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Most professionals I know are high-energy, switched on, go getting types of people. That, of course, is a big part of what makes them successful. But it’s also what leads to many of them burning out and becoming, well, a little bit miserable. So usually at this time of year I like to remind my clients of the importance of switching off their computers, pulling their heads out of their work and abandoning the routine of the office to take a break.

This year is a bit different.

Let’s face it: 2021 has been one hell of a year, and not in a good way. A lot of us are feeling a lot more stressed and less secure than we have been in a while. 

We all need a break and now is the time of year to take it.

The good news is that a lot of firms I’ve been speaking to are doing just this – closing their doors from 22 December and not opening them again until 10 January. So if your plan is to stay well away from the office and come back ready for a reset in 2022 then here’s a way to start …

KILL THE HOME OFFICE

This advice is especially true if you’ve been working from home, as most of us have been.

Remote work is great for avoiding the commute, getting better flexibility and spending more time with loved ones. But it’s terrible for separating work from the rest of our lives and switching off. How often do you now find yourself sitting back down at the computer to answer that email that probably doesn’t need answering right away?

So, as part of farewelling 2021, I want you to pack away your home office, especially if it’s a makeshift one. Unplug your monitor, put the laptop in a drawer and give that space back to your kitchen or living room. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated home office, close the door to it – then pretend it doesn’t exist for a couple of weeks.

You need to unwind and you can’t do that if your work is constantly around you. 

TURN OFF EVERYTHING

Don’t just stop at your laptop either. If your phone is anything like mine, it’s also very much a tool for work and therefore a source of stress.  Give yourself a set time when you’ll log out of email, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Asana, Jira or anything else you use for work (say, 12pm on 24 December).

If you can’t close these apps down altogether, at least turn off the notifications so you no longer constantly hear about work.  Remember, if you don’t have cheesecake in your refrigerator, you can’t eat it. Similarly, if you can’t see the messages, you can’t check them.

NOW FOR THOSE CLIENTS…

Just remember though that while, taking time away, not everyone will be as sensible as you. There still will be emergencies, many people will still need advice. And some of them may be your clients.

That brings me to your ‘out of office’, or at least how to write one. And it goes a little something like this.

First, keep in mind that legitimate clients may well want to contact you while you’re away so don’t treat them as spammers.

In other words, don’t tell them that you’ll be destroying emails or that they won’t get read. It’s tacky and counter-productive. Be respectful.

Start your out of office with a ‘Thank you’.

HELP THEM OUT

Make sure your out-of-office either provides a way of contacting you or puts them in touch with another person who can help them. And be sure to let them know who else is monitoring your email, that way they won’t be surprised when they get a reply from another person. If you’re taking an extended break give your assistant a list of people to contact, whether it’s based on speciality or by client.

And, while we’re on the subject, don’t leave it to the out of office email to let your client know you’re away and who to contact in your absence. 

Write to them before you leave or mention it in your Christmas card.

AVOID WEASEL WORDS

2021 has been a bad year for many things, including weasel words. These are deliberately vague phrases that sound impressive but offer no real meaning or insight at all. In fact, often they mean the exact opposite of what you’re trying to say.

“I’ll be checking my emails intermittently” or ‘“I will not have regular access to the internet (because I’m in a more exotic location than you)” are prime examples of weasel words that get introduced into our out of office emails. Put these to bed and go with something more concrete.

If you must check emails tell them you’ll be doing it. But be specific about when. Appoint a time of the day you promise to read what they’ve written and when they can expect to hear from you. And give them someone else they can contact in case they can’t wait that long.

DON’T TELL THEM WHEN YOU WENT ON LEAVE

No one cares when you stopped working. Just tell them when you’ll be back. (The same goes for ‘non-work’ days – instead of announcing when you don’t work tell ‘em when you do).

Then toss out redundant words in your out-of-office message like “currently“ or “Please note.”

Brevity is the soul of the out of office email.

Also, avoid telling them that you’re going on a ‘well earned’ break. Trying to justify your need to not be in the office seems a little bit, well, insecure…

AND NOW, SOME PRACTICAL EXAMPLES…

If you want the easy option here’s four out-of-office messages you can cut and paste.

Example 1 (holiday leave – office closed and emails not monitored)

Thank you for your email.

Our office is closed for the holiday season and will open again on [day and date]. If you’re facing an emergency and need advice now, you can call or text [me] on [mobile number].

Otherwise I will get back to you on my return.

Best wishes [Name]

Example 2 (holiday leave – others in office monitoring email)

Thank you for your email.

I’m on leave and will be back on [day and date]. If you’d like schedule a time for me to contact you on my return, then please contact [Name] on [email].

Regards, [Name]

Example 3 (annual leave – not contactable)

Thank you for your email.

I’m on leave and will be back on [day and date].

If your matter requires immediate attention please contact my colleague [name] on [Phone xxxx xxxx] or [email]

Regards, [Name]

Example 4 (extended leave/sabbatical)

Thank you for your email.

I am on extended leave and will be back on [day and date].

Your email has been forwarded to [my assistant] [my colleague], [Name], who will contact you if the matter requires [assistance] [a response].

If you would like me to call you on my return please contact [Name] on [Phone xxxx xxxx] or [email] so they can schedule a time for us to [talk][catch up].

Regards, [Name]

AND NOW…

It’s time to set up your out of office, turn off the computer and put 2021 behind you once and for all.

Have a wonderful Christmas, a peaceful break and let’s hope 2022 brings us all a lot more joy than the past 12 months.

See you in the New Year.

Sue-Ella.


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Sue-Ella is the Principal of Prodonovich Advisory, a business dedicated to helping professional services firms sharpen their business development practices, and attract and retain good clients.

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