How to create a holiday “out of office” message that will be remembered

In about a week, most of us will take a break for the holidays. Might be a day. Might be a week. But, most of us will be out of the office for at least ONE day in December. And that means you’ll have to set the dreaded “out of office” message on your email.

If you’re like most of the workforce, you stick with the basics:

“Thanks for your message. I’m out of the office for the holidays from Dec. 24-Jan. 2. I’ll respond to your message as soon as I can upon my return. If your message is urgent, please contact (INSERT NAME HERE).

Happy holidays!


Pretty benign, right? But, safe. And for many, this adheres with “corporate guidelines” (I believe some companies have templates for these kinds of things).

If you DON’T have to adhere to corporate guidelines (strictly), please consider getting a little creative with your message. I’ll give you a few good reasons why:

* You’ll take folks by surprise. Few people use the creative out-of-office (OOO) message, although they are a bit more popular than they were a few years ago. As I always say, zig when everyone else is zagging.

* Get some laughs. Most folks go for the laughs with their OOO. Even if you’re not inherently funny, you’re bound to get a laugh or two (see point #1 above). And this time of year, who couldn’t use a good laugh?

* You’ll be remembered. I can’t tell you how many people have commented on my creative OOO messages the last few years. It’s almost like a marketing tool for me. I can thank Gini Dietrich for that one–she was the first person I noticed that was really using OOO’s effectively (and creatively).

So, how do you go about creating an OOO that will get you remembered?

Here’s a few ideas to consider:

Include the basics

Yes, you want to be creative, but you also want to communicate the basics to those who are sending you a note. Make sure to include: 1) How long you will be out of the office, 2) Who to contact when you are out; and 3) When you will return.

Get specific

Most of my OOOs aren’t all that funny–but they are pretty specific in terms of what I’m doing and why. When I took the family to the North Shore of Minnesota this fall, I told people exactly what I was doing and why (something along the lines of “I’m heading up to the North Shore with my family to sit by a fire, drink coffee and read a book for four straight days.” Chances are, many of the people who you interact with on email are interested in your life outside work–tell them!

Go for ONE joke

Don’t get crazy here. The OOOs I’ve seen work really well go for one joke and get out. If you go for multiple jokes, 1) You don’t have enough room–these OOOs need to be short, and 2) It feels like you’re trying too hard. One joke feels perfect. For example, when I went to Bayfield, Wisc. last year for a wedding with my wife, my OOO went something like “I’m heading to beautiful Bayfield for a wedding this week. I’ll likely be either 1) On a boat, 2) On a beach, or 3) On a boat or on a boat with a drink in my hand for most of the weekend. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can when I return on Monday.”

Don’t get crass

People like funny. People don’t like crass. Don’t get vulgar and don’t take your joke too far. You WILL regret it.

Those are my ideas. Do you have any to share in the comments?


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33 comments on “How to create a holiday “out of office” message that will be remembered

  1. mjkeliher says:

    Right on. Why not inject a little personality?
    Around this time last year, this was my OOO message for a week:
    “I’m out of the office all week, attending CES in Las Vegas — a pretty plum work assignment, if you ask me. I’ll have as much email access as my phone allows from the convention center.
    If you need immediate assistance in the meantime, please call the Fast Horse front desk at 612-746-4610. We’ll make sure your needs are taken care of. Thanks, Mike”
    The client with whom I was traveling saw that and said, “Awesome OOO message.” #winning

  2. nalivermore says:

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  4. Yeah i also do that if i’m also out of the office..Holiday is important to leave some stress but we can not forget our work..I like this amazing post…

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  9. ginidietrich says:

    I realize it’s easier for you and for me to write create OOO because we aren’t bound to corporate guidelines. I’ll also admit there have been a couple of OOOs some of my team have written that have made me cringe. So we have a small policy that reflects our social media policy for OOO and still allows people to interject their humor and creativity. Happy New Year, Arik!

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