How to Write a Vacation Auto-Reply Message

Communication is Key

Almost any business or personal situation requires clear communication. Good communication repels chaos and ensures success in any situation. What about those times when you are going to be out of the office and won’t be monitoring your email? Whatever has pulled you away from the office, it is a good practice to turn on your out of office responder. Here are some ideas to keep in mind when deciding what to say in your vacation auto-reply messages.

Rules for Writing Vacation Auto-Reply Messages

Technically, I don’t think there are set rules for how to configure your vacation auto-responder. That said, I’ve noted personally that sometimes being too terse, or focusing too much on being funny can cause distress. Why not consider the following guidelines when deciding how to make sure your colleagues and customers are not left wondering where to turn when you are away?

  • Rule #1: Remember a general audience. At the end of the day you have to assume you do not know who will receive the message. Do not embarrass yourself!
  • Rule #2: Avoid ambiguity. You are setting expectations. Be clear about those and do not use vague language.
  • Rule #3: Provide specific information. Communicate when you will be away and when you will return. Also provide an alternate contact in case the business is urgent.
  • Rule #4: Keep it simple, stupid. Do not make excuses or provide more information than is useful in setting expectations about your response.

Remember a General Audience

When it comes to vacation auto-reply messages, keep personal matters personal and focus on communicating the break in monitoring of your email. It is fine to indicate you are on vacation or that you are dealing with an emergency, but try to avoid distracting the reader from understanding at a glance what to expect relating to your absence. In general, put your recipient and their needs to be heard ahead of your need to explain. Calibrate your message to deliver concise information.

Avoid Ambiguity

Remember you are setting an expectation when you write your vacation auto-reply messages. You’re telling the reader what to expect regarding a delay in you receiving their message. If you are taking a vacation, you will know what days you will be absent and when you will return. If you are sick, you can probably guess based on your experience being human how long you will be away. In both cases, do not be afraid to take the time you need, but clearly state when you will return. You take vacation for a reason, and getting away from the office to heal is more than just keeping others from becoming infected. Do not set the expectation that you will interrupt either process to go back to work unless it is completely unavoidable.

“I will have limited access to email” is probably my number one least favorite auto-responder message. Everyone seems to us it, despite it being vague, inauthentic, and unhelpful. You should always set a clear expectation about when a person will be able to expect a response from you. If you feel it is imperative to point out you will NOT respond to email while away, you can use a phrase like “I will not have access to email during my absence.” Just keep in mind that if you are out of the office and tell people they might get a response, you may cause confusion.

Provide Specific Information

Your auto-response is on because you are out of the office. A simple sentence is the only essential element to an effective auto-response message.

“I am out of the office from May 1st through May 23rd.”

You could start by thanking the person for their email, which brings them into a conversation prior to lodging a brick of data directly in their eye, but it is not strictly required. Also provide an alternative contact by name, phone and email if possible. Do not require your reader to ascertain the level of emergency related to their request by including phrases like “If this is an emergency”. Simply have a backup contact and communicate that.

“In my absence, feel free to reach out to Kendra Steinwick. Her contact information is 770-555-1212 and”

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS)

Engineers have long been taught the KISS principle because creating Rube Goldberg machines doesn’t benefit anyone. You should keep this concept in mind while formulating your vacation auto-reply messages. Don’t make people weed through your funny anecdotes about having to spend a week with family trapped in the snow, or stuck in a cornfield. Yes, you are hilarious, just make your point and get out of your own way. If you want to make a joke, do it after the primary message is delivered at the very top of your auto-reply.

My Auto-Reply Message

Based on the recommendations in my above message and on the example I used, my entire auto-responder message would be:

“I am out of the office from May 1st through May 23rd. In my absence, feel free to reach out to Kendra Steinwick. Her contact information is 770-555-1212 and”

Final Thoughts

Like any business communication, your auto-responder represents you to your reader. Keep that in mind while constructing it. Being thoughtful and leaving out wasteful language serves to ensuring people are well informed. That way you can relax and know things will be dealt with properly in your absence. I wanted to make two other additional points that should be obvious. When you are going to miss a day, your vacation auto-reply messages are a second line of communication. Make it a point to send a note ahead of time to your most direct customers, peers, reports, and managers.

Finally, set the expectation with yourself that upon your return you will make good on your implied promise to follow up on missed correspondence. Planning time to catch up not only protects your credibility, it also helps you enjoy the entirety of your vacation and reduces stress when enduring an illness.

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