If you want to stand out in your career, it’s important to be professional and reliable at all times — even when you’re taking time off. But everyone deserves some time off from work. If you have a good work/life balance, your vacation should be a true vacation, without checking your email every five minutes.

So how can you remain reliable? The key is an effective “Out of Office” auto-responder, which automatically gets sent to whoever emails you after you activate it. You might think this is obvious, and if so, good for you — you already have great professional etiquette. Unfortunately, there are people still behind. If you are one of these people, and you take time off without setting an out of office, you’re making everyone who emails you think you’re ignoring them. In the age of immediate communication, this will aggravate people and make you seem unreliable.

There are two types of auto responders we’ll cover:

  • The “Out of Office” reply – for when you’re on vacation, medical leave, have a family emergency, etc.
  • The “Slow to Respond” reply – for when you’re at a work-related event

How to Write an “Out of Office” Reply

Keep your “Out of Office” reply short and simple. Here’s an example “Out of Office” message you can use:

Subject line – Out of office:

Hello,

Thanks for your email. I am out of the office until [DATE]. I will reply to your email after I return.

If you need more immediate assistance, please email John Doe (jdoe@fakename.com).

Best,
[YOUR NAME]

Short, sweet, and professional. Notice the non-committal phrases, too:

  • You’ll reply “after” you return, not “when” you return. Don’t commit yourself to reply THE DAY you return. You might come back to hundreds of emails — give yourself time to catch up.
  • “More” immediate assistance, not “immediate assistance.” Don’t commit your colleagues to reply immediately. They’re already going above and beyond to help you out when you’re away. Instead, they’ll be able to provide assistance “more immediately” than your return date.

Here are things you should not include in your Out of Office message:

  • Why you’re out. Don’t brag about your tropical getaway. Don’t relinquish details of your medical mishaps. Don’t confess you have a family emergency. It’s really none of anyone’s business why you’re unavailable — people just need to know that you areunavailable.
  • When your first day out was. Many people say, “I will be out of the office from [DATE LEFT] to [DATE GETTING BACK]. If someone is receiving this OOO message, you are already out of the office. There’s no need to reveal how long your vacation is. This will just give Competitive Cathy ammo to hold against you.
  • Where you’re going. Again, there’s no need to brag. Also, if a perfect stranger emails you, they’ll also receive your OOO. Just like you shouldn’t tell the world on social media that you’re away from your home, you shouldn’t via email either. Don’t call me paranoid — my neighbors got burglarized just last year when they left for a long weekend. It happens.
  • Excuses. Don’t say you will not have access to wifi. Don’t say that you need to sleep off an illness. Again, it’s nobody’s business why you’re out. Just let them know that you’re out.

How to Write a “Slow to Respond” Message

A “Slow to Respond” message is what you should use if you go on a business trip, have a team offsite, or any other occasion in which you’re still working, you’re just not going to be able to reply to your email as reliably as usual. Do not use a “Slow to Respond” when you’re on vacation. Take a vacation. But it’s essential to remember the “Slow to Respond” when you will, for whatever reason, be working but slower to respond. Here’s an example “Slow to Respond” message you can use:

Subject line – Slow to Respond:

Hello,

Thanks for your email. I am at [EVENT NAME] until [DATE] and may be slow to reply until then.

If you need more immediate assistance, please email John Doe (jdoe@fakename.com).

Best,
[YOUR NAME]

Again, short and sweet, much like the OOO. In this case, it’s good to say where you are in case whoever emails you is there, too. It might be a good opportunity to connect at the event itself.

Instructions for Setting Up Auto-responders

Your instructions for technically setting up this auto-responder will depend on which email client you use. Here are the instructions for some of the most popular email clients:

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