how to write an out-of-office message

With so many people on vacation right now, it’s time to consider the humble out-of-office message … because there are some really weird ones out there.

Some out-of-office messages offer far too much personal information; your colleagues do not need to know that you’re out for fertility testing or dealing with a particularly terrible bout of diarrhea or on a staycation to recover from burn-out. Other away messages are excessively complicated, listing a dozen different people to contact for various item in the person’s absence. Still others radiate such obvious delight about not being at work that recipients end up wondering if the sender will ever return.

At New York Magazine today, I wrote about what a good out-of-office message does and doesn’t look like. Head over there to read it.

{ 68 comments… read them below }

  1. Sssssssssssssss*

    Due the nature of our work and who handled what, my OOO did have around six people listed in it.

    I once received an OOO that had a flow chart attachment with it!

    1. Cabbagepants*

      I never go above three people. If there are more than three different contacts then I list people for the most likely two projects and then point everyone else to my manager.

    2. TPS Reporter*

      I do tend to get a lot of questions that I may have to forward to one of many people. Our internal website has a guide for where to go for various categories of actions, so I will post a link into my OOO to say please check this guide first. Then if you truly have an emergency, go to ____.

  2. NYC Redhead*

    Anyone have suggested language for situations where I have back up for time-sensitive matters only? Right now I say “If your matter is an emergency and requires immediate assistance, reach out to…”
    I am not in a field where matters are true emergencies but I found that milder language resulted in going to my back-up folks on things that were not time sensitive.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I don’t think you’re going to get much of an improvement on how people respond; I think a more effective approach is for you and your backup to be on the same page, and if the backup person gets a non-urgent request, they should feel free to tell that person they don’t have time and you will respond to their email (assuming they sent one, HINT HINT) when you get back. You and your supervisors should back up your backup (hah) in redirecting any requests from people who are not actually on fire at the present.

    2. Sally Rhubarb*

      “if you need immediate assistance, please contact X” works.

      Regardless of how urgent their question is, people tend to think that it is.

      1. WoodswomanWrites*

        I use that exact language, and it works fine. If people need help before I’m back, regardless of what their issues is, they have someone to contact.

    3. Pickle Pizza*

      The last bullet point in my OOO message is my manager’s email and a note that says to contact him only for URGENT issues (with the word “urgent” in red, bold, capital letters). In my field I receive a lot of requests for a specific task which is never urgent, so I have started adding a note to the end of this bullet point with my manager’s contact info along the lines of “Any _____ requests will be fulfilled upon my return on __(day)__.” That seems to have minimized the number of inappropriate emails my manager is getting for non-urgent issues.

      1. Pickle Pizza*

        …and I’ve told my manager to ignore any emails with this specific request so if he still gets them, he knows to disregard because the person is being impatient and obnoxious. My manager knows that this is specifically noted in my auto-away message.

    4. Jules the First*

      Mine reads “I’m out of the office until X date and not reviewing email. If your request has a deadline before Y date, please contact Hortensia Bumblebottom for assistance.”

      At the moment, my home office is closed for Christmas, but several of the offices my team supports are not, so my out of office is pretty complicated!

  3. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I always take advantage of the Outlook option to send different messages to people inside and outside my company. I can be a little less formal and more detailed about why I’m out on my message to coworkers, and because it’s a small business I also don’t need to say who to contact about things while I’m gone. My “ousider” message usually has one person who I trust to be the POC for my work, and is more vague about what I’m doing.

    1. English Rose*

      Yes that works well with Outlook. I also use it’s auto scheduling feature so I don’t need to remember to turn it off when I get back.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Same here, and the schedule feature is handy because otherwise I would forget to turn it on before I leave.

  4. Jay (no, the other one)*

    I’m working on onboarding paperwork for a new position. This morning I responded to an Email from one of the three separate people coordinating different parts (don’t ask) and promptly got a OOO message saying she’d return sometime in November. Of 2023, just to be clear. Um.

    1. Lady Lessa*

      Reminds me of a similar one that I received from a sales contact. My first email had an OOO reply with a return date. So I waited a week later, sent another email and this OOO didn’t have a date. So I went to the back up person. A few minutes later, the original sales contact replied. Hopefully, I will have some answers tomorrow. (we are off today.)

    2. LikesToSwear*

      That is why I use the feature that will automatically turn off my OOO messages. I never need to remember to turn them off.

  5. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    It should be short, sweet, and self-explantory.

    1) Will be out of the offic until (day-of-week, date)

    2) On vacation? SAY SO. On a work trip SAY SO.

    3) If on vacation – designate who to call/e-mail in your absence, include phone number(s).

    4) If on a work trip – just say you will have limited access to e-mail, “I’ll get back to you as soon as I can – if this is an emergency requiring immediate attention – please call….”

    If you have left the company – and your employer allows you an OOO message on the phone – preface with “Please listen to this message” …. and that you have left Acme, you can be reached at … if this is personal …. otherwise call….

    1. AnonInCanada*

      I think I would leave out any way to contact you personally if you’ve left the company. Why take their headaches with you? If you want some of (former clients/colleagues) to contact your personal number, I’d reach out to them directly.

    2. Trippedamean*

      I’m curious about your reasoning for saying you’re on a work trip. In my field, work trips usually involve long days and I’m not willing to check email on top of that, but I tend to indicate how responsive I’ll be to email instead (“I’ll have limited access” if I might actually check it or “I’ll answer when I return” if I know I won’t).

  6. Phony Genius*

    Elaborating on the last item in the article, if you save your message for future use, make sure to change the dates the next time you use it. I recently got an OOO message with dates from four years ago.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Sure, it could be, but there’s absolutely no way my backups (who are my immediate supervisor and my bureau director) want their inboxes spammed with the dozens and dozens of trivial emails that hit my inbox on a daily basis. They each represent required tasks, but they’re trivial in the sense that little effort is required to handle them, and also in importance – the world won’t end if they don’t get handled until I am back in work status.

      At least for me, the corollary to a good out-of-office message is that a week or two before my planned absence, I always reach out to the people who most frequently need my particular expertise to let them know that I’ll be offline for a few weeks, in case they want to push stuff through to me before I leave. I did that before going on my current medical leave a week ago, and was able get a boatload of tasks handled before I went out that actually were semi-urgent and that would have been a stretch for my backups to handle. The people involved feel better cared for, and I don’t return to an avalanche of “oh my god where are you why isn’t this done yet oh my god oh my god” messages in my inbox.

      1. Rainy*

        Yeah, for a few weeks leading up to any lengthy absence I let people know when I’ll be out and that I will not be reachable for the duration of that absence so that if there is something urgent we can take care of it before I leave.

    2. Rainy*

      I think it depends a lot on your job. I could never do automatic forwarding, because I get so many emails from so many different people that I couldn’t possibly forward all of them to one person and have that actually be helpful for anyone involved. Mail rules? No–I can’t predict what subject lines or words people will use, or who emails are going to be from.

      I have an internal bounceback that says “I’ll be back on [date], I do not have access to email and will return your email as soon as possible when I get back; if you need immediate assistance call [front desk]”.

      For whatever reason, I’ve discovered that if you say “if you need immediate assistance call”, people don’t do it unless it actually is urgent, whereas if you say “email so and so” they’ll just forward their email to that person whether it’s urgent or not).

      My external one says “I’m away without access to email; I’ll return your email when I get back. If you need [specific thing some external emails are asking for which is not my job anyway], please email [coworker], who can help you out.”

      If I’m on a work trip or assisting with a multi-day special event, it says “I’m away at [reason] and have limited access to email”.

    3. Sleepy in the Stacks*

      I’m the only person who does my job and most things can wait until I am back. An OOO works much better than automatically forwarding the emails I get. Even if my coworkers got my emails they would probably not know what to do.

    4. CJ*

      In my case (as an adjunct instructor who is looking at neither Outlook until further into intersession), it’s a “there’s no one person”. Enrollment? Go pester your advisor – which one? You tell me. Info about class? It’s all in the course listing, including textbooks. ADA paperwork? Cool, I need that ::checks calendar:: in three weeks, but there’s no one to pass it off to. Letter of Rec? Any school who’s cutoff is before I’m back is a school you should have planned better for – and there’s no one to pass it off to.

      Higher ed: where “yelling into the email void” is normal for at least three times a year. (They want me to check email in intersession, they can give me a stipend in intersession!)

      1. Rainy*

        I’m higher ed as well but staff side, student- and program-facing (among many other things), and I also get a lot of external requests, many of which are not actually something I can help with. I get PTO of course but I absolutely am not paid enough to check email when I’m on vacation. My specific field has a LOT of burnout and one of the main causes is working when you aren’t being paid to, so a few years back I made the decision that I wouldn’t be doing that.

      2. Prof*

        Also an adjunct. The moment my contract is over, I stop checking/responding to email until the new one starts. I sometimes flat out say I’m currently off contract in my away message (no pay = no work, not sorry)

    5. Cabbagepants*

      Don’t do what my former colleague used to do and say that you’ll be out until “next week.” we don’t know when that is! lol.

    6. Over It*

      Auto-forwarding might work fine for some jobs, but isn’t practical for most. I know if I forwarded my emails to either my boss or my employees, their inboxes would become (even more) clogged with emails that don’t require responses, and 90% of the remaining emails they’d forward right back to me and say I’m not sure how to handle this, can you please respond once you’re back? If I were out on extended leave for some reason I would set up auto-forwarding and my coworkers would have to figure it out without me, but for anything shorter than two weeks it’s just more practical for people to wait unless it’s a true emergency.

    7. Lisa*

      No, it is not. Where I work forwarding is disabled by IS. The OOO message puts it on the sender to decide whether to contact someone else, so they know who is receiving the message.

  7. Sled Dog Mama*

    The number one thing I have learned reading AAM is the formula for sharing information, works for bosses, co-workers and clients/outside the business contacts and includes:
    How this impacts the other person (should they contact someone else or will it just take longer for you to respond) and if they should do anything differently.

    so for OOO:
    Thanks for contacting me. I will be OOO and have no access to email until X. For emergent matters please contact PERSON at Contact info. Otherwise I will respond upon my return.

    recently had to tell my boss that my doctor is sending me to physical therapy:
    Hey boss I wanted to let you know that I have a medical appointment on these days at this time. I should arrive at work by x time on these days and plan to make up the time by doing a, I already spoke with Co-Worker who agreed to cover this one thing for me. Otherwise this should ne impact my work and I should be done with these appointments by x date, if that changes I will let you know

  8. DannyG*

    I am of the minimum information mindset.

    I’m OOO from x thru y. If this is an urgent matter contact my Director @ or (123) 456-7890

    1. Bast*

      I am of the same mindset and my OOO message is very similar. The only difference is that I add a line in mentioning that my emails will not be monitored during this time, as sometimes people assume that either I will answer emails on vacation (which I don’t) or that someone else will be monitoring emails for me while I’m gone (maybe if I were out long term they would, but not for a week’s vacation).

  9. Morte*

    We have an official template we’re required to use (federal employees):
    Dates out
    If urgent please contact

    That’s all we’re supposed to put. mine currently says:
    I will be out of the office the week of December 25th to 29th returning at my regularly scheduled time Tuesday January 2nd.
    If you require immediate assistance please contact

    That’s it. If we weren’t feds I would have called out my absence on Monday specifically but New Year’s Day is a federal holiday so no one we work with with be online that day either.

    1. Random Bystander*

      Just out of curiosity, how would it be worded if your return date was uncertain?

      I’m thinking back to when I went out on leave because of cancer. Until the staging from pathology was back, the length of the leave was unknown (but the fact that I would be returning was 99.4% certain).

      What I did write was just “Will be out on leave starting [date]. Please contact [supervisor] or [team lead] for assistance.”

  10. Lyd*

    I’m curious – when do you all turn on your autoreply?

    My office hours end at 3:00, and I’m not always able to check email last thing before I leave, so I typically turn on my autoreply at about 2:30 on the day before I’m off.

    1. DannyG*

      Last vacation I turned my messages on about an hour before I logged out. Gave me time to close out what I was doing without having to address anything new.

    2. JenLP*

      I usually turn it on about half an hour before I leave – not intentionally but because I turn it on and then find something else to do before leaving.

      I usually wait to turn it off until noonish on the day I return to let folks know that their emails on the day I return are also going to be delayed. Sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t.

    3. English Rose*

      If I’m going on vacation for a week or more, I give myself a pre-buffer of half a day so would turn it on at say noon on my last day. Then if requests come in during that afternoon I can deal with them if I have capacity, but more often I’ll be finishing pre-scheduled tasks before I go.

    4. Trippedamean*

      I start mine exactly at quitting time but in my job, I do need to check email until the last possible minute.

  11. WomEngineer*

    I liked one on social media that ended with “In case of emergency (or something really really cool!), contact #.” Of course that doesn’t work in all company culture.

  12. Nora*

    I’m running into the opposite problem….I’ve gotten multiple out-of-office responses in the last month that do not have any dates at all on them. I don’t know if people are going to be available tomorrow or next year!

    1. Over It*

      That’s one of my pet peeves!! And also when people forget to change the dates from what’s clearly an previous auto-reply. If you’re out on extended leave it can make sense to indicate that and who is covering for you in your absence, since you might not know your exact return date. But otherwise, it’s really not hard to list your return date.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I bet those people were using Outlook — it saves whatever your previous OOO message was. (I myself almost forgot to update the date on it when I turned it on again last week…almost.)

    2. Anonononononi*

      Yeah, I was out for some mental health related leave recently and wasn’t sure if I’d need to extend / didn’t want to draw major attention to my absence, so I didn’t put an end date. But I’m not in a role where I was getting tons of external emails!

  13. NotAnotherManager!*

    We include sample OOO messages to all new hires – one for vacation and one for work-related absences. We also include how to use the OOO features in the various communication tools in our office (scheduled times for messages, reminders to turn them off, which buttons to press, etc.).

    It takes the guesswork out of it, and I don’t end up with inappropriate oversharing or leave customers with the impression that no one is available to help them.

  14. Ann*

    Please say “I am out of the office, returning on January 5” or “returning January 8.” Saying “until January 5” makes me wonder if back in the office on January 5, or also off that day.

  15. thatoneoverthere*

    I once worked somewhere that required an OOO, everyday when you left the office. It HAD to be customized for the day too, not just a generic response (we also had to do our voicemails). We didn’t do anything of great importance either. The owner was quite controlling and over bearing. I am sure no surprise that we were very underpaid. Eventually I got tired of it and just did a generic out of office or none at all.

    1. Rainy*

      They tried that with us and it was so incredibly impractical it lasted like two months. It was a directive from someone very high up who was feuding with our at-the-time director, so it didn’t serve a purpose except to enrage the rank and file.

  16. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I send and receive a lot of emails overseas. That means I will always set OoO for public holidays as well.

    “Please note that Monday 1 January is a public holiday in the United Kingdom so our offices will be closed.”

    This time I’m working less than an hour per day until my children start going back to school, so my OoO is scheduled to send until I’m back on my usual timetable.

    “I will be working limited hours until (date). If your message is urgent, please resend it marked up accordingly.”

  17. Common Sense Not Common*

    My pet peeve is around holiday time when there is no out of office on email or voicemail OR the person specified is also out and leaves no guidance for who to contact.

    I work in the financial industry and sometimes you really need to find someone to help a client and spending 25 minutes unsuccessfully trying to find someone working who can help is bad optics.

    1. Jules the First*

      Oh we have a double act of managers that just drives me batty: Steven’s OOO currently reads “I’m away until 4 Jan; contact Jane for assistance” and Jane’s OOO reads “I’m away until 4 Jan, please contact Steven for assistance.” The kicker is that they often travel together so realistically they should *never* be anyone’s OOO, let alone one anothers!

      1. Kell*

        Last year my office was closed the week between Christmas and New Years, and then I took the two weeks before that off because I was about to lose a bunch of PTO that didn’t roll over. In those two weeks I also had a bunch of co-workers taking time off as well, so my vacation message got way more complicated than it normally would as I explained who people could contact when, and when not to expect a response from anyone at all.

    2. Donn*

      Variation on this is when a boss’s OOO refers people to their assistant, and Boss has forgotten that Assistant is out at the same time.

      In a related vein, my boss was out of town for a special event on the day a document was due to someone. His boss said they’d handle it.

      Grandboss’s handling consisted of emailing the document to his assistant, and telling her to contact me with any questions. Grandassistant knew nothing about the document, and didn’t know my boss was away. So she was emailing my boss at the event before I got involved. And I wasn’t happy with Grandboss, because what if I’d taken that day off too?

  18. CJ the Biscuit*

    One of my departmental colleagues is very central to our org’s role at a large international conference, so she’s got a lot of info to convey in her OOO message during prep for that event. She does so via an elaborate Clippy from MS Word bit, which even has a yellow notepaper background and a sidebar memorial to the immortal Clippy.

    I don’t often have cause to reach out to her directly because we’re on different teams, but it gives me great joy whenever I do manage to catch a Clippy message.

  19. Deejay*

    I think I may have posted this one before, but it’s worth posting again now the subject’s come up.

    The best out of office I’ve ever seen was from an airline. It read “I’m currently out of the office. If you’d like to be out of the office too, go to our website”.

    1. pandop*

      That’s fantastic.

      I work in a university library, and my colleague in a former role where we dealt with reading lists, recieved the least helpful OOO of all time (and we’ve seen some doozies):

      ‘on fieldwork’

  20. English Rose*

    To extent the OOO rules a bit – if you’re putting a back-up contact for urgent queries, remind that person to copy you in on their response, otherwise when you get back you’ll be wondering what’s been dealt with and what hasn’t.

  21. Elizabeth West*

    I got one that said the person would be out over the holiday eating all the treats and not feeling one bit guilty about it. I was like, go you!

  22. The Formatting Queen*

    I’m always jealous of if the OOO messages that go something like “I’m OOO, returning on X date, at which time all emails received while I was gone will be deleted. Please email again once I’m back if your matter still needs addressing.”

  23. Workaholic*

    my company provided an OOO message. Basically: I’ll be out of office until time, date, and no access to emails. if urgent reach out to (shared team email) or call (main switchboard#). (note: if i do hop in when I’m off the clock and work on emails – bonus! and hope bosses don’t yell at me. Not serious yelling just… you’re on PTO; stop working! you shouldn’t work off the clock and you NEED/DESERVE your time off. Yeah – got that lecture before)

    A coworker has hers set to ONLY say “OOO” (internal – i should send her an email from my personal account to see if it’s external too). I thought of saying something but… if bosses or company has an issue with it they’ll let her know.

  24. YetAnotherOfficeMom*

    At my annual review, I asked my manager if she had had any complaints about responsiveness (I’m part-time) and requested permission for a daily OOO. It reads:

    Dear Colleague,

    My regular hours add up to 27 hours per week, as follows:
    Remote: 9AM-3:00PM on Monday and Thursday, and 9:30-12:30 on Friday
    In office: 9AM-3:00 PM on Tuesday and Wednesday

    I will review your email within my working hours.

    If you need to meet with me, please use the following link and put a description: [Outlook Bookings Page]

    · If you have any IT issues with company-owned equipment, SharePoint, Outlook, or other Microsoft products, please email helpdesk@.
    · For issues with [primary database], please contact [database manager] or your department admin.
    · For inquiries regarding accounts receivable or payable, please contact finance@.

    So far, I’ve surreptitiously checked in after hours in case of emergencies, but there’s rarely been one.

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