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What Your Out-of-Office Message Reveals

Today I sent out my monthly ezine, Better Writing at Work, to more than 6,000 subscribers. As usual, I received dozens of out-of-office messages. As I read them, I realized they told me a lot about my subscribers’ employers.

For example, I learned which companies and organizations:

  • Allow maternity leaves that extend for months.
  • Allow paternity leaves.
  • Offer employees sabbatical leaves to refresh and rejuvenate themselves.
  • Train employees in daylong and weeklong workshops.
  • Encourage employees not to respond to email while they are in training.
  • Develop teams and departments by having them participate in retreats.
  • Celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day by closing the office.
  • Offer employees bereavement leaves of a week and longer.
  • Encourage green business practices.

What does your out-of-office message say about your company?

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “What Your Out-of-Office Message Reveals”

  • Lynn,

    At first I scanned the list above wondering if you may have gotten an Auto Reply from me, which would have told you I was offline due to Hurricane Ike. But then I remembered that I did receive the ezine (Great issue!) and it was after I had turned Auto Reply off. I am one of the fortunate ones and was only offline for five days. More than 1.25 million are still waiting.

    Your blog posts and ezines are always a great read. Thank you and keep up the great work!

    L. Perez
    Houston, TX

  • In my case, senders don’t learn much about my organization at all. When I am away, I simply say that I am “out of the office” and that I will return a certain day. It seems unnecessary for others to know that I am enjoying a much-needed day at the lake while they are not. 🙂

  • The security and IT groups in my company have it set up that no one outside the company gets any “out of office” message from us so not only do you learn nothing about the company’s policies but you don’t even know we’re not there.

    This was implemented to prevent responses to spam since a reply back would acknowledge to the spammer that your email address was valid and then they would keep hitting you with more spam (from different IP addresses of course, so we couldn’t filter them out).

    However, that leaves us guessing who outside the company might be trying to contact us while we’re away. I usually let my regular vendors know when I’ll be out for vacation but occasionally I miss someone.

  • Thanks for commenting, Lori, Alfredo, and Anne.

    Lori, thank you for the compliment. I hope the lives of you and your coworkers will return to normal soon.

    Alfredo, I agree. No need to make people long for the lake too!

    Anne, I write to many clients in large corporations, and virtually all of them have out-of-office replies set up. Perhaps their IT departments are able to stop spammers before their messages can get to individuals.

    It IS unfortunate when you have to think of everyone who might write to you while you are away. It doesn’t leave room for surprises. I admit, though, that when we go on vacation, we either check our email occasionally or have someone else check it. We handle our email this way because we don’t use out-of-office messages–for the same reason your company doesn’t.

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