Congrats, you’re heading out on maternity, paternity, or parental leave! Let’s cross off one of the easiest items on the “to-do” list: your out-of-office email message.
While you don’t have to go into any detail for anyone in your OOO message, it’s good practice to let senders know you will not be reading your email. Better yet—don’t even promise you’ll get back to them by a certain date after you return, so you don’t put yourself in a position to have to check the emails that flood in while you’re out.
Here’s what to say to make your email inbox a non-issue while you’re on maternity/parental leave.
Crafting your maternity leave out-of-office message
You don’t know who exactly will see this message, but since it’ll be up for months, it’s likely to be a lot of people. You can usually set two different messages: one for people inside your organization, one for those outside. You might want to write two different messages because the contact info could be different.
Maternity leave out-of-office message example for outside your company
Keep your out-of-office message short and sweet, let the sender know you may never see this email, and give them someone to contact.
Also, you do not have to tell people you are on maternity/parental leave. That’s up to you.
Here’s an example if you do want to give the reason:
I am out of the office on parental leave until [date of planned return] and not checking email. You can contact [person] at [email and phone] in my absence.
Make sure you let people know you are not checking email. Even if you plan to check in, you can’t be totally sure that you’ll be able to. You might ditch your plan to log on depending on how everything is going at home. So remove the pressure from yourself.
You can even be more clear that this email won’t be seen by encouraging people to reach back out after your return:
I am out of the office on parental leave and not checking email. Please reach out to me after [date of planned return]. For immediate matters, you can contact [person] at [email and phone].
And if you want to leave out the reason for your absence, that works, too:
I am out of the office and not checking email. Please reach out to me after [date of planned return]. For immediate matters, you can contact [person] at [email and phone].
Read more: Your Guide to FMLA/Maternity Leave
Maternity leave out-of-office message example for inside your company
You can use the same parental leave out-of-office message here as you did for those outside your organization. If you want to give more info, feel free. You might share more details on who to contact depending on the reason someone is reaching out to you.
An example with more specifics could go like this:
I am out of the office on parental leave until [date of planned return] and not checking email. Please reach out to me after [date of planned return].
For invoices, contact [person] at [email and phone].
For ongoing projects, contact [person] at [email and phone].
For general/all other matters, contact [person] at [email and phone].
Even if you love your coworkers and want to say something kind thanking them for covering for you in your absence, it’s easier to keep your out-of-office message short, sweet, and purely informational. There will be plenty of opportunities to thank them.
Checking email messages while on maternity/parental leave
Whether you actually check your email while on parental leave is usually up to you, although some companies make the decision for you. Make sure you’re clear with your HR department and your manager on what the process is.
“I have talked to people whose companies have said ‘we are shutting off your email during the time that you’re on leave because you’re not allowed to access it,’ but that is not universal,” says Lori Mihalich-Levin, who runs a parental leave support program called Mindful Return. “The risk, of course, is that people who are still at the company and not on leave abuse the outreach. What we work on a lot with new parents is setting up in advance a parental leave written transition plan that indicates when it’s okay for the company to reach out and touch base, or say how often you want to be communicated with.”
This is a maternity/parental leave plan you can work out with your manager and share with your team, so they know what to expect and know when to contact you, if at all.
“In a lot of written plans, people will say things like, ‘For the first weeks, I don’t want anybody telling me anything about anything. I’m just trying to stay alive! After that I’m happy to do a once-every-two-week check in,’” Mihalich-Levin says.
You want to make sure your plan clearly outlines if you’ll be available and what you’ll be available for. If people are used to relying on you, they’ll be tempted to continue to do so while you’re out.
“There’s the huge question for the employee of what happens when people start to say ‘oh she answered her emails so that means she’s back on email!,’ and then it’s ‘here are the 12 projects I’d like you to get done by Friday…’ And you’re saying ‘wait a minute, I’m still on leave!’” Mihalich-Levin says. “So there’s the boundary-building muscle people often have to do. I think that’s where HR can help and get involved and say, ‘Look, this person’s still on leave; you can’t be badgering them.’ You have to follow the direction of the person who’s on leave, whether it’s a man or a woman or a mom or a dad.”