Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How You Can Use Your Out-of-Office Message to Improve Everyone's Work-Life Balance

typing outside

I don’t know about you, but it makes me smile when I email someone and receive a light, witty out-of-office response. Whether someone’s letting me know he’s in Florida on vacation with his family or on a yoga retreat in Nicaragua and therefore, “slow to respond” to messages, I’m happy to get the personalized automated response as opposed to the generic, “I’m out of office this week and will get back to you upon my return.”

Look, I don’t have a problem with the standard, canned lines, especially because depending on where you work, it might not exactly be the right move for you to share that your unavailability is due to an African lion safari. Beyond that though, if you’re missing work due to a tragedy and not a joyous occasion, like having a baby or tying the knot, you’re probably not going to be inclined to offer details of your whereabouts to a stranger trying to get in touch with you.

But, privacy issues aside, doesn’t it seem like the basic (often boring) note fails to establish the fact that you have a life outside of the office?

For new parents, maybe more than anyone, the desire to achieve work-life balance, is an ongoing struggle. While more and more companies are implementing parental leave policies that not only recognize the mother’s need to stay home with the baby for weeks or months, but also a father’s.

For the new mom whose colleagues probably saw her in various stages of pregnancy, her post-birth absence is expected—and even sometimes desired. I’ve heard stories of moms who, not 10 hours after giving birth, emailed about some issue or another and received responses along the lines of, “Stop! You just had a baby. We’ll figure it out. Go enjoy your little bundle of joy.”

But for the new dads, things tend to be a bit trickier.

Writing for Fast Company, Scott Behson asserts that perhaps we should rethink our “‘out of office’ message to accomplish a little bit more.” As a working dad himself, Behson is an advocate for both maternity and paternity leave, and he believes that “working dads need to be more vocal and visible in addressing work and family concerns. This way, we make it more comfortable for men, their co-workers, employers, spouses, and society in general to discuss dads' work-family challenges.”

One way of doing this, of course, is ditching the once widely accepted boilerplate auto-replies in favor of one that offers a personal touch, explaining, without going into great detail, why you’re not glued to your email alerts. It’s important, he says, to demonstrate that you care about both your family and your career—one of the hallmarks of the work-life balance so many of us strive for. Rather than try to accomplish the same amount of work at the same speed in the days and weeks after the arrival of a baby, more men should be confident about the idea that “success in both is the key to a full life.”

Reconfiguring your out-of-office email is one small step in accomplishing this, and it’s a smart one. It’s a way to get the people we work with, for, and among to see that we are responsible both in our careers and in our home life, whatever shape that may take.

In two months when I marry my best friend and take a few days off to relish in the commitment that my husband and I have made, I think instead of notifying my co-workers and external work circle via a dull “Out through X date,” auto-reply, I’ll personalize the reason for my online absence.

The next time you have a choice between standardizing your reply or personalizing it, if it feels right and is acceptable at your place of employment, I’d recommend the latter. The future of your work-life balance may depend on it.