If you've ever used email, you've undoubtedly read your fair share of boilerplate "out of office" auto-reply messages.
An "out of office" reply is a convenient and courteous way to let someone know you won't be able to get back to them. But these messages are usually pretty generic. Maybe we can do better, and use our "out of office" message to accomplish a little bit more.
I was talking to a friend the other day, and, knowing that I’ve been an advocate for work-family policies for men and that I "wrote the book on paternity leave," she excitedly told me of an "out of office" message she had received. The message read:
Thank you for your message. I will be on paternity leave with limited access to email until (date). If you need assistance before then, please contact (name).
This message put a big smile on my face.
For a long time, I've advocated that we working dads need to be more vocal and visible in addressing work and family concerns. This way, we make it more comfortable for men, their coworkers, employers, spouses, and society in general to discuss dads' work-family challenges.
This out of office reply is a fantastic example of a small, smart way to do so. Everyone who sends this dad an email during his paternity leave receives a reminder that paternity leave is important and that it should not be hidden from view, even by an accomplished professional.
Another friend of mine has stated that every dad who takes paternity leave should post their leave on Facebook for all their friends and family to see. He's right. This is another great way to normalize the notion that having a great career and being a great dad are not mutually exclusive.
I have lauded Mark Zuckerberg, Toms founder Blake Mycoskie, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and baseball player Daniel Murphy—as well as other CEOs and public figures—for publicly taking paternity leave and/or addressing work-family concerns. They, of course, generate media attention and public discourse.
However, it is equally (if not more) important that we send signals to our employers, friends, families, and spheres of influence. The fact that you care about both your career and your role as a father, and that you are willing to assert that success in both is the key to a full life, will change hearts and minds. It will chip away at the "wall of silence" and increase the recognition that involved fatherhood is normal and commonplace.
So, the next time you compose an "out of office" message, see if you can use it to also make an important point. Even if it is not paternity leave, perhaps being up front about family vacations can also send a positive signal. If we are creative about it, there are dozens of ways we can make our voices heard. After all, it is up to us to be the change we wish to see.
Scott Behson is a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home. Follow him on Twitter @ScottBehson.