It’s Auto-Reply, Not Auto-Pilot

As you head into the 4th of July holiday, I’m guessing many of you will turn on your email “Auto-response” function. But just because vacation is so close—perhaps you’ve already begun inhaling the heady fumes of you SPF 50—you shouldn’t neglect to give this message the time and care it must have in order for your best self to be present when you, in fact, are not.

Alternatively, some of you travel quite a bit all the time. Stressed, rushed, thinking two cities ahead, you might whip out an auto-response whose terseness lands in others’ in box like a slap.

“Perhaps…’ you’re thinking, “or perhaps Frances is making too much of a small thing. Can these messages really have that much of an impact—or even be that different?” 

Yes, they can. As an example, below are messages from three different marketing managers, all of who work for the same company, and were out of the office for the same time period and the same reason (to meet with me.) I found the difference in their tone, and my subsequent reaction to them, noticeable:

• I am out of the office until Friday, February 26th. If your matter is urgent, please contact me at (Tel Number here.)

• I will be in NY until Friday, Feb. 26. If you need immediate assistance, please contact (Assistant’s Name) at (Tel Number here.) Thanks!

• Thank you for your message. I am currently traveling on business until Friday, February 26. I will be checking email periodically. Should you need an immediate response, please contact (Assistant’s Name) at (Assistant’s email) or (Assistant’s telephone number) You may also reach me on my cell phone at (Tel Number here.)

 Best Regards,

 (Her Name Here)

I think we can all guess which I preferred.

What, then, do I see as mandatory for inclusion in your auto-reply?

• Thanking someone for their note

• Including by when you will return to the office

• Stating your policy for responding during your time away

• Offering an alternate method of communication. If you don’t have an assistant, the following phrasing is nice: “I am traveling until (include date here.) During this time, I will only have intermittent access to email. Rest assured that as soon as I receive your message, I will respond.

The fact that you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re off duty. Taking the time to personalize this automated function ensures that those who are working while you’re away will be pleased to see you on your return.

Frances Cole Jones