How To Write Your Best Out Of Office Email
I recall frantically trying to set up an out of office through my iPhone while on the way to the airport. No dice.
Vacation replies can only usually be done at the server level so that your email doesn’t get stuck in an infinite loop – imagine two computers sending thousands of emails responding to each other’s automatic emails to each other.
One caveat: I have a friend who was in sales at a very demanding corporation where his bosses (yes plural) demanded that no one turn on their out of office. Obviously, if this is your world, you know what to do.
But, generally as a matter of communication, an automated reply is actually an excellent way to let people know that there will be a delay in your response.
“More than 70% of people expected a response from coworkers within four hours; a bit over 30% expected a response within one hour.”
–Fast Company (March 2016)
And while it’s easy to assume that everybody takes off for the holidays, there is still plenty of work being done. For example, my last company used to operate on a calendar year so our finance friends were stuck doing the books and collecting checks on New Year’s Eve.
The least we can do is tell them we’re not available and give them options to get what they need.
Besides, this message is a unique opportunity to be memorable and make someone’s day too. Just like a good email, a great auto response reflects you.
Let’s dive in. Consider the four main ingredients:
1. Greeting – in casual environments like most startups, a simple “Hi there” will suffice. More formally, a “Hello” followed by a comma. No need for colons in an email of any kind these days unless you are sending a legal affidavit. My personal favorite is a “Thank you for your message” which feels personal without sounding overly generic.
2. Time Away/Return Date – make sure to mention when and how long you will be away. If longer than two weeks, simply write when you will return and scrap the start date. Let people do the math depending on when they emailed you.
3. Who To Contact – this is very important so colleagues and customers know what to do and who to call next in what circumstance. Some of my clients include a bullet point list of different people depending on the potential topic. Also don’t forget to tell your backup that you are listing them as your backup. The last thing you want is to find out that they’re on vacation too.
4. Regards – a respectable sign off including your name, title, and social media (optional).
Keep it short and use humor appropriately. What is funny can vary widely depending on a person’s industry, background, and geographic location. Ask any stand-up comedian.
Anyway, I know you’re itching to cut and paste some examples so here you go…
Hello, thank you for your email. I am out of the office from [MM/DD] to [MM/DD] with limited access to email. If this is an emergency, please contact [NAME] at [EMAIL] or [PHONE]. I will do my best to respond promptly to your email when I return on [MM/DD].
- This email is a safe bet. Great for traditional firms or conservative workplaces.
- Limited access implies you will probably check your email once in a while. So you are giving the sender hope that they may get a response.
- Use an active voice: “I am…”
- And when foreshadowing your return, give yourself flexibility: “I will do my best…”
- Avoid contractions like “I’m” or “I’ll” which may be too casual for these types of work environments.
Hi there, I’m out of the office on vacation until [MM/DD]. I will have no access to email until I return.
But you’re in luck, I have an amazing colleague [NAME] who has graciously offered to stay behind. So if your request is urgent, he/she can be reached at [EMAIL].
Thank you and I look forward to responding to you when I return.
- This email shows more personality. Terrific for startups or new media companies.
- If you don’t want to be bothered at all, just say there’s no email where you’re going. This sets up a clear expectation that you will not be responding during your time off.
- The appreciation for the backup is a nice touch that can make whoever is picking up your slack feel good.
- Here you say you look forward to responding without actually promising to respond.
- Contractions are fine in these office cultures.
Thanks for reaching out. Your message is very important to me. But I’m on vacation and my family is slightly more important at the moment.
I will be back on [MM/DD]. If this an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, my colleague [NAME] may be able to help you. You’ll have to ask her/him at [EMAIL] or [PHONE].
- This email says that you are a baller. I’ve only seen this in practice once and he was the head of creative development for a comedy channel.
- There are no rules in this case, but all the necessary elements are there.
Finally, keep your out of office message “on” for the morning you return. Outlook will remind you that the out of office is on and prompt you to turn it off. Keeping it on gives you space to work through the backlog without the pressure of responding to new emails as they come in.
Now get out of the office!