'Tis the season for not checking email

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

These days you don't even need to look at a calendar to know the holiday season is approaching. Whether it's decorations put up in your local Walgreens the minute the Halloween displays came down, or the sudden influx of cheesy made-for-TV Christmas movies, there are certain things that just scream “ready or not, the holidays are here.”

One of those less obvious signs is the humble “out of office” email reply. Sure, they pop up frequently during the summer months as well, but they're bound to become more common in the coming days as people hit the road to be with family and friends.

These usually brief, to-the-point messages are important for two reasons. For you, the vacationer, they offer a few days when you have a valid excuse to unplug and focus on things outside of the workplace. Of course, you know that you'll have a mountain of emails to sift through when you get back (a tremendous feat that inspired me to write this blog in the first place), but for the time that that auto-response is activated you're essentially off the hook and free to devote your time elsewhere.

For people trying to contact you, the out of office reply assures them that aren't ignoring them, and that you will reply when you return (probably).  To receive one of these replies from somebody you're trying to get in contact with can be a little frustrating, especially if the reason for contacting them was urgent.

But as I set my own out of office reply last week for a quick trip to visit some college friends, I was reminded of a story I heard on NPR of a Texas newspaper editor who infuses his OOO replies with personal stories to placate those who might try to contact him while he's away.

The messages changed over time just as the reasons for his absences did, going from, “I want you to picture me strapped to the wheel of an aging minivan with three grumpy kids behind me, 800 miles of high plains in front of me,” to more heartfelt ones.

“If you're annoyed with me for leaving the office, I want you to imagine a middle-aged man who fell in love with a beautiful baby girl almost 18 years ago, and now he's driving her to a gigantic college in a distant city filled with all kinds of people who do the things people do at college,” he wrote. “And he has to leave her there and drive home alone in the dark, in a minivan, alone.”

Of course not everybody is a newspaper literary editor who has the ability (and privilege) to get creative with their OOO replies. If your workplace isn't one where a humorous out of office message would be fully appreciated, you can still enjoy them vicariously. Here are a few of my favorites, courtesy of LiveChat.

•  “I will be out of the office and returning next week. I have incredibly easy access to a phone and email, but I assure you, it will not be used for work purposes.

•  “I'm not in the office right now, but if it's important; tweet me using #InterruptYourVacation.

•  “I will be out of the office for the rest of the day without access to email. If this is an emergency, please call emergency services.”

For every straightforward away message you receive this holiday season, imagine the more colorful reasons behind them. Rest assured your email is important, just not as important as the recipients hopping on a plane and returning to their hometown for their aunt's famous sweet potato pie.

Do you spice up your out of office messages? Let me know in the comment section, or tweet me @emmongan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.