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The Independent Culture

Middle-class problems: Out-of-office messages

By Simmy Richman

Spending half of our working hours managing our email inboxes is irritating enough. Recently, the situation has been made even worse by the modern scourge that is the automated out-of-office email.

You want a quick answer to a simple question. You send an email. Within a millisecond of hitting the button there it is: Sorry. I have had to leave the office for a few hours. In the event of x, contact this person. In the event of y, try my colleague blah, and so on.

What busy lives we lead. Or do we? Could it be that the out-of-office email has become a tool to be deployed by self-aggrandising colleagues who have nipped off to the pub for a few hours and want to leave behind the message that they are utterly invaluable.

Perish the thought. But if you if you are going to be away from your desk for some time, here are a few simple pointers.

1) Never view the out-of-office email function as an excuse to flex your comic muscle.

2) Avoid providing too much detail. No one needs to know you are "on a sunbed in the Bahamas".

3) When you come back to your desk, try to remember to turn the out-of-office message off. No one, in the middle of December, needs a message telling them you are away until mid-August.

4) Try to remember where the out-of-office function lives. Asking colleagues how to set it up once can be charmingly doddery. Asking every time you need to do so, makes you look a fool.

5) Last, but by no means least, unless you work in the US, never use the term "annual leave". You're on holiday, OK?