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Gone Fishing: Tips to Help Perfect Your Out of Office Message

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 13, 2015 3:56 PM

You've earned that vacation -- or stubborn head cold -- so let the world know about it. Or at least let them know that you won't be around to check your messages.

When you're out of the office for an extended period, make sure you've turned on your out-of-office auto-reply. You should also switch your office voicemail message if no one else will be handling your calls, but much more common is the use of an automated email message.

Since everyone who emails will be getting it, make sure you do it right. To that end, here are a few tips, and warnings, for crafting your out of office message:

The Good

The elements of an out of office message are pretty basic. You want your message to contain how long you will be gone and whom to contact in the meantime. You might also include a quick thank you, an explanation for your absence if appropriate, and how to get in touch in an emergency. A basic message would look something like:

Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office until May 19th. If you need immediate assistance, please contact me on my cell phone at 555-5555.

Of course, you can add a bit of personality, as well. Why not:

Westward, ho! I'm out of the office until Monday, taking a much needed ski trip. If you need assistance before then, find me on the slopes, on my cell, or contact Mark.

Be aware, though, that these messages could be read by clients and colleagues, so if you have open matters, maybe it's best not to let others know that you're sipping margaritas in the tropics instead of working on their issues.

The Bad

The worst out of the office notification is no notification. Don't let clients think you've been actively ignoring them for a week when you've just been out sick. If you're going to be gone for more than a few hours, always set up a notification. Similarly, if you're going to do more than the basics in your away message, don't try to get too funny, sarcastic or boastful -- even well intentioned attempts at humor or friendly ribbing can fall flat on email.

The Ugly

I'm a fan of gross jokes and blue humor, but everything has its time and place. Your out of the office message isn't the best time to test out your new vomit jokes or brag about getting sloppy at a conference in Vegas.

But truly, the worst out of office emails are the ones that appear more than once. Make sure you set your auto-responder to only send out one away notice per person emailing you. No one wants to be bombarded with fifteen automated responses while CCing you on an important email chain.

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