Work Wednesday: How to Write Your OOO Message
Short Life Update: If you don’t see me around here as frequently as usual, it’s because I have a trial coming up in September. I purposely chose a legal specialty where 99% of my cases settle pre-trial. Apparently, I found the one-percent that won’t.
I’ll do my best to keep up with the Thirtyish content in the interim, but after sleeping, this is the first thing to go when I’m reading cases and preparing exhibits at 3:00AM.
Alright, back to Work Wednesday.
In the world of government, August is synonymous with vacations. But the way Americans handle taking time off from work, well, it could use some work.
I think this meme hurts because it’s accurate.
But memes aside, science says that you need a vacation, and I don’t argue with science. And even if you don’t have a trip in your future, just taking a few days off and away from your work e-mail account is essential for good mental health.
Plus, that annoying co-worker of yours who’s constantly asking for your help, but never giving you any credit for the finished product should have to fend for himself for awhile.
And when you finally leave your office chair and your e-mail behind for the pleasure of some time off, you need an out of office message that can get the job done.
Tip No. One. Your Subject Line Matters
The best way to convey that you are not around is to use a subject line that says Out of Office (or OOO) and then the dates you will be gone. For example: Out of Office 8/1/21 - 8/9/21.
This way there is no confusion; they know, before even opening the email, that you are away and when they can expect a response. If they need it sooner, they know they’ll need to open the email to find out how to sort that out.
Tip No. Two. Never Apologize
While a polite greeting is appropriate in an OOO message, never say “I’m sorry” or “My apologies” or indicate remorse for being unable to respond to a message.
You are not required to apologize for being away from your e-mail. Anyone who expects you to be at their beck-and-call is unreasonable. And unreasonable people do not warrant your remorse.
Tip No. Three. Don’t Justify Your Absence
This is one area where Career Contessa and I disagree. CC believes that you should briefly explain where you’ll be (PTO, conference, work travel, etc.) for the sake of clarity and planning. But, to me, telling them where I am can feel like I’m justifying my absence.
I am especially wary to provide justification in an industry run by old, white men who like to believe that their days off have never inconvenienced of impacted a single other person. Men who may decide that the reason for my absence does not exempt me from responding to their e-mails, so they just keep e-mailing me.
The only time I would describe the nature of your absence is if the reason your gone makes it absolutely impossible for you to answer, and you want to inform/shame people who think you still owe them a reply.
I shouldn’t live in a world where my colleague needs to write, “I will be out of the office for kidney transplant surgery,” but I have gotten that OOO. Sadly, some people will still think they’re entitled to a reply if you’re just on vacation or just at a funeral. Don’t be the woman checking her messages in the hallway outside the chapel while people give eulogies (not that anyone I know has ever felt forced to do that).
Tip No. Four. Lose the Word ‘Limited’
The week before my wedding, I posted an out of office message that said I would be “in Montana with limited access to e-mail.” A man who I no longer worked for, but was in a position of power, sent me the following message: “I know you’re getting married Sunday, but it’s only Thursday, get back to me sometime tomorrow.”
Since then, all OOO messages read: “I am out of the office with no access to e-mail from August 1, 2021 to August 9, 2021.” I may have access. I may choose to respond. They should finish reading the e-mail and expect no response.
Tip No. Five. Provide an Alternate Contact Method
An out of office message has to account for the potential for real emergency. So you need to provide a path for the sender to resolve the source of their problem when you can’t help them.
If there is someone else who can be contacted in case of emergency, ensure that that person’s e-mail, title and phone number are present in the e-mail. “If you require an immediate response, please contact the office at (202) 225-3211 or Eric, my fellow legislative aide, at (Eric’s e-mail).”
Including a person’s title is optional, but it helps the sender know whether this person can help them or if they still need you or need to call the office. My colleague always includes the name of her paralegal, and lets recipients know that she can either answer their questions or get a hold of her in an emergency.
Sadly, as a solo-practitioner, there is no one else to handle an emergency in my absence. So I re-supply my work phone number and mention that I can only be reached by phone. The client can call if they feel it’s an emergency, and paying the extra $5 for the voicemail-to-text messaging feature let’s me screen calls without messing up my vacation.
If I need to respond, I do. If I don’t need to, I will e-mail an invitation from a generic account so that the sender can make an appointment. This way, I was responsive and helpful while maintaining boundaries.
Top. No. Six. Never Give In
Sometimes your boss does need you while you’re on vacation. Sometimes a client does have an emergency. Sometimes that fool in the office next to you breaks something and only you can fix it. So fully escaping your e-mail account is unlikely. But do not let one quick reply spiral into a whole day filled with work.
You cannot set boundaries for others if you yourself are not willing to maintain them. So handle that emergency. Tackle that can’t-wait item. Bail out Steve, again. But don’t let that steal your vacation or your mental health day from you.
They give you PTO because you need it and deserve it. Don’t willingly work on your time off unless you have to do so.
Enjoy the rest of your week, and make some time to give that out of office message a workout this summer. Life is short; no one ever died wishing they spent more time at work.
Take care of yourself. xo, Abra
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