Spring, summer, autumn and winter: our mail drives us crazy all year round. But luckily there is that one traffic island, that one white flag, that one golden ticket that you can pull two or three times a year to escape, and that is the ‘out of office mail’.
You put it in when you leave and when you get back and you don’t have to worry about your mailbox for a while – super simple you would say. And yet everything goes wrong with it, I heard when I inquired about it on Twitter.
So much that I thought: let me list the basic rules for the ‘out of office assistant’. A handy refresher course for anyone who has known for a long time, and an indispensable survival lesson for colleagues, business relations and customers for everyone who was no longer sharp. Are they coming.
1 First of all: the out of office mail is there for longer absence. So not for a long weekend in Raalte and certainly not as a standard notification.
So don’t put in there: “I work on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9.30 to 11.30 and from 1.30 to 4.30, except on Thursdays, then until 15.30” and more of that kind of bullshit – really. People are annoyed by that green and yellow.
2 Don’t forget to adjust the dates. Many out of office e-mails wish you “Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year”, “A wonderful summer” in the winter or “A beautiful 2018” in 2021 well into the summer – don’t be that kind of person.
3 Be clear when you will be back. So do not write “in three weeks” or “Monday,” nor write that it will be in week 33. There really is no one who knows when week 33 is. 4 Don’t include details about your vacation, that’s sadistic. So don’t write that you’re “in your bikini with a coconut on Playa del Carmen in eastern Mexico” – unless you want to make your colleagues jealous.
Besides, I don’t need you to go to a witch’s conference, to leave ‘because you were arrested for taking illegal photos’, because of a failed brazilian wax, that you spend a week detoxing or worse, that you are at “the most important conference in your field” – blah blah blah.
Avoid anything with ‘enjoy’, ‘lazing around’, ‘back to work soon’ and ‘well-deserved vacation’. We’ll decide whether that holiday is well deserved, and you can laze around in your own time.
5 Give it any clarity about your absence. For example, that it is because of a holiday, a burnout, a pregnancy or a sabbatical. That gives people some direction.
6 There are people who turn their out of office into a travelogue, a list of book tips, “interesting facts about their holiday country”, music tips, poems or foreign recipes – “to let people who are not on holiday enjoy mine” as one twitterer described it. Dear people, stop that.
Put all those tips on your website or turn them into a nice newsletter, but don’t bother your colleagues and certainly not your business relations with them in a reply e-mail. Just a reminder: you’re on vacation, but she’s not, otherwise they wouldn’t read it, remember?
7 Don’t scavenge your out of office email. So check whether your deputy is really there during your absence – and that that colleague also knows that she or he is your deputy – add the correct numbers and addresses and do not send people into the woods with thirteen different colleagues for seven different topics different weeks and on different days.
8 Turn off your out of office email on time, so people don’t get it in October if you’re back at the end of August. Pffff.
9 Prefer no humour. You can of course make a joke for your colleagues in your absentee assistant, but don’t sit around in the one for your business relations or customers.
So do not state that you are on vacation and that you would advise the mailer to do so. That the mailer “can contact Kor Relatie, the local police or a Bovag-approved garage” or that you are “not there due to absence” – really.
10 Don’t email back when your out of office assistant is on And don’t include regular checks on your email. Keep the message clear: you’re not here – don’t make mailers feel guilty.
11 Then, finally. It’s tempting to make an out of office statement that reads: “I don’t read my mail for four weeks and I throw them all away, so if it’s important you should mail me again later.”
Sure, on the eve of your vacation you might want to deep-fry everyone impaled on large meat forks. But don’t forget that with each mail-free day, your mood will improve significantly. Correct, friendly and nice out of office e-mails help.
Hang in there people!
How was your week? Tips for Japke-d. Bouma through @Japked on Twitter.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 30, 2021