Work Smarter//

How Our Out of Office Messages Can Drive Employee Engagement

It’s easy to do, it’s free, and it’s a surefire engagement driver.

By ESB Professional/Shutterstock
By ESB Professional/Shutterstock

Out of office message received recently: “Thanks for your message. I am currently out of the office enjoying a long weekend with family. If you need immediate assistance, contact….”

We’ve all gotten out of office messages. They are generally clinical and benign with the obligatory “call X if you need urgent assistance” clause. We read them, note who can handle our issue if we got the message in response to an Email we’ve sent, and move on.

So why was this OOO message so impactful?

This was an OOO message from one of our Company’s senior executives. When was the last time you saw an OOO like this from a senior executive? In the most genuine way through a mundane OOO message, this executive sent a strong message to the organization: It is OK to take vacation, it is OK to let people know you are taking vacation, and yes, it is OK to let people know how much you value family time. 

When I received this OOO, my first thought was, “Good for him! He deserves quality time with his family, and I’m going to make sure I don’t interrupt that.”

I worked for a company once which discouraged their executives from using any type of OOO response. The reason? “We want everyone to know that our executives are always available no matter what.” I chuckled at this “rule” because:

(1) We all know that this is not always the case. There are hours of the day we sleep. There are kids’ soccer games to attend where we need to be in the moment and cheer on the team. And sometimes we physically just aren’t available. I once was on a 17-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa – there was no way I could be responsive for at least that day even if I want to be, so I would have left my clients hanging or even annoyed at my innocent lack of response if I followed the “rule.” 

(2) It sends a completely wrong message to everyone in the organization. If executives never take vacation or don’t take “real” vacation to recharge their mind and body batteries, how can others feel encouraged to take theirs? 

Needless to say, at my peril, while at that company I chose to honor reality and use an OOO. (FYI – I wasn’t fired.)

Many employers talk about ensuring their employees take vacation. Some even have initiatives to coax employees into it.  For me, this simple OOO was role modeling in action – more effective than any initiative or policy. It was encouraging and inspiring – I smiled when I heard the many positive comments made about it. 

In today’s day and age where we continually hear about employees who fear taking vacation, having senior executives not only take vacation but announce their taking of it really makes it OK for others to follow suit. It’s easy to do, it’s free, and it’s a surefire engagement driver. Try it – you’ll be OK, I promise!

Side benefit: You will empower the team you delegate to handle matters in your absence, which scores bonus engagement points. What’s not to love?

(For those who want to take this up a notch, here’s some potential starter material for you. Note that I am not endorsing these approaches, but I will guarantee you get a laugh and applaud the authors’ creativity)

Originally published on

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