This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

It’s vacation time in the U.S. when most of us try to squeeze as much as possible out of what remains of summer. Out-of-office messages abound. Are you making the most of yours?

Of the hundreds of ways you can personalize your interactions with people, I’ve found that one of the simplest and most distinctive is how you’re in touch when you’re out of touch. I’m regularly surprised at how few people take advantage of the basic tools available to help us.

You know all too well the downside of vacation or time away in general: the massive email pile-up. Shortly after The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook was published, my travel commitments quadrupled. I felt guilty about clients repeatedly getting a generic “I’m out of the office without access to email” response. And I didn’t want to NOT have auto-replies, because I believe in being responsive and accessible. So I started to experiment with ways to turn obstacle into opportunity.

[Tweet “Are you making the most of your out-of-office messages? #getreal #communication”]

  • An easy start, with information about my location: “I’m speaking at the SHRM National Conference in Orlando today…”
  • Adding local trivia: “I’m in North Carolina, home of the Krispy Kreme doughnut, through Tuesday evening …”
  • Trying quotes, and humor (and both): “Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.’ Today I’m working on the former, curbing my email addiction so I can focus …”
  • Sharing personal things: “I’m taking the day off to celebrate my third wedding anniversary …”

Make no mistake, some of these still feel risky to put out there; I’m just more confident now because of so many positive reactions. One client, when interviewed for feedback on our work together, made an unsolicited mention of the auto-replies: “She’s present even when she’s not present. She’s probably the only person I know that you can get an out of office message and still feel like she’s talking to you … you never feel like you’re disconnected from her.” Another client emails me periodically just to see what I’ve come up with lately by way of OOM. Now that’s my kind of business development.

My examples may not be right for you. Adapt to suit your style. Just don’t play it too safely. Part of the point is to take the risk that others might get to know you a little.

Trust is personal, after all.

Make It Real

This week, draft three different auto-replies that you might use the next time you’re out of the office (or in the office and craving a little breathing room to get stuff done). Experiment with different levels of personal risk-taking. Then commit to using one of your drafts.

Learn More


Read more about my auto-reply strategy on, or discover six ways to practice risk-taking in Chapter 9 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A Comprehensive Toolkit for Leading with Trust.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).