The Art of the Email Auto-Reply (and 10 Ways to Have Fun With It)

Americans tend to behave like they’re being naughty when they take vacation, as if five workdays off in the middle of summer were stolen cookies, and they’re toddlers with their hand in the proverbial jar. But in fact, vacation is far from frivolous. Research shows that taking time off improves mental and physical health, productivity, even our attitude toward work – and subsequent shot at getting promoted.

And to really take a vacation, you need to unplug completely. That means no Skyping in to the weekly meeting, no taking phone calls from the boss, no answering emails by the pool.

To do that effectively, you need several things. Most important is a boss who’s got your back. Next: time management skills, and the will to power through all the prep work that taking vacation entails. Last but not least, you need a killer auto-reply message.

Wait, what? It sounds trivial, but it’s true. The right auto-reply can mean the difference between spending your vacation acting like a switchboard between clients and the folks covering you, and getting some actual time off.

A good auto-reply message includes the following things:

  • The dates when you’ll be out of the office.
  • The name and contact info of anyone who’s covering you.
  • A clear set of expectations. If you’re not checking email – and again, you shouldn’t be – specify under what circumstances the emailer should contact the employee covering for you. Also, let them know that you plan to reply, and when to expect that email when you return.

Of course, not everyone sticks with these rules. Some people like to use their auto-reply messages to have a little fun — it’s vacation, after all. Would we recommend you do the same? Not necessarily, unless you’re good at conveying the information above in a funny and charming way.

But for entertainment’s sake, here are 10 fun, clever, or outright insane email auto-replies culled from social media that are worth a look — if only to remind yourself why an informative auto-reply is important:

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“I’m away until [date], and will be attempting to stay off email. You’ll know how successful I’ve been if you hear back from me before then.” (Confession: This one is mine. I give you full permission to use it if it’s helpful.)

* * * * *

“I will be on holiday from [date] to [date]. Each person may send me one email while I am gone. I will randomly delete multiple emails from you until only one is left. You have already sent me one email.” (via Quora)

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“The Rapture is real.” (via Facebook)

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“If you’re reading this, the train wasn’t able to push the Delorean up to 88 mph, and I’m stuck in 1885. I won’t be able to respond to emails until exactly 8:30am on Wednesday, October 12 in the year 2011. If there’s an emergency, or you need to contact [name] for an urgent matter, please telephone the office at [phone number].” (via Reddit)

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I just got one recently that said: “I do not check emails. If your email is urgent, contact coworker ABC at abc@company.com.” I email coworker, get message: “I do not check emails. If your email is urgent, contact coworker XYZ at xyz@company.com.” It was an infinite loop!! (via Facebook)

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“Thank you for your email. I am going cray-cray and tearing s**t UP in m******g VEGAS. I will be back on April 8th. See you b****s then.” (via Facebook. Editor’s note: Do not use this email auto-reply if you like your job or being employed generally.)

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“I stayed at a motel last night because of the weather, and my cat ran under the bed, which is bolted to the floor. I can’t ask the chambermaids to help me catch the cat, because I’m not supposed to have a cat in here. As soon as the cat comes out, I’ll be back in to work.” (via Quora)

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“If you have problem with A, email person X. If you have a problem with B, email person Y. If you have a medical problem, dial 911. If you have a problem and no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… the A-Team.” (via Facebook)

* * * * *

“I am out of the office from mm/dd to mm/dd and will not be checking email. It’s likely your note will be swallowed in a sea of inbox banality, never to be seen again. If you require a response, please re-send your email after mm/dd. (via Quora)

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And finally, Troy McClure of the Simpsons is always the right answer:

Hi, I’m Troy McClure! You may remember me from such classic Out of Office Messages as “I’m At Outside Lands Watching Metallica” or “Visiting My Family in Florida.” I’m here today to talk to you about Paul Sokol, and the email you just sent him.

(Enter Billy, 8 years old, doe-eyed)

Billy: Mr. McClure? Why is Paul not answering any emails right now?

Troy: The answer is simple Billy: Paul is in San Diego this weekend providing support for an event and nowhere near his work email.

Billy: When is he going to be coming back?

Troy: He will be back on Monday morning.

Billy: Is he going to reply to the email they just sent?

Troy: If it warrants a response, Billy. If it warrants a response…

(Exit Billy)

That’s all for now. Watch for me in the upcoming Out of Office Message “At a Wedding,” coming this winter!

(via New Relic and Paul Sokol, Campaign Builder “Mad Scientist” at Infusionsoft)

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What’s the funniest, best, worst, wackiest, or most memorable out-of-office message you’ve ever received? Let us know in the comments.

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