Figuring out how to write an effective out-of-office message can be a cringe-worthy experience for any small business owner.
Oftentimes, the business operations rely on the activity within your inbox. As you think about taking a summer vacation, separating from an email inbox can produce real anxiety.
What happens if your most important customer needs an urgent matter addressed? What if a valuable employee sends one of those, “Can we talk today?” emails? What about if that prospect you’ve been pursuing for months finally sends you an out-of-the-blue, “We’re ready to move forward” email?
The answer to most of these questions is crafting an out-of-office message that outlines multiple solutions in just a few short sentences.
Here’s how to write an effective out-of-office message
As a small business owner, I avoided setting an out-of-office message on every vacation I ever went on. Instead, I furiously checked emails before my family woke up, after they went to sleep, and periodically when waiting for rides at Disneyland.
Spoiler alert: that’s not what vacation is all about.
Taking time off is important, and an out-of-office message can help create the space for an enjoyable vacation. Don’t be scared to set that OOO message.
To better understand how to write an effective out-of-office message, we asked small business owners and CEOs for their best tips and advice – including OOO examples and a handy template.
From “being personal” to “stating when you return and who to contact in your absence,” there are several tips that may help you construct the perfect out-of-office message – and avoid common communication pitfalls.
Here are 13 tips on how to write an effective out-of-office message:
- Be personal
- Select a Gmail auto-reply memo
- Copy this template
- Have a calendar invite for meetings post-vacation
- Avoid making undeliverable promises
- Specify when a response can be expected
- Be clear and concise
- Add value to your message
- Include a link to a frequently asked questions page
- Proofread your email
- Include humor
- Add a content promotion note
- State when you return and who to contact in your absence
Be personal! If applicable, don't shy away from being personal and sharing what you are doing. After the past few years of travel not being top of mind, vacations should be celebrated. It also adds a human element, which is something most people leave out.
I would love to see that my accountant is in Florida with his family and visiting loved ones or anything of that matter. I think it can be a great lead-in and be an influence for people to realize business owners have personal lives too.
Sarah Blocksidge, Sixth City Marketing
Select a Gmail auto-reply memo
When you use Gmail, writing an effective out-of-office memo is a breeze. Gmail gives you choices, so you have a variety of out-of-office memos to pick from. For instance, when I go on a vacation, I choose one type of out-of-office memo so people trying to send me email content know I'm away. When I go on a business trip, I pick a different out-of-office memo. It helps to give a time range so people wanting to contact you know when to expect your return.
Janice Wald, Mostly Blogging
Copy this template
Here is an example of a simple out-of-office template you can copy and use.
In the subject line, write: Out of Office - Back on .
In the body of the email, write:
"Thank you for your email. I am out of the office from to and will get back to the emails in the order in which they were received upon my return. For urgent needs, you can reach me at . Thank you for your understanding!"
Raaquib Pathan, Salesmate
Have a calendar invite for meetings post-vacation
An effective out-of-office message should include a link to your calendar where people can view it when you return and can schedule a meeting post-vacation. Several tools, like Calendly, offer simplified scheduling in a professional manner. This way, people never feel left in the dark and can know when the best time to reach you is.
Shaun Price, MitoQ
Avoid making undeliverable promises
My best tip for writing an effective out-of-office message is to avoid making undeliverable promises. When you’re writing an out-of-office message, it’s courteous to ensure that there won’t be any hiccups in work due to your absence. But making over-reaching promises that might be difficult to fulfill can become quite problematic.
For example, promising that your colleague will fulfill their needs immediately. You don’t know whether your colleagues will be able to find time in their schedule and come through with your promise. As such, it is important that you don’t get carried away with your promises.
Ryan Stewart, Webris
Specify when a response can be expected
Out-of-office messages can be tricky for a small business owner. It's possible that there is no one else who can cover or provide a response to certain questions, so be sure your OOO message includes when they can expect a response. If you'll be checking email throughout the day, mention that. If you won't have access to the internet until night, let your recipients know. If you won't be available until the trip is finished, that's important to include. As long as you set the right expectations on response time, people will typically be understanding that they don't hear back right away.
Logan Mallory, Motivosity
Be clear and concise
Don't overcomplicate things when writing out-of-office messages. Be straightforward with your message in a professional manner to keep things clear and concise. You don't need to be humorous and geeky in your message. Just letting them know when you're returning and when they can contact you is enough.
Meera Watts, Siddhi Yoga International Pte. Ltd.
Add value to your message
Respect people’s time by adding value to your message. For example, after letting them know you’ll be out of the office, add a list of activities you’ve learned that reduce stress. Include your latest recipes for a delicious protein shake. Share a link to your favorite book.
Unfortunately, most aren’t thrilled about receiving an out-of-office message in response to their email. By adding something of value, you can at least make them feel a bit better about having to wait for your response or having to forward their email elsewhere.
Elliot Schwarcz, Becca's Home
Include a link to a frequently asked questions page
When setting up an automated out-of-office message for your business, one of the best things to include in your automated email is a link to a frequently asked questions page. This will allow general questions to get answered quickly, as well as save you the time of sifting through emails once you return back to the office.
Oshen Davidson, Oshen Davidson Photo
Proofread your email
No matter how professional and creative your content is and how well you structure the email with a professional layout, if a single grammatical error is present in the content, it will automatically lose all of its credibility. Professional entrepreneurs pay attention to the details, so it's a good idea to write all your emails free from any grammatical mistakes if you want to make an impression.
Donta Hallmon, I Peep BXS
One benefit to being overworked is that you sometimes get punchy. Write your out-of-office message then, because people like “funny.” People remember funny. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing so write that you’ll be busy sleeping or golfing or snoring.
Everyone can relate to needing a break.
Leave your emailers something fun like a brief multiple choice quiz about why you can’t respond to their email. “A. I’m on vacation. B. I’m on the most important business trip of my life. C. I’m trapped under a large object. Send help.”
Not only does a funny out-of-office message deliver much needed laughs, but those trying to reach you are less likely to be annoyed that they can’t do so if they’re smiling.
Michael Van, Furnishr
Add a content promotion note
Aside from thanking them for the email, citing when you’ll be back, and providing an alternative contact, you can also use your out-of-office email to garner eyeballs for your business page content. Add a line about checking your recent ebook or blog post and add a link to it to give your contacts something to check while awaiting your reply. It is an incredibly effective and free promotion to take advantage of as a startup business.
Collen Clark, Schmidt & Clark, LLP
State when you return and who to contact in your absence
One thing I highly recommend is letting people know exactly when you are scheduled to be back and respond to emails, but also who to contact in your absence. One of the most frustrating things for people is waiting, which is made worse when people don't know how long they will be waiting I also recommend making it clear who they can go to if their query is urgent and what information they will need to provide so they can collect all the information and address the issue on your behalf or have it all ready for you upon your return.
Sajan Devshi, Learndojo
Quick out-of-office examples for different occasions
Writing an out-of-office message doesn’t have to be a time consuming task when you have templates on hand. Here are some simple examples you can keep handy the next time you need a quick OOO message for a specific departure.
Vacation leave template
I’m out on a family vacation until [return date] and have limited access to my computer. Feel free to leave a brief message and I will respond shortly after I return.
For any urgent matters, you may contact my assistant, [name of team member], at [phone] or [email address].
Maternity or paternity leave template
Thanks for your message! I’m currently out of the office on maternity leave and have an expected return date set for [date]. You’re welcome to leave a message and I will respond shortly after I return to my desk.
If you need immediate assistance, please reach out to my colleague, [name of colleague], at [phone] or [email].
Looking forward to chatting with you soon!
Medical leave template
I’m currently out on medical leave from [departure date] to [return date]. Feel free to leave a message until then, but note that I may need extra time to recover and respond to emails shortly after.
Until then, please refer to my colleague, [name], at [phone] or [email address] for any urgent questions or concerns.
Thank you for your understanding.
Holiday leave template
Thanks for your email. I’ll be out of my office for the [holiday] weekend, but will return on [date]. In the meantime, you’re welcome to leave a message and I’ll respond to you shortly after I return to my desk.
Have a wonderful day.
What not to include in an out-of-office message
Along with the advice and templates above, you’ll want to keep the following tips in mind for what NOT to include in your OOO messages.
1. Writing too casually
Casual conversations and jokes can take on completely different meanings in written form. And while your intentions may be good, the way your co-workers, clients or boss interpret your words could sour relationships if they take it the wrong way — especially if you come off as too braggy or insensitive.
For example, a message like the one below may sound too unprofessional with all the added mentions of your personal vacation activities:
“Hey there. I’m out of the office right now, probably sitting ocean side with a margarita in hand, but feel free to leave a message. I’ll get back to you within a few days of my return on [date] — that way I have enough time to review all my piles of emails.
Even the ending, where the person shares their inner monologue of sifting through emails upon their return, may show disregard to someone’s needs. Nobody wants to feel like they’re just another number on your list.
So here’s what you can write instead. Note how the following statement takes only the important elements from the message above and keeps it short and simple.
Hey there! I’m away on vacation this week, but feel free to leave a message. I’ll return on [date] and respond to your email as soon as I can.
2. Forgetting to loop in your colleagues
Let’s say you want to include an alternative point of contact in your OOO message for any urgent matters that may arise. You might be tempted to write something like:
Thanks for reaching out. I’m away on vacation until [date], but will respond promptly to all messages as soon as I return. In the meantime, you may reach out to [co-worker’s name] at [email] or [phone number] for all urgent matters that need immediate assistance.
Although this may sound professional, it will not work if you failed to notify the person you designated as your backup contact. An oversight like that could cause added stress (along with confusion) when that person suddenly receives an influx of messages they weren’t prepared for.
Instead, you’ll want to reach out to them ahead of your anticipated departure. Take time to ensure they are well equipped to handle the extra load and plan ahead for any questions that may arise.
3. Not double-checking your work
As mentioned earlier, it’s important you take the time to scan your copy for any errors. A message riddled with grammar mistakes and typos could put off potential clients or signify a sense of carelessness to your team and supervisors. In a worst case scenario, you might even end up with a message that communicates something unintentional or unhelpful. Peek this example, for instance:
Thanks for reaching out. I’m out of my office until [date], with limited access to phone messages. Feel free to email me at [email address] and I will contact you shortly.
Looking at that last sentence, you’ll notice that the added email address is unnecessary. The person receiving this message already knows your email address — hence why they contacted you in the first place.
Remember to take the extra time to read your work before committing to a final message and watch for redundancies that don’t serve a purpose. Helpful tools like Grammarly and spell check will also be your best bet at eliminating unintentional errors.
Go ahead, take that time off
So, there you have it! All the OOO examples and tips provide that extra relief and confidence to enjoy your time off in peace.
Not to jinx it, but despite your worst fears, your time off can be taken without significant disruptions to your small business. Set your OOO message, enjoy the silence and your business will be there when you get back.