This week’s column: ‘amusing’ out of office replies

It used to be me. I used to set a ‘funny’ out-of-office when I went away. It said this: ‘I am currently out of the office. If it is life-threatening (think quite carefully about this), then please try me on my mobile. Otherwise Araminta in the office may be able to help.’

But that’s not too bad, right? It’s definitely not the worst out-of-office message in the world. I reckon this is maybe the worst out of-office message in the world, which I was sent a few weeks ago: ‘I am currently lying on a sunbed sipping a Mai Tai and do not wish to be disturbed.’ I’m technically friends with this person and they’re quite amusing in real life. But in their out-of-office they come across as a total berk. Who even likes Mai Tais, anyway?

They’re on the rise, these ‘jokey’ out-of-offices. And it’s that time of year. The time of year when you look at your desk on a Friday afternoon, give it a cursory tidy (sweep 53 napkins and lidless pens from your desk and into whichever draw has a chink of space), set your out-of-office and skip out the door, the heart gladdened like a small child who’s just chirruped the school song and escaped for the summer.

But I’m not sure that this excitement means we should turn into a nation of David Brents, setting an out-of-office which we think will amuse Steve from IT when he emails about your password expiring on Monday morning. Especially if it’s used to boast or to share irrelevant personal details. ‘I am out out the office while I climb Kilimanjaro, I will respond to your email on my return.’ Steve from IT doesn’t care where you’ve gone on holiday. He’s already thinking about what sandwich to have for lunch. Also, Cheryl Cole has managed to climb Kilimanjaro, so let’s not lose our sense of perspective.

Unless you’re a head of state expecting an urgent email about Russia or North Korea, all you need to say in your out-of-office is that you’re away until the following week, and give the contact details of someone else in your office who can handle your workload in the meantime.

I’ve also noticed out-of-office emails sounding increasingly guilty. ‘I’ll be checking my inbox while away, albeit not as frequently as usual,’ it may say apologetically. Don’t check it at all pal, you’re in Puglia. Turn your phone off and forget about that Excel spreadsheet. Live a little.

Which brings me to the phrase ‘annual leave.’ There is a lot of ‘annual leave’ being bandied around in out-of-office emails at present. I think it must mean annual leave from your senses, because I’ve never heard it used in conversation. ‘You going anywhere nice for your annual leave?’ said no hairdresser ever. So let’s park that at the same time and just say ‘holiday’.

Course, the mere fact that we have to set out-of-office replies at all is a tragedy. In the old days, if you went on holiday and letters arrived while you were away, they presumably lay on your desk until you got home from the South of France. Nobody died if they didn’t hear from you within 60 seconds. The sky did not fall in. Please can all those who set out-of-office replies when they’re going to be away for a mere afternoon have a little think about this too. ‘I currently in a meeting and will respond to your email later today,’ is one I’m sent every now and then, which is incredibly silly and self-important.

What’s next? ’I am currently on the loo and will reply when I’ve washed my hands’? Although, to be fair, I probably would have a little laugh at that.