Do You Really Need That Out of Office Auto-Reply?

June 2021

Our latest Knowledge Center contribution focuses on how to have the best vacation ever. We outline specific steps to help ensure you fully enjoy your time away from the office. That includes the ubiquitous Out of Office auto-reply.

How you handle these messages highly influences the quality of your break from work.

Internal Out of Office Auto-Replies

There are two types of Out of Office auto-replies: internal and external. Most popular email platforms offer a way to manually set up such replies, including for specific lengths of time so you don’t forget to turn off an alert once you return.

Internal replies go only to those you specifically allow, such as those in your contact list who email you directly. These are your coworkers, bosses, business partners, clients, customers and contractors. There is presumably an established relationship, unless you are CCed on someone else’s thread for information-only purposes.

In order to leave work at the office, you need to make sure no one is expecting work from you during your time off. A simple message to remind people you are gone and when to expect you back is helpful.

We recommend you:

  • Keep the message brief. I am on PTO and not accessing email until my return on May 30. Expect delays.
  • Keep it simple. I’m on vacation and not reading email until I return on May 30.
  • Keep it ‘lite.’ Studies show vacations work best when work email is not involved. I’m vetting such research through May 30.
  • Keep it contained. I’m on vacation and will return May 30. In case of an emergency that must be resolved before I return, please reach out to Elise Walker on my team at 555-XXXX, Ext. 12345.

Make sure Elise is aware of the burden you’ll be placing on her—and can handle it. “Emergency” is a loaded, loosely interpreted word. You may be ruining your relationship with both Elise and whomever needed emergency help if she’s unable to respond as required. And note you don’t leave her email address. This reinforces contacting Elise for urgent matters only.

Leave Elise your personal contact number, but make sure she (and anyone else) thinks twice about using it. Too often people volunteer where they can be reached, not realizing they are signaling they don’t mind having their vacation interrupted. This has a trickle-down effect that impacts others’ future time off too. And know once Elise does call, you have broken the contract with yourself: You will no longer be able to have the best vacation ever because you let work come along.

External Out of Office Auto-Replies

Beware of blanket Out of Office auto-replies. Before setting up the same message for those outside your company or contacts list, think about what you’ll be telling complete strangers: I’m gone and unaware of what might be happening. Spam bots will confirm this is an active email address. Cybercriminals will know they have time to compromise your machine or account.

For this reason alone, we do not recommend using external-facing Out of Office auto-replies. If you plan accordingly, you’ll have notified everyone in your orbit that you’ll be gone for a week. So, who is this message for? Prospective clients who can’t wait to talk with you?

If you either by corporate policy or personal compulsion must use external Out of Office auto-replies, keep messages short and simple as recommended earlier. The more you reveal, the more you risk. And do not tell strangers to talk to Elise. She’s got enough to do, and you need to respect that.

We’ve gotten used to blending work and home life through email in particular. The isolation, as well as demanding bosses, can make us fear completely disconnecting from our jobs. That fear, though, is a different issue—one related to a toxic corporate culture.

If you have everyone’s blessings to focus on yourself and loved ones for a spell, see it as a gift you graciously accept. Plan ahead so you leave being all caught up, even a little ahead. It may take a day or two to completely wean yourself from work emails or texts, but once you do, you’ll realize how critical a mental (and perhaps physical) break is to improving overall work performance. Relaxation generates new insights. Positive ones.

Oh, and remember: You earned this time off. Don’t let anyone steal it from you.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne