Death to the “out of office” message

Is it just me, or does anyone else find “Out of Office” email messages intensely annoying? I would argue that they are anachronistic and send out a message about the kind of people who use them.

OK, I recognise that not everybody is as comfortable with the blurring of work and private lives as I am. There are still plenty of people who like to draw clear lines between the two, and, in their cases, I suppose Out of Office messages when they are on holiday are acceptable.

But it’s not those kinds of messages I am talking about. It’s those that say someone is temporarily out of the office and unable to respond to emails. In the connected world we now live in, I think this says something about them as individuals, or perhaps their organisations, or both. I think we work better if we’re connected, if we’re in touch with our networks, and if we have information and the ability to crowdsource information and advice at our finger tips. The Out of Office message says “I am out of range, and not keeping up with what is going on”. I don’t like it, it irritates me. Let’s phase it out.

I’m being deliberately provocative here, but this is a real irritant to me. What do you think?

21 thoughts on “Death to the “out of office” message

  1. I’m in two minds, John on this issue.

    If I’ve emailed someone and get back an out of office message – I’m often glad to know that I’ve got the message that reminds me if someone is working P/T or away – at least I know it has reached their email and not disappeared into the great ether. But yes, it often doesn’t take long to check email – if you are in a meeting / on the road (given presence of wifi / mobile signal) & to briefly type a responsive message like get back to you tomorrow on this…

    I often do that – but then I’m like you, forever connected.

  2. To put another side of the argument across, when I’m at a conference,although I’m connected to my email I’m concentrating on the speakers or networking so won’t be reading my emails in real time. I think in those situations it’s personally better to be totally engaged in what you’re doing at the time rather than being distracted by incoming email, so notifying via ‘out of office’ that you’ll have ‘limited opportunities to reply to email’ is perfectly acceptable.

  3. I must confess I’m also in two minds. I think it’s got a lot to do with expectations really. If I receive an Email I don’t want the sender to expect an instant reply, hence the out of office message comes in useful. Maybe its better to put a message saying when you’ll next check your Emails rather than being out of the office?

  4. The message needs re-writing. ” I am not being paid to deal with work stuff at the moment. As soon as I am being paid to work again, I will. Should your email require urgent attention we are currently paying so and so who will be delighted to respond…”

  5. I’d say you’ve got this one the wrong way round, John. It’s the fact that most of us have *potential* access to emails all the time that we need to manage folk’s expectations that we might not get back to them as quickly as they would like.

    I’m like you and have no real balance between work and life, but there are still times that I won’t check my phone for hours at a time – such as when delivering training, for instance – and if someone has emailed me urgently in that time, it’s surely nice for them to know that I’m not ignoring them

  6. I agree with the general tenor of the above. I would rather get an ‘out of office’ message with a return date, and know what is going on – this also gives me the option of deciding not to wait around and to contact someone else instead – in fact a good ‘out of office’ message will often suggest an alternative contact or two.. I did have a situation recently where emails and phone messages seemed to be going into outer space. It took me ages of tracking through the phone system in a local authority (talking to several people who also did not know what had happened to this person in question) before I discovered that the individual would not be back ‘until next Tuesday’ and was able to find someone else to help.

    I do like it, and am impressed, when someone is ‘in’ when they are out and gets back to me quickly, when they are not in the office, but I think people also do need their own personal space, and time to concentrate on other matters whether work or personal and not everyone wants to feel owned by their organisation! Alternatively these days, and depending on the circs and the individual I find that some people are in when they are out, on Twitter … and in some circs a quick public exchange can be the most effective way …

  7. Quite a debate and I understand where you are coming from. I really use out of office when I am on holiday and out of the country. As it happens, although I’ve been at work during the last three weeks I have spent 3, 11 and 14 hours in my office but have 6 mails in my inbox. I’m out of my office more than in it even when I am at work. Perhaps it should be a ‘more difficult to respond than normal’ message.

  8. I never used to use them, in fact i hated them but i now use them mostly to remind my boss when i’m not in! Ive had 2 days off as i’ve been in hospital and i know, from glancing at my phone, ive got loads of emails including some seemingly urgent ones but im only now not under the influence of painkillers and sedatives to think about answering them. Thus at least these people know they have to wait!

  9. I’m with Brett Sadler, and I’d also like to add this: Email shouldn’t really come with the expectation of instant response. It was never intended to be so, and delivery is not guaranteed these days. Email *should* be used for dealing with things when opportunity arises IMO.

    “Email is not IM”.

  10. A very good point John. I find out of office emails especially time consuming when I receive them in their dozens or hundreds in response to my regular email newsletters.

    I hope we don’t have to ban them. Perhaps they will just become more and more anachronistic and most people will realise that they convey neither an accurate not professional image.

  11. They do have a use in highlighting that email is a non urgent communication form. We have become addicted to email and as such it is inappropriately overused, abused and needs to be brought back into control.

    See below for the text of my satndard out of office message which is sent to all email messages:

    Thank you for your email. Please note that as part of our approach to working efficiently and as a non urgent form of communication I am only checking emails early morning, lunchtime and at the end of each day.

    Please be assured that I will respond to your email at these times.  However there may be a delay in responding.

    For any urgent matters please contact me direct either by text, Twitter or phone.  Alternatively please contact Vikki Mack on 0151 510 5106 (direct dial) or 

    If your email relates to a formal complaint, compliment or enquiry please email



    Nick Atkin
    Chief Executive
    Halton Housing Trust

    Tel: 0151 510 5101
    Mob: 07903 594827
    Twitter: @nickatkin_hht

  12. I agree with Liz {and mike}, I use my out of office to let students know that the email sent on Sunday afternoon will be answered on Monday.

  13. I like Nick Atkin’s approach. From the Twitter conversation, I was ready to dismiss @elsua ‘s input and say “but how do you do x”, until right at the end of his video where he says email still has it’s place- my point exactly. As other posters have said, people routinely misuse email (and by extension, the OoO message. Nick’s idea pretty much forces people to use email as it is intended. I don’t see you need to be that rigid about it, but the approach is good.

  14. I got one yesterday from a man who’d rented the barn I let our in my garden, He’d left hsi camera there and I wanted to let him know. There was good reason. It must have been forwarded because a couple of hours later , he replied telling me that only yesterday he’d returned home after surgery for cancer.

  15. I’m sorry I don’t agree with this in the slightest. Having an out of office reply switched on for days when you are either on the road (I.e. driving for 6 hours and therefore unable to respond to emails) or in back to back meetings is a polite way to let important customers and contacts know you do care about their message, that they won’t get a response straight away and that you will respond as soon as you can. Also if you have your administrator / customer service number on your Out Of Office at least urgent queries can be deflected and dealt with. If you are getting 70 plus messages per day, which im
    sure many others do as well, it’s actually a brilliant way of managing time and means you can spend more time devoted to face to face meetings, which in a sales role is the main point of what you are trying to do.

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