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Oh, sweet, sweet summer time. The days are longer, the nights are shorter, and the emails are getting unreturned. Some of us are lucky enough to get out of the office for a few days, and rightfully so – it’s 110 degrees out, and we deserve a time to cool off and unwind.

Majority of the time a vacation means a little extra work before and after skipping town, but I think people would agree that it is all worth it once that Out-of-Office reply is set. There is something about that digital answering machine that allots an employee a certain amount of freedom – which is why I found Dayne Steele’s post on Fast Company “9 Signs You’re in Out-of-Office Hell” a bit extreme.

While I must agree, certain out-of-office replies can be off-putting (i.e. The Bragger: “I’m off exploring Europe, eating delicious food and absorbing more culture than you’ll ever get to experience in your sad, time clock punching existence.” or the M.I.A: “I’ll be back on Friday, July 12” while the date is now the 17th) but I think Steele is experiencing a wee bit of in-office rage.

The second paragraph reads:

“Either check your email while you are away, or have someone do it for you. You should be able to check your email anywhere in the world on your mobile phone or, at the least, on an iPad, laptop, or other tablet device. If you can’t, then I’m not sure you are sufficiently up with technology or up to the task of taking care of my business in a timely and professional manner. When the NASA astronauts were finally able to check their email on the International Space Station, you ran out of excuses.”

Well, here are times it is acceptable to not have access to your email:


1)      Seeing as 99.9 percent of us don’t work for NASA, having a cellphone or tablet doesn’t guarantee service. In fact, an average person wouldn’t be able to get reception MOST places in the world. What if you’re camping? Cruising? Spelunking? Heck, in a recent trip to San Diego from Phoenix, I was without service a good three hours of the five hour drive through uninhabited desert. I certainly hope that doesn’t instantly make me “(not) sufficiently up with technology or up to the task of taking care of my business in a timely and professional manner.”

Unless the person who is so desperately trying to get ahold of me is willing to pay a hefty international service fee or for some fancy portable satellite, I think it is perfectly acceptable to be without access while traveling.


2)      Vacation, paid time off, time off with no pay – regardless of the exact agreement you have with your employer, it is implied that you will be GONE and NOT WORKING. Some businesses even go as far as to require employees not to work during their vacation hours, save any future issues of claiming those hours shouldn’t count towards their PTO. So, isn’t it only courteous to let people know with an OOO reply?


3)      The average full-time employee spends nearly half of their waking life at work. Some may say their coworkers are like a second family. Don’t you think an employee’s real family deserves some time with them? In the grand scheme of life, taking a week to completely unplug from work will be far more rewarding than taking care of business during these precious moments. I respect this from people I get OOO replies from, and I would hope they would feel the same.


4)      You are deathly ill. While it’s not vacation, an illness may take enough time out of your work schedule to constitute an OOO, and regardless of what the emergency is chances are an individual’s well-being is more important.


5)      Even though I certainly have nothing to hide in my email, asking a fellow employee to monitor my inbox while away is ridiculous. “Here, I’m already going increase your workload with my absence. Would you mind also making sure that everyone who tries to contact me gets a quick, personally crafted reply?”

Sure, my employers have my password, and have every right to access my email in case of a pending deadline or emergency. That’s fine. But to imply that you should not have an OOO reply and have “someone do it for you” is a great way to get your coworkers to despise you that much more (after all, they kind of already do a teensy bit while you’re on vacation.)


What do you think? Should Out of Office replies go wayside? Or is this blogger in desperate need of a vacation?

If she is, she can take the advice from another FastCompany post “3 Ways to Really Put the Vacate into Vacation,” ironically linked at the bottom of her article.

Photo via CreativeCommons

Stephanie Lough
Stephanie Lough
A former HMA Public Relations employee.


  1. Dayna Steele says:

    Great reply – thanks for taking the time! Dayna

    • Stephanie Lough says:

      Thought you’d be interested in these comments from Facebook:

      Paula Hubbs Cohen:
      I’m sighing in recognition of this issue, as I’m sure many are — just last week, I emailed a PIO for a Valley city. Got an out of office response with a direction to two other people. Okay, fine. Fwd’d my email to the two other people — got a message that one was no longer at that email address — and the other one (which I copied directly from the original OOO email) got kicked back with an error because there was a typo in it. Sigh again. Looked up the correct email address for the typo-person, emailed them, got their OOO reply. If I didn’t really need to get hold of them, I would have given up. Later heard from them with an apology for all the OOOs. Moral: if you use OOOs w/referrals to another team member, which I do appreciate, please make sure there are no typos — It was the equivalent of voice-mail hell for sure –

      Nat Handler:
      Great posts Kate and Stephanie! While some of Dana Steele’s points are valid, I feel she is way off base on others. That being said, I think Stephanie hit the nail on the head. Bottom line is, take the time to consider the people who will receive your OOO, respect that fact that they have a job to do as well, and the effort to craft an intelligent, thoughtful and helpful response.

  2. David Landis says:

    Sorry, I’m out of the office until Labor Day and will respond to you when I’m good and ready. Cheers, David

    • Stephanie Lough says:

      Long before my professional life, my voice mail said “Please leave a message and maybe I’ll think about getting back to you.” At least it was honest.

  3. I am a big believer in the OOO message — I know it is difficult in this over-connected, 24-hour-a-day-access world we live in to truly disconnect and let the work world go on without us. We need to disengage every once in awhile, for our own sanity (and certainly for those around us.)

    I love a creative OOO message, in fact, I try to do something a little witty each time I set it. I do give the recipient the option of talking to someone else at the office or calling me on my cellphone. If it really is urgent, they will take advantage of that option. But in most cases, upon my return is soon enough.

    One thing I do recommend, let your clients or other necessary folks know you’ll be away from the office and who to reach out to just in case. This not only eliminates the possible frustration on their end, but keeps those emails out of your inbox. Thus creating a more peaceful re-entry (with a nod to the NASA reference.)

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