Out of Workplace Messages in Distant Work Occasions

Andrea Martin’s out-of-office messages were subtly reworked following the outbreak of the pandemic.

Before starting to work from home, she shared a signature message with departure and return flight details and contact in case of emergency. When she took time off last summer to visit Kure Beach with her husband and two children, she developed a new automatic response:

“I take time from work to rest, recharge my batteries and enjoy my family.”

Martin, director of strategic communications at Duke Family Medicine & Community Health, is one of many Duke colleagues who create more personal automated email messages during the pandemic.

“It feels like the vague, professional out-of-office message is no longer necessary,” she said. “I want my co-workers to know that I’m taking time off because I feel overwhelmed with doing work and chores and need time to recharge.

The benefits of a break

Taking time out – including to relax at home – can be just as beneficial as traveling to a vacation destination.

Read more about the benefits

Don Shortslef, senior practitioner at Duke’s Learning & Organization Development, said showing your personality builds connections in addition to job information – dates and contact information for a colleague who can help out in the absence.

“When you share why you are out of the office and are carefree, you become humanized,” said Shortslef. “Someone could see that you are at a beach they love to go to. This opens up a way of discussing and building relationships that would otherwise not have existed. “

Be inspired by the automatic replies from some colleagues in the months to come.

Gary Bennett
Vice Provost of Basic Education and Bishop MacDermott Family Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Global Health and Medicine

Gary Bennett's away message

Gary Bennett had an adventurous summer vacation.

“Let’s face it – I won’t be traveling far this year,” he wrote in his out-of-office email in July.

Instead, after “backing up my computer and mobile devices,” Bennett announced that he would climb stairs in his house, go into the living room, and take a nap with sprinkler noises.

Bennett’s personal messages have been a staple of his spare time for the past two to three years.

“In the past, writing my out-of-office messages was a dreaded act because I thought it would be useless,” said Bennett. “As soon as you see an out of office message, generally delete it. So I started experimenting and writing them in more detail. “

Gary Bennett, Vice Provost of Basic Training.Bennett’s automatic responses usually begin with a humorous greeting like, “If I’m lucky, I’ll even lay the foundation for the entire Spaghetti Slim” carbohydrate diet book I have planned. ” He then gives an interesting detail about the health and health benefits of taking a break.

The out-of-office email announcing his past summer vacation included a link to 2018 research showing that each vacation is associated with a 25 percent reduction in metabolic syndrome risk, which is the risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke increases. Bennett also noted research from 2019 that found how heart rate drops as vacation approaches. “That’s why I’ve been so cold lately,” he added jokingly.

Some of Bennett’s out-of-office messages are forwarded to others.

“That excites me because I want people to take time off work to relax and unwind,” he said. “Free time does our best when we get back to work.”

Heather Lowe
Director of Communications and Employee Experience, Duke University Health Systems

Heather Lowe's notice of absence

Heather Lowe’s out-of-office message is short but has a lot of meaning because she is passionate about self-care:

“I currently take a day to relax and re-energize,” she wrote in a recent automatic reply.

Heather Lowe vacationed in Argentina in 2017.  Photo courtesy Heather Lowe.Lowe always ends a message by stating that she looks forward to responding when she returns to work, to make it clear that she won’t be replying to emails outside of the office.

“I see the message as an opportunity to take a stand that we should take care of ourselves,” she said. “If we try too hard without a break, we get stressed and burn out.”

Lowe spends her days off walking her beagle on local trails, gardening, or, when not in a pandemic, traveling to countries. She has visited six out of seven continents and plans to go to Antarctica next year.

“To do our best job, we have to be whole people,” Lowe said. “If we spend time with friends and family, go outside, read books, and travel, we are better off and our work life benefits too. I would like to change the culture that we should always be available. We can’t do our best job if we don’t take care of ourselves. ”

Rebecca Vidra
Lecturer in environmental science and policy and director of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program

Rebecca Vidra's away message

Some days, Rebecca Vidra balances work and helps her three children, ages 5, 14, and 16, navigate kindergarten and high school from home.

“I will likely reply to your email immediately,” she wrote in an automatic reply in September. “But it can get lost in the wilds of my inbox, or I can answer it while I watch my 5-year-olds try to get their iPad to work together …”

Rebecca Vidra, Lecturer in Environmental Science and Policy.Vidra shares work-life activities at home that may result in a delayed response. However, she does let colleagues and students know that she can be reached via Zoom or by phone to speak.

“There’s an understanding that we’re all balancing a lot right now, but you don’t know what that necessarily looks like for every person,” Vidra said. “Are your children at home? Do you have a sick parent? I want to be honest without complaining about it. I am still available. You may only receive a call now if an email was previously received. “

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