The Big Work Lie: “Out of Office”

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It happens to all of us. You send an email to someone that requires a reply. You might even add some sizzle to it with a big red exclamation point. Could be a request to fix a problem. Could be something really urgent and you are desperate for an answer. Could be an appointment or a meeting request.

Within a second of hitting the send button, you hear the ping of a new email and see the response: “Automatic Reply – Out of Office”. Followed by, “I will be out of the office until _____ and will have limited email access. If this is an emergency, please contact __________.”

That response raises lots of eyebrows and generates lots of questions, mainly, “Do we believe that response? Is he or she really out of touch? With today’s devices, is it even possible to be really out of the office and out of touch? Does that mean the recipient is reallynot checking? Is it true that people are truly addicted to email? So let’s wait and see….

Sure enough, within just a few minutes the one who posted the out of office note is sending a response. And it’s a good, thoughtful response that addresses the issue. The response is not, “Buzz off! I am in Hawaii with my family and I haven’t had a vacation in five years.” The thoughtful response raises a new question: Why did the person bother to create the out of office status if he took the office with him?

No one believes out of office status any more. No matter where we are, what we are doing, and whom we are with; we all sneak time to check and respond to email. Worse, we all expect others to do the same. No place is safe and no one believes that you are not checking emails, even whilst on vacation. It could be the tragedy of today’s workplace but it is the reality and it is not a good thing.

We should reconsider the out of office designation and use it as it was intended. That is, we are out! Maybe just adding the word “really” would help. As in, “I am REALLY out of the office and REALLY will not be checking email and would REALLY appreciate it if you didn’t bug me and I REALLY want you to deal with my colleague _____ whom I REALLY do trust to handle things whilst I am gone. REALLY.” I bet that would really do it.

Out of office should be used, but only if we take the status to heart and personally enforce it. We all need a break and studies are showing that disconnecting makes us more productive when we do reconnect. We need to take time out of the office, to get away from it all. We need to preserve out of office but only in its truest sense.

Some love the OoO status but they have abused it. Others want to preserve the status because they use it as an ego thing, as in, “I am out of the office on a Polynesian Island with my super model girlfriend through the end of the summer. If there is blood involved call my people and I may get back to you.”

Remember those pink slips with the header “While You Were Out”? There used to be stacks of those on desks with names and phone numbers scribbled on them. They are long gone. I fear out of office status is not far behind so let’s bring it back in its truest meaning.

My advice is when you need to take a break, post the out of office status but add the wordREALLY. Maybe it will work and your health, both mental and physical will thank you. Or, only take vacations in places where there is no Internet access. If you can find one.

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