Skip to content

That all-important ‘out of office’ message

Are you one of those people whose job doesn’t follow them on holiday? Lucky you. Even if you are, holidays can cause stress at work in the build-up (as we try to get things done, perhaps unnecessarily) or on our return (catching up with all those emails). How can we ensure a holiday is a proper break from work?

Some people swear that three weeks away gives us a smaller work backlog on our return than a week does. This is because our colleagues start doing the jobs or answering the questions that they would have passed to us. I’m sure there’s some truth in this.

One way to get to this desirable situation more quickly is to ensure that colleagues and customers know well in advance when we’re going to be away. I received an email last month from someone that even had this information in the signature. It simply said: “Please note that I will be on holiday from 16 to 31 July this summer”. It did not need to say any more. I assumed it would be pointless contacting that person during this time, as they’d gone to that effort, which is what they wanted.

Conversely, many people worry that if they can’t be contacted while they’re away, it will somehow reflect badly on them. It probably reflects more badly on their manager. I think there’s a level of respect given to people who really do leave work behind when they’re on holiday. We all have to take our smartphones with us on holiday, but we do not have to have them downloading work emails. A decent compromise is to tell colleagues that we can be telephoned in an emergency, but that we won’t be checking emails or texts. That seems to place a massive filter on unimportant communications.

It shouldn’t be hard to list in advance much of what might crop up during our absence, and ask colleagues to handle specific tasks, offering to do the same for them. If nobody is reading our emails, we can set up mail rules to automatically forward messages from specific customers to these colleagues, rather than sending an ‘out of office’ message.

And that all-important ‘out of office’ message? It really should say you’ll be available again at least one day after you really are, to give you a chance to catch up on your return. I’ve heard of people who, on their arrival back from holiday, go to their email inbox, select all, and hit delete. This is brave. I tend to find that if I filter my bulging mailbox on the word ‘unsubscribe’, I get a list of mass emails that I can probably scan in 10 seconds and delete without reading. That’s a great start.