How to create the perfect out of office message

If you’re going on vacation or are sick and either can’t or don’t want to be reached by email, then an automatic answer in the form of an out of office reply is useful so that your uninformed contacts aren’t kept waiting. An out of office message is a compact text that conveys the most important facts: How long you’ll be unreachable, when your contacts can expect an answer, (optionally) the reason for the absence, and, if necessary, a personal note. A referral to another email address, e.g. to one of your colleagues, is often helpful or even necessary.

To be certain: An out of office reply is a standard part of good email communication. It can be set using the autoreply function of your mail provider or program - just don’t forget to turn it off when you return!

What belongs in the text of an out of office message depends on the context. While some companies expect a formal response, elsewhere it’s common to lighten up the text with small personal elements. In principle, though, an out of office message isn’t personalized - it’s automated. As is so often the case, it’s not what you say but how you say it. After all, you don’t want to annoy or offend anyone who tries to contact you.

Of course, you can always rely on templates and examples when composing an out of office reply. But how do you formulate the perfect out of office message?

Tip

Create your own email address with your own domain! Setting up an out of office message is then incredibly easy.

Out of office message: Step by step

Title

In the title, it’s customary to simply write “Out of Office Reply”. This way, everyone knows that you’re not available immediately after receiving the automated response.

Greeting

Start your out of office message with a greeting. You can also thank them for the incoming message. A combination of these is also possible.

Examples:

  • Dear Sir or Madam, …
  • Thank you for your message!
  • Hello, and thank you for your email!

Reachability

In the second line of the text, you should write the most important information: the time that you can be reached again as well as the reason for your absence. If you’re going to be absent for an indefinite amount of time, then just naming the reason is enough. Information about when you’ll be reachable again leaves a better impression than stating the time of your absence.

Examples:

  • I am currently out of the office on vacation. I will reply to your message when I return on Monday, MM/DD/YY, hh:mm.
  • I will be back in the office on Monday, MM/DD/YY, hh:mm.

No forwarding

If your emails aren’t going to be forwarded or can’t be viewed by a colleague, it is sometimes important to share this information. Depending on the clientele, it may be useful to give a reason or express regrets.

Examples:

  • Your message will not be automatically forwarded.
  • For reasons of confidentiality, your message will not be forwarded.
  • Please understand that your message cannot be forwarded.

Referral

If you’re represented by a colleague, you can direct your contact to their email address and/or telephone number. A request to only use this option in urgent cases can help filter out smaller matters.

Examples:

  • You are welcome to contact COLLEAGUE with any requests you may have: colleague@example.com.
  • In urgent cases, you can contact my COLLEAGUE: colleague@example.com.
  • For emergencies, please call the following number: XXXX.

Ending

You can use a simple ending to finish your message. In an out of office reply, although, it’s also quite common to omit them entirely.

Examples:

  • Thanks,
    NAME
  • Cheers/Best/Regards,
    NAME

Overview: Components with examples

Greeting

Dear Sir or Madam, …

Thank you for your message!

Hello, and thank you for your email!

Reachability

I am currently out of the office on vacation. I will reply to your message when I return on Monday, MM/DD/YY, hh:mm.

I will be back in the office on Monday, MM/DD/YY, hh:mm.

(Forwarding)

Your message will not be automatically forwarded.

For reasons of confidentiality, your message will not be forwarded.

Please understand that your message cannot be forwarded.

(Referral)

You are welcome to contact COLLEAGUE with any requests you may have: colleague@example.com.

In urgent cases, you can contact my COLLEAGUE: colleague@example.com.

For emergencies, please call the following number: XXXX.

(Ending)

Thanks,
NAME

Cheers/Best/Regards,
NAME

Personalized notes - Customize your out of office message

Your out of office message doesn’t have to be as formal as in the above examples. In many fields, for example, you can deal with customers in a more relaxed and cordial manner. Among colleagues, this is especially true if email communication is limited internally within the company so only your colleagues would read the message anyway. Even with many external business partners, a “quick” reply is still common. We show you here how you can personalize your out of office reply and which parts you should forgo.

Personalized out of office message: What you can do

When it comes to style, you can decide for yourself what suits your company. Keep in mind that your supervisors may receive the same out of office message as your colleagues with whom you maintain a more relaxed tone. Consider these tips with caution.

Stylistic device

Examples

Casual formulations

I’m on vacation!

Feel free to contact me when I’m back on MM/DD/YY.

I’ll be back on MM/DD/YY - recharged and ready to go!

Use a special occasion

Happy New Year!

We’re heading off for the Christmas break. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Humor among colleagues

As long as I don’t get eaten in the jungle, you can reach me again on MM/DD/YY.

Here’s to hoping I don’t fall into a ravine on my hike!

In urgent cases, please contact the potted plant on my desk.

Personalized out of office message: What you should leave out

Out of office messages are a fundamentally formal ordeal. Certain stylistic devices can overshoot the mark. We show you which mistakes you should definitely avoid.

Stylistic device

Examples

Relief/gloating

I’m finally on my hard-earned vacation!

I’m running away from my desk into the wilderness.

I’m getting out of here! Hold down the fort for me!

“Who cares” attitude by keeping the message too short

I’m on vacation and won’t be reading any more emails until MM/DD/YY.

I’m out of the office until MM/DD/YY. Please don’t send me any emails.

I’m not there! I’ll be back on MM/DD/YY.

Irrelevant additions

(A picture of a sunbathing polar bear)

(Quote) “What by a straight path cannot be reached by crooked ways is never won.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(Emoticons) Keep your chin up! ;) Cheers, John :D

Out of office message: Templates

General formal out of office reply

Dear Sir or Madam,

Thank you for your email! I am on vacation at the moment and will be back in the office on MM/DD/YY.

For reasons of confidentiality, your message will not be forwarded. In urgent cases, you can contact my colleague COLLEAGUE: colleague@example.com.

Best,
NAME

Formal out of office reply with referral for customers

Hello,

Thank you for your message. I am currently on vacation and don’t have access to my email. Feel free to contact me when I return on MM/DD/YY. Until then, my colleague COLLEAGUE will represent me. You can reach him/her via email (colleague@example.com) or telephone (XXX-XXXX), and he/she will be glad to assist you. Thank you for your understanding.

Regards, NAME

Informal out of office reply for colleagues

Dear colleagues,

If you’re reading this, I’m on vacation. No worries - I’ll be back on MM/DD/YY! In the meantime, COLLEAGUE (colleague@example.com) has kindly agreed to represent me. Please contact him/her in urgent cases.

Stay healthy, everybody! I’ll bring you back something from Argentina - I promise!

See you soon,
NAME

Informal out of office reply for customers

Dear customer,

Thank you for your message! I am currently on vacation and will return on MM/DD/YY. Unfortunately, I will not have access to my email in the meantime. Please don’t hesitate to contact my colleague COLLEAGUE (colleague@example.com) in case of an emergency. Your mail will not be automatically forwarded. Thank you for your understanding.

I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Best, NAME

The risks attached to using an out of office message

Using an out of office message is part of customary, professional email communication. However, it is essential to think twice about the information you share when setting up your OOO message.

It is becoming more frequent for criminals to use the information you share to their advantage. For example, criminals could use the information to plan a break in to a home or an office. Moreover, automatic out of office messages carry a great advantage for spam senders, when sending messages to thousands of randomly generated email addresses, the automatic reply acts as a filter, letting senders know which addresses actually exist.