Create an out-of-office auto response that represents you as the professional that you truly are, explains Rhonda Scharf

I can’t help it – when I see an unprofessional “Out of Office” email notification I cringe. What a disservice you do to yourself and your professional reputation. As the recipient, I don’t receive a good impression. I don’t get the feeling that you’ll be able to handle my future inquiries professionally.

Fortunately, by investing just two minutes of your time in editing, you can change that negative impression around, completely.

Here are some real-life out-of-office notifications (and yes, you may recognize some of the signatures, because they came from people in my database):

I am off to SUNNY FLORIDA from Friday, Jan 31 to Feb 7. I will be back on Feb 10 with a new attitude and a new tan.

First off, thank you for attaching an out-of-office auto-response message to your email while you are away. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to contact someone via email or the phone and not being told they are away. So, A+ for taking the time to turn on your out-of-office auto-response.

However, MS FLORIDA isn’t sending the light, happy message she is trying for. Her message is actually telling me that up until now she’s had a bad attitude. I’m okay with her telling me she’s going on vacation (that part is fine). I don’t even mind that she tells me it is in SUNNY FLORIDA (although remember that ALL CAPS means “yelling”) and that she’ll be returning with a tan (that part is friendly and fun). It’s the line about the attitude that ruins it. So… up until now her attitude hasn’t been so good? Not the message she wants to send.

But that isn’t as bad as the auto-response I received over Christmas.

I’m happy to say I’m not in the office. I’m on vacation. I hope you are as happy as I am that I’m not here.

My jaw dropped when I received that message. It tells people you hate your job – and why should I deal with someone who doesn’t want to work with me? That is a message that will not only be career-limiting internally, but will leave a lasting negative impression with external clients as well.

And then there’s the very boring and unprofessional:

Out of office


I’m not here

How does that help me if I need assistance now? Can I call anyone else? Again, it’s just not professional. And chances are, it’s not how you would treat clients if you were talking to them on the phone. So why are you letting your auto-response represent you unprofessionally?

I get many out-of-office auto-responses when I sent out eblasts, so I see a lot of them. And I’ve noticed that about 25% of them include spelling mistakes or date errors. Often people’s auto-responses say they’ll be in the office at a date that is several years old.

If people would simply test their auto-response before they leave, they would know whether it is giving people the right impression. Now, that requires a bit of pre-planning, say, the day before. You shouldn’t be setting up your auto-response in the taxi on the way to the airport.

Here are some real-life examples of excellent out-of-office messages.

Absence Alert!

The absence alert notification grabs the recipient’s attention and immediately lets you know what is happening. If I need more information, I can keep reading. All out-of-office emails should start with an absence alert message.

Here’s another good one:

Thanks for your email. Sorry I missed you!I am currently away from the office on vacation, returning on February 18. During my absence, please contact either Lucien Nel or Megan Field, with any HR-related emails or requests.

Have a great day,


Lisa Labrecque, B.CommDirector,

ABC Company,


And another one that’s well done:

I am currently on vacation, without access to email or voicemail. If this is urgent, please call 555-123-3456 for assistance.  I will answer your enquiry upon my return on Monday, Feb. 10. Thank you and have a great day.

Don’t let your out-of-office message suggest to people that you have a bad attitude, you hate your job or that you couldn’t care less about them.

Instead, take two minutes of your time and create an out-of-office auto response that represents you as the professional that you truly are.

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

5 comments on “Out Of Office

  1. April Gordon on

    Thank you for addressing this! It only takes a couple of minutes and a little thought to create a friendly, helpful, and professional out of office response. Don’t forget to update your voicemail as well!

  2. Jo Rowe on

    I set mine up in advance so I don’t have to rush and possibly make an error. Or worse, forget it all together.
    Thanks for the reminder on the VM!


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