When it comes to emails, it can be challenging to establish professional boundaries. After all, many companies assume that as long as you have internet, you're free to answer any messages.
While there was a time that professionals were expected to always be on call, times are slowly changing. These days, it is becoming increasingly common for people to be offline on their days off, and for good reason.
If you're going on holiday, taking time off for your sanity, or need to be away from the office for any other reason, here are some tips on how to write a professional out-of-office email reply.
1. Clear Out-of-Office Subject Header
One of the easiest ways to tell people that you're out-of-office is to change your email reply subject header. Instead of just writing “Out-of-Office”, you can also include the type of leave you are taking, if you are comfortable sharing it.
Here are some examples of out-of-office email subject headers:
- Out-of-Office – Vacation Leave (December 25 – January 4)
- [Out-of-Office] Medical Leave
- Out-of-Office | Paternity Leave
- *Out-of-Office* Emergency Leave
- Out-of-Office (Bereavement Leave)
- Out-of-Office | Maternity Leave
- Out-of-Office ~ Field Work
- [Out-of-Office] Holiday Leave (Christmas Day)
- Out-of-Office – Sick Leave
- Out-of-Office – Getting Married!
2. Mention What Kind of Leave You Are Taking
For some people, it is common to assume that any out-of-office email is for leisure purposes. However, that is not always the case for everyone.
Some people also use out-of-office emails for when they are working, but cannot access their email throughout the day. For example, sales representatives or those undergoing field work may need to travel to areas with no internet connection.
In addition, it is also possible that you are taking time off for personal matters such as hospital visits, funerals, or to recover from illness. With this, it can be awkward to reply to, “I hope you had a good vacation.”
To avoid this, you can insert the details of your leave inside the body of your email instead. You don't have to be honest about your situation if it makes you uncomfortable, but being truthful with your boss, teammates, or clients can help build empathy.
For example, if you were in a car accident and need some time to recover from your injuries, letting your contacts know helps them manage their expectations about your delayed output and expected return.
3. Avoid Unnecessary Apologies
For many workaholics, it's common to include apologies in out-of-office emails, such as “Sorry for not being able to reply right away!” However, it's important to understand that you shouldn't have to apologize for taking time off from work, especially if it's for good reason.
Instead of saying sorry, here are some terms that you can use instead:
- “Thank you for reaching out!”
- “Thank you for the email.”
- “This email has been received.”
In lieu of apologizing, you can politely acknowledge that their message has been officially received. With this, you can opt for language that focuses on thanking them for their time and effort.
4. Don't Guarantee a Reply Date
For many people, it can be overwhelming to see a huge backlog of emails once they return to the office after a long absence. In fact, the anxiety may even double when you use phrases like “I'll respond as soon as I get back to the office.”
Not only can this add a lot of unnecessary pressure to guarantee a reply on the first day of your return, but it also sets the wrong expectations for the people trying to get in touch with you.
While it is proper to acknowledge receipt of an email, it is not necessary to guarantee a reply to it right away. To avoid over-committing when you're available to reply, it is best to stick to a broad answer or a general range instead.
Here are some examples of sentences that you can use:
- I will respond once I am available after the holidays.
- Please expect a reply from me by the end of _______.
- If not urgent, please expect a response by ________.
Remember, if an email is critical, people will either make an effort to call or follow up with you after some time. With this, it's important to put buffers as to not let people hope for a speedy reply.
5. Ask Consent From Back-Up Contacts
For some roles, it's common to have back-up contacts to take on the load when you're away. However, before assigning a boss, colleague, or team member to take on the burden when you're not available, it's essential to get consent.
With many people already overwhelmed with their own work, it can be stressful to take on other people's responsibilities, even if it's just for a short amount of time. In addition, they may not be comfortable giving clients or customers access to certain email addresses or personal phone numbers.
For this reason, before adding someone's contact details to your Out-of-Office email, make sure you ask them if it's okay for you to do so and what details they are comfortable with being shared.
6. Create Different Out-of-Office Emails for Internal or External Parties
Depending on who will receive the email, the amount of information you may be willing to share in your out-of-office email reply may vary. After all, you still have to take privacy precautions, especially when you're on holiday.
For example, while you feel comfortable sharing where you are traveling to with your office mates, you may not want to do so with random people.
Using email management systems, you can set a different out-of-office reply depending on who will receive it. With this, you can give the people the right amount of context about your out-of-office situation.
Create Better Work Boundaries With Your Out-of-Office Replies
In a world wherein we're expected to always be available, an out-of-office email that shows boundaries can make a difference. By being firm with your personal time off, you can teach the people around you the value of your personal life as well.
In addition, by asking others to be respectful of your time, you can also encourage others to them to do the same. While this doesn't sound like such a big deal, it can mean everything to teams when healthy standards are set in the office.
Want to tell your LinkedIn network you're away from the office? Here's how to write an out-of-office message on LinkedIn.