It’s that time of year again. The time when we office-dwellers take a well-deserved break from our desks, inboxes, and computer screens in order to enjoy the holidays with our friends and families. Now, this separation is tougher for some than others, but even the most diligent workers escape the office for a day or two around this time.
With the end-of-year upswing in time off, one thing becomes critically important. Keeping up with your emails? Nope. Wrapping up unfinished business? Nah. Getting prepared for the New Year? No way. It’s your out-of-office email, of course!
So what do you need to do for a great holiday out-of-office email?
1. Cover Your Bases
There are a few things that are going to need to appear in just about any out-of-office email. It’s all pretty basic information and it can be communicated in just a couple of sentences. Generally, you’ll want to describe when you’ll be gone and set expectations for communication during this time.
Your email should include:
- A subject line letting people know you’re out of office
- The date you’ll be leaving
- The date you’ll be returning
- Your level of accessibility during this time
- How you can be reached (if at all)
- An alternate/emergency contact
If you don’t have all of this information at the time of writing your out-of-office email, simply put what you do know. For example, if you’re flying or traveling to more rural areas, you might have limited cell phone coverage or access to the Internet. Let recipients know you’re uncertain of your availability. You can always update the message later if things change.
Likewise, you might not have a suitable alternate point of contact for the period that you’re out of office. It’s perfectly valid to name yourself as the emergency contact, though you’ll probably want to list an alternative channel, like a text or phone call, to distinguish emergencies from general communication.
It’s also good form to start the message by quickly thanking the contact for reaching out.
2. Honesty is the Best Policy
The point of an out-of-office email is to set expectations for response, subsequent actions, and so on. If the expectations it sets are unrealistic or unclear, it isn’t really any better than not having a message at all.
Nine times out of ten, inconsistencies between the expectations set by out-of-office email and actual response have to do with availability. We tend to use nondescript, catch-all terms like “limited” to describe availability.
A lot of it comes down to beating around the bush to avoid saying that you won’t be available over your vacation. Being unavailable is a bit of a taboo in some workplaces, whether it’s due to organizational or social pressures.
Regardless, it’s a better decision to be honest in your out-of-office message. If you won’t be available, you won’t be available. Let people know. It’s better to say you won’t be available than to say you will be and fail to meet this expectation. A good manager will trust their employees to be as available as they can and understand that time (legitimately) away from work will make them more productive in the long term.
3. Audience, Audience, Audience
You know that great inside joke you have going at the office? The one that has everybody rolling on the floor? Yeah, your out office email probably isn’t the place to put that one on display.
Tasteful humor can certainly have its place in an out-of-office email. Out-of-office emails are naturally a bit stuffy. That said, save the inside jokes unless you’re absolutely certain that your email won’t reach those outside the organization.
To that point, your audience will determine a lot about your message. Think about who will be receiving this message. Will it be just your coworkers and your boss? Your clients? Vendors? Salespeople desperate to hit their yearend quota? All of the above? Well then, you need a message that will work for everyone.
You probably speak differently to your coworkers compared to your clients. You might be fine with giving your boss your personal phone number, but you wouldn’t want that in the hands of a salesperson. Take these factors into account when you’re writing your message.
(If your email client allows it, you can set a specific message for contacts who are in your address book and one for those who aren’t, which can help with the issues of salespeople getting too much info.)
4. Be Festive, But Inclusive
This is a holiday out-of-office email, after all. If you’re comfortable with it, you can humanize your email by giving some insight on your plans. It’s probably best to avoid being too specific, but adding a detail like “Heading out West to see the family” or “Looking forward to eggnog at the cabin” can go a long way.
Generally, it’s acceptable to reference the holiday that you celebrate in talking about your plans. On the other hand, it best to keep anything directed at your audience holiday-neutral. For example, you might mention that you’re celebrating Christmas in the body of the email, but then sign off with “Happy Holidays.”
5. Proofread (Seriously)
Alright, you’ve got a short, but comprehensive message. It’s honest. You’ve crafted it with your audience in mind and you’ve added the perfect amount of holiday cheer. Time to set it and forget it, right?
Check your email over. I know it’s only a few lines of text, but remember Murphy’s Law. There’s nothing worse than broadcasting a typo-laden message to the better part of your address book. It makes you look foolish in front of your coworkers and shows your clients a poor attention to detail. Seriously, proofread your email.
In short, Santa shouldn’t be the only one checking things twice this time of year.
Putting it All Together
Subject: Out of Office: 12/24/15 – 1/4/16
Thanks for reaching out. I’ll be out of the office until January 4th.
While I’m roasting chestnuts and ringing in the New Year, I’ll be checking my email very sporadically.
If you need immediate assistance, give me a call on my cell phone. Otherwise, I’ll address any nonurgent communications upon return.
There it is. All that for a 54-word email. It may seem like a lot of effort now, but you’ll be thanking yourself when you’re rested and you return to an office (mostly) free of fire drills.
Let us know what you think:
- Are you taking time off this holiday season?
- What are you most looking forward to?
- Do you have any special plans for your out-of-office email?