It’s Time To Rethink The Standard “Out of Office” Email

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Sometimes we’re offline.closed_sign

Whether it’s once, twice, or twelve times per year, there are moments when you can’t be responsive to work emails, and it’s totally acceptable. In fact, research suggests it’s good for our health to leave email behind while on vacation. To fill the gap in service, we’ve been trained to set up an “out of office” email.

I’ve seen HUNDREDS of out of office emails from financial advisors and, unfortunately, they’re all the same.

Here are a few examples from my inbox:

As a financial advisor, you work very hard to develop client relationships and deliver exceptional service while you’re IN the office, but then plop a thought-less message like this into their inboxes when you’re out. Worst of all, there are typo’s in these emails! It’s a shame. Today we’re going to change that.

You can write an out-of-office email that is helpful AND delights your clients. (Tweet this!) With a little added thought, your next out of office email can serve as a simple, free, automated way to add value to your client relationships – even while you’re gone.

Here’s how:

1) Don’t be a robot.

Just because you’re out of the office doesn’t mean you’ve turned into a robot. Be sure to speak like a human. If you simply avoid writing the standard template message (i.e. the emails from above), you’ll basically have this one covered.

Part of writing like a human is writing a real subject line. Most auto-response subject lines feel completely robotic and impersonal:

  • Out of Office AutoReply
  • Automatic reply
  • out of office  (My personal favorite. No capitalization.)
  • AUTO: I am out of the office

Let’s banish these. Instead, write a subject line like a human would.

2) Share the necessary information, but in a creative way.

There are a few logistical details that are actually helpful to your clients. Here are the 2 things you should still say, with a creative “spin” for each.

a) When you’ll be back.

Standard: “I’ll respond when I return on November 2nd.”
Spin: “I’ll respond when I return on November 3rd.”

Tell them the day AFTER you return – It’s all about managing expectations with this one. The chance that you’ll reply to everyone on the day you get back is slim. If you’re set to return on the 2nd, say you’ll be back on the 3rd. Give yourself a full day to sift through your bank of emails and begin to reply. Plus, even if they’re one of the few emails you respond to on the 2nd, they’ll feel special for receiving early assistance. Awesome.

b) How to get help, if needed.

Standard: “Should you have specific needs that cannot wait for my return, please email assistant@companyname .com or call 617-555-1000 and my staff can help you.”
Spin: “If your email truly is urgent, please resend it to interruptyourvacation@companyname .com and I’ll try to respond promptly.”

That’s right – Set up an email account for ‘interrupt your vacation’ or ‘I need help now’. It encourages folks to ask themselves, “Is my email important enough to interrupt their vacation?” If so, they’ll send. If not, they’ll wait. It’s a brilliant idea used by venture capitalist Brad Feld.

3.) Demonstrate you care about them, even though you’re away.

This is the most important change for your “out of office” email, and the one I’ve yet to see from an advisor. Instilling a sense of service despite the “sorry I’m ignoring your email, dear client” message is incredibly important and powerful. Share something that will entertain, inform and/or delight the folks emailing you. Here are a few ideas, but your options are limitless:

4.) Pose ANY question.

Asking a question in your auto-generated email is a simple trick to help your clients feel calm in your absence. It reminds them that you WILL return and you WILL speak with them again. What you ask is up to you. A few ideas:

  • Have you read an interesting book recently? My Kindle is getting dusty.
  • Is there something in particular you’d like to discuss during our next meeting?
  • Are you interested in building a holiday budget? I’m considering that for my next blog post.

Here’s an example, using all 4 tips:

Subject: A quick note & open invitation…

Hi –

I’m currently away from the office, returning on Tuesday, Nov. 5th. If your email needs attention before then, please resend it to ineedhelpnow@mycompany .com and I’ll respond to it as soon as possible.

By the way, I’m hosting an online webinar next week about how to help elderly relatives with their finances – Are you interested? You can register here: (link). I’d love to see you there!

Do you have a request for my NEXT webinar? I’m always open to feedback and suggestions.

Your name

Get feedback on your new “out of office” email

Send it to me! I’d be happy to help you.
Subject: OOO Feedback

You may also like: 6 Tips for an Email Signature Your Clients Will Love
Photo credit: Flickr, Nick

Carolyn is Blueleaf’s in-house marketing guru. She writes on The Blueleaf Blog to make advisors’ lives easier, offering practice management and client engagement tips where and when they’re useful. Outside of the Blueleaf offices, she can be found running a 10k or cooking her famous chili. Chat LIVE with Carolyn on Twitter @BlueleafAdvisor!
  • N21 December 17, 2013, 2:32 pm

    That’s what happens when non-IT people start to write somewhat technical articles. Young lady, perhaps it will surprise you, but many things in our modern life are automated to make this life easier. Standard autoreply messages help automated systems (like ticketing tools) to ignore these automatic replies. By teaching people to be creative and act like a human you’re teching them to disrupt carefully designed technical solutions.

    • John Prendergast December 17, 2013, 2:57 pm

      “N21” Carolyn certainly has a lot of nerve suggesting we optimize for humans over bots. She’s young, I’m sure she’ll learn 🙂

    • A non-IT employee March 4, 2014, 2:24 pm

      This article seems to be aimed more at ‘non-IT’ businesses where the relationship with the client is more important, as opposed to condescending ‘techies’ and their Viagra-tablet spam-pushing ticketing systems.

      Just a thought?

  • Mercedes Ferguson February 19, 2014, 9:17 pm

    I’ve been searching for the right out of office message to communicate that I am neither on vacation nor working, but incommunicado due to my participating in mission work. I think this is important to impart in my out of office as it will provide the necessary information to the sender, to understand the circumstances in which I will be returning, as it will allow them to make the proper determination to give me some extra time upon my return or simply contact my backup. It will also open up greater connectivity. Thank you!

    • Carolyn McRae February 19, 2014, 9:26 pm

      Awesome. Happy you found it useful, Mercedes.

    • Lenny August 4, 2014, 1:14 pm

      You need to go to – they stock a wide variety of free out of office replies for any occassion (as long as it involves you leaving the office)

  • Melissa Ams March 18, 2014, 1:55 am

    I was able to use this article to write a personalised message that is much more appropriate for my workplace compared to the bland generic responses.
    Thank you!

  • Jimmy March 27, 2014, 11:42 pm

    No – let’s not banish these. You’re trying to be a little too clever here. This is a basic courtesy. It’s a polite thing to allow everyone who emails you to know you’re not there and to send to another email if urgent. In your example it is still an automated message. Like when somebody rings the home phone and you’re not there. You get a recording. Strange article.

    • Ava June 4, 2014, 1:48 pm

      I agree, it’s like trying to squeeze an infomercial into an blurb message.

  • Lenny May 20, 2014, 3:47 pm

    Alternatively, of course, you could go to

  • Ava June 4, 2014, 1:47 pm

    No offense to this article, but the away message is way too wordy. If I have an emergency and need to contact you, or be re-routed to someone else to contact, I don’t want to waste time reading all of this extra verbage. It’s a nice thought, but completely pointless. I think by now people know what an automatic response is, it should be short and to the point.

  • Kristen June 21, 2014, 2:03 pm

    Thank you! I found this article quick and easy to aid me in creating a personalized away message. It is great for my type of business which is all about relationships with clients! Only took me a few minutes and I feel much better about letting clients know I will be delayed in my response.

  • lindasek June 27, 2014, 7:26 pm

    Was looking for ideas to make my out-of-office message a little funny while still keeping the professional tone so it wasn’t terribly helpful. Also asking questions in the auto message is a little silly -you just told them you are away and won’t get back to them regarding anything until the day you are back! I do like giving it an extra day – I always did it anyway because first day from vacation is always filled with 700+ emails – all needing something, all possibly resolved but who knows plus the standard work!

  • Christine July 26, 2014, 12:03 am

    People get all up in arms over nothing. This is fun! I was looking for some creative ideas for letting my clients know I’ll be out of town (not the auto-responder, but a message sent prior). My takeaway from this? I set up a fun email address to take emergency messages: helpmechristineyouremyonlyhope @ “email”.com. I got several positive responses that enjoyed the humor, wishing me well on my vacation. And per your tip, it’s a bit of a road block and it’s long! If they really need me while I’m away with my husband next week, they’ll have to work for it a little. Thanks Carolyn 🙂

  • SapphireCitrine August 11, 2014, 5:10 am

    Nice. Thanks for some options!

  • A November 20, 2014, 1:14 pm

    Is it me or point#2’s standard and spin are identical?

    • Blueleaf November 20, 2014, 1:24 pm

      They are close but not the same. The point there is to share the day AFTER you return instead of the day you actually return to give yourself additional time to dig out. Hope that helps.

  • Me December 22, 2014, 3:54 pm

    (…) research suggests it’s good for our health to leave email behind while on vacation (…) If your email truly is urgent, please resend it to interruptyourvacation@companyname .com (…)
    Are you kidding? if you can’t stay away from work while on vacation, you should quit. It’s not good for health, nor for family and/or friends.

  • Me December 22, 2014, 4:37 pm

    Ok, so I don’t agree with working while on vacation, and you delete my comment. That’s just great.

    • Blueleaf December 22, 2014, 4:44 pm

      Your original comment is right below.

  • Sheryn D. Shahwan May 3, 2016, 3:35 pm

    This is really creative! I think I’ll have to use these ideas. Thank you for sharing!

  • N Lewis December 24, 2016, 3:26 pm

    great examples. I never thought of posing an interesting question in an out of office really makes it personal.

    Thanks for sharing.