An out-of-office message solves a big problem: you take time off, but your email inbox doesn’t.
I’ll show you how to walk out the office door and wave goodbye to inbox anxiety. And we’ll leave it in safe hands – I promise.
Automated out-of-office messages are here to save the day.
It’s a modern tool, solving our modern problems.
I can only imagine what work life was like before the internet. You went on holiday and someone let the letters build up on your desk?
Your phone rang and no one answered?
Well, it was before my time. All I know is that sometimes it feels like going on holiday isn’t worth it.
I’ve taken trips where I spent half the time refreshing my email app. And the other half I was worried that an enormous fire had broken out in my inbox.
I worried that people felt ignored. I worried that opportunities were flooding in and going begging.
And sometimes it wasn’t a vacation.
Business trips, conferences, summits – lots of things can separate you and your emails for a day or two. And you need to be able to focus on them.
You need to know that things are taken care of – with systems in place to deal with anything that could possibly arrive.
Luckily, for about as long as I’ve realized this was a problem, I’ve also had the option of out-of-office messages.
There’s an art to these – make no mistake. They need a firm hand, and also some reassurance.
We’ll go through it all. I’ll show you all of the steps to writing your own automated replies, as well as give you some template examples to use.
What is an Out-of-Office Message?
An out-of-office message is an automated email response. It gets sent in reply to any email you receive during the timeframe you set. This can be used to let people know that you are unavailable, and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
A good example of an out-of-office message would be:
Thanks for your message. I am currently out of the office, starting on 09/08/2020 and returning on 09/10/2020. I will respond to messages as soon as possible after that.
If you have an urgent matter or emergency, you can reach my colleague Sam with email@example.com.
Have a great day!
Every out-of-office message should contain:
- How long you are away for and when you will return
- Who they should contact with anything urgent
- When they might hear from you if required
Generally, these messages are good when you’ll be away for more than a day or two. I also see people set them over the weekend quite often.
My rule is this:
If anyone would expect a reply from me before I get back, then I leave an out-of-office message.
Why You Need an Out-of-Office Message
The simplest reason to have an out-of-office message is to let people know you’re not available.
There’s more to it than that, though.
Firstly, letting people know prevents them from feeling let down.
Automated Responses Let People Know You’re Not Ignoring Them
Without an out-of-office message, people are going to presume you’re ignoring them. And what else can you expect?
Even if you’ve told everyone in the office you’ll be gone, and posted a beach photo, someone will forget.
So, remind them. And direct them to other people or resources so nothing bad happens while you’re away.
Avoid Worrying About Email While You’re Away
Whether it’s for fun or business, you’re away for a reason. You’ve got things to focus on, or moments to enjoy.
The whole point of an automated message is so you can do just that. It’ll let you leave your inbox worries just where they should be – in the ‘office’.
Automated Messages Help You keep Opportunities
One of the great fears of leaving your inbox alone for a while is that something huge will come along. You’ll get an offer or an invitation that you’ve always wanted.
But, of course- you’re away. So it sits around for too long, and the chance moves on.
A well written out-of-office message might hold the door open.
When you get back, you can follow up quickly on leads and get results that would’ve been missed if you hadn’t automated replies.
Keep Your Subscribers Happy
If you’ve spent a lot of time building active email lists, you don’t want that work undone in a short break. Even if you’ve automated campaigns and content, it’s important to be seen as responsive.
An out-of-office message can show someone that you genuinely appreciate the message.
Have Things Handled While You’re Away
If it’s an option for you, provide a colleague’s contact details. By the time you get back, the situation can be handled for you.
You might owe the colleague a drink or three, but the point stands.
Including another contact option makes people feel better about your absence. Even if they don’t need to send them a message, they know that the option is there if really needed.
How to Automate Your Out-of-Office Message
I’ll show you how to find the feature in 2 of the most popular email providers: Outlook and Gmail.
Automated Out-of-Office Message with Outlook
Open Outlook in your browser:
- Click the ‘settings’ button (it looks like a gear)
- In the pop-up menu, click on ‘View all Outlook settings’ link
- Make sure you’re in the ‘Mail’ tab
- Click ‘Automatic replies’ from the list menu
- Turn on Automatic replies
- Enter the dates for your out-of-office message
- Write or copy your message and click save (I’ll show you how to write it below and give handy templates)
Automated Out-of-Office Message with Gmail
This is a guide for Gmail in your browser:
- Click the ‘Settings’ button (it looks like a gear, as pictured)
- Click ‘Settings’ in the drop-down menu
- Scroll right to the bottom of the Settings page, where you will find ‘Vacation responder’
- Fill out your dates, subjects, and out-of-office message, then click save
Now that you know how to set an out-of-office message, let’s go through the steps for writing one.
How to Create Your Out-of-Office Message
Every person and situation is different, and so the message will be too. The format doesn’t change a lot unless you really want it to.
The point is to get the right message across and keep everyone happy.
I’m going to run through the steps to write yours. I’ll show you what definitely needs to go in, and what to consider including.
First up, write a subject line.
Step 1: Write a Subject Line Getting Straight to the Point
In the subject line, tell the reader exactly what the message is.
Something like ‘I am currently out of the office’ is really simple and should do the trick. I like to leave it short and simple so that the reader knows whether they need to read it or not.
Using a joke or something vague here can really annoy someone who was eager for a response to their message.
Step 2: Write a Greeting That Matches Your Personality and Situation
Generally, pick a greeting you might use for a manager, client, or industry leader you’ve never met.
This is probably going to be slightly more formal than messages to mates about Friday drinks.
It’s probably going to be more like ‘Hello’ and much, much less like ‘Yo’. But hey, you do you.
Personally, I do like my voice to come through in all of my emails, so I often use ‘Hey’ and then use informal phrasing.
Step 3: Say That You Are Away
Make it very clear that you are away and will not be reading emails.
You need to make sure there’s no room for confusion. Even if it’s their mistake, you don’t benefit from any misunderstanding. So be very clear about this.
Also, you might want to say why you’re away, but that’s up to you.
Step 4: Say How Long You Will Be Gone For
Let people know how long you will be gone. This will help them decide whether something can wait, or they need to contact someone else.
Be careful though:
There’s a big difference between saying when you’ll be back at the desk, and when you’ll send them a response.
Because of that, I recommend an extra step here.
Step 5: Give An Idea When They Can Expect A Reply
I strongly recommend you don’t promise every Tom, Richard, and Harry that you’ll reply to them on your first day back.
You need to think about this for your situation. I intentionally keep it a bit vague but reassure them that I care.
So, use something like this:
‘I will be returning to work on the 15th of July, and responding to messages as soon as possible that week.’
Step 6: Give Alternative Contact Information For Urgent Matters
Another option is to avoid having to reply at all.
You can do that by providing alternative options for them straight away. If other team members are handling things, give their contact details in the message.
Or, this could just be in case of an emergency.
You can include something like:
‘If you have something that needs urgent attention, my colleague Ash can be reached with firstname.lastname@example.org.’
Just make sure Ash and anyone else included know this is happening and have given you the all-clear. You’re coming back to a busy inbox, you don’t need to be dealing with angry colleagues as well.
Step 7: Sign Off Simply
In the most basic form, your out-of-office message has everything it needs at this point.
Your last step is to sign off, matching the tone and formality you’ve already established.
If your greeting was formal, go with something like ‘Regards’ or the ever-popular ‘Best’. Then leave your name.
There are cases where you might want to add something fun or light, so check out the examples below.
I do really want to stress this though: you don’t know who is going to receive this email. Don’t create a bad impression with someone important by trying to make your mates smirk.
Out-of-Office Mistakes You Should Avoid
Whatever your work situation, give each of these mistakes a look. Even if you decide your brand can hold up to some sarcasm and wit, it won’t hurt to think it through first.
And some things are just straight up non-optional.
Don’t Leave Out Any Important Information
A message that creates confusion is going to frustrate everyone.
Anyone who receives it will be frustrated they don’t understand what to expect.
You’ll be frustrated that they didn’t understand.
You’ll frustrate any colleagues who have to deal with the mess you left them.
So be clear about your dates and the options left for the person emailing you.
Don’t Promise Your Alternative Contact Will Reply
If someone is good enough (or straight up obliged) to have their contact information in the message, don’t make it harder for them.
They’ve got their own work to do, and won’t thank you for signing them up to same-day-message-delivery.
Avoid precise commitments.
Avoid Giving a Date For Your Reply
As I mentioned above – you’re probably going to have a lot to deal with when you dive back into the inbox. Even if you’re only away for a day, it’s extra.
So don’t say you’ll be replying on a specific date.
Anyone reading that would be well entitled to expect it. And that leaves potential for disappointment.
Don’t Include Your Personal Phone Number Unless Essential
If you’re going on vacation or doing something important, don’t leave your phone number in the message.
Anyone important enough to need to interrupt your time away has access to the number.
Your boss knows how to reach you. If you would prefer someone to contact you directly, then give them the number.
If you’re really worried, make sure the person handling your urgent emails knows how to get to you.
Just don’t try to solve your inbox worry by allowing disruptions.
Don’t use Tone-Deaf Humor
There’s a time and place for attempted humor.
I actually love funny out-of-office messages, personally. But I’m not your boss or your boss’s boss.
You can’t possibly predict exactly who will try to email you.
Trying to amuse a colleague or friend isn’t worth looking like a fool to a manager.
Whilst you might think the tone is light and the joke obvious, once it’s going out to literally everyone who emails you, you can’t control the impression.
And you might not be able to undo the damage.
If in doubt: play it safe, and save the charm for your follow-up reply.
15 Out-of-Office Message Examples
The format stays pretty consistent through these examples. The key is to find something that matches your absence.
First up, everyone’s favorite: vacation.
1. Formal Vacation Message
Thank you for your email. I am on vacation at the moment but I will be back in the office from [INSERT DATE]. I will respond to your message as soon as I can once I return.
Your message will not be automatically forwarded. If you need urgent assistance, you can contact my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL].
Have a great day.
2. Refer Email to Colleague
The difference here is that you are encouraging a reader to contact a colleague. Which has got to be good for you – you’ll come back to a smaller pile.
Thank you for your message.
I am currently on vacation until [INSERT DATE] and do not have access to my email.
Until then, my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] will be taking care of things so please feel free to contact them. You can reach [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL ADDRESS].
3. Light-Hearted Vacation Message
If you’re comfortable letting people know you’re taking a nice vacation, paint them a pleasant picture. They might enjoy a moment of escape too.
I’m sorry that I can’t get to your message right now. I’m currently sitting on a beach, drinking juice, and considering joining the next yoga class.
It’s a hard life. But don’t worry – I’ll be back on [INSERT DATE] and ready to dive head-first into my inbox. I’ll respond to your message as soon as I can.
If you have an emergency, or some urgent business, please do not hesitate to contact my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL].
I hope you are well.
4. Out-of-Office Holidays Message
Over the festive periods, you’re less likely to have a colleague or office contact to give.
Sure, it’s expected that people take time off work for Christmas and New Year. But you should still let them know.
Thank you for your message. I am out of the office for the holiday period, starting December 21st and ending January 2nd.
The rest of my team is also having a break, but we will read your message as soon as we get back.
I hope you and your family enjoy the season, and I look forward to contacting you in the New Year.
5. Weekend Out-of-Office Message
My work is pretty constant. I often get messages from clients and newsletter subscribers over the weekend.
And so, I can see the value in an automated response for the weekend. This is something that will depend a lot on your work. If senders are going to expect a same-day reply, then consider using something like this:
Thanks for your message. I’m away from the office for the weekend, but I’ll be available first thing Monday morning.
I will find your message then and be in touch as soon as I can.
I hope you get some time to relax as well.
6. Conference Out-of-Office Message
Conferences sound productive, so it doesn’t hurt to say that’s why you’re unavailable. And it’s a chance to create networking opportunities.
Subject: I’m at [CONFERENCE NAME]
Thanks for your message. I am away from the office until [DATE]. I’ll be responding to messages as soon as I can, once I’m back.
For anything urgent, you can contact my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL].
If you’re also attending [CONFERENCE NAME], let me know. We might find a few minutes to get coffee and connect.
7. Delayed Response Message
Thank you for your message. I am currently out of the office on business. I’ll be returning on [DATE]. I will only have intermittent access to my emails until then.
Please expect my responses to be delayed up to [INSERT DELAY LENGTH].
In the case of an emergency, you can reach my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL]. Alternatively, the office phone number is [INSERT PHONE NUMBER].
Thanks for understanding.
8. Out-of-Office Maternity Leave Message Example
Taking maternity leave is a pretty common reason to need an automated reply. In this case, it’s important to have one, because they are often quite lengthy periods.
As always, it’s up to you whether you want to include a reason. But if you do, it’s a good way to show people that they shouldn’t expect anything from you before the end of your leave.
However, the things you need to include are the same as any other message.
Thank you for your email. I am out of the office on parental leave starting [INSERT START DATE]. I expect to return to the office by [INSERT END DATE].
And I won’t have access to my email at all between these dates, while I spend time with my family.
My colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] will be handling things for me until I get back. Please don’t hesitate to contact them with [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL] or on [COLLEAGUE’S PHONE NUMBER].
I look forward to catching up when I get back to work.
9. Subscriber Funnel Example
If you’ve already got someone’s attention, offering links to newsletter subscriptions or content is a good way to engage.
Thanks so much for your message. I am currently taking annual leave, and do not have access to my emails.
I’ll be back in action on the [DATE], and I look forward to getting back to you as soon as I can.
In the meantime, you can check out our [EMAIL NEWSLETTER LINK] and our free guide to [E-RESOURCE LINK].
Have a great day!
10. Website Traffic Example
It never hurts to give people the option to visit your website. I suggest putting a positive spin on it – like finding more information or seeing your previous work.
Thanks for your message. Unfortunately, I’m out of the office for a few days. I’ll be gone between [INSERT LEAVE AND RETURN DATE].
Any urgent matters or emergencies can be directed to my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME]. Their email is [INSERT COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL] or call the office on [INSERT PHONE NUMBER].
In the meantime, you might find my website a useful resource. You can access it at [INSERT WEBSITE].
I look forward to speaking upon my return.
11. Social Media Example
Social media details offer another contact option. But it’s still something you can control while away. And you might even get a new follower or two.
I don’t mind leaving my Twitter handle because I don’t have to check the app while I’m on holiday. It’s not as intrusive as giving your phone number out.
Just remember, don’t promise a response.
I am currently away from the desk and enjoying a short break. I will be back responding to emails on [INSERT DATE].
If you would like to reach me before then, you can try contacting me on Twitter with [INSERT TWITTER HANDLE], or Instagram with [INSERT INSTAGRAM USERNAME].
I can’t be certain that my wifi will be great, but I’ll do my best to check them both.
I hope you’re doing well, and I look forward to reading your message when I get back.
12. Lead Generation and Consultation Booking
If you’ve got booking forms, this allows leads to be developed without any action from you. It’s a good way to create opportunities during your inbox down-time.
Thank you for your message. I am currently out of the office on business. I’ll be returning on [DATE]. I will only have intermittent access to my emails until then.
Don’t worry though, you can still book a free consultation to discuss our [SERVICE/ PRODUCT NAME]. Just head over to [WEBSITE LINK] and sign-up!
I look forward to connecting soon.
13. Product Sales Example
I have a friend who runs their own online store. She designs and produces jewelry and homewares. It’s pretty common for customers to email about custom products. When she takes time off, she sends an automated response directing them to products that are already in stock.
They can be purchased, fulfilled, and delivered before she gets back to her inbox, gaining her a sale she might have missed otherwise.
Thanks for your message. I am away from the shop for a couple of days. I’ll be back on the [INSERT DATE] and respond to messages as soon as I can.
If your message is about a custom item, I’d love to discuss your ideas as soon as I return!
In the meantime, I’ve got a range of products available for immediate purchase. Feel free to have a browse over at [SHOP WEBSITE] and grab anything you like. I can have these sent out straight away.
Thanks so much for your support!
14. Funny Out-of-Office Message Example
I’ve seen this one used before, and I really like it. It introduces just the right touch of humor. But what I really like is that it subtly suggests that email is not going to be a priority during your vacation.
I am out of the office and in the trees from [DATE STARTING] until [DATE ENDING].
I will not have access to modern luxuries like wifi. As such, smoke signals will be your best chance of reaching me.
If you have an urgent city-based matter, my colleague [COLLEAGUE’S NAME] may be able to assist. Their email is [COLLEAGUE’S EMAIL].
Otherwise, I’ll be replying to emails as soon as I can when I return from the wilderness.
Have a nice day!
15. Out-of-Office Meme Example
I couldn’t go without mentioning one of the easiest options: finding a funny picture to get your message across.
It’s not always suitable. As I said above, you really don’t know who’s going to end up receiving. But, if you’re confident and bold, you might just make someone’s day.
Here’s one I enjoy:
You might want to drop a line or two about when you’ll be back.
Recap: Your Life, Your Work, Your Out-of-Office Message
We’ve covered the steps to take, and mistakes to avoid.
It should be pretty clear by now that you’ve got a lot of options. As long as you mention time frames and options for urgent situations, the basics are covered.
My last suggestion would be that you give a lot of thought to every out-of-office message you use.
Think about who might read it, and mistakes you absolutely must avoid. And then make sure it’s yours. You want people to feel like it was a message left by you, for them.
Which is a pretty cool thought, actually.
I’ll leave it in your very capable hands.