How to set your out-of-office reply for peace of mind this Christmas

More than half of small business owners haven’t had a holiday in over a year

Many businesses are winding down today, with staff heading off to see family and friends for a well deserved break – but there are no guarantees clients and suppliers will follow suit, and by December 26 emails will start flowing again as quickly as wine on Christmas Day.

The best way to let your contacts know why you’re not responding to their messages is an out of office email auto-reply, which will automatically send to anyone who contacts you over your downtime. These messages typically involve an indication of how long you’ll be away from your emails, and occasionally an emergency contact address or phone number.

Setting up your out of office is often something business owners often will leave to the last second, and with different setups for each email client, setting up an automatic response can be confusing. To ensure peace of mind for you and your business over the holidays, here’s a quick guide on how to set up an out of office reply on the three most popular email clients.

Google GMail

GMail offers one of the most simple ways to set up your out of office, or “vacation responder” as the service calls it.

First, click on the settings cog in the top right corner of your GMail inbox, and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.

Then, scroll right to the bottom of the list, where the vacation responder options are laid out. Simply click “vacation responder on”, enter how long you want the email to be sent for and compose a message you wish your contacts to see.

Checking the tickbox under the message will only send the out-of-office reply to people within your contacts list. This option is great for any SME owners who regularly communicate only with people on their contact list, but if you receive multiple pitches or unsolicited emails from potential customers, it’s advisable to keep this unticked.

Microsoft Outlook

Outlook labels its out-of-office service as an “Out of Office Assistant”, but only in Office 2007 versions or earlier. If you’re running on a newer version of Office, keep an eye out for the “Automatic Replies” section instead.

Both of these settings can be found under the Tools section of the Outlook client, located in the top left corner of the program.

Once opened, select the “Send Out of Office messages” checkbox and enter in a message in the space below. Outlook automatically populates the subject line with an out-of-office response subject, so you can’t customise it as you would in GMail.

Then, set a period of time you wish the response to be sent for, and also select if you want to send your out-off-office to those not within your contact book. Outlook allows you to customise a message for people that aren’t on your contact list, allowing you to choose different levels of personalisation.


Apple Mail

Finally, Apple’s own Mail client offers a slightly less intuitive way to set your out-of-office response compared to the above examples.

Mail users are forced to set a “Rule” for their mailbox, rather than a specific out-of-office setting. Rule settings can be found in the Preferences menu under the rules tab.

First, it’s best to give the rule a title such as “Christmas Out of Office” so you don’t mix it up with any other rules you may have running in your inbox.

Then, make sure the drop-down box is set to “any”, and select “Every message” in the following conditions section. Apple allows you to set a number of conditions to be met by pressing the plus sign, allowing you to customise things if your out-of-office will be sent to those in your contacts, or even those who use your full name in the email body.

Then, select an action to perform when the condition is met, which in this situation should be “reply to message”. Then hit the “reply message text” and enter in the text of your out of office message.


What do I say?

Composing an out-of-office message can be tricky. Should it be funny? How long should it be? Should you provide alternative contact details?

Many of those decisions are up to you, but entrepreneur Kirsty Dunphey told SmartCompany in 2011 what makes or breaks a good out-of-office reply.

Dunphey recommends proofreading closely so the message contains no spelling or grammar errors, not making things too brief, and says you should try to provide an alternate email address as a contact. Make sure your dates are accurate too, she says.



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