Whether you are going on vacation, headed to a multi-day conference, getting married, giving birth or simply taking a few days of R&R, there are simply times when you just shouldn’t be reachable!  

We are always plugged in. Available. Reachable.  Seriously – in just about every scenario I can think of, if someone wanted to get a hold of you, they could!

On a boat sailing around Belize. At Mount Everest Base Camp. During sunrise at Machu Picchu. Yes. I know. These are all places we’ve been and gotten cellular service on our electronics!

But while we are quick to blame technology as the culprit for our inability to unplug, the truth is WE are the guilty party. Yes you. Me. Us.

We are ultimately in control of our time, our response to technology, and our availability to others.

I know, I know – it doesn’t feel that way at times. Deadlines. Projects. Emails. Responsibilities. How could things possibly run without us being involved??

News flash – the world will keep moving along if we are out of the office for a few days. Or a few weeks. Or even a few years.

So move that big ole ego aside and take control of your work free vacation by using this one very simple yet oh so powerful secret:

Write a pleasant, helpful and effectively unreachable Out Of Office (OOO) message.

Your OOO is the email/voice mail/text message that tells people what to do, where to go or who to talk to in your absence.  People need help to understand what to do when you are unreachable – so teach them!

But before we begin, let’s get something straight right now – there is a very right way of creating an effective OOO – and also a very wrong way of creating an effective OOO.  

The wrong way is to let people know “That you are out of the office but will be checking emails periodically and will respond when you have a moment.”  Or “That I will not be checking my emails, but if your matter is urgent, please call me on my mobile phone at 111-555-1212”.  

For goodness sake! You might as well just say, “I am on vacation but I know you can’t live without me and I really don’t mind being interrupted during my family time, so here’s how you contact me.”  

You have allowed people to contact you while you are out, so they will.

A well-written OOO that will earn you well deserved rest and relaxation should read as follows: “Thank you for contacting me.  Unfortunately, I am out of the office on vacation for the next two weeks.  If this is an urgent matter, please call Susie Support at 555-1212 and she can direct you to someone who can help you.  Thank You.”  

This simple statement is wonderful on multiple dimensions:

  • You start with a pleasantry – everyone likes to be thanked for writing/calling/connecting
  • You do not apologize for being out of the office on vacation.  In fact, you are very up front about where you are!  I do like to believe that people, at their core, are nice – and for that reason, if someone knows you are on vacation, they will be less likely to interrupt you.  Also, you are setting a great example for others – if you can take two weeks of vacation and admit it, you might inspire more people to do the same thing. Don’t you ever, ever apologize for taking some time away from work!
  • You give your writer/caller a solution. The problem? You are out of the office. The solution?  You given them the name/contact information to someone who can help them. 
  • Ending your OOO message with a simple thank you leaves no expectation that you will ever return their message.  So often we create expectations that we will respond. This need to respond is attached to our own ego issues – our guilt-ridden consciousness feels the need to respond to even the most benign email.  You do not need to respond to everyone. I promise. So don’t tell people you will!  Why even set that expectation?  When you come back from vacation you will determine if you need to respond and if you do, you will.  If you come back from vacation and determine that you do not need to respond (i.e.:  the deadline passed, you don’t have valuable insights to lend, the issue was resolved ten emails further down in your queue), then you won’t feel guilty about just deleting their email and never thinking about it again. And PS – the person who contacted you will never remember you didn’t respond.

A well written, definitive, pleasant OOO message that includes where to go if someone needs urgent help (other than your mobile phone) is without doubt the most important skill one can master for peaceful time away from the office.  

As you sit on the beach drinking your tropical drink and watching a sunset with your loved ones, send your need to be important and responsive out to the ocean, never to be heard from again.

Need more examples of well written OOO responses? I have a good friend named Jessica who is the QUEEN of well written OOOs. With her permission, I am sharing a few of them here with you. I think you may enjoy them.

Notice their make up – fun, pleasant, no apologies and solution oriented. And I promise, Jessica doesn’t respond to everyone on her return.

When things are busy at work/out for a conference/otherwise delayed responses:
I’m traveling internationally this week. Seemed like a good week to do it…not much going on in the US. I may be slow to respond to emails- especially during the whole “flying over the ocean” part.
Don’t go making any big decisions with national impact while I’m gone….
If you need immediate assistance with XXYYZZ, please call Susie Support – she’s amazing. You’ll love her.

Day off for your birthday! Of course!
Today’s my birthday. I’m finally old enough to legally have a drink so I’m going to celebrate accordingly. Or maybe I’m doubly that old and should have two drinks. We’ll see where this goes.
I will be checking in accordingly so if something is urgent, please mark it as such. If you need help in the meantime, Susie Support can help you out and keep you moving forward.

My favorite – away for a beach vacation with the family!
Hi – I’m out of the office enjoying a much needed, highly anticipated and hopefully relaxing vacation with my family at the beach this week. I’m not sure how you vacation, but I vacation without doing work. You know, quality time with the family and all…..
I realize that you are contacting me because you are working, so to help you out, please call these very capable folks. They can help you fight fires, leap tall buildings in a single bound or dodge speeding bullets.  


  • Gayle Hilgendorff

    Executive Health and Leadership Coach, Thrive Global Facilitator, Author and Aspiring Blogger

    Gayle Hilgendorff Executive Health and Leadership Coach / Thrive Global Facilitator / Aspiring Blogger (corporate2carny) / Author of Live More, Work Better: A Practical Guide to a Balanced Life (Bascom Hill Publishing Group, 2015) Gayle Hilgendorff is a certified executive health and leadership coach who left her Managing Director of Human Resources position at Accenture in 2011 to found her own business focused on helping corporate executives achieve their best, professionally and personally, through better health. While at Accenture, Gayle was responsible for executive career coaching and leadership development programs for a global organization of 30,000 people. After a turning point in her own career, she realized that true leadership and professional success were founded on being a healthy person – mentally, physically and emotionally – not just working harder. Gayle’s health passion became a platform for her consulting work with corporate executives. Working with participants across the globe, she incorporates holistic health concepts into her leadership coaching. Gayle integrates basic knowledge about how eating better, moving more, and finding ways to manage stress are the true foundations for a successful personal and professional life. With science backed concepts, and easy to integrate actions, Gayle’s programs have received high praise and tangible results. Gayle’s background in the corporate world combined with her likable, easy style make her a believable, relatable coach/presenter/author who has proven success in helping people make big change.