The crucial out of office etiquette rules to write an effective and appropriate out-of-office message. How to use it to manage expectations and build trust.

What out-of-office email etiquette is

Out-of-office email etiquette is the set of rules to properly write and use an out-of-office automated email. Such rules help us manage the senders’ expectations, build trust, and protect our personal time. They include:

  • How to write an appropriate out-of-office email.
  • When to use an out-of-office email and when to avoid it.
  • The mistakes to avoid.

When you are going to take a leave from work, follow the out-of-office etiquette rules to appropriately manage the expectations of coworkers, managers, and business partners that are trying to reach you.

As a manager or employer, follow out-of-office etiquette to improve the coordination and effectiveness of your team, and protecting the personal time of your employees.

Etiquette rules to write and use an out of office email

Out-of-office email etiquette rules

1) Use out-of-office when you need to manage expectations

An out-of-office message is a tool to correctly manage expectations. People can reach out to us every day to communicate or request something. Normally, they would expect a reply within 24 hours or so.

Whenever we are unable to respond to an email promptly, we should set up an out-of-office message. In general, out-of-office is necessary for leaves longer than 2 days. When we leave for only 1 day, out-of-office is appropriate only if we expect a large volume of emails during our leave.

An out-of-office message is usually not needed for leaves shorter than 1 day or sick leaves.

what to write in an out of office email

2) Information appropriate in out-of-office emails

The out-of-office reply should be informative for the sender. An appropriate message must only include information that is helpful to manage expectations. In other words, when can the sender expect a reply?

Thus, it is appropriate to include:

  • When you will be out of the office.
  • The exact day you will be back.
  • Whether you will read emails or not.
  • If the emails will be forwarded to someone else.

You may or may not include an emergency contact. You have the right to protect your personal time. However, it is your duty to make sure that someone can manage urgent matters in your absence. Thus, if no one can manage such matters during your leave, it is best to include an emergency contact.

Do not include personal details, such as the reason for your absence or details about your vacation. Not only such details are unnecessary for the reader, but they risk being perceived as bragging, unprofessional, or in bad taste. 

Before you leave, check that all the information in your out-of-office message is correct. Too often we copy and paste old out-of-office emails and leave the wrong dates.

3) Keep the tone professional

The tone of the out-of-office email should be professional. The readers are coworkers, managers, and business partners. Thus, while a friendly tone is perfectly acceptable, it is best to keep the message professional and rather formal.

4) Do not include any personal information

A key principle of business etiquette is to keep our personal and work lives separate. Thus, it is best to avoid any personal information in the out-of-office email. Include only information that you are ready to share with anyone.

Thus, your personal phone number, health status during sick leave, vacation destination, or family status may be inappropriate.

5) Respect your coworkers’ privacy

An out-of-office email can be read by anyone in your organization, as well as by external parties. Thus, make sure that you do not include any information that may be sensitive, such as your coworkers’ contact details.

For example, if you include a list of coworkers to contact in your absence and their emails, anyone who reads your out-of-office email will get such details.

6) Turn the out-of-office off as soon as you are back

You should turn the out-of-office reply off as soon as you are back from your leave. Leaving it on can make you look unorganized and not trustworthy.

out of office email etiquette mistakes

Out-of-office email etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst out-of-office email etiquette mistakes: 

  • 8/10. Not setting up an out-of-office for leaves longer than 2 days.
  • 8/10. Adding unnecessary details.
  • 7/10. Including wrong or incomplete information.
  • 5/10. Including someone else contacts.