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Leave a clear out-of-office message

Now that summer is upon us, many employees may be planning their annual vacation or just taking a little r&r and slowing the work pace. It may seem like a simple task, but if your out-of-office message is unclear or incomplete, it can cause problems while you're out and when you return.

For instance, if you don't clearly state the dates you'll be gone, your office coworkers and clients might send you multiple emails, inundating your inbox and making it difficult for you to catch up when you return from vacation. And if you don't include the name and contact information in your outgoing message for the coworkers who can help in your absence, your vacation time might get in the way of ongoing projects in the company.

Here are some do's and don'ts for crafting an effective outgoing message:

What to include in outgoing office messages
A good out-of-office reply incorporates the following elements (try to keep these as clear and concise as possible):

  • The exact dates of your time off — If you are simply re-activating the message you used during your last vacation, make sure you change the dates, and double-check to ensure they're right. Be sure to also have an expiration date for the out of office message.
  • The reason for your absence — People might still attempt to get in touch with you if they think you're on a business trip or at a conference. They'll be less likely to try to contact you if they know you're on vacation. If you truly are on vacation, do not attempt to check your inbox. Not only will it be confusing to customers and vendors when you respond, it takes the magic out of the vacation.
  • The people who can help while you're out — Provide their names, phone numbers and email addresses. If you handle multiple areas, specify each person's area of expertise so colleagues and clients know exactly where to go for assistance.

What to avoid in automatic replies:
While you're writing and activating your response message, sidestep these pitfalls:

  • Giving too much detail/trying to be funny — Sure, you're excited about your upcoming week, but send too much information in your message and people might think you're bragging. And unless you're a comedy writer, resist making jokes—they can easily be misinterpreted and give the wrong impression.
  • Committing a colleague's immediate help — You can't predict how quickly your coworkers will be able to respond to emails in your absence, so make sure you don't promise their immediate assistance. On that note, ask your colleagues for permission before you provide their email addresses and phone numbers in your out-of-office message; they might have a big project coming up that will make them too busy to serve as your back up.
  • Telling people you'll respond as soon as you return — You'll have lot's to catch up on the day/week you get back, so avoid saying you'll return emails in a particular time frame. You don't want to make a promise you might have to break.
  • Typos — Your out-of-office message could go to anyone, from your manager to your top client. Avoid embarrassment by proofreading it carefully.

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