Chances are you’ll be checking email while you’re on vacation. Almost two-thirds of travelers do, according to a poll by travel agency Travel Leaders Group. But just because you can’t unplug doesn’t mean your coworkers and clients need to know. In fact, you’d probably prefer that they leave you alone so you can enjoy your getaway on your own terms.
The answer lies in writing an effective out-of-office message to help reduce the interruptions. “Let key people know you’ll be gone before you leave,” says Ivan Misner, founder of the global business network BNI and author of Who’s In Your Room? The Secret to Creating Your Best Life. “That will help reduce your email. Then craft an out-of-office message for everyone else.”
A successful auto-response likely includes these three elements:
1. Established expectations
Your out-of-office message needs to set expectations around communication. First, provide information about when you’ll return. Misner suggests giving yourself an extra date to catch up.
You don’t need to say how long you’ll be away, adds Tim Reeves, principal of the ad agency Allen & Gerritsen. “That just makes you feel guilty, particularly if you’re taking a glorious two-week vacation,” he says. “Just say when you’ll be back. It feels way better.”
If you are checking emails while you’re out and are responding slower than normal, state that, suggests Jill Gugino Panté, director of the Lerner Career Services Center at the University of Delaware. “If you don’t have access to email and can’t return messages, state that as well,” she says. “The clearer you are in your messaging, the better.”
When Gugino Panté is out of the office, she leaves a message like this:
“Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office and will have no access to email. I will respond to your emails when I return on [date], but it may take me one to two days to sift through the messages. I appreciate your patience while I’m out. If you require immediate attention, please contact [name].”
You don’t have to inform people why you are out of the office, adds Gugino Panté. “Because of privacy or safety issues, you may not want to state that you are on vacation or at a conference,” she says. “Simply stating that you are out of the office should be sufficient enough.”
2. Clear solutions
Sometimes people will think it’s okay to ask a quick question while you’re out of the office. Avoid the interruption by including at least one person who can answer questions in your absence.
When Amy Spurling, cofounder of the company perks software company Compt, went on vacation, she ended her message with a clear direction about who to contact: “If you need immediate help, please contact [name and email address]. I will be responding to all emails on my return.”
Having someone who can fill in for you while you’re away is critical, says Misner. “If you don’t have an assistant, have a coworker back you up,” he says. “It’s an effective technique if you support one another.”
If you have critical projects that can’t wait until you return, offer a communication option like text messages, suggests Reeves. “I have found, to my delight, that people really are judicious about texting you while on vacation,” he says, with one caveat. “Don’t put your mobile number in the away message. That way, only people who have your mobile number can text you. And those are the ones you care most about.”
If you want people to remember that you’re away, do something humorous or different, suggests Misner. “The normal out of office message that says you’re not available and you’re on vacation is fine, but not memorable,” he says.
When Misner went on a writing retreat, he created this autoresponder:
“I’ve been whisked away by angry looking men in suits and taken to a small room with one light, a little water and a laptop. I’ve been told to write. I think these men are from my publisher. I’m hoping to be released on Thursday so I can start to responding to emails again.”
“It wasn’t a vacation, but I didn’t want to deal with normal business stuff,” he says. “Humor is sticky. People laughed … and they left me alone.”