What is an out-of-office message?
Out-of-office (OOO) messages are automatically generated replies. They’re sent as a response when an email arrives in your inbox. Most professionals create an OOO message when they’re away from work and unable to check email due to:
- Vacations or paid time-off
- Personal leave
- Business travel
- Courses, workshops or conferences
- Office closures for holidays or team-building events
Why do you need an out-of-office message?
Most people expect a swift response to emails. In one survey, nearly 28% of respondents in the United States expected a reply to an email within an hour. Another study found that 50% of email replies are usually sent within two hours.
An OOO message is a useful way to manage these expectations when you know you can’t check your email regularly. It puts senders at ease and lets them know:
- Their email was received
- There’s going to be some lag time in your response
- The date you’re back at your desk
- How to proceed if their inquiry is time-sensitive
Best practices for out-of-office emails
Before you set up your OOO message, decide how your emails are going to be handled during your absence so you can include the appropriate information in your message.
- Are you checking emails periodically or not at all?
- Who can handle urgent requests while you’re away?
- Should copies of your emails be forwarded to a colleague; for example, during an extended leave?
What to include in an OOO message
Like any organizational communication, OOO messages reflect on your company’s brand. Keep your message polite and concise.
An effective out-of-office message typically:
- Includes a professional greeting
- States the reason you’re absent (optional)
- States the dates you’re away
- Advises if you’re accessing email during your absence
- Provides an estimated date the sender can expect a response
- Informs the sender who to contact for urgent requests
What to leave out of an OOO message
An out-of-office message is meant to manage expectations, so be sure you don’t create new ones. Avoid confusion and maintain professionalism by not including:
- A specific time for your response. Unless you’re absolutely certain you’re going to reply the day of your return, don’t promise you will. Simply state that you will answer the email as soon as possible after you’re back.
- A specific time for your colleague’s response. You can refer the sender to a coworker, but unless you’ve made a specific arrangement with your colleague that your clients take priority over their workload, don’t commit them to providing immediate assistance. Let your colleague determine how much of a priority the message is.
- Typos and grammatical errors. As with any workplace communication, give your OOO message a quick proofread before finalizing it.
- Unnecessary details. While you may be excited about your wilderness camping trip or family reunion, opt for professionalism and describe your absence as a vacation.
- Personal information. Because auto-replies are sent in response to any email that arrives in your inbox, including spam, some security experts suggest removing personal information from an OOO message. This includes your title, company name, phone number and other contact information. The less personal information provided, the better.
How to set up an out-of-office message
The procedure for setting up an OOO message varies by email platform and version. Here’s the general process for creating an automatic reply on Outlook.
- From the menu bar in Outlook, select File.
- Select Automatic Replies (Out of Office).
- Click the dialog box for Send Automatic Replies.
- Click the check box for Only Send During This Time Range.
- Enter the date and time that you want the OOO message to begin.
- Enter the date and time that you want the OOO message to end.
- Enter your message in the content box.
- Create a separate message for internal and external email addresses, if necessary.
- Select OK.
If your version of Outlook doesn’t support automatic replies, you can set up an out-of-office email using email rules to manage messages.
Auto-reply isn’t supported in Apple Mail except through iCloud.com.
7 out-of-office message examples
Here are some templates and subject lines to use when creating out-of-office emails for different situations. They can be customized according to your needs.
1. Basic message
This template is the most straightforward and can be used if you aren’t referring senders to a colleague.
Subject: Out of the office
Thank you for your email. I’m currently [out of the office/on vacation] until [date] and will respond as soon as I can upon my return.
2. Unavailable or not checking emails
Use this template to let senders know you aren’t responding until you’re back in the office. This removes some of the pressure to reply immediately, even if you do periodically check your email while you’re away.
Subject: I’m out of the office until [date]
Thank you for your email. I’m out of the office until [date] with no access to email. I’ll respond as soon as possible upon my return.
3. Checking emails occasionally
If you’re planning to check messages during your absence but are travelling or in meetings, send an OOO message that alerts senders to a possible delayed response.
Subject: Out of the Office – Thank you for your patience
I’m out of the office until [date] with limited access to email. I’ll respond as soon as I can, but there may be a delay before you hear from me. Thank you for your patience.
4. Redirecting urgent inquiries
When you’re away but have a colleague covering urgent inquiries on your behalf, you can include their contact information in your OOO message.
Subject: Away from the office until [date]
I’m currently away from the office until [date] and will respond to your email as soon as I can when I return. If you have an urgent request, please contact my colleague, [name of person and email] or call our main switchboard for assistance at [number].
5. Away on extended leave
If you’re on a medical, parental or sabbatical leave, you may want to have all of your emails forwarded to a coworker. An OOO message can clarify the arrangements made in your absence.
Subject: I’m currently on leave until [date]
Thank you for your email. I’m on parental leave until [date]. Your email has been automatically forwarded to my colleague, [name], who is handling my accounts during my absence. [name] will get back to you shortly but if you need to reach him/her in the meantime, please call [phone number].
6. Alternate contacts
You can also use an OOO message to direct the sender to multiple colleagues depending on the nature of their inquiry. This is an ideal option if customer service is a high priority for your business.
Subject: I’m away from the office, but my colleagues can assist you
Hello, and thanks for your message. I’m away from the office until [date] with no email access. Your message is important to us. If you require assistance before my return, my colleagues are happy to assist you. Please feel free to contact:
[name] for general enquiries [email address]
[name] for advertising enquiries [email address]
[name] for sales support [email address]
Please also visit our website at [URL] for more information about our company.
Otherwise, I look forward to connecting with you when I’m back in the office.
7. Company-wide closure
When your company is closed for a holiday or team event, an OOO can let the sender know you will be in contact when the business reopens.
Subject: Our offices are closed from [insert dates]
Thank you for your message. Our offices are closed for the holidays from December 24 to January 2. We look forward to assisting you in the New Year. In the meantime, please visit our website at [URL] for more information or to sign up for our newsletter.
Sample out-of-office message policy
Consider implementing an out-of-office message policy to ensure consistency throughout your company. Here’s a sample policy that you can adapt to suit your business and incorporate into your employee handbook.
Please follow these guidelines when creating your out-of-office message.
- Employees who are away from the office for more than one day should set an autoresponder for emails.
- Out-of-office messages are to be used solely to advise senders that you’re out of the office and that your response may be delayed.
- An out-of-office message should be created when staff are absent for paid time-off, vacation days, sick leave, business travel, conferences and courses. However, employees do not need to specify the reason for the absence.
- State that you’re out of the office and unable or delayed in responding to emails.
- State the dates you’re away and the date you are returning.
- Provide an alternate email contact for urgent inquiries.
- If you do not have an alternate email contact, provide the main switchboard number so urgent inquiries may be redirected.