out-of-office email tips

The end of December is kind of a cluster for the working world — do you just take off a few days, or are you out for weeks? Which holidays do you celebrate, and what does that mean for days you’re traveling and the days you’re definitely not checking email? Will you be on your phone sometimes, or are you checking out completely?

If you’re a person who works with clients who may want to get ahold of you, it’s important to nail down your exact PTO/travel/whatever days in advance, and let them know where you are and when they can expect a response.  But for those clients who you don’t reach out to directly — or the unforeseen emails that crop up even in the middle of your vacation, there’s the out-of-office message.

The out-of-office message is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it’s a relatively simple way for you to breathe easily knowing that no one is doing to be head-scratching (or worse: fuming) over why you’re not responding, and it’s a pretty valuable tool in the fight to reclaim work-life balance in the era of constant email access…but it’s a curse because, frankly, during the holiday season, it can be pretty irritating to get a flood of them.

Which is why it’s key to make an out-of-office message that’s informative, helpful — and, above all, short.


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Here are the four things that need to be in every out-of-office message:

–A clear subject line. Recipients should know as soon as they get your email that you’re not there.

–When you’ll be gone. 

–When you’re returning.

–Who to get in touch with in case of an emergency. Leave the name and email address of whoever will be able to respond in your absence — just make sure you clear it with them first!

Here are the three things that you absolutely do not need to include:

–Where you are actually going. The location of your travel is really probably not that important.

–That you’ll be checking your email intermittently. a.) You shouldn’t be. Take a vacation! And b.) Don’t say this if you really won’t be — it’s better to surprise someone with an email than promise that them that they might get one.

–That the entire office is going to be MIA. This is kind of a matter of security; lest you get robbed while everyone is gone, it’s not a bad idea to just speak for yourself.

Other than those three basics, feel free to get a little personal with your message. Extend seasons greetings, wish the sender of the email a happy holiday, or just let them know that it’s been a pleasure working with them over the course of the year. Just remember to keep it brief and to-the-point. This isn’t your holiday card, this is just a way of letting people know what they can expect in the way of correspondence during a time when people are sporadically at their desks and, more likely, trying to catch up with their family.

Oh, and one last time: If you get an out-of-office message from someone you’re trying to reach, don’t try to contact them some other way. This is the holiday season. Let’s all make a pact to just pick it up in the new year.


‘Tis the season. Gift the creative in your life something special – check out our curated holiday gifts