix! Dude, I work in Architecture. I have no idea why you think I can do anything with your grant in Fisheries, or why you think that if you repeat “NO I’M SUPPOSED TO CALL YOU” enough I’ll suddenly go “Oh, wait, you’re right, here’s your money sitting on my desk!”

  84. Questioning Questula*

    I’ve been wondering this for a while now, but haven’t found any good results from googling: If you’re a freelancer, is there any way to set an autoresponder that will ONLY reply to specific people with an out-of-office message? For instance, if I just want my boss to get a message that says “I’m out of the office today, please call me at XXX if this message is urgent,” but not EVERYONE who might be emailing me that day (since only my boss would be contacting me with urgent items, and everybody else can wait ’til I’m back home from my errands or doctor’s appointments or whatever for a response)?

    1. Close Bracket*

      If it’s just a couple people, I would proactively email them that I was going to be out.

  85. BurnOutCandidate*

    In April I took a few consecutive vacation days (the first consecutive vacation days I’d taken since 2012), and I didn’t bother leaving an out of office message.

  86. ElleKay*

    A sales rep we work with currently has an out of office message that says “I am taking my wife & kids to the beach this week & my wife will allow me to check my email once a day. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m able”
    !!

  87. A Good Egg*

    My last name is Brown, and I always wanted to quote Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop.
    “Mr. Brown is out of town.”

  88. Cari*

    We’re a department of three with the third person shared with two others. Person 2 and I usually just put the shared person as our OOO as our work doesn’t overlap directly. When person 3 is out, we give a heads up and status update to one another so they can answer honestly urgent. Typically neither of us is out that long when we’re on deadline that there’s an issue.
    Typically love Outlook’s internal/external option, but it’s so pointless on a holiday week. Just a domino of OOOs.
    Re: the I won’t have access/be checking. Having access is key, because everyone knows we check so that feels like a lie. When I was overseas and ergo without a cell plan, I said overseas because I was limited to when I was on WiFi, often out of US business hours

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