There are a lot of ways you can go with your automated out-of-office reply.
You could take the cut-throat approach and tell people their email won't be read, as Barbara Corcoran does.
More likely, you'll go with something boring and concise about the exact dates of your outage and who to contact in your absence. Snooze-fest.
Happiness researcher Michelle Gielan thinks we can do better. Of the tens of thousands of out-of-office replies she's received in her career, Gielan estimates that roughly 98 percent fall into the boring category.
You can stand out by being one of the two percent whose message is actually pleasant to read. It's icing on the cake if you can help the recipient learn something new or even just bring a smile to their face.
Fueling your success
"OOO messages can be an incredible tool to fuel your success," Gielan writes for Harvard Business Review. She says with a little thought and strategy, your auto-reply can help you build stronger connections and relationships with people. Study after study points to better relationships as being the key to long-term happiness.
Tweaking your automated reply doesn't take much work. "Sometimes, all it takes is adding in one extra line to the standard OOO message to make it go from adequate to advantageous," she says.
Here are a few tips Gielan offers to writing excellent, relationship-building auto-replies.
Get personal (just a little)
Instead of simply telling people that you'll be offline and for how long, tell them where you'll be and why. Of course, you don't need to give a play-by-play of your entire trip itinerary. If you're on parental leave, you don't need to include a photo of your newborn. It's really the "why" part that's particularly important, as it will help people get to know you a bit better. Are you unplugging from work to recharge? Spending time with family? Taking a solo trip to gain perspective?
For example, Gielan suggests your OOO message could include a line that mentions:
- Where you're going on vacation and what the occasion is
- The conference you're attending and what you hope to learn while there
- Even that you may be slower to reply to email because you're checking it less frequently to be more productive
Automated emails can still have personality while maintaining their professionalism. Why not have a little fun with it? Gielan used this message last summer, and says the response was overwhelmingly positive:
Hello! Our most recent study found that vacations are good for the brain and can increase performance at work. This calls for further research! I'll be out of the office with limited access to email until [date]. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [my colleague].
What's more, Gielan sneaks in a little shameless self-promotion. The article she links to is one she co-wrote. Even while she's on vacation, she's able to get her work in front of new eyes. If you're trying to get more eyes on a thought leadership piece or LinkedIn article, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. You can even include it as a p.s. at the end of your auto-reply.