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OpinionCommentary

What your out-of-office messages say about you

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As you head out for vacation or take time off, you’re probably going to activate your out-of-office message, or OOOM, signaling that you’re currently unavailable to conduct business as usual.

Experts in workplace etiquette typically recommend that your OOOMs play it pretty straight. As in: “I’m away until my return on such-and-such date and meantime so-and-so can help you with anything urgent.” All well and good. But these responses neglect to tell anyone how you feel.

So, what if you said what you actually mean to say?

Here are some options for different personas to adopt:

The model employee. “I’m out of the office on vacation and really sorry about that. You have no idea how guilty I feel about leaving you in the lurch and letting you down. I know I must owe you a memo or an update or a catch-up call or maybe just a thank-you note. By next week, you’ll probably forget I ever existed. Accordingly, I’m now in full martyr mode. So please consider me available for anything. Luckily, my yoga training enables me to bend over backward farther than most human spines allow. I’ll be checking emails, voicemails and all 14 of my social media accounts about every 45 seconds. Oh, and here’s my cell number – and my spouse’s, too.”

The fence-straddler. “I’m taking some time off, but I’m really ambivalent about it. Yes, I’m out of the office, but I’m more or less in, too. It’s hard to decide which should take priority. On the one hand, I want someone to need me. On the other, I’d like to follow the advice my therapist gave me and declare my independence. So let’s just go case-by-case here. If you’re in a pinch and I’m in the mood to pitch in, for example, I will. Most likely. And if you’re more important than I am, I’ll respond immediately. Almost definitely. If you can count on any certainty here, it’s that I’m unsure.”   

The woe-is-me victim. “I’m away and could really stand some serious ‘me’ time about now. Besides, my pet gerbil died and my last performance review went lousy and my son keeps calling me a doofus. I’m just trying to disconnect and get a little peace. That’s why I’ve entered a Tibetan monastery that has zero WiFi. I’ve also undergone surgery to remove the microchips our company implanted in my frontal lobe to receive transmissions from my supervisor at all hours. So please, I’m begging you. If you have any pity for others at all, just let me be."

The burnt-out case. “Look, I’m out of pocket and trying to catch a break here and that’s pretty much that. OK? For me out means out. Listen, I’m long overdue for some downtime, thanks to a certain boss forcing me to work even while I’m sleeping. You want to talk burnout? Just last week I incurred three mini-strokes during a single conference call. So now I’m on a beach sipping a margarita and trying to think about anything but you and why you might be reaching out to me. In the event of an urgent need, please feel free to ask what’s-his-name to get my back. For all the good it’ll do you. And no, my attitude has nothing to do with my recent request for a promotion getting rejected – or, for that matter, your laughing out loud about it.”

Please feel free to pick the template that best reflects your personality. With any luck, it could lead to the vacation of your dreams.

Bob Brody, an executive and essayist in Forest Hills, is the author of the memoir “Playing Catch With Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes Of Age.”

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