Don’t rush your out of office reply

It’s easily done. You’ve finished everything off and you’re rushing out of the office to start your well-earned break. Just one more thing – you need to put on the out of office reply so that people know when you’ll be back.

This is the problem. People are so often in a hurry when they do this task, that they make careless mistakes because they didn’t take the time to check the message. So you find out that people will be back in the office on 11nd April, 214th September or 11th Julyne.

I’ve seen a lot of replies because one of my more tedious tasks in a former job was to flip through them to make sure nobody had written anything inappropriate which could put the organisation in a bad light. Believe me, sometimes people did, so skimming through them was actually justified.

Anyway – most of the time people won’t misunderstand a badly written out-of-office reply, but they can give the impression of someone who is sloppy, so it’s better to take those extra few seconds to check. Here are some tips:

1. Check that dates are written correctly – see the examples above for how not to do it. Be consistent with your date formats if you mention more than one date. Write 21st March, not 21st of March.
2. To avoid confusion, let people know when they will be able to reach you again. “I will be back on 12th February” is much clearer than “I’m on holiday from 1st to 11th February”.
3. Don’t ramble. People don’t need your life story, they just want to know when they can reach you or whether there is someone else that they can contact in the meantime.
4. If there is someone else for people to contact, make sure that you write down their details correctly. There is nothing more annoying than an incorrect phone number or email address on an out of office reply because it makes the other person waste even more time.
5. Don’t attempt humour. It rarely goes well. You have no idea who will be reading the message, so don’t expect that they will understand or appreciate your sense of humour.
6. If you’re going to have the reply in two languages, or to write in a language that is not your native language, why not get it checked the first time? Then, if there is a mistake, you can avoid sending the mistake out again and again.
7. Let people know what kind of absence it is. If someone is on holiday, I don’t expect them to get back to me. If someone is on a training course/in meetings with occasional access to emails, I know there is a chance that they will reply.
8. If you are likely to be contacted by people outside your own country, use the international dialling codes – +44207 for Central London instead of 0207.

I hope these tips help you to write clear and effective out of office messages. If you can think of any more, you’re welcome to post them in the comments.

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