Out Of Office Messages: Writing An OOO Email For Low-Stress Holidays

Katie Horne
Last Updated on February 20, 2020
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Out of office messages (OOMs) serve a simple purpose but it’s not always easy to craft one that’s both personal and professional.

OOMs are messages you set up that automatically deliver to people when they send you an email, instant message, or some form of digital communication.

For example, if we went on vacation, we might set an autoresponder like:

I will be out of the office from December 23 through January 4. I will respond to all messages at that point. If this is an emergency, please call my assistant, John Doe, at 415-555-1212. Thank you for your understanding.

Why Are Out of Office Messages Important?

Anyone who communicates digitally needs to set up OOMs if they find themselves away from their inboxes and chat windows for longer than one business day or so.

OOMs let those who contact you know that it will be some time before you respond.

For starters, they act as reassurance (since you are not ignoring them) and confirmation of delivery.

The Ingredients of the Ultimate Out of Office Message

When it comes to writing an out of office message (OOM), what are the ingredients, so to speak, that you need for the ultimate piece?

Well, there aren’t that many.

The Dates That You Will Be Gone

The first thing you will want to mention is when you will be gone. This allows those who contact you to estimate when they might hear back from you.

Out of Office Message Time
Image courtesy of udithawix via Flickr

It also provides some information on what your turnaround time might be. For example, if you are out for three months, it might take some time for you to respond to all of your messages.

Conversely, if you are out for just a day, your contact could reasonably expect a response 1-2 business days after your return.

Alternate Contact Options and Information

There might be reasons where someone needs to get in touch with you right away.

For those instances, you have two options:

The Gatekeeper

Provide the name of someone who is willing to act as a gatekeeper for you.

The sender first gets in touch with your gatekeeper, and if your gatekeeper thinks it is necessary, they will then forward the message to you.

Alternative Or Emergency Contact Method

Provide an alternate method of contacting you, along with instructions on when those contact details can be used.

For example, you might say something like, “In case of emergency, please call my cell phone at 512-555-1212.”

How to Spice Up Your Out of Office Message Without Looking Unprofessional

Once you’ve provided the minimum information required (when you will be out and your alternative contact information), you can add a bit more to make your out of office message more engaging.

However, there is a fine line between sounding like a robotic autoresponder and going off the deep end, writing something that is totally inappropriate or unnecessary.

To keep this from happening, the following sections cover ways you can personalize your OOM messages, along with suggestions on how to keep things appropriate.

person holding iphone and typing on macbook
Image courtesy of William Iven on Unsplash

Add a Bit More Information About Yourself

Feel free to provide a bit more about why you are out of the office, such as what you are doing or where you are going.

The additional information helps the original sender feel like they know you better and on a more personal level.

Do Not Digress

Providing you don’t over-do it, your message will be more engaging and potentially deepen the connection between you and your recipient.

Hi, I am attending a conference with fellow technical writers in Amsterdam this week. I hope to bring back tools that will make our docs even better! I will have limited access to email during this time. If you need immediate assistance before Monday, please contact [colleague].

By providing meaningful information, your recipient will also have a conversation starter the next time they get in touch with you!

Include Seasonal Greetings

It’s likely that your vacations correspond to a holiday so that you might include seasonal greetings in your message.

We do want to note, however, that this is an area that is fraught with peril. This is especially so when it comes to the holidays in December.

It’s unlikely that you’ll get pushback of any type when you include, “Happy Independence Day” in July.

On the contrary in December, you might keep it simple and inclusive by using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah.”

Offer Your Senders a Resource

Out of Office Message Resources
Image courtesy of joahonen via Flickr

After you have provided the necessary information in your OOM, you might redirect to alternate content that you (or your company) has produced.

This is an easy way of getting the word out about a particular piece of content, while also serving as a way to give your sender something to look at while you’re out.

What Kind of Resources Could I Redirect To?

For example, here’s a message that highlights a new white paper that the sender may be interested in:

Hello! Thanks for your message.

I’m not in the office this week but I should be able to get back to you early next week. If this is an emergency, please contact Brian ([email protected]); he should be able to help you.

Until I get back, you might be interested in our new white paper, “How to Respond to Google’s Recent Algorithm Changes.” It explains everything you need to know with clear and easy steps on how to update your website. And best of all: it’s free!

I look forward to contacting you when I get back.

When choosing the resource you’re going to provide, consider your audience. Who is most likely to email you while you are gone?

Offer Variations of Your Email

Some email suites, such as Microsoft Outlook, allow you to send different messages to internal or external email addresses.

If this is the case, you might consider a more personal message to your colleagues and a more professional one to your clients.

This, of course, depends on the nature of your business.

Examples of Great Out of Office Messages

You might think that there isn’t much room for differences when it comes to out of office messages.

In fact, there are many ways you can write unique messages while still sounding professional. Let’s take a look at some good examples:

Good Examples – 1 & 2

Thank you for your email. I am currently out of the office, but I will return on January 5, 2019. I will have limited access to email while I am out. For immediate assistance, please contact me on my cell phone at 312-555-1212.

This message, along with the one that follows immediately, are simple and do the job. They include the information needed for those contacting you to set the appropriate expectations.

I will be out of the office from April 5-6. For urgent matters, please contact my assistant, John Doe, at [email protected] Otherwise, I will respond to your message upon return.

Good Example 3

However, if you are in a less formal industry, you could get creative and interject some personality and humor into your message:

Thanks for your email!

I am out of the office for the Thanksgiving week: off to Six Flags with my kids who love to terrify me.

Roller Coaster

I’ll be back in the office next Monday ([Date]). But give me a few days to get my balance back.

If this is an emergency, you can call me at 212-555-1212. If I’m not screaming, I’ll pick up.

Good Example 4

Even if you can’t be as casual, you can still include some personal information in your message:

Hi, I’m celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary with my wonderful husband — hiking the Himalayas. So I won’t have access to my email for the next month — until [date]. In the meantime, my right hand, Julia, will be covering for me. You can reach her at 480-555-1212 or [email].

Questionable Out Of Office Messages

As simple as out of office messages can be, there are definitely things you should not do.

Bad Example 1

For instance, this auto-response is completely uninformative and unhelpful:

Thank you for your email; I am currently out of the office.

Bad Example 2

The following message, in addition to lacking any functional information, is also unprofessional (though some industries may be tolerant…)

I am currently out of the office. I’m in the Philippines, where I am likely drunk off my a**.

Bad Example 3

Here’s another demonstration of what one should NOT do.

Hi! I’m not here right now, and I’m avoiding email and voicemail while I’m out. The following week, I will have limited voicemail access, so please call my phone if this is an emergency.

If you have to ask yourself if a piece of information should be included, the answer is probably no.

When in doubt, cut it out.

How to Set Up an Out of Office Message

If you’re unfamiliar with setting up an out of office message, we’ll show how to do so using Gmail. If you aren’t using Gmail, don’t worry.

Out of Office Message Gmail

The steps will likely be similar, though you will need to refer to your product’s documentation for the specific locations of the settings you need.

  1. Log in to Gmail.
  2. In the top right, click the cog icon and choose Settings.
  3. On the Settings page, scroll down to the Vacation responder section.
  4. Switch the toggle from Vacation responder off to Vacation responder on.
  5. Provide the requested information:
    • The dates during which you want auto-responses sent.
    • The subject of your email
    • The body of your email
  6. Scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save.

Conclusion

You don’t have to send out of office messages that sound like robots generated them — as a matter of fact, it’s best to personalize and include useful details in your messages!

However, don’t go off the deep end and be completely unprofessional — do not confuse your work email for Facebook!

Related Reading

Image of roller coaster by Magda Ehlers via Pexels. It is in the public domain.

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