Internal, open access

Out Of Office messages

A guide to creating professional, Out Of Office messages.

This guide will give you an overview of how Out of Office responses work, what they do, and ensure good practice when you use them. It was created with input from a number of University units which have an interest and expertise in this area.

Information Policy Management and Services (IMPS) aim to ensure that University staff present accurate information that complies with University policy and UK law.

The Digital Development Team (DDT) are responsible for the University's digital presence and can advise on presenting digital information in a way that is effective from a technical and usability perspective.

The Design & Print Studio (DPS) ensure that the University looks professional in all its communications, both internally and externally.

Information Technology Services (ITS) manage the University's digital infrastructure


The purpose of Out of Office messages

Out Of Office messages can perform a range of functions.

The goal of this guide is to help staff create a simple, short Out Of Office message by balancing out these three key functions:

  • Managing a reader's expectations
  • Offering alternate contact details
    • Helping the University comply with legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act 

Out Of Office replies should:

  1. be relevant to your audience. There are now internal and external options within the email system.
  2. provide alternative contact information (like a web address or a phone number)
  3. be simple:
  • Complicated information may be ignored.
  • Complicated formatting and design may well not appear as expected (or at all) when your recipient views your message.
  • Shorter, simple messages save network bandwidth and save paper if printed.


Out Of Office messages should not:

  • provide personal information or reflect personal opinions or tastes.
  • include images, attachments, colours, special fonts or other HTML formatting


What to include in your Out Of Office message

There is no single, exhaustive list of what is right and wrong. Instead you should select items from the list below that suit your needs. Including everything may well be overkill, so be selective.

Messages must include:

  • I am away from the office and will return on Xxxday XX Month
  • If your enquiry is urgent, please contact Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tailored messaging to specific audiences:

You can set-up individual responses to internal and external message senders.

For example, it is important that all external message senders are sent the following message:

'If your request is related to a Freedom of Information enquiry, please contact'


University of Reading students are regarded as external message senders, as they are not using the same email system as University staff.


Messages may include:

  • Alternative / Out of hours / emergency contact if needed
  • Optional: Working hours, days of week, bank holidays, esp. if part-time or dealing with international clients

Messages should not normally include:

  • Any kind of decorative or complex formatting, pictures, colours, backgrounds or columns structure
  • Promotional messages. Offering marketing messages can be impersonal and offensive when someone really wants to get in touch with you one-to-one.'


Examples of good practice

The internal response

Internal Out of Office Message


The external response

External Out of Office message

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Last Edited: 19 April 2016 | First Published: 22 June 2011

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