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Out-of-Office Messages

Staff, faculty and the OOO email auto-reply.

January 15, 2020
 
 

Hello. I am on vacation between now and Jan. 13 and will not be checking email. Please resend your email on or after Jan. 13. Thanks, Josh

That was the out-of-office (OOO) message that I set on my work email the last time I went on vacation.

Do you find anything unusual, off-putting or impolite about this OOO?

I didn’t think anything of this out-of-office message until a colleague that I deeply trust, someone with social and emotional intelligence to burn, let me know that my OOO might be a bit off-putting to some.

All of which has gotten me thinking about the OOO.

Do faculty and staff have different expectations for the out-of-office message?

The subtext of my OOO was that if you really want me to respond to your email, you will need to write again after I return to campus. That I am not going to read email while on vacation, and that I should not be relied upon to sift through emails that came while away.

The potential problem with my OOO is that, as a staff member, my orientation to work is fundamentally that of a service position. Recognizing that staff are in service roles acknowledges that the core work of the institution is teaching and research. And that core work is done by faculty.

When work is intrinsically collaborative, such as most of the work that staff such as myself do on campus, every communication should reflect this priority. It may be that a better OOO message reinforces to the sender that their email is important, and that every effort will be made to attend to it promptly.

On the other hand, an argument can be made that if the goal is effective communication, then the OOO should be clear about expectations. We all get so many emails nowadays that the odds are high that any individual message will be lost in a sea of postvacation messages.

Letting folks know that they should resend the email after a specific date ensures that the communication is received and processed.

In this age of smartphones, it is difficult for any of us to commit to not checking emails on vacation. Most everyone I know will triage their inboxes while on vacation. Out-of-office messages seem to be morphing into apologies that the recipient may “be slow in responding,” rather than statements that email will not be read.

Do professors share this OOO angst? What sorts of OOO messages do professors leave on auto-reply when they go on vacation? What is the service expectation from faculty to their students and colleagues around vacation email etiquette? How do norms of faculty OOO auto-replying change when professors move into campus leadership roles? Does the OOO reflect, and reify, the faculty/staff divide?

What is your out-of-office message?

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