should you turn on an out-of-office message when you’re away for a few hours?

A reader writes:

I work for a medium-sized office, managing a small team; this team interacts with other internal staffers, primarily on non-urgent matters. Right now, leadership is brainstorming how and when it is most appropriate to use an out-of-office message.

Our external-facing colleagues use out-of-office email messages when they’re away for an afternoon, and there’s a question as to whether my internal-facing team should adopt that practice, as well.

Personally, I feel that this reinforces the unhealthy idea that all emails should be answered within a short timeframe; as long as I’m aware of their time off, I believe staff should have the flexibility to step away from their desk and respond to emails the next morning without having to preemptively “explain” any out-of-office time to their colleagues. We don’t put up an out-of-office during an afternoon of meetings and when we’re consequently unable to review all emails until the next day, as a point.

The counter argument is that an out-of-office message might make staff feel more comfortable completely logging off email during short breaks—which I understand! If there’s a real psychological benefit, then this practice would help, but the rub is that we need to make a global rule for everyone.

I’m not sure what the norms are in other places, so I wanted to gather your thoughts on best practices from other organizations. I didn’t see any data out there to justify either approach, and I know my gut instinct could very much be wrong. Any thoughts?

It varies by organization, and even within organizations it can vary from person to person.

Sometimes turning on an out-of-office message just for the afternoon does make sense — but that’s usually if you’re in an environment that expects very fast turnaround and/or when you know you’ll start getting calls if you haven’t responded quickly (which can be because of the culture you’re working in or the nature of your job, or because you’ve trained people to expect that of you). Otherwise, I’m not a big fan of very short-term out-of-offices because, as you point out, it signals that a reply that takes longer than a few hours requires special explanation. That can create pressure that shouldn’t be there.

That all goes double if you work in an organization where out-of-office messages are required if you’re only gone for a few hours. That’s a clear signal that your management normally expects you to respond to all messages within a few hours.

I’d push back on the idea that you need to require one global practice for everyone. Why not instead leave it to people to assess their individual circumstances and manage their email accordingly? Certainly if you’re on a team that really needs out-of-office replies for very short (few hour) absences, go ahead and require it when it makes sense for a team’s circumstances. And if someone isn’t putting up an out-of-office message in other situations when they need to (like if they’re gone for multiple days, or even a single afternoon if it’s a high-communication period where an auto-reply is really necessary), their manager should speak to them and ask them to change their practices. But in most offices — which have a wide range of types of jobs and urgency levels and communication needs — adopting one blanket practice for everyone isn’t needed, and imposing one can add pressure and stress where it’s not needed.

If the counter argument is that an out-of-office message will help people feel more comfortable completely logging off email during short breaks … well, more comfort in that regard is a good thing, but if you need out-of-office messages to make that happen, that’s a sign that something deeper has gone awry in your culture and needs to be fixed … and it’s time to ask what’s driving that pressure and why. (Unless, of course, you’re all working in crisis communication or something else where very fast turnaround is reasonable to expect.)

{ 179 comments… read them below }

  1. High Score!*

    Those out of office emails are so annoying. I don’t use then unless I’m out of office for an entire day or more. Otherwise my Teams status will show I’m not immediately available.

    1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      Even more annoying are those emails that announce that Fergus will be unavailable for the next 2 hours because the plumber is coming, sent to dozens of people that don’t interact with Fergus on a daily basis.

      1. High Score!*

        That’s the worst! Email is for things that can wait a short amount of time. If I need something immediately there is chat, or if even phone calls for things that are extremely urgent.

      2. Random Bystander*

        At least the out of office emails only send to whoever emailed (rather than a blanket email). One thing that has annoyed me in the past (working in a hospital) is for holidays, various departments will send out an email that their department will be closed/reduced hours .. they used multiple wordings (I have five separate filters and finally caught them all to auto-delete).

        1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

          Exactly. I don’t mind receiving an autoreply saying someone is out all afternoon (as opposed to just a couple hours), because I did email that person, and I can then factor this into my expectations for a response.

          It’s the unnecessary blanket emails that are a problem, stealing my ADD-reduced concentration. I’ve even created email rules to screen out such emails from certain well-known offenders.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I also hate getting them. I’m using asynchronous communication, I don’t expect a response immediately. If I need a more immediate response, I will use a more immediate tool. Whether you’re out of office entirely or just trapped in meetings all afternoon is the same to me if I’m emailing you, though I recognize some people will also put auto-responders on when they’re in back-to-back-to-back meetings.

      My general feeling is landing somewhere along the lines of: being unavailable for three hours should not cause a crisis for anyone else in jobs where this is even a question. If it does, then there are probably other questions to be asking about deadlines / responsibilities / issues escalation / etc. that come before whether or not someone should turn on an auto-responder.

      1. Nanani*

        This so much!

        If your three hour meeting is a problem for someone else, they probably need to be able to contact a delegate or something.
        Email isn’t for instant communication, I will die on this hill.

    3. ChimpCarer*

      Yah, I only use my out-of office email if I’m gone for more than two work days. And 90% of the time I forget to put it on my phone because I rarely get calls.

    4. Anonym*

      Yes, this. PLEASE don’t make people set OOO messages for anything less than a day. Instead ensure your company has a healthy culture in which only true emergencies receive immediate turnaround.

      If I email you, I’m not expecting an immediate reply. That’s not what email is for. Do not encourage people who expect this, they make work and life worse for everyone.

      1. Temperance*

        I don’t really think it’s reasonable to assume that a company’s culture is not “healthy” if they prefer folks respond to emails more quickly/provide OOOs.

        1. Anonym*

          True, there can in some cases be legitimate business reasons, but in many cases there aren’t, including OP’s. And when this pressure exists without legit business reasons, I think it’s fair to call it unhealthy.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Yeah, it really depends. I think it can be a sign the office is unhealthy, but it also might just be the nature of the job. Most of the time, an afternoon is not a huge deal for my job. Slack and email are linked to my calendar and automatically switch to OOO — that way, internal folks can easily see that I’m away. But I do have a client-facing role, and sometimes those clients reach out to me (or my boss) needing something time-sensitive/within a few hours/that day. The auto-responder lets them know who to go to for immediate help without me having to be online.

      2. Jessen*

        It’s definitely something that email can be for, depending on the job. I’m in an IT support role and a lot of my job involves stuff that requires a pretty quick turnaround. Users don’t want to wait hours to get their password reset because I had a doctor’s appointment, and I don’t want to have to answer the phone for every ticket when it’s faster, easier, and more secure to use email.

        That’s literally a major part of what my role is – providing quick turnaround on support emails.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      Same. The only times I’ve done it for less than a day were times I had bids closing at, say, 3:00, but had to leave work due to a kid issue at like 11; I turned on an out of office so the bidders would know who to contact if they had issues submitting their bid.

    6. Hannah Lee*

      Using out of office auto-responses for short absences, like, gone for a couple of hours and back the next day? IME many people struggle to turn their OOO messages on and off correctly when they’re out for a week’s vacation. Trying to do it for shorter periods will just lead to more “I’m out of the office for the rest of this afternoon (Friday, April 15th) but will respond to your message Monday April 18th when I return to the office” type messages going out on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday the following week.

      1. Christina*

        THIS. And then I will learn to ignore all OOO messages, because they are so often unnecessary or incorrect.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah. Use the timed OOO option, so it’s not sending out messages by mistake when you’re back at work.

        I don’t turn on my OOO messages unless I’m away for half a day at least. Our email turnaround is about 1 working day, so that’s plenty. For more urgent communications, we use Teams, either for chatting or calling. I vastly prefer that to phone calls, because at least on Teams I can see who I’m talking to. Our organization’s big enough that I don’t have everyone’s number in my contacts, and I really dislike calls out of the blue anyway. Luckily I’ve managed to train most people to IM me before calling on Teams.

    7. PeanutButter*

      Yep. I haaaaate getting immediate bounce-back emails that someone is out for a few hours/less than a day. I keep my Teams status updated, and my calendar current. If further clarification is needed for internal folks, I type out a teams status message like “4/3/22: Working on campus from 0800-1700, unavailable for immediate response 1300-1430.” That way if people hover over my MS profile pic anywhere in the organization they see that little pop up, even if they’re not able to figure out how to look at someone’s public calendar. Basically every morning one of the first things I do is put where I’m working that day (home or campus) and if there’s any big chunks of time I’m not going to be available.

  2. Jean*

    The only “don’t” I would advise with auto-replies is don’t turn them on unless you’re actually away from your desk and not answering emails. I used to work with an external contact at a vendor who turned them on to “buy” herself time to reply, but I would get replies from her sometimes minutes after receiving her out-of-office. It completely defeats the purpose, and it makes you look disorganized and kind of unprofessional.

    Also, if you’re going to turn them on, make sure any mention of dates has been updated! I hate seeing “I will return on [date 6 months in the past]” in auto-replies. Sloppy.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      In our office, most people use vague out-of-office messages along the lines of, “I am out of the office and will reply to your message when I return.” That way they don’t have to change the date in the message.

      When I write a message like that for myself, I sometimes stumble on the last bit. Maybe I won’t reply! Maybe they’re a spammer, or it’s a phishing e-mail, or a mass e-mail from five levels above me. I won’t reply to those messages, so why promise that I will?

      I may be overthinking it.

      1. Antilles*

        You’re overthinking it. It’s just a vague pleasantry with no real meaning, not any sort of promise set in stone.
        You can view it as analogous to “have a nice day”. Do I really care if you have a nice day? Will you be expecting me to ask tomorrow about the status of your day? No and no, it’s just a politeness and nothing more.

        1. JaneB*

          Why not say “I will deal with your email on my return” (or process or some other word meaning handle) – doesn’t say how you will deal with it!

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            I feel like “respond” wouldn’t be a lie: Yes, I saw your e-mail, and my response was to delete it immediately, cursing under my breath. Congrats, you got a response!

            Follow up as needed? Address outstanding concerns?

            Or just don’t overthink “Reply.”

      2. Lunch Ghost*

        “…and will not have access to email until I return”? Or “limited access” if you might reply earlier? (I also overthink.)

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          I have a couple of permanent away messages in old e-mail accounts that I never check anymore. At least one of them ends in something like, “Sorry I didn’t get your message—unless you’re a spammer, of course, in which case I’m rather pleased.”

      3. Purple Cat*

        Does your system automatically include dates of when someone is out? Otherwise what’s the point of an OOO that simply says “I’m out.” For me, it’s more important to know when the person is coming back, so I know how and when to follow-up.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          Yeah, if I get an OOO that Susan will return on April 20th then cool, I’ll email her on the 20th. If I get an OOO that Susan will return on April 27th, I may need to email her backup!

            1. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

              Some email shows you their out-of-office message when you type their name into the address field; you don’t have to wait until the email has actually been sent.

        2. Random Bystander*

          The only time I did leave it vague was when I was going out on leave due to cancer. Until pathology came back post surgery, I would not be able to have a firm date of return (I was not going to be working, even from home, if I had had to do radiation/chemo, but I went on leave without knowing when I might be able to return). Fortunately, I was stage 1b, and only required the surgery and intense follow up (exam by my regular dr in town every three months for two years, then every six months for the next two years, and then when I hit the 5-year survivor mark, I get to go back to annual visits). But I didn’t want to put any of that in my OOO, so it was pretty vague, but did include the “on leave” vs my usual that gives dates (like for vacation). In fact, prior to returning post-cancer, the only people who knew my diagnosis were my supervisor, team lead, and one trusted friend, and the news had not spread past those three when I came back. I’m 10months post cancer now.

      4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        You are overthinking it. If you wouldn’t normally respond to those types of emails you are not promising that you will respond now. And the people that are sending the blanket emails realize this and probably don’t even pay attention to the OOO replies

      5. ecnaseener*

        I’ve always found it kinda silly to include any variant of “I will reply when I return” – like thanks for letting me know you don’t plan to just delete it? (If it’s something other than the default, like “I’ll be checking email sporadically” or in fact “I won’t read any emails sent before May 1” then sure, spell that out. Don’t spell out the default.)

        So I just skip it – thanks for your message, I’m out of the office returning May 1, if you need immediate assistance contact X.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          I read “I will reply when I return” as “Alert: I’m not going to be checking emails while away” without having to say it outright. You’re right that it should be the default expectation, but alas.

      6. Skytext*

        LH Puttgrass, just change “reply” in that message to “respond”. That way you aren’t promising a reply, just a response. Your response may be that you read it and ignore it, or it may be that you delete it unread. That’s still a response, and it counts lol. That way you don’t have to feel like you are promising something you have no intention of doing.

      7. Nanani*

        My problem is that ” will reply to your message when I return” is (or well, SHOULD be) the default expectation of email.

        If it’s that urgent, email is probably the wrong medium.

    2. Lea*

      Sometimes I see this when people are on travel and the practice our office is to say something like ‘with limited access to emails’ so they don’t think it’s weird if you’re responding or that it makes you available.

    3. Ashley*

      My absolute biggest pet peeve when getting an out of office is when there’s no return date! If I know someone is going to be back at work tomorrow, I probably won’t do anything about it if my request isn’t urgent. If they are going to be back in a week, I know that I need to contact someone else!

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yeah, why bother having one at all if you’re not going to provide helpful information in it?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

          You can’t say how long you will be out for some medical situations! It is useful to provide your backup people during an indefinite time out. I am out of office and in my absence please contact Jane Warbleswirth for teapot handles and Fergus Fitzwilliam for teapot lids.

        2. J*

          Because I don’t know how long my jury duty will take, or I don’t know how long I’ll be out planning a funeral since funeral homes are backed up. I still list who to contact in my absence but I’ve been called for jury duty twice and had 3 funerals with uncertain timing in the last 5 years and all required vague out of office messages. It’s better than not telling anyone I’m gone.

    4. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      That doesn’t necessarily meant he person is lying about being away. When I’m away, I check my email sometimes, and if it happens to be right when someone sent something, I may answer right away.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I don’t check emails when I’m on holiday, so in that case I’ll put ‘I am on annual leave and will not be checking emails’ or similar, but if I’m out of the office on some sort of work thing (like when I used to work on cookery books and would spend 3 days out at a photoshoot) I’ll say ‘I am away from my desk until Thursday 21st and will have limited access to email during this time’.

    5. Purple Cat*

      Similar pet peeve. I have a coworker who ALWAYS has his zoom status as “away”. You never know if he’s actually around or not. And works in a different office, so even harder to keep track.

    6. turquoisecow*

      I used to know a guy who had a very sort of snooty message like “I’m in the office but I’m busy and I only look at my email a few times a day so I might not answer you immediately,” but with more words, and then I would email him and he’d respond immediately. I figured it was because he had some people breathing down his neck about quick replies. My emails were usually very quick and didn’t even require a reply, so he wrote back immediately.

    7. Velocipastor*

      I have a coworker who has an automatic reply that says something like “please allow 24 hours for a response” and they have it set to send in response to every. single. email. Even emails in an existing thread with only internal people. This same coworker also requests read receipts for every. single. email. The combination of the two makes me never want to contact them ever.

    8. Amanda*

      I sometimes like to specify if I have limited access to access to email. If I am at a conference or training or other work related thing I may be able to check here and there so I want people to know that I may or may not respond.

      1. Tricia*

        I do the same. It’s also a hint that if you send me a bunch of attachments, I’m not going to be able to go over them, hence the limited access (because I’ve got my phone but not my laptop at a conference or training and am usually just keeping up with urgent stuff).

  3. Temperance*

    I put up an out-of-office if I’m going to be doing something that takes 3 hours or more; I run events occasionally, and if I’m running an event, that’s the only thing I’m working on during that time. Letting people know that I’m not accessible for other items is important.

    1. mli25*

      I have done a version of this before. When I am in an all day training or conducting customer interviews, I have put an out of office up indicating this is the case, that my responses will be delayed, and if needed, who else to contact if something is urgent.

    2. eastcoastkate*

      Yep same- the only time I do OOO when I’m not on PTO is for all-day events or training where I may not be able to check email all day- and with those often I say to call/text if it’s something critical.

  4. soontoberetired*

    I only turn them on when I am out for an entire day at least. I have co-workers who turn them on when they leave the office after a full day of work, and will be back in the morning. They had a boss at one time who made them do it. It drives me nuts. No one should be expecting to get a hold of someone after hours which in my company is any time after 3:30 (we let people start at 6 am). Most of our email is strictly in house, too, so 98% of the people you are getting email from know your normal work hours!

    1. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, that’s absolutely crazy.

      I do have a co-worker that puts her hours on her e-mail, so it’s obvious when she will or won’t be replying on a certain day. I have no real problem with that…basically the same thing, but more passive. So in your case, it would be obvious to anyone who e-mails you on a consistent basis that you aren’t going to reply after 3:30pm your time, and they shouldn’t expect it until the next day.

  5. DeeBeeDubz*

    I agree with Alison, the out of office reply is highly context dependent, down to the team or individual. In a role like mine we have set SLAs for our work anyways (which vary from 24-72 hours depending or urgency), so as long as I’m meeting those targets it doesn’t matter if I answer the email the afternoon I receive it or the next morning. If I had to remember to set an auto-reply for every afternoon appointment or meeting, that would add more stress,not less. (I do set one for an absence of more than 1 working day for PTO or vacation).

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I’d go further and say it’s not just down to the team or individual, it’s down to the circumstances of the absence from work. I manage a small team and we have a mix of tasks that are time sensitive and not. I’ll always put up an out of office message if I’ll be out a full day, but whether I use them for half days depends on what’s going on. If I’m really off doing something fun using my vacation time or handling a serious medical issue using sick time and don’t plan to be checking my phone, I’ll put one up, but if I have one of those days where my school-age kids are home for some reason but I’m planning to work a partial intermittent day and keep an eye on email then I won’t bother because I’ll see anything important within the response time that’s the norm for my office. Same goes for shorter routine medical appointments and life logistics, days when I’m at a conference, etc., since I’ll generally check email on my phone often enough to handle anything time-sensitive (even if handle means forward to someone else to deal with if I’m not at my desk).

    2. BAgpuss*

      Yes, I think it’s very dependent on context.

      I would normally set my external one if I am physically out of the office or away from my desk, and won’t (or might not) be back before the end of the working day.

      Internally, I don’t routinely set it, but as there are lots of things which need me, or another partner, to deal with, many of which are time sensitive, I will set it where I know that we may be in high demand,

      1. BAgpuss*

        Sorry, hit post too soon – meant to say I will set it if I think we may be in high demand, because if someone needs something urgently it means that they can try one of the others rather than waiting for me.

        For instance, last week Friday was a public holiday here and a couple of my colleagues had take Thursday off, so there were fewer of us. I have a reputation of being a bit more approachable than the other person who was in, so when I had a meeting which meant I was (effectively) away from my desk for a couple of hours I did put my internal OO on , not least as it let people decide whether what they wanted was ‘ask less approachable person’ urgent or ‘wait an hour until Bagpuss is free’ urgent.

        I definitely think it is something that’s mostly better tailored to the individual and situation, rather than something there should be a a blanket rule about.

  6. learnedthehardway*

    Personally, I don’t put on an out-of-office message unless I’m on vacation or away for a couple days. I have a meeting out of the office this afternoon – I’ll have my cell phone with me, and can see if I get messages on my office phone. If something is urgent, I can get back to the person. If it’s not urgent, they can wait until I’m back in the office.

    I don’t see anything good coming from being totally available or fostering the idea that a reply within an hour is to be expected.

    1. Don't kneel in front of me*

      Agreed. I never use the out of office reply unless I’m away for more than 1 entire day. I’m confused when I get an auto reply from someone in the afternoon and it says they’ll be back in the morning. Like, yeah, I figured you would be.

  7. Enn Pee*

    I used to work somewhere where there was an expectation that you’d post to the internal team slack channel “going out for a quick errand” – like, if you were not going to be available for a quick 30 minutes, they wanted to know! VERY ODD!!

    If you use Outlook, there are ways to create a rule so that if you are the ONLY one on the email, you can send a reply back. Could that be a solution? (That is, if someone is working on something high-profile, or which might need an immediate response, that they send a reply ONLY if no one else is on the email…)

    1. MsM*

      As someone who makes fairly liberal use of away statuses to note whether I’m drafting something or otherwise really need to not be interrupted except in case of emergencies, I feel like Outlook (like most email systems) offers a far simpler solution in the form of marking oneself “busy” on one’s calendar. If you really, really, really need to know whether someone’s going to be able to get back to you that afternoon, why not just go there?

      1. Enn Pee*

        I suppose if you have outside customers/constituents, they may not see your Outlook status. (I LOVE and, frankly, rely on that Outlook status and the ability to see people’s calendars…but if someone’s outside your organization, it may be gray, right?)

        1. MsM*

          If OP’s team is genuinely 100% internal and not likely to be communicating with external stakeholders, I don’t think that factor matters. For everyone else, I’m inclined to agree with Allison: if it’s a role where you’re regularly putting out time-sensitive fires, or you know there’s a good chance something specific might come up that day requiring your attention, you presumably already have a protocol for what happens when you’re not immediately available; if not, then I feel like there’s only so much people can be upset with you for not responding immediately. (Also, in my experience, when it’s a real emergency, people will either copy everyone they think might be helpful or just call the most direct number they have, so away messages only really come in handy if the entire team’s out for some reason.)

      2. Anonym*

        Yes, this. Please don’t send OOO messages if you’re inaccessible for less than a day. I will absolutely check people’s Outlook if I have some need to know whether they’re available, either current status or fully peeking at their calendar (which gives no detail other than free vs. busy times). Then I know “ok, ping Jane about the urgent thing between 2 and 3, since that’s when she’s free.”

        Also… just assume that people are busy? Because most of them are. Assume that, unless you’ve specifically observed otherwise, the person will receive your request and appropriately triage it within their set of priorities, and get back to you in a reasonable timeframe.

        Also… reach out to people early if you know you need something, and don’t wait until the last minute and demand immediate action if that’s at all avoidable. (Did this happen to me this morning? Yes it did, and I might be inaccurately drawing links between this and the topic at hand as a result.)

        1. Enn Pee*

          A coworker used to have the following pinned to his cube:
          “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”

        2. All Het Up About It*

          Also… just assume that people are busy? Because most of them are. Assume that, unless you’ve specifically observed otherwise, the person will receive your request and appropriately triage it within their set of priorities, and get back to you in a reasonable timeframe.

          Now, to be fair, because I am busy some emails will slip through the cracks. I have not gotten around to controlling my inbox in this position the way I did in previous roles, BUT that’s when I generally don’t mind people coming back and following up. But there’s often times when I get a phone call literally 60 seconds after an email pings through for something that is 100% not urgent.

    2. grlgoddess*

      My team does this, even if you’re stepping away for like 5 minutes! But we’re a call center type place, and it’s to prevent leaving just one person (or no people!) available on calls. Which has happened. I can’t imagine why a generic office job would need that kind of accountability

    3. WellRed*

      I posted about this down thread. The amount of
      Minutiae people post on slack and it’s not expected. To be clear, I don’t mind friendly slack chatter, just the constant announcements and updates of daily itineraries.

    4. This is a name, I guess*

      My coworkers do that on Teams, and I asked if they expected me to do it, too. I found out that 2/4 employees had butt-in-seat micromanagers in past jobs, and they essentially do it out of trauma. I’ve noticed they do it less and less the longer they are with the company. Sometimes, it’s useful to ask!

  8. Aggresuko*

    This depends entirely on the expectations/work demands of your office. I only do them when I’m gone for a full day, but I’m sure some places are so insanely busy that you need to have one up if you’re out at lunch or the dentist for an hour or whatever. Especially if your clientele harasses you.

  9. Massive Dynamic*

    I like how our team does it – we just keep our calendars up-to-date and we are also on Teams so there’s a direct link. We can see if someone’s currently OOO right when we go to message or email them thanks to the icon next to everyone’s names.

  10. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    Seeing as how I head a support department I do actually turn on out of office if I’m not going to be in for a whole morning or afternoon and uncontactable during that time (usually this means a medical appointment). The message people get back says who to contact if it’s a really urgent situation or if it can wait I’ll be back in at X time.

    For a couple of hours I won’t bother.

  11. ENFP in Texas*

    Regarding “less than full day” messages, I will put them on if I am taking the afternoon off, so folks who are looking for a response by the end of the day know that they need to find someone else.

    Similarly, I will also put them on at the end of the day if I am going to be out the next morning, in case somebody is looking for something urgently in the morning.

    But if I am out in the middle of the day I don’t bother putting one on, because I will go through my emails before the end of the work day and respond to anything that needs attention.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I never thought of using out of office if I’m in the office. I’m in production. If I’m getting an email, the sender needs a response and either an action or a reason why there will be no action. This means a half day off, I will let you know who is covering. But if I’m working and have meetings, emails wait. I hope this remains normal operating procedure and out of office for a meeting does not become my company norm!

      1. Purple Cat*

        The only reason IMO an OOO for meetings makes sense is when it’s an all-day planning/leadership/training thing where it’s expected that you are focusing on the content and not checking emails like you usually would.

    2. Drama Llama*

      I do the same. Out of office for a period of time, if I can remember to do if when I’m out sick, and then if I’m leaving early for the day. Just in case someone isn’t get a response to something “urgent” they can either wait till tomorrow or ask someone else.

      If this is purely for internal staff then there may be leeway in how this LW handles it – shared calendar, turning your cat to Do Not Disturb or whatever trigger works for the group. Since our department is spread out in the office,with multiple teams, some people working remote and a large company to serve the easiest thing for me to do is to put an OOO as an fyi that I’m leaving early, otherwise they won’t know I’m gone (unless they come over to look at my desk or call someone else in a panic or call me in a panic the next day).

  12. OyHiOh*

    I have one I use when I leave office for the day – because I don’t work a FTE schedule, in an office and with external contacts who assume I do, because everyone else we work with does. So I use an OOO that has my hours in it, and I almost never respond to email outside my stated hours (rarely, there are extenuating circumstances, but only rarely).

  13. animaniactoo*

    I only do it under 2 circumstances:

    1) I am out of the office for a day or more and not checking e-mails.
    2) Our company is closed for a holiday (and since we close for Jewish High Holy days, other people are often working and it’s not something like 4th of July where most everyone is likely to be off and/or not expecting an immediate answer).

    The sole point of setting an out of office message for me is detailing who to reach out to in my absence, or when to expect a response from me. Since our company standard is that all e-mails need to be answered within 24 hours, that standard determines when I need to outline that a response will be longer than expected.

  14. WellRed*

    Semi-related: Since we went to remote work and set up a Slack, most of my coworkers (all 12 of us) have taken to constantly announcing when they are stepping away from their desk, even if it’s for a very brief period of time. Or announcing they are about to hop on a call instead of setting the “away” feature. Honestly, two years into this, I had hoped we’d get away from AFK, BRB, going to lunch, I’m here but I’m going to get coffee and gotta reboot by now.
    We weren’t like this when we worked at the office.

    1. mli25*

      That would drive me nuts. Slack status messages (or Teams or Google) can communicate that. If it’s going to be more than 10-30 minutes, depending on the job, then maybe saying something, but good grief.

    2. DisneyChannelThis*

      Slack is so weird in terms of norms. Most people at my work treat it as a reply within an hour or at least give an emoticon reaction to note you’ve seen the message if you’re online. One guy treats it more like email, reply within 48 hrs. A small minority treat it as reply within 10 min or fall over yourself apologizing and explaining. The divide also seems to be between those who have it on a smartphone and those who just use the computer version.

      No one at my work uses the status messages. I think they’d be useful. Especially for the <10min crowd, could mark yourself as in a meeting instead of apologizing for being in a meeting later…

    3. anonymous73*

      I’m guessing it stems from people feeling the need to prove they’re not laying on the couch eating bon bons at home when they’re supposed to be working. But yes, very annoying.

    4. NotGluedToMyDesk*

      One of my coworkers does this with email and it drives me up the wall. We all get a 30 minute lunch break and I assume we all take it. If I send someone an email at a time that’s plausibly lunchtime, I assume they might not reply for 30 minutes. (In fact, I assume they might not reply for 30 minutes at any time, because they might be working on other things!) They don’t need to email the entire team every day to say they’re going to lunch (but will have their phone on them if we need them).

    5. allathian*

      Yeah, it’s odd. That said, when I worked at the office (almost) every day, I’d often tell my office mate if I was going to lunch, or taking a break otherwise. Our system is set up so that if I don’t touch my computer for 5 minutes, Teams will automatically flag me as away. I keep a chat going with my close coworker/office mate when we’re both working, and we let each other know if we’re going to be away from our desks for longer than about 5 minutes.

      1. londonedit*

        We have the same – a Teams chat with my boss and close colleagues. We don’t bother flagging ‘I’m going out for lunch’ if it’s 1pm, but we do use it for ‘just nipping out to the post office before it gets busy, shouldn’t be more than half an hour’ or ‘got a call with an author this afternoon, let me know if there’s anything you need before 3pm’ sort of things.

  15. a*

    This might be a compromise option for an internal practice: I block off my calendar with “out of office” to signal, quite literally, that I am going to be out of the office. My organization’s calendars default to private mode and we are on a hybrid model, so unless I’ve got an OOO blocked off, all people will see that I’m “busy” and doesn’t read as “fully unavailable” the same way.

  16. Cookies for Breakfast*

    I used to work at a place that required one particular department to have out-of-office messages for anything longer than a couple of hours, in an industry where there’s no need for this sort of urgency, and for a type of role that would have everything to gain from setting reasonable expectations about response times. It created exactly the kind of pressure described here.

    Worse still, everyone setting an out-of-office message had to choose a specific colleague who could be reached in their absence, and add their contact details. Clients, who by that point had been trained to expect constant contact, often did get in touch with that person. So the extra pressure was on two people: the one who would stress out about being absent and not being able to deal with “emergencies”, and the one dealing with an extra set of clients, who’d often complain that the person they were speaking to didn’t know their account well enough.

    When the pandemic hit, this sense of urgency spread across the whole business, and became a general expectation that anyone asking a colleague questions on Slack would get a near immediate response. I used to manage a channel that got flooded with internal questions on a daily basis, 99% of which were low priority and could be answered with documentation we already had. It was pretty much a full-time job, and it wasn’t my job, either. I got in trouble for gently suggesting that checking it once a day was more than enough, and that’s when the cultural red flags began waving as if hit by a storm.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, it’s like they intentionally drove everyone to the point of burnout if not beyond. I’m glad you’re out of there.

  17. Coenobita*

    This reminds me of that viral tweet that says something like:

    European out-of-offices: “I’m away camping for the summer. Email again in September”
    American out-of-offices: “I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery but you can reach me on my cell anytime”

    Anyway, I agree that it should be based on your individual role/circumstances, though it could be useful to have standard guidance for everyone, like maybe as part of an employee handbook. For example, “Staff generally use an auto-response if they will be away for a full day or more, considering X and Y factors. Auto-responses are generally not necessary for shorter periods unless Z.” But it would be more about explaining the prevailing norms rather than setting out an edict.


    I am not sure why leadership has to make a global rule on this. Anywhere I have worked, people know how to handle this whatever way works best for themselves and their team. Seems micro-managing to me.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think Cookies for Breakfast’s comment illustrate the crap storm that mandating this will unleash.

    2. This is a name, I guess*

      I’m guessing there’s some really egregious uses of OOO messages going on. I had a coworker who WFH on Thursday, and literally used an OOO all day EVERY THURSDAY to say she was working from home. Her response time to emails was the same. I didn’t understand.

      1. Beth*

        Did she have some collaborations/tasks where people would normally speak to her at her desk? So the out of office would have been to say, “Yes, I am working on the task in this particular email, but if you need to see me in person, don’t walk to my desk, because I’m not there.”

        That’s all I can think of

      2. Teapot Wrangler*

        Baffling. Surely that’s what the ability to mark a day as Working Elsewhere in your Outlook calendar is for?

  19. MsSolo UK*

    I work compressed hours, so I’m out of the office on Wednesdays. I’ve debated turning on and OOO, but I honestly don’t know if I’d remember, and honestly, I get very few emails addressed to me alone that need a shorter than 48 hour turn around. I might make a different choice if my day off was Fridays, because I think there’s more likely to be something that needs an answer by the end of the week. I do have colleagues who use OOO when they’re away for short periods, or if they’re travelling and have patchy access to emails, but that’s because they’re in roles where they will receive emails that need pretty immediate responses, and knowing when to move up the chain if a decision is needed immediately is important (“The funder has demanded X and wants an answer before the 2 o’clock meeting, but it goes against all internal policy – who has the seniority to tell them to F off?”).

    Ultimately, I think it depends on your role – the more decision making power you have, the more relevant your email turn around time becomes. If you choose to start doing it yourself, make sure your team know they don’t have to follow suit.

    1. londonedit*

      Most people where I work just have their weekly work schedule in their email signature, so any time they email you it’ll say ‘Please note that my working hours are 9am-5.30pm, Monday-Thursday’ or ‘Please note that my working days are Monday, Tuesday and Friday’ or whatever. I do have a couple of colleagues who will have an OOO saying ‘Please note that I am not in the office on Wednesdays; I will respond when I am back at my desk on Thursday morning’, but most people don’t bother. Personally I will put an OOO on if I’m taking a morning/afternoon/day/week off, with the dates I’ll be away and who to contact in my absence, but if I’m just out for an appointment for a couple of hours then I don’t bother – I just let my boss know that I’ll be away from my desk. But then I also don’t have a role where I’m frequently called upon to make urgent decisions, and if I am away for more than a day then my boss and colleagues will have at least a basic notion of what’s currently happening with my work, so they can say ‘I’m pretty sure londonedit said the proofs would be in on Wednesday, but you can check with her when she’s back next Monday’.

      1. MsSolo UK*

        Our signatures reset every Monday – we have the ability to make permanent changes to things like phone numbers (which some people squish a bit of extra info into!), but they sporadically role out company wide templates for things like black history month or pride, so they limit our ability to make changes outside of that. On the one hand, I do think being able to put info about your work week in them would be useful, but I do remember a time before the templates when you’d get a lot of, ahem, variety, in signatures that would go one for pages.

        1. londonedit*

          Ah, yeah – ours are just name, job title, contact details and working hours (if outside the norm). Some people have a little advert for one of their upcoming books in their signature but those are specifically designed by Marketing to just appear in a little strip underneath your contact info, they’re not intrusive. Luckily I’ve never encountered the page-long signatures with moving parts and all the colours of the rainbow in real life!

  20. Too sleepy for a cool name today*

    I utilize them for vacations only! Less than 24 hours is unnecessary!

    1. Sloanicota*

      That’s interesting, if I was sick for one full day I’d probably put one up (if I was willing to log in and do it, that is) or if I had the day off. Probably. Maybe just external, as my coworkers would presumably see my calendar.

      1. anonymous73*

        If I’m out sick, it’s my manager’s job to let people know. Before I started working from home, I didn’t bring my laptop home with me. People need to stop being expected to do ANY type of work (including setting up an OOO message) when they’re sick or on vacation.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Really depends on your job. I drastically cut down on the, “Where is so-and-so???” calls/emails when we started using OOO messages for when people were away from their desk and somewhere without email for more than an hour. I work in an industry where high availability is prized, so not responding to an email for a day (with no explanation that you’re out of range of it) would not be looked upon kindly.

  21. Bexy Bexerson*

    At old old old job, I worked with someone who used an OOO message for her 30 – 60 minute lunch break. Every. Single. Day. It was obnoxious. Absolutely nothing she did was anywhere near that level of time-sensitive.

    I use an OOO message when I have one or more full days off, or a half day off in the afternoon. I don’t bother with it when I have the morning off…sometimes someone needs something by EOD, but almost never by midday (and if they do, they can find someone else to do it…I have great colleagues backing me up).

    1. Laney Boggs*

      Our Transportation department was doing that (and sending “my work hours are until 4pm, will return in the morning). Sales will also put on their OOO for more than an hour away from their desk.
      However, they have to deal with customers, truckers, and warehouse workers that do expect immediate responses, so I kind of got it.

      On the other hand, a third department won’t even tell you they’re out for two weeks on vacation/medical. Tracking people down in that one is fun.

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      That would be annoying. I wonder if that person started in response to one of those people who email and then call in 5 minutes about their email and then come by in 10 minutes about their call about their email?

      1. Bexy Bexerson*

        Nah, she just thought she was WAY more important than she actually was. And she was just an all-around drama queen…the lunch break OOO message was fairly low on the list of weird crap she did. She eventually ended up getting fired. She was competent at her duties and would have kept her job if she had just…actually focused on her work.

  22. Sloanicota*

    My approach to this is to put a block on my calendar if I’m stepping away from my desk for an hour or so. The block may say “no emails” or something. I have trained people to check my calendar if they need something from me urgently. Then again, we have slack and my boss does *not* hesitate to text me if she needs something ASAP. Emails in my office culture are intended to be asynchronous and you wouldn’t use them if you needed something within the hour.

  23. C.*

    I’ll put an auto-reply up if I know that I’ll be away for the *rest* of the day/afternoon—especially if it’s a busy time or if I’m anticipating certain individuals to reach out to me. But if I were away from my desk during something like 10 am to 2 pm, I wouldn’t bother putting one up.

    1. De Minimis*

      Same here. If I’m not coming back, I’ll use one. In my current situation there isn’t any coverage for me so I think people need to know if I won’t be around for an extended period and their requests are just going to have to wait.

  24. A Kate*

    I think a few hours doesn’t need an email OOO, but I always appreciate more “real-time” away statuses on Slack/Teams.

    My beef with away messages is that people absolutely abuse the “urgent matters” contact. If I’m away for a day or two, I designate a point person specifically for urgent issues, but inevitably when I return, people have forwarded utterly non-time-sensitive things to that person, making their day needlessly crammed with stuff when ideally it shouldn’t be that big a deal to take on only truly urgent things.

    Probably this means that the real lesson is: the people who need the info most won’t read what you put there anyway. The rest of us will find OOOs irritating and improperly worded no matter what. In summation: let’s all quit our jobs and go to the beach.

  25. BA*

    LW, I would totally agree with Alison. The company shouldn’t go with a universal and mandated reply but leave it up to the discretion of teams/team leads. We have become very, very (troublingly I’d say) accustomed to immediate responses to our communications and it seems that setting expectations that if you’re not going to reply with a couple of hours you need to notify the sender of an email will only make it harder for someone to feel OK with stepping away. It might also set unrealistic expectations for the original sender of the email… like they’re going to expect that if someone is in the office they’ll get a response within two hours, because why else would you need to tell me that if you’re not going to reply that quickly?

    If there’s a forward (outside) facing department that has expectations of quick turnaround, then yes, it probably makes sense to indicate that someone is away for a few hours. And if this is the case, there probably needs to be some specific communication with customers that communications will be replied to in X time, and hours of operation are Y to Z.

    But if it is an internally facing position, or even a outside facing position where time is not of the essence, it is completely OK to not set an out of office for every time you are away for a couple hours. I’d say a half day or more, especially if there is no expectation that you’ll be responding at all during that time, then go ahead with the auto-reply.

  26. ACA*

    I work in academia, and while it’s not a requirement, putting up an auto-reply is common practice for people in student-facing roles when we are gone in the afternoon. I won’t put one up if I’m leaving at 3, but if I’m taking a half-day of PTO and leaving 12:30-1, I’ll put one up just so no one expects a response by the end of the day.

  27. WomEngineer*

    For any PTO, we send an Outlook invite that doesn’t show up as “Busy.” I only do an automatic email if I’m gone for multiple days. As long as people who would need to reach me are in the loop, I don’t see the need.

    For short times away, I leave a Teams status message (without going into too much detail about why I’m gone).

      1. anonymous73*

        I work on a government contract, so when I’m taking time off, I send the invite to my boss and my customer. In my last job it went to my whole team. As long as you mark it as “Free”, it just sits at the top of someone’s calendar on the day(s) as a reminder that you’re out. If you’re in an office it may not be necessary, but it helps when you’re remote.

  28. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    I set one if I’m going to be away from my desk for more than one workday, and that’s also my expectation for my reports. One of my team leads (who pre-dates me with this team) sets one every day when she logs off for the day, which I think is totally unnecessary but no skin off my nose, I just set an rule in outlook to automatically delete her OOO response :P

    I used to be on a team with someone who would set one not only when she logged off for the day, but any time she was going to be away from her desk, like her 30 minute lunch and her 15 minute breaks. Like, the OOO would say “I am on my 15 minute break and will address your email upon my return.” WHAT EVEN. Our org standard is that you should check your email when you log on, shortly before you log off, and at least once in between, so 3x daily – nobody is freaking out if you don’t answer within 15 minutes.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I never actually got one of those from her, but if I had to guess, I’d say someone who’s putting OOO on their 15 minute breaks is probably not setting one FOOT out of their desk aside from those official breaks. Which is also bonkers. Super nice lady, and definitely knew her stuff, but wowza.

  29. Joanna*

    I support the let the employees figure it out approach. I work at a very large company on a large program. Some of us are customer facing, but not everyone. And there are people who may be needed in an emergency. Those people have company phones and they often send out of office replies if they are in training or meetings for a few hours, and their OOO message directs you to their cell number. Most of what I do is not that urgent, so I only send OOO notices if I’m off for more than a day. I let people know that I will not have access to email, when I’m going to return, and who to contact if it’s one of the few truly urgent things I do comes up. I’m really just managing people’s expectations, and making possible for work around me while I’m out.

  30. Purple Cat*

    I turn on my out of office if I’m out for an entire afternoon. Our office culture expects pretty quick responses to emails. If I have a mid-day appointment though I don’t turn on an OOO, but I will set zoom to “away”.

  31. Art3mis*

    Yeah I think it depends on the organization. I worked at one where if you were out for more than an hour, they expected you to turn it on. I don’t know why because I was literally at the bottom of the totem pole and there was nothing I could do that was going to save the company from imminent collapse. But whatever I got paid either way. At my next company I got scolded for logging in to turn my out of office on the morning I called in sick. At my most recent company there wasn’t a formal policy but everyone was pretty chill and most people didn’t bother turning it on unless it was a half day or more. Teams updating your status is great, I love it, but I’m one of those people that actually keeps their calendar up to date, co-workers who don’t though…

  32. Delta Delta*

    I’m not an Outlook user so I don’t know what the Microsoft sprites do in there, but it’s always weird to me to get a random OOO from years ago. Getting a response that says, “I’ll be out of the office from December 1-December 15, 2009” makes me chuckle but is confusing about whether the person is out or back or even meant for that to be sent at all. *shrug emoji*

    1. Accountant*

      The auto reply widget saves your last message, and it has a tab for “inside my organization” and “outside my organization”. Likely people are neglecting to edit the message entirely, or they miss the “outside” tab.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes, I hate that dang internal-external feature lol. I never use it and can’t turn it off – I’m always worried I’ll forget to copy it over.

        1. MsM*

          I like it: I don’t mind my coworkers having my cell phone in case they really need to reach me, but I’m not so keen on giving it to random salespeople who may or may not respect the “only in case of emergency” caveat.

          1. ecnaseener*

            In my case I really have no use for it – I have for-all-intents-and-purposes-internal contacts outside my institution. I don’t mind other people using it ;P just wish it would let me turn it off.

  33. Accountant*

    The actual need matters so much, not just based on your job but also potentially the time of the week/month/year. During our audit I might want to know that my boss is out for the afternoon and who to contact in her stead, sure, but most of the rest of the time it just isn’t needed.

  34. Melanie Cavill*

    I like systems (such as Outlook or Google suite) where, if you go to email someone who has their OOO (O3, if you will), it will display their O3 before you send your email. So you know maybe to send it to someone equivalent, if available, to get a quicker response.

    Personally, I only turn on my O3 when I’m out half a day or longer.

  35. turquoisecow*

    I think the way to decide if you need an out of office is to look at the volume of emails you get in a specific time period, as well as the urgency of them, and then decide from there. Do you ordinarily get super urgent, need a response immediately or the VP will be pissed emails on a Tuesday afternoon between 3 and 5? Put up an out of office so they know they can contact your coworker. If you get almost no emails on Thursday mornings between 8 and noon and whatever you do get can wait until the afternoon when you’re back to deal with, then maybe don’t bother. It’s 100% role dependent.

    I’ve worked with people who rarely put up OOO messages because it wasn’t really necessary, and people who put them on when they were gone for an hour because they got lots of urgent requests, and the one time they didn’t, someone got mad. Now that our email is linked to Teams and it shows before you send whether the person is away or in a meeting or whatever, I feel like there’s less of a need to put one up for a multi-hour meeting.

  36. Paul Pearson*

    We put out of office on if you’re leaving early for the day – or if you’re going to be away for 2 hours +. But then we legitimately do have a lot of emails that need to be addressed within 2 hours (or often within 30 mins). Some of these being left for three hours- or until end of play – would be a disaster. I’d need to know if my colleague wasn’t here so I can instead tap someone else.

    Despite that, yes, I do hate the idea that every email needs to be replied to nownownownownow.

    I think it depends a lot on your organisation, your job, how fast tasks or new information needs to be worked on and how organised everyone is.

    1. Mana*

      “Right now, leadership is brainstorming how and when it is most appropriate to use an out-of-office message.”

      Really? Your leadership team must be very bored if this is at the top of their to-do list. Any job openings on that team?

  37. Annony-mouse*

    I only set up auto-reply messages when I’m out for pretty much a full day or more or in some kind of all-day training/workshop. For anything else, I can mark the chunk of time on my Outlook calendar/in Teams as out of office or busy and anyone internal will see it without having to get an email reply. My work doesn’t typically require quick responses or deal with external people though.

  38. NorthBayTeky*

    The last time I saw an out of office auto response for an afternoon, I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they were going to fall out.

  39. ecnaseener*

    See, I hate phone calls and strongly prefer email, so I make every effort to return emails quickly so people won’t feel the need to call me every time they want a same-day response. Setting an OOO message for half days helps with that and is probably something I would do even if I never got urgent emails. (But also I do sometimes get urgent emails, so maybe my perspective is skewed.)

  40. Allonge*

    As several people mentioned, it also depends on what other sytems are available to indicate a status of ‘away’. We are not using Teams consistently, our IM status indication is really messed up even though it’s connected to our calendars, calendars may or may not be shared… yeah, people will put an OOO for half a day if their job needs availability at all.

    One thing I have not seen mentioned a lot: if there is a company-wide system and a template OOO, it can help lessen the time spent on figuring out if it’s needed and what to write in it. In some cultures (lots of overthinkers, mostly rule-followers) this is a net gain after a while.

  41. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I wonder if this would be a good use to have a way to share calendars? For example instead of setting up OOO messages for a few hours just have a block on their calendar that shows away. Then if someone is not getting a response like they are used to they can look at their coworker’s calendar and see that the person is away.

    1. WellRed*

      I actually do this when I’m wondering if my boss is tied up in calls though she’s also good about setting her away status on slack.

  42. Hannah Lee*

    Depending on the nature of the service LW’s group provides to internal staff, it may make sense to set up a group email.

    So, for example, if the department handles other employee’s training requests, people would email and it would be visible to Dorothy, Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman, and if Scarecrow happens to be out of the office, it doesn’t matter because other staff could see the request and respond as needed.

    Aside from that, I’m not a fan of OOO autoreplies for short absences and particularly not for internal ‘clients’ because it enhances the expectation that LW1’s team has to respond quickly to everything.

  43. Alex*

    Add me to the “I hate OOO unless you are really on an extended vacay” group. I think even for one day they are unnecessary, although my own boss is a big fan and requires us to do it if we are away for a day.

    I also was thinking, as was Alison apparently, that the push to make a global rule is unnecessary. If someone really likes to put OOO message on for three minutes when they go to the bathroom, I don’t think forbidding that is a hill I’d die on, but making a requirement for a few hours will feel micromanagy for many, so just because someone likes to do it don’t make everyone do it!

    1. Nanani*


      If a thing is so urgent that you need to know someone’s in meetings and can’t respond, email was the wrong tool for the job. IMs, phones, etc exist. I don’t like it when people try to turn email into a pager.

  44. Ollie*

    I’m cringing when I remember the place I worked that required a new voice mail message every single day, as in, Today is May 1st and My aI have a meeting at 10:00 and will be back at my desk at 11:00, taking lunch at 12:00 with back at my desk at 1PM etc. Every single morning I was expcted to do the new voice mail message. My last job had an intermal messaging system that allowed you to change your status easily from do not disturb, out of office, in a meeting. That worked great.

    1. Nanani*

      Wow that is so silly, if you don’t mind my saying so.

      All those cumulative hours wasted recording silly messages AND listening to a message even when you know perfectly well they’re away and intend to be leaving a voicemail.

      1. Ollie*

        It was incredibly silly especially since my job didn’t require many meetings so day after day – hi it’s May 1 and I’ll be in the office all day except for lunch from 12 – 1 and then hi, It’s May 2 and I’ll be in the office all day except for lunch from 12 -1. I was really tempted to add, I generally take a bathroom break from 10 – 10:05 and from 2 – 2:05.

  45. TechWorker*

    I would definitely use OOO for a full day and probably if I’m off on an afternoon as well… not because we have a culture where I’m expected to respond to everything within a short time period, but because one in 100 or so mails are urgent enough that they need a response within a few hours. If I’m not around, whoever is mailing needs to know to go straight up to my manager rather than hanging around waiting for me to respond ;)

  46. anonymous73*

    I always make sure my calendar is up to date, so any internal employees can see that I’m out/in a meeting. I only use an OOO message if I’m out for a half day or more. Outside of that, I don’t find it necessary and as Alison mentioned it shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach.

  47. Phlox*

    I’m fully in the don’t turn on OOO unless its more than a day away from my desk but a work contact has hers constantly on when its not her working hours – she’s in corporate bulk sales for a west coast company and it is clearly setup as a “I’m not working right now because time zones!” that I can totally see why its useful for her.

  48. Nanani*

    Wholeheartedly agree!
    Email isn’t a pager or SMS service with attachments. It’s asynchronous and really needs to be treated as such to be effective.
    If it needs an immediate response, email is the wrong medium.

    I would like to see people embrace using the appropriate medium for their needs rather than try to hammer email into a one-size-fits all mess that does not, in fact, fit all.

  49. Nebulous Conceptia*

    I usually set my Slack / IM status to “dr’s appt, back at 15:00” or similar and I leave email alone unless it’s for at least one whole (expected-to-be-busy) day. Otherwise the emails become draining very quickly. If someone needs a response and they didn’t get an auto-reply, they can reach my boss or teammates — who have my number if it’s a real emergency.

  50. Zee*

    I think it’d be incredibly strange to turn one on if you’re going to be gone for a few hours in the middle of the day. If you’re leaving at noon for the rest of the day… maybe. If you have the kind of job where people need/expect replies same-day.

  51. Anon (and on and on)*

    LW, I’m curious why you didn’t ask your team what their preferences were, especially since you’re considering implementing a global rule that will effect them! The best people to tell you how they’ll feel about a new rule are the ones who will have to work under it.

  52. Liz Lemon*

    We have a “staff away” tag on our shared calendar- people will post there if they’ll be in in the morning, out in the afternoon, for example. Sometimes it’s appropriate to send a few people who may actually need you an email or slack message, to give them a heads up. But an actual auto-reply seems excessive- in our office, the standard is replies in less than 24 hours- so an auto reply for a 2 hour absence would be overkill

  53. Aqua409*

    In my organization, they have a whole dedicated internal website to setup your out of office that’s integrated with Outlook. But, we have to set it up when we leave for the day and our “team” box is setup as our coverage.
    No need to set it for lunch time or breaks.

  54. The Other Dawn*

    If I’m leaving for the day and it’s somewhere in the middle of the day, like earlier than maybe 1 pm, I usually set an out-of-office reply. It’s not that anyone really needs an answer from me right this minute most of the time. It’s more so that if someone does have a question and doesn’t want to or can’t wait around, they’ll know immediately to contact someone else on the team. It doesn’t bother me, though, that other people don’t do this. What truly annoys me is the people who leave for vacation and don’t set the out-of-office, because then I’m waiting around thinking they’re in the office when they’re not. Then I call and get voicemail, which also isn’t set for out-of-office.

  55. Hot-Cryptographer*

    Since we went fully remote, and the team is spread out across 6 offices in 4 time zones, we are required to put up an (internal-only) out of office any time we are away from our desk and not answering phone/email for 1 hour or more during core business hours. It is annoying when emailing someone who has their OOO up for a normal lunch break, but I find it helpful when someone has left early. It may not feel important to put it up when you’re leaving at 4PM but if that person is in our DC office, it’s only the middle of the day to someone in our LA office and it’s helpful to know when you shouldn’t wait around for a response and can go directly to someone else.

  56. Sunflower*

    For “normal” business hours of 8-5, I put out a message if I’m gone for at least half a day so clients know to email my boss or the general company email if they have an emergency.
    I don’t put out a message at lunch or at the end of the workday at 5pm though.

  57. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Interesting seeing the variety of responses. I do generally use an OOO message if I am going to completely stop working at 1 pm or earlier – like for a half-day off in the afternoon. Otherwise, I just block off my calendar whenever I am going to be unavailable for a few hours.

    My workplace’s *informal* expectations for email response time are stupid. If you don’t respond in an hour, and if you don’t read emails all night long and on weekends, you must not have enough enthusiasm and love for the job – yeah, it is one of those emotion-vampire workplaces. But I never agreed to that and there is no written policy on any of that, so I ignore it and behave like a rational human with a personal life.

  58. Xaraja*

    I would suggest another to consider is whether the OOO is to only set expectations of when a response will be received, or also to redirect inquiries in that person’s absence. I will sometimes set an OOO for shorter periods of time if i think someone might send an urgent request and not copy the other person who is in the office and could help them.

    Also if you don’t want to give the people making contact the sense that they can expect emails back within hours, you can do an OOO that is “I’m currently OOO and will respond when i return, for urgent requests please contact XYZ person” and not include the dates.

  59. KR*

    If your company has some sort of IM software another option could be to have them keep their status updated for available/away/in a meeting/so on. A lot of those show in the email software so it could tell internal people for example, “Oh Fergus is in away status so he won’t be responding to this soon.” so they don’t expect a response

  60. Grapthar's Hammer*

    Depends on the org, but worth noting, some integrated messaging solutions (like Teams, Office 365) rely on status being set for presence indicators.. so if you use messaging solutions regularly, your status won’t tell people not to message you right now unless you set something appropriate. You definitely dont need to email everyone and their dog to tell them you aren’t there for an hour though. But you might want to flip your status to ‘busy’ or ‘out of office’ without setting an autoreply. It’s not always an all or nothing solution.. often some nuance.

  61. Fiorinda*

    I’m self-employed and most of my client contact is done by email, so yes, if I’m going to be away from my email for an afternoon during the working week I put up an out-of-office notice stating when I’ll be back and answering emails again, just so that nobody gets the impression I’m ignoring them (I have learnt from experience that that can result in a lost client, or twenty-seven – I counted – increasingly rude emails piling up in my inbox). Since my clients tend to be the kinds of people who work through public holidays themselves, I have also learned to put them up for public holidays, even if I’m planning to work on those days (because even if I’m working, I certainly won’t be doing work email!). Having bolted from one work environment where some people seemed to expect me to be on email and available at literally any hour of the day or might, I consider it a worthwhile investment in boundary-setting.

  62. Teapot Wrangler*

    I generally put my out of office on if I’m going to be unavailable for for a half day or more e.g if I’m in a meeting without being able to look at my emails or on annual leave 9.30-1 or 2-5.30, I’ll put one on. If I’m in lots of meetings but will probably have chance to have a glance at my email I wouldn’t.

    I also sometimes use different internal and external OOOs – I might say “I’m away from my desk” on one but have a full message with an alternative email address for the other.

  63. Pumpkin215*

    Ugh. My boss does this and it is incredibly annoying. Note: this is not our company culture and she is alone in doing this.

    I once saw her set an OOO when she was leaving an hour early for an appointment. ONE HOUR. To me is screams “I am so busy and important! I can’t respond during this 60 minutes but will do so as soon as I can!”

    She is a mid-level manager. Urgent requests are very rare. The company will survive without you for those 60 minutes.

  64. Jessica Fletcher*

    My personal rule is to put up a message if I’m out for the entire afternoon, or an entire day. That way, people know I’m not coming back later in the day, so they can contact someone else if needed.

  65. WillowSunstar*

    My team at work has a group e-mail that we use for most things. Others generally know to send an e-mail there so if we are out, another co-worker can answer it quickly if urgent. I would put my out of office on for a half-day directing people to use this group e-mail, but not for only one hour.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      It’s worthwhile to know my team works with fresh products that need to be refrigerated, so sometimes things really are actually urgent. But it all depends upon the team/office.

  66. Nana*

    Late to the party…but I worked with a Very Important Person (well, she thought she was) whose OOO would include “away [some details], returning home on Sunday, April 24 [the office was NOT open on Sunday], and returning to the office at 10AM on Monday, April 25th”

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