What’s an out of office message?
An out-of-office message is an automatic response to emails you receive that lets the sender know you’re not currently working.
“Ideally, an OOO should include the basics,” says work and wellbeing psychologist Kate Sullivan. “The dates you'll be gone, an approximate timeline for when someone can expect to hear back from you upon your return, and how any urgent requests will be handled in your absence.”
When should you use an out-of-office message?
Protocol for when you should use an out-of-office message will vary by job and industry, but generally, you should set an OOO message when you’ll be out for two or more days.
If you work in an industry (like PR, for example) where clients expect a response in a matter of moments or hours, you may need to set an out-of-office message if you’re absent for an afternoon. If you’re not sure whether you should set one, ask your boss or a coworker or consult your employee handbook.
Should you include a way for people to contact you while out of the office?
“No! I'm adamant that when you're out of the office and away from work, you should be out of the office,” Sullivan says. “We all need time to rest and recover, and to be human beings instead of workers. Anything that needs to be handled at work can be done by someone else, or can wait until your return.”
She continues: “However, there should be a way for whoever is emailing you to have an urgent request handled, and that should be included as part of your OOO as well as being known to your work team (supervisor and colleagues). That might look like including a coworker's email on your OOO or it might simply involve setting a forwarding rule for while you're away, so that your email goes to the colleague who's covering.”
Before you put your coworker’s email address on your out-of-office message, get their approval and discuss a plan for handling requests and passing responsibilities back when you return.
Sullivan provides this example of an OOO message:
Thank you for your message! I'm out of the office from X DATE to Y DATE and will not be checking email. I'll follow up with you as soon as possible upon my return. If you have an urgent request, please contact XX person at YY email address.
What’s a good out of office message?
As long as you’ve covered the basics—dates of your absence and who to contact in your absence—you should be good to go.
Here are a few specific examples of out-of-office messages you can use.
Out-of-office message example: basic
I am out of the office July 15–25. In the event of an emergency, please contact Yuko Kawakami at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Out-of-office message example: traveling for work
Let them know that while you’re not technically OOO, you aren’t operating at typical capacity.
I am traveling for work August 3–7 and will be slow to respond to email. If you need immediate attention, you may contact me at 910.555.7652. Troubleshooting requests should be sent to Adalis Rossman at email@example.com.
Out-of-office message example: indefinite time period
If you’re not sure when you’ll return, don’t include dates. Simply direct them to a colleague.
I am currently out of the office and will not have access to email. Please contact Elena Prince at firstname.lastname@example.org in my absence.
Out-of-office message example: leave of absence
I am currently out of the office on leave. Sales inquiries should be directed to Gabriela Cruz at 935.555.3455. Customer support matters should be directed to Miranda Trotman at 935.555.9001.
Out-of-office message example: parental leave
You are under no obligation to share the reason for your absence. Even if you’re on parental leave, “on leave” or “out of the office” is sufficient. Unfortunately, discrimination against pregnant people and parents happens, and if you don’t want to disclose that you’re on parental leave, you don’t have to.
I am out of the office on leave and will return on September 25. Please contact Jean Awad at email@example.com in my absence.
Mistakes to avoid
Including too many/personal details
You don’t have to disclose the specific reason for your absence in your out-of-office message. You can simply say “I’m on leave” or “I’m currently out of the office.” This goes for any reason you’re OOO.
Being too casual
Be aware of your tone. Keep it clean and simple. Sullivan says: “Even if you work in a casual office environment, the people emailing you may not. It's fine to have a light tone in your communications, especially when you're in an email conversation with someone directly, but your OOO is more of a blast message—including a cat meme or silly quote could backfire if your OOO goes to, say, a new client prospect or the sales director at a company you've been trying to engage.”
Being too specific with response time
“No matter what your best intentions, you're going to get bogged down the minute you return to the office,” Sullivan says. “Don't set exact timeframes for responding to messages in your OOO. Instead, set general expectations for‘I'll respond as quickly as possible upon my return,’ giving you some leeway.”
How do I set up an out-of-office message?
In the top right corner of your Gmail window, click the cog icon. The quick setting panel will appear. From there, click “See all settings.”
Under “General,” scroll down to the “Vacation responder” section. Fill in your message and subject line and select the dates you’d like it to appear, then select “Vacation responder on” and then “Save Changes” to finish.
In the top right corner, click the cog icon to open Outlook settings, then click “View all Outlook Settings.”
In the Settings panel, select “Automatic replies,” then click “Turn on automatic replies.”
Turn on automatic response indefinitely or choose the dates you’d like for them to appear. Write your OOO message in the message field, then click “Save.”
About our source
Kate Sullivan is a work and wellbeing psychologist and doctoral researcher who holds an M.S. in applied psychology from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and specializes in non-traditional careers and helping people craft their best, most satisfying work lives. She regularly writes about work-life balance and modern careers at constellationcareers.com and for leading business publications.