June 20th, 2024

An “OOO” is not a “Gone Fishing” sign

Out-of-office replies come in mostly one format: boring. Here's how to change that.


Out-of-office replies come in mostly one format: boring.

They’ve become pretty commonplace amongst your colleagues who are taking a day off to catch up on Game of Thrones or Stranger Things. They may even be out to a conference if they were lucky enough for the manager to allow it in the budget. (Ugh… Managers, amiright?)

This isn’t an article about how we don’t take enough vacation. There are plenty of those out there. What this is all about is addressing the laziness — nay, the plague — of poorly written email auto-responses. If you want someone to read it, you owe it to them to make it worth their time. This rings more true for people in email development.

We understand. It is just so easy to open up your settings, throw in some dates, pound out two legible sentences (if lucky) that state that you aren’t in and hopefully the sender’s email will be read when you get back. Super simple. Off to better things.

I remember a little shoe repair shop where I grew up. Because we didn’t have any nearby lakes or rivers where we lived, the man who worked there didn’t have an out-of-office sign that said “gone fishing” as you saw in comics and movies, but rather a nice leather sign he had hand-stitched. In neat, pristine writing, it read something like: “With all the time I work on other shoes, I thought it best to try out my own. I will be back after a sufficient amount of walking.”

This was a man who understood his audience.

In comparison, what if this man’s leather sign was a poorly constructed shoe — missing laces, the tongue sewn into the sole — and in Sharpie you could hardly read handwriting that said: “I am not here”? Is that someone you’d feel confident to talk about shoes with? If at least he said “I stepped away” I would’ve considered it.

I get it. There are holes in this analogy. A surgeon doesn’t need to cut and stitch something beautifully together for their office every time she or he leaves. An accountant doesn’t need to have time away shown in terms of debits and credits neatly laminated on the door. People don’t expect that. They go to them for other reasons and the lack of creativity doesn’t deter them from future interactions if it is just a sticky note or nothing at all.

For most people, gone-fishing signs aren’t their trade. On the other hand, for email geeks — copywriters, designers, or developers — it is.

What is one to do?

As a company that sends emails directly to a large number of people working on email for their jobs, every large send spits back hundreds and hundreds of out-of-office replies. This is what they typically look like:

After a quick analysis, it looks like there is some formula out there that goes like this:

  1. Thank them for sending an email to you
  2. Tell them that you’ll respond to their email
  3. Tell them when you will be back

This formula must have been started in the ’90s when people didn’t know how emails would be the thing we checked the most in our lives. Let’s deconstruct this formula for a moment:

  1. Thank them for sending an email. I am thankful for people who do not send me emails while I am out of the office. Why would I want more work to come back to by trying to read through emails that may be out of date by the time I get back? Why would I ever want to encourage someone by thanking them for something I don’t want? > “ Hey, thanks for actually not sending me anything more while I am away.”
  2. Tell them that you’ll respond. Who is sending emails these days and NOT expecting a response? Robots, that’s who. People always want a response. Do I really need to confirm what we are all assuming? > “Yep. I am a living human with common courtesy and manners.”
  3. Tell them when you will be back. Do you want people to know the day that you will be back, or the day that you will be likely to be caught up from being away? If you want people lining up at the airport to greet you, then go for the former. > “I expect to be back in the swing of things by Monday.”

Now, let’s compare and see which one you’d enjoy and remember. This one which took me less than 30 seconds to write without ChatGPT:

“Hello. Thanks for the email. I’ll be back on Monday and will respond on my return.”

(“…On my return?” What year are we living in? 1845?)

Or this one that took me a little longer (but not a lot longer):

“Yep, you just got this because I am not working today. If you want to pick me up at the airport and chat things over on the car ride home, that is going to be next Monday. If not, and because I am a decent human being, you should see some type of communication from me within a couple days after that.”

You still may enjoy the first. That is fine. But to hit on this point some more, we’ve scoured over 5,000 auto-responses and picked out our favorite 16. We were really going for 20, but could only come up with 16. Hopefully, these spur some inspiration:


  1. “Yo. I’m out of the office. Since I typically read emails on my computer, inside the office, I won’t see yours until I get back to the office. When am I getting back into the office, you ask? Hopefully by next Friday if all goes according to my back-in-office plan.” — Mike Nesbit
  2. “Do you like apples? I’m in Boston for the week… “How do you like them apples?” That’s right, I’m off to the magical land that gave us both New Kids On The Block AND New Edition until Monday, August 7, 2017.” — Cyndi Lareau
  3. “I am currently sprawled on a beach. I will be upright and working again as of Monday, August 28th.” — Megan Findlay
  4. “Ayuh, I’m headed up to Bean’s over in Freeport and then onto a Hum Dingah of a little family vacation Out In The Willie-Wacks of Maine. I’ll be Right Out Straight doing family stuff like hiking, swimming, fishing — basically its going to be the Great Outdoors minus the other family. Its gonna be a wicked good time! So, if you need my attention Sumpin Fierce then call my cell or text me but remember I’ll be in the woods so the reception…you get it. Really, whats best to do is resend this message when I am back on the 28th!” — Mark Nickerson
  5. “I have taken a late summer holiday, and am out of the office. I will be returning to the office on 1st September. I will not be checking emails whilst I am away, because I am on holiday.” — Chris Delahunty
  6. “I’ll be enjoying swordplay, ruffly costumes, and bad Elizabethan accents at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival today. I’ll get back to you next week once I’m back in the office. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Joe at xxxx.xxxxx@xxxxxxxxx.com. Huzzah!” — Renee Munro

7. “Hi! I’m currently living out my Cast Away dreams in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (from Aug 28 — Sept 11). I won’t have access to the Internet, phones, or homing pigeons, but if it’s super urgent, email xxxxx@xxxxxx.ca or xxxxxxx@xxxxxx.ca, they’ll help you out. When I return from paradise, I’ll respond to your message as soon as I can. Until then, ALOHA.” — Jasmine Eclipse

8. “Hullo! It has been a while since my inbox has filled up with things, so I am letting it exercise its muscles while I ride some trains, planes, and automobiles around Europe. When I get back, I will carefully give my inbox a high five and let it hit the showers as I scan all the stuff I received while away. If I deem your message important, I will get to it first. If it doesn’t seem like you need a response, I probably won’t write one. Thanks for thinking of me and my inbox, though.” — Cal Tisman

9. “Hi there. We’re closed for the Bank Holiday. We love holidays, especially when bankers can tell us and the rest of the country to take the day off. I wish my job could do that. We would have more holidays if I was a banker. But I am not, so I will get to your email tomorrow. Cheers.” — Ben Hopkins

10. “Bonjour and Thanks for your e-mail. Sorry you’ve missed me, I’m currently enjoying plenty of baguettes et fromage on holiday and will return when I get back to the office on Monday 4th September.” — Catherine Marston

11. “I’ve wanted to go to Greece since I was a wee lad, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ll be offline for the week and back September 11, so if anything is urgent please redirect it those I am in cahoots with.” — Gerard Long

12. “Ladies and Gentlemen: This digital and magical response is brought to you by computers who can tell if I am out of town (which I am). That means that the quick responses that you have come to enjoy from me will be done by robots until I return on Sept 6th. They are nice robots, but not very smart. If you need something urgent, we pay people to answer the phones while we are away. Unlike the robots, they are nice and smart. These humans can be reached at (555) 555–5555. I’ll follow up with you when I return.” — Katherine Blanche


14. “Hola, I am currently out of the country in España (cue sad flamenco music) through 9/17. I will be checking emails in between eating tapas and getting lost in romantic Spanish cities. Please expect replies to be delayed. If this is urgent, feel free to text or call. (If it really is urgent.) Besos, Jacob” — Jacob Rokeach

15. “Dear Sender, I’m probably lazing around somewhere on a nice sandy beach with no access to internet. Please contact Emily S. (xxxxxxx@xxxxxx.com) if you have any urgent matters, otherwise I’ll reply your email on Monday :) Thanks, JQ” — Jiaqing Ho

16. “Sorry my Out Of Office reply gave you false hopes of my swift and enthusiastic response. In fact, I am not in the office. Nor on my laptop somewhere else. Nor on my phone. I am on holidays! Please don’t get your hopes up — I will not reply. At least not until I am back at work 2nd October — sorry! :) If your message is urgent (IF!), please contact some people on my team — they are at least as knowledgable as myself — if not more! — and will definitely help you in the meantime. Many thanks, Ulf” — Ulf Tiedemann

I’m a fan of #13 because I am a sucker for ASCII art and I know it probably took Jimmy forever to put that together. This is a cobbler showing off his trade.

Speaking of cobbler, the old shoemaker that I referenced earlier has passed away and his storefront is now a boring insurance office. The smell of leather has vanished with the new white walls and metal desks and computers inside. His business was never a booming success during my lifetime (mostly because of how shoe manufacturing and prices have developed over the past 20 to 30 years), but he held onto that real estate for longer than anyone on that street — all due to being friendly, knowledgeable, and good at his niche.

I reached out to a few of the people above asking them how their emails were received. All of them said that they have had positive feedback from their out-of-office responder and a couple even got some sales out of it. In a perfect world, I think that is what email should be — a way to build a stronger relationship with the people who get it. Definitely not another email to be added to the rubbish pile.

If you’ve come across a great OOO, let us know!



RGE co-founder. Speaker. Lame marketing guy. If you found a typo on the site, it was probably my fault.

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