Respect the Out-of-Office (OOO) Message

It’s the holiday season soon! Lots of people look forward to this time of year and plan well in advance to spend it with family, to travel, etc.

For most people, their job includes lots and lots of emails. We all spend a lot of time replying to messages that we receive via email. And if someone is away from office, we receive one response emails with an auto-response out-of-office message. After spending a few years working, we each become connoisseurs of auto-reply out-of-office messages. Each of us has our way of writing an OOO message. Sometimes we might even block the calendars of everyone we work with the title “Out-of-Office” so that everyone knows about the leave. A fresher starting his/her career might even get told to add an out-of-office message the first time he/she goes on a planned leave.

The types of OOO can exist on a range. There is the standard message “I am not in the office currently. I will respond back to your email once I am back.” The email address of the person who will be taking up the tasks during the leave could also be added so that in case of any urgent work they can be contacted for the same. Nowadays, there are more personal ones that include details about why you are on leave, when you will be back, etc., or humorous ones like “Getting on a plane. Let’s talk when I land”. There are even ones that are brusque like “On the weekend I do not respond to emails. If it is an emergency, call me. Otherwise, let’s talk in the office on Monday”. The OOO Message has also started making its presence on internal communication tools, for e.g. – if a company uses Slack – an employee, when he/she is OOO, can change their status message to reflect OOO, Travelling, On a Plane, etc., so that people know not to contact them for that duration. Even if somebody is going on a break in the middle of work as they have to drop their parent somewhere they will put a message maybe saying “Away/OOO till 4:30 PM” so that their colleagues know not to disturb them during that time.

We often drop this message as a status on an internal tool or as a common response for any email we receive so that we can try to maintain our work-life balance. If one is away on vacation with family, it would be highly disturbing and disrespectful to constantly hear notification pings on your phone. It could end up hampering your vacation time. Sometimes, this disrespect can cause employees to leave the organization citing that their life is losing to work and they do not want to continue in such an environment.

Irrespective of what field a person works in and how he/she prefers to deal with their work, everyone needs to switch-off and disconnect at some point. Everyone might need to be out-of-office at some point or another in their career. Recently a poll conducted on LinkedIn asked for each person’s preference on what their OOO Personality was like. There were four types of OOO Personality that people could vote for – “The one who works anyway”, “The ‘just-looking’ lurker”, “The ‘On for crises only’ one”, or “The one who’s totally off”. There were a lot of people who replied on this poll with their personal preferences as to which type they felt they were and why. 33% of the respondents voted for ‘The one who’s totally off’ category while another 30% voted for ‘The one who works anyway’. It would be very difficult to have a blanket rule for all as each person’s personal preference might be different. Somebody who is working on a very crucial project might still respond if really required even if he is not available at all because it is an emergency and requires his/her input. The same person, if he cannot avoid the reason for being OOO, might ask another colleague who knows about the task to take it up until he is back. If it was another person, and he/she enjoyed a blurred boundary between work and life, might even be happy to intermittently check emails and messages.

When trying to be respectful of OOO Messages, there can be a lot of practices that the one sending the OOO message and the receivers can do. It isn’t always as simple as setting up an auto-reply message. Situations and personal preference might also play a role. An OOO employee needs to stick to it. If the OOO employee is saying that emails and messages might be viewed but the response might be delayed, and you then deal with only extremely important emails or messages, that’s fine. But if the OOO employee has dropped a message that he/she will not be available and cannot be contacted for the duration they are OOO for, but still logs in and deals with emails and responds to messages – it can send across a message to the other members that they cannot trust what the OOO employee is saying and that since he/she is accessible they can contact you and ask for a response as and when required, like they would if it were a working day. Always be kind and respectful as the person who will be OOO and provide details of other people colleagues can get in touch with if required. Putting an appropriate and wise OOO Message can help set the boundaries for the time-off and creates better connections. While planning leave and the OOO Message, an employee also needs to ask the support from supervisors and colleagues. This can be vital as it will help employers recognize when their staff is away from office.

Switching off from one’s work might be difficult – but having the right message which is respected can do the trick so that you can go on your leave, and once you come back – have greater productivity as you are recharged.

Prof.Radha Pavitra
Assistant Professor
DSCE-MBA

 

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