9 Signs You're In Out-Of-Office Hell

The summer is in full swing and everybody's going on vacation. Too bad their out-of-office messages are loss-inducing awful.

Last week my bonus son was married to the love of his life. I took the week off for wedding festivities and returned eight days later to an inbox full of out-of-office replies from others. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know how much I despise out-of-office emails. An out-of-office email is off-putting and consumes my precious time.

Either check your email while you are away, or have someone do it for you. You should be able to check your email anywhere in the world on your mobile phone or, at the least, on an iPad, laptop, or other tablet device. If you can’t, then I’m not sure you are sufficiently up with technology or up to the task of taking care of my business in a timely and professional manner. When the NASA astronauts were finally able to check their email on the International Space Station, you ran out of excuses.

If you must, absolutely must, use your auto-responder, please read the following and adjust your out-of-office missive accordingly:

"I am out of the office until Friday June 21st."

It is Monday, June 24--so where are you now? If you can’t remember to turn your auto responder off in a timely manner, what other small details are you missing?

"I am out of the office and traveling inernationally."

Check your spelling before this email goes out--over and over again.

"Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office returning on Tuesday, June 18th."

I need something before then and you gave me no one to contact so I guess I’ll go to the competition to get the work done.

"If you need immediate attention, please contact National Headquarters at 5xx-xxx-xxx2."

I am not going to get immediate attention if I do not know who to ask for.

"Heading to Vegas."

Great, I have to work and I hate you. Plus, don’t they have email and Internet access in Las Vegas these days?

"Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office. In my absence please contact G-----s at extension xxxx or D------k at extension xxxx."

There is no phone number anywhere in the email so those extensions will not do me any good nor will I take the time to go look up your phone number.

"I'll be out of the office until Thursday, June xx. I won't be able to check email regularly, but expect to be able to occasionally."

Sigh.

"If you need immediate assistance please call the office at xxx-xxx-xxxx and ask to speak to someone."

Well, I guess that’s better than no phone number. Perhaps the janitor can help me.

"Due to a staff wedding, the XXXXX office will be closed until Tuesday, June xx."

Even I like this one. This shows me this company cares about their employees and have their priorities in the right order. For you, I’ll hold off and wait for your return. Plus, I am a sucker for weddings these days. . . .

Related: 3 Ways To Really Put The "Vacate" Into Vacation

[Image: Flickr user Alex]

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54 Comments

  • Ramesh Kumar

    hi DAYNA STEELE this is ramessh,
    im really got confused after reading your article now.

    well let me tell my situation and please tell me how could i put my auto-reply message?

    i am working at a cloth store as a manager and i won't be able to stay with my laptop to reply my store customers be course my office room it is in downstairs, so i won't get time to check my mails to reply.

    for this how could I write a auto-reply message with professionally and friendly ?

    please help me

    note: sorry for bad grammar :(

    thank you,
    ramessh

  • Kyle Jones

    "IF YOU NEED IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE PLEASE CALL THE OFFICE AT XXX-XXX-XXXX AND ASK TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE."
    Well, I guess that’s better than no phone number. Perhaps the janitor can help me.
    The example shown above + your response = a nice laugh.  (Thanks, I needed that!)

  • Sage Morrison

    This is great advice. It is a little sarcastic but as a consultant, I check email whether I am out of the office for a meeting, or on vacation in a rural, or country where you would not expect to be doing do. There are few places left on Earth you cannot find internet access in 2013 and depending on your job you may be better off checking in. If you really need to "check out" or want to take a real vacation from work, which is probably healthy, I think she this is great advice.

    Anyone with tricks, tips, advice on how I can consistently limit emails to 3-5 sentences, I would be thrilled! Enjoy your holiday week!

  • sblagoj

    Oh, please! Get off your cantankerous high horse and remember that vacations are meant to unwind, not to constantly (or even occasionally) check your email. If you feel the need to do so, I suggest a rehab would be more appropriate than vacation anyway.

  • Diego Bucciero

    To be very honest, I do understand your point saying to perform a grammar check before you set up your OOO reply. But that you won't take the time even to check a phone number...it seems superficial from you. You are you to be so busy ? Obama ?

  • Jon Perry

    I have a friend that has been in business for years and uses an autoresponder for EVERY message.  It goes, "Thank you for your email. I will work to get back you as soon as possible."

    I think she's replying to my important message and it's just her autoresponder!  Ugh!  It adds no value.  I asked once why she used it.  She replied, "It helps people know that I received it."  True.  But I'd get a bounce back if you didn't.  If it doesn't add value from the customer's perspective, don't do it.

  • Ed

     Answering emails is part of work.  When I am on vacation, I am not at work and ignore emails pertinent to work.  Those emails can wait until I return.

  • Mike

    If you are that pissed off about someone going on vacation and not checking their emails every ten minutes, you aren't someone I want as a client anyway. 

  • Cari Turley

    I totally disagree with the claim that people should be checking their work emails outside of work. When did all jobs become 24/7 commitments? If I'm on vacation, just because I CAN check email, doesn't mean I will (or should). Sure, an auto-reply needs to have enough information to be helpful, but at a bare minimum it lets me know when I should expect a response. That's good enough for me, and it should be good enough for everyone else, too.

  • Anthony DeLauro

    Talk about off-putting and a waste of time. That's two minutes of my life I won't get back. I hope this was meant as sarcasm, but I doubt it.

  • Anthony DeLauro

    Why bother going on vacation? That you couldn't take a few days and give your child your undivided attention during such an important event is very sad.

  • Jon Camfield

    If you're checking your email, you're not on vacation - I disable my work email account on my mobiledevices as part of the prep/packing process.  No workplace should be stretched so thin that one person being out causes mas hysteria (and if that is the case, it's time to leave for a longer period than a vacation).

    Sure, craft a useful OOO.  I also see people putting OOOs up for a long weekend or business travel (when they /will/ be checking their email).  This is over-doing it.  No one will fault you for not responding to a Friday email until Monday, or a brief reply about being at a meeting, and getting back with more/full detail later.

    Still, clearly this is a pet peeve, but I think the Commentarium agrees that we need to walk back from it turning into a missive to check email while on vacation.

  • Brian Minter

    Dayna, in the comments here, you keep saying that your point is if you have to use an auto-responder, don't make these mistakes. But that's not really your point, since the piece itself reads as follows:

    "Either check your email while you are away, or have someone do it for
    you. You should be able to check your email anywhere in the world on
    your mobile phone or, at the least, on an iPad,
    laptop, or other tablet device. If you can’t, then I’m not sure you are
    sufficiently up with technology or up to the task of taking care of my
    business in a timely and professional manner."

    Ugh, that's terrible. The person making that kind of complaint would be way worse to work with than ALL the minor, no-big-deal "problems" you're outlining in this piece.

    Nothing ruins needed time away like staying frantically plugged in to incoming email.

  • Brittny

    Yes, there is internet access in some places people go on vacation, but the point of vacation is to relax or go on an adventure, depending on what you want to do. Just because someone is going on vacation somewhere like Las Vegas where there is internet access does not mean that they have to work and answer emails during that time.

  • Joanna Bartlett

    First, let me say that I love that you use the term "bonus" son. That's what I call my step-kids. :)

    However, you gave us a list of gripes about what not to write in an out of office auto-response. But you didn't say what to include. From the things we shouldn't do, I surmise that we:
    * Shouldn't boast about where we are, even though adding in a bit of detail might make us more human.
    * Should include the date we'll be back (but remember to turn it off when we do get back)
    * Should tell people who they should contact in case the issue is urgent (should there be anyone else they can contact)

    But why shouldn't we tell people we'll check email occasionally? Isn't that better than not at all? What if I'm traveling internationally -- or just want to unplug and spend some of my precious time with my family and actually want to take vacation while I'm on my vacation?

    When I'm on vacation, I set up an out of office reply and check my work email. I ignore all the non-urgent stuff and deal with the things I absolutely must. If you happen to get my out of office reply and then get an email from me, I'd think you'd be pleased and flattered. If you don't get a reply, at least you know why not.

  • Phi

    "When the NASA astronauts were finally able to check their email on the
    International Space Station, you ran out of excuses."  How about, "I have a life
    outside of work" for an excuse?  Not good enough? Well, thank God I don't work
    for the likes of Dayna and Bill Lumburgh.