How to write an out-of-office email that works

The out-of-office email response is an employee’s final defense against nagging coworkers and persistent clients. You want there to be no hard feelings about your radio silence, and above all, you want it to work, so that you can be left alone. The email’s effectiveness lies in what the goal of your away response is:

Do you want a client to get the message and contact your coworker about that report? Do you want to get a laugh out of your coworkers? Do you want people to follow up when you return?

Once you figure out what you want to communicate, here are tips on how you can do it right:

An away message with no frills

If you want to be straightforward with your out-of-office email, you need to communicate that you are unreachable at the very least. State the dates of your time away. Without going into detail about what you plan on doing, you can sum up your absence with a brief: “Thanks for your message. I am away [on these dates].”

You can also leave names and contact information of people that can be reached in your absence if necessary. But be warned — if you need to loop in a colleague and have them become your point of contact, make sure you get their permission. As human resource firm Robert Half advises: “You can’t predict how quickly your coworkers will be able to respond to emails in your absence, so make sure you don’t promise their immediate assistance.”

An away message with no lies

Are you really going to answer that email when you return from vacation? It helps to be honest with yourself so that you do not commit to promises you have no intention of keeping. If you know that isn’t realistically going to happen, you should state clearly:

“Please contact me again when I return.”

The implicit message is that the sender will need to send again. Learning to prioritize your needs over an unknown sender’s wants is healthy. Recognize that you are not beholden to an email inquiry. You can answer it on your own terms. Thrive Global founder and CEO Arianna Huffington is known for using an email tool that deletes emails while she is away on vacation.

If you want to do that, here’s an OOO auto-email response you could use:

“I’ll be away through [DATE] and will not be checking this email address as I’ll be too busy lounging around, sight-seeing, shopping, sunbathing, dancing or sleeping. Upon my return, I’ll delete all ‘holiday-time’ emails in one mass DELETE! However, I’d love for you to contact me at any time after [DATE].”

The goal with an away message is to ease the burden of stress when you see unread emails in your inbox. You do not want your stuffed inbox to ruin your vacation. Ignoring or deleting emails is fair game if it gets you peace of mind. You can take a creative and fun approach, if appropriate, or a more conservative approach, but it’s always best to be clear.

More away messages with creativity

You do not need to go into a play-by-play of your vacation, but many do have fun with the away message if they work in an environment where that is allowed, or if they don’t care.

Take it from actor Ryan Reynolds. His out-of-office emails have been (in) famous for years, with some poking fun at the goal of telling strangers everything about the vacation. One from a July vacation reads:

“I will be out of the office celebrating Canada Day (July 1), World UFO Day (July 2nd), Tom Cruise’s Birthday (July 3rd) and July 4th (July 4th.) It’s also National Picnic Month so let’s just reconnect in August, shall we?”

One from August reads:

“Thanks for your email, but unfortunately I am out of the office on official business. I really can’t say more than that. It’s official. It’s business. And that’s that.”

The added bonuses of humor can sweeten the out-of-office message, but ultimately all you need to do is let people know that you are alive yet unreachable.

Everything else you want to add about your reason for your absence is up to you and your level of creativity, professionalism, or plain old-fashioned pre-vacation giddiness.