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Opinion: Bon Voyage! How to write an effective out of office message

Off on holidays? One final task before you hit the high road, setting your ‘out of office’ message. Hurray!

Image: alphaspirit via Shutterstock

SO YOU’RE OFF on your holliers. You can’t feckin’ wait. You’re about to skip out of the office and, really, you couldn’t care less if the place burns down in your absence, so long as you manage to board that plane. One final task before you hit the high road, putting on your ‘out of office’ message. Hurray!

You stop for a second. The childlike excitement has kinda gone to your head and you’re giddy with anticipation at the thought of getting into that lift and not returning for 17 whole glorious days. So you start to wonder. If you could write whatever you wanted on that message, what would it say? Hold the decorum and the office etiquette. What would a no-holes-barred out of office say?

How about:

I am out of the office on annual leave. In my absence, please allow me to point out the following;-I will not be checking my e-mails. Yes, I will have access to them, but no, I won’t be checking them. Because I am ON HOLIDAYS.This mail has not been auto-forwarded. I don’t believe in asking someone else to do two jobs instead of one because I happen to be on a beach somewhere. (And more to the point, I don’t want to find myself double jobbing come August.)So in my absence, please go away and park your s**t at someone else’s door. Because I will be in no mood for it when I get back.(If) and when I do return and eventually open my mail (I plan a lot of late nights followed by a longhaul) I will read them in order of their arrival. Not according to who capitalises the title. Not because ‘URGENT’ is emblazoned across the headline. And DEFINITELY NOT because the mail has gone some luminous shade of obnoxious-ville and has explanation marks straddling it. Because being greeted with that of a Monday morning upon your return is just plain rude.PS. Depending on the quality of the local brew, I may never return. Adios amigos!

You’d probably be riding the crest of a wave for a few days when you came back. The funniest employee they ever had. Until you got fired.

But seriously, how many of us actually dread going on holidays because ‘The Aftermath’ takes weeks to clear up.

As we sheepishly ask a colleague if they ‘wouldn’t mind, could possibly’ handle this and that in our absence. Only to then hang them out to dry in your out of office regardless of their appetite for more work, right before you skip away on that glorious Friday evening giddy with excitement. Not thinking too much about any dodgy decisions you may have made that particular afternoon because even though you know they’ll probably come back to bite you , on this particular evening, quite frankly, you couldn’t give a hoot. Because we all know all too well what a ‘pile’ will be awaiting us upon our return. No matter how hard we work in the lead up.

But when it gets to the stage where holidays are delayed, or even avoided, because of that dread, or when the fear of the inbox straying into four figures by the time you return starts overshadow the holiday itself, things have gone too far. And some ‘me time’ needs to be claimed back.

A bullish out of office won’t, in reality, change other people’s behaviour in your absence. But it may make you feel better whilst you’re gone.

On that note, a friend recently told me about his own preferred approach, which now that the Silly Season is officially upon us, I thought I might share. Said he was going to issue the following instruction in his out of office:

I am out of the office until the X of July. If you wish me to read your e-mail, please resend it to me on that day.

Genius. Short, snappy and to the point. Professional but with a definite P.F.O. undertone. I will not be harassed whilst on holiday. And more importantly I will not be made pay for it by being overloaded upon my return. Love it!

Completely avoids the mother of all ‘Sunday Night Horrors’ the night before you return because it miraculously converts ‘Black Monday’ into just another day. Albeit a busy one. As opposed to the mother of all sifting, speed reading, deleting, filing, prioritising, cursing, nail biting, of days.

Or if you want to frame it in slightly more diplomatic terms (Ladies, listen up, you may prefer this approach. We tend to be worse at putting ourselves first than our male counterparts are and we generally feel more inclined to justify our behaviour):

I am out of the office until Monday the X of July. To avoid duplication of work and/or my working with out of date information, please feel free to re-send me your e-mail on that day when I would be delighted to assist.

An infuriatingly polite P.F.O.

They may curse you from a height. But a tiny part of them will also respect you. And may even copy and paste your message for themselves…

Claire Micks is the mother of a (reasonably behaved) three-year-old girl and an (entirely spoiled) 15-month-old boy. She survives by day and writes by night. Croaks rather than tweets, but despite that somehow manages to get her ramblings published on occasion.

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