It’s Auto-Reply, Not Auto Pilot: How to Ensure an Effective Out-of-Office Message

As we head into the 4th of July holiday, I’m guessing many people will turn on their email “Auto-response” function.

But just because vacation is so close—perhaps you’ve already begun inhaling the heady fumes of your SPF 50—you shouldn’t neglect to give your out-of-office message the time and care it must have to present your best (electronic) self.

Alternatively, some people travel quite a bit all the time. Stressed, rushed, thinking two cities ahead, they often whip out auto-responses whose terseness lands in others’ inbox 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, June 29th.  If your matter is urgent, please contact me at (Tel Number here.)
  • I will be in NY until Friday, June. 29.  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, June 29th.  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.

Happy 4th!