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“Out of Office” Auto-response Email Replies

You know the “I’m out of the office until blah, blah” automatic response emails people set up in Outlook, Apple Mail, Entourage, or other email programs when they’re traveling?  My advice:  Don’t use it. If you can’t afford an assistant – or at least a Blackberry to track your emails when you’re traveling, then don’t use anything at all.  The auto response was designed way back when very few people could afford laptops or PDA’s to check email on the road. But today, when it comes to perception, it’s an out of date technique that reveals you either:

1)  Don’t have a staff or assistant
2)  Can’t afford a PDA, Blackberry, iPhone, or laptop to check your emails on the road.
3)  Are so anti-technology that you don’t care about your business or personal relationships that much.
4)  All of the above.

Either way – very few people use them anymore, because it doesn’t make you look very professional…  Not to mention that people get annoyed when they receive them.  A much better approach is to condition your associates, family, friends, or business relationships, that email isn’t an “instant” communication method.  If they need something ASAP, either text or call.  Then you can stop sending the auto responses.  What do you think?


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  1. As a one man show, I’m actually putting up an auto responder because I’m going to a place that has like zero reception. In the middle of nowhere. My laptop, etc isn’t to help me. I want to unplug when I’m on vacation – not sure about you guys… I think it’s counter productive to stay in the game while you’re away.

    As a designer, there really isn’t any reason to be contacted while on vacation. There really aren’t emergencies.

    I think auto responders still have a place today and aren’t really old technology.

  2. What are your thoughts about using such messages while on holiday? The last thing we want to do is to train people to expect us to be available to them 365 days of the year.

  3. While annoying, even more so is the guy (cough cough me) who leaves the message on for two or three days after returning. Speaking of unstaffed and anti-technology.


  4. I admit I’m disappointed when I receive an out of office reply to an email that I’m looking to get a quick response from. But I’d rather know that the person is going to be away and may not have access to email while they’re gone. Then I just check back on the date they gave. As good as technology is, sometimes depending where you are while traveling you may not have access to your email. But I like your solution Phil – “If it’s important, text or call.”

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  5. Rodney,

    Are you a one man shop or do you have someone who can cover for you? If you are a one man shop I chances are good, you don't officially get "holiday". If you've got someone who can cover for you, set up your email to be forwarded to that person. I agree that you don't want folks thinking you are available to them 24/7/365. After all, its our job to train our clients how to behave, right? In my business its just me and my business partner. Whenever we are both going to be on holiday or traveling and unaccessible for a few days, (yes, believe it or not this happens regularly), we take a pro-active approach and notify our key clients in advance about how they need to contact us during that time period. We of course both carry iPhones so unless we're outside of AT&T coverage, we're almost always connected. 

  6. Jarrod, thanks for the comment.  I too have tried that — but what I found was that when 24 hours later a client had a need –they generally had no memory of my "I will be away …" email of the day before.

    This is more true of the visionaries than the detail guys, so the auto reply helped.


  7. This is a good post. I was surfing for original ideas to put in my vacation responder, but having read this post I’m now in two minds. YES I want valued clients to know I’m unavailable (NO I don’t want to be bothered unnecessarily) However I don’t want to lose new biz enquries either, unless your selling water coolers! I use a PA service to handle inbound calls and encourage clients to use our helpdesk ticket system so one of the team progress the job (and I can keep an eye on things)

  8. If you’re a one man show it’s down to preference but in some corporate environments, not switching on your out of office notification is almost viewed as tardy, particularly if you’re a Personal Assistant – many PAs don’t have a company Blackberry. I agree that the solution is to forward your emails to a team member who can scan them for urgent messages.


  9. In defense of the “out of office” auto response e-mail:

    Aside from the few “out of office” e-mails I’ve received when the person clearly wasin the office, I’ve never gotten an auto reply e-mail and thought “this person is so unprofessional! why don’t they have an assistant or smart phone?!”

    I don’t think most people in the business world have assistants, and I’m not keen on the idea that if you’re out on vacation you should need to be tied to your smart phone checking for every last e-mail. (Holy lack of life balance, Batman!)

    I also don’t like the idea of sending someone an e-mail and having it silently forwarded or checked by their co-worker (who you’ve basically demoted to their assistant) while they’re out.

    By contrast, a well written out of office e-mail tells me everything I need to know – when the person is out until, and what I need to do to contact them or someone else if the matter is urgent and I can’t wait until they return.

  10. I do not agree with you. An autoresponse is a good solution. As if only people WITH an assistant are professionals. You seem to expect people to think that we should be available to them 365 days of the year, only because we have an e-mail address. This way of thinking is old fashioned. Who would not like to know that someone is out of office, on holiday? At least you know that you don’t need to wait for a quick answer.

  11. This post is just plain ridiculous.
    So your saying having an Out-Of-Office reply on will mean the recipient thinks your unprofessional for not having an assistant to deal with your emails 365 days of the year – or that you can’t afford a smart phone?

    Let’s take a look at the first one – not having an assistant.
    Regardless of whether or not you do have an assistant (and most small business are likely not to), the person sending the email was after a response from YOU not your assistant. Notifying them that YOU specifically will be unable to deal with any requests until your return is a suitable and useful response.

    As for it indicating you “can’t afford a smartphone” – I happen to have an iPhone, but if I am out of the office on holiday for example then I’m OUT of the OFFICE. I don’t want or need to reply to emails. I certainly won’t be checking emails on my “smartphone” just because I can…

    As others have mentioned, taking a holiday serves as a good chance to escape work and relax. Sticking an Out-Of-Office message on means I can relax knowing that anyone that wanted to contact me knows they won’t get a reply until I return – and if it is particularly urgent they can call me (if I answer that is!!).

  12. I don’t want to receive work email on my smartphone because I’m told by our IT people that they would need to reserve the right to wipe my phone in case of any mishap, since I was receiving work emails on it. I’m not prepared to have that done, so it’s no work emails for me, hence an out-of-office message 🙂

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