Worker solidarity: 6 ways you can win points with coworkers when you’re out of the office

The final days of the year are fast approaching, which spells vacation time for many office workers across the land. December is filled with excused absences tied to shopping trips, travel adventures and the ever-popular HR vacation threat, “use it or lose it.”

Whether you plan to be out for a day, a week or the entire month of December, your absence can have an impact on those left behind. Here are 6 simple steps you can take to make life a bit more pleasant for those who have already used up their vacation. Remember, your vacation days might not roll over, but brownie points scored with coworkers last forever!

1. Set your email out of office message. Most modern email programs offer an out-of-office (OOF) functionality that will automatically send a response to incoming email. If you are not sure where to find the OOF function in your email, search for “out of office” in your email program’s help functionality. (Look for a Question mark if using the latest version of Outlook.) Your OOF message does not need to be a documentary about your vacation; just include the key information:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)

For example:

Thank you for your mail. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please contact Dave Kramer (email @ writersbloc.net). Thank you.

2.  Update your outgoing phone message. Yes, some people still use the phone – and will continue to call until you answer or return their call. You can adapt your email message for an outgoing phone message script. Key information for your phone message includes:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)
  • How to contact them (for example, dial zero for the operator or hang up and call their direct line)
  • The phone extension or phone number for the coworker covering in your absence.

For example:

Hello, this is Jacqui Kramer, owner of The Writer’s Bloc. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please dial zero and ask the operator to connect you with Dave Kramer at extension 425. Thank you.

Also, turn your phone ringer off before you leave – especially if you are in an open environment. Nothing drives coworkers crazy faster than an unanswered phone.

3. Make a note of all key passwords (or reminders). If you’re going away for several weeks, consider making a note of your passwords – or clues to your passwords – somewhere safe. I once took a three-week vacation, secure in the idea I couldn’t possibly forget my passwords in less than a month. I did. My first morning back was spent with a tech support person, who eventually cracked my computer.

4. Set expectations with your clients/customers. Always let your clients know about planned absences ahead of time, even if they are just a day. For more information about setting expectations, see I’m not there: Five ways to check in when you’re checked out (for vacation) .

5. Set expectations with coworkers. I have received a number of calls over the years that began with “(name of coworker) said you’re covering (name of project) while he/she’s out…” A surprising number of these have come out of the blue – because the vacationing coworker didn’t mention that I was on point while he/she was out. The worst was a phone message I received while I was out on vacation myself… because the coworker hadn’t checked to see if I would be around that week. Needless to say, the caller was not amused by the daisy-chained out-of-office messages.

That’s certainly a candidate for worst-case scenario, but it can get worse. I once got the call about a project that had not been made public. It’s a bit difficult to answer questions or provide assistance about a project you didn’t know existed.

Don’t put your coworkers in that position. They will not be happy, and you will both look bad in the eyes of the client/coworker in need of assistance. Contact your designated contact and ask them for help at least a few days before you leave – and take time to debrief them. Leave written notes outlining where to find information (document folders, forwarded emails, etc.) and set expectations regarding what they should – or should not – do while you’re away.

6. Remember your coworkers while you’re gone. The last thing you want to think about on vacation is work – but it never hurts to spend a few moments considering your coworkers. I once worked on a team of about 12 people, all working to launch a major project in the last few weeks of December. Needless to say, there were not many vacation requests being granted. One coworker had already been cleared to take three weeks off in December for her wedding/honeymoon (scheduled long before the project).

We didn’t begrudge her leaving, but we definitely felt the loss of a key person in those final weeks. The project launched, and everyone on the team received a lovely congratulatory email from halfway around the world where she was vacationing! When she returned, she brought a bag full of small trinkets (keychain and magnets) from her vacation. Everyone received a small gift, and the person who took on her extra work received an extra nice gift on the side.

The small gestures – the email, a bag of trinkets most likely bought at the airport – meant a lot to a group of coworkers who didn’t spend December in a tropical paradise. It was by no means necessary, but it did rack up a lot of good karma points with the team. She also happily covered for many on the team when it was time for others to take their own vacations – an extra bonus that didn’t cost her anything, but certainly earned a lot of good will.

Oh, and nearly a decade later, I still have that keychain.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


© 2009-2017 Dave and Jacqui Kramer dba The Writer's Bloc. -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright