Email Tip – Out-of-Office Messages

Gillian’s question: “I am wondering about including the reason for your absence in an out-of-office message if it is of a personal nature other than vacation. Do you require a reason such as a death in the family, medical or maternity leave?  Is it fair or acceptable to say ‘… for personal reasons …’?”

BizWritingTip response: There are no specific rules regarding out-of-office replies. However, I don’t believe in using personal information in generic business emails. The people you work with directly will most likely know why you are away anyway. And as Voltaire said, “The secret of being tiresome is in telling everything.”

In addition, you never know who will end up reading your notices. (Thieves have been known to use personal information gained in auto-replies and to cross reference it to target empty houses.)

Here are two out-of-office replies that I consider professional.

Examples

Thank you for your message. I am out of the office until Monday, January 18. In my absence, please contact name, phone number and email address.

I am sorry I cannot respond to you immediately, but I am out of the office from January 5 to January 16. I will review your message upon my return. If you need immediate assistance, please contact name, phone number and email address.

Do Not

  1. Make jokes or say “I am probably by the pool drinking a pina colada while you are reading this.”
  2. Use asterisks, extra punctuation, or text messaging short hand (r instead of are). They are not appropriate and probably do not meet your corporate standards.

Example (incorrect)

………………… on holidays in Panama until January 30, 2011. :) :) :)

****************** need help *********** call Pam at 416-214-5677.


Writing Effective Business Emails
Want more tips on writing emails? Take the Online Course on How to Write Effective Business Emails! Click HERE to get the online course for just $14 (use coupon code biztip14)
4 replies
  1. M Steele
    M Steele says:

    Thank you Jane for this timely information. Most people where I work leave brief out of office messages via Lotus Notes whether on vacation or out of office (traveling, sick, etc.) Lotus Notes has a fill in the blank format, making it easy to just give necessary information.
    AUTO: Person’s Name is out of the office: The week of Nov. 22, 2010. Returning Nov 29, 2010 (returning 11/29/2010)- This is in the subject line.
    Actual message – I am out of the office until 11/29/2010.

    Please contact Someone Else for emergencies (extension).

    Using just “Out of the office” gives no one a clue exactly why and short circuits theives.

    Reply
  2. Pat Buckner
    Pat Buckner says:

    What a great tip about out-of-office messages. I typically use your first example, but I’ve seen some with text messaging shortcuts, or flippant messages and they just don’t sound right for a business e-mail message.

    Thanks for doing such a great job with these newsletters.

    Patty

    Reply
  3. Prem Kolal
    Prem Kolal says:

    I do not agree with the word ‘BUT’ on your second example. I think that ‘but’ should be replaced with ‘since’ or ‘because’. Please let me know if my thinking is right?

    “I am sorry I cannot respond to you immediately, but I am out of the office from January 5 to January 16. I will review your message upon my return. If you need immediate assistance, please contact name, phone number and email address.”

    Reply
    • Jane Watson
      Jane Watson says:

      Prem,

      “But,” “since,” or “because” would all work here. It is a matter of writer’s style. “As” would also work.

      My preference is “but” because I think it divides the sentence into two separate parts quite quickly. People read quickly today, and it helps them to have “bites” of information.

      However, as I said, you could easily use the other words also. It would give your writing a soft tone. I have ignored the tone issue in this case because I do not know who will be reading the out-of-office message. It is just a generic note.

      Trust this helps,

      Jane Watson

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>