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Here's the One Out-of-Office Message You Should Have

Mastering this ubiquitous task is step one for a peaceful vacation.

Vacation days. Sick days. Personal days. Holidays. To your boss's potential chagrin, this is the inevitability of work-life balance: You will spend some time away from your desk—and it will be more than just a lunch break. And for the millions of office workers out there, one thing is absolutely essential for those days you're not chained to the keyboard: The out-of-office message.

Now, crafting the perfect out-of-office message is an art as much as it is a science. It has to be professional yet personable, concise yet informative, blunt yet polite. "The key is to make clear the following five things," says Jane Scudder, a certified life, leadership, and career coach, and a professor at Loyola University Chicago's business school. "When you're out; when you're returning; if you're checking emails or not; if you're available via phone or not; and who to contact in your absence." After that, she says, "The rest is just style!"

With that in mind, here is her recommended format that would work for any situation:

Thanks for your email. I'm OOO from Wednesday, November 15th through Friday, November 17th without access to email. If this is urgent, please contact [THE PERSON WHO'S BELOW YOU ON THE CHAIN OF COMMAND—or, if you have one, YOUR LOWLY ASSISTANT'S NAME] at [THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS]. Otherwise, I will respond to all messages when I return.

As you can see, you do not need to say why you're out; that's no one's business but yours and, depending on the circumstances, your boss's. Scudder is also sure to note that denoting your phone or email availability is optional, as well, but that it's fine to "indicate [if] you'll be checking intermittently." You may also notice that it's "all messages" and not "your message." While it may be tempting to personalize your out-of-office message, using "all messages" will give the recipient a subtle reminder that, hey, you're parsing through a lot of email—it may take a while to respond.

Finally, a note about dates. There's some colloquial disagreement on what the range of dates in your message means: Does the second date indicate you're returning on that day or that it's the last day you'll be out? On this, Scudder is firm: It indicates the last day you'll be out.

A few additional rules to bear in mind: If your time off spans a weekend, and you'll be back at the grind first thing Monday, there's no need to list the preceding Sunday on your out-of-office message; most people don't work on weekends, so the Friday prior is fine. But, if you're coming back on a day later in the week, be sure to include the weekend in your time space, like so: from Wednesday, November 15th through Tuesday, November 21st.

Now that you've mastered drafting an out-of-office message, read up on why you should consider leaving it on all the time—from someone who leaves his on permanently. 

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Ari Notis
Ari is an editor specializing in news and lifestyle. Read more
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