Setting an Away Message in Outlook: Just in Time for Vacation

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Written By Chris

Just a simple "data guy". Changing the world one formula at a time.

Setting an away message in Outlook can be a lifesaver when you’re going on vacation or need to step away from your inbox for an extended period. Creating an automatic response lets you inform your contacts about your absence and when to expect a reply.

To set an away message in Outlook, access the automatic replies settings and create a customized message informing your contacts about your absence. From here, you can customize your out-of-office response for specific contacts and select when to start and end this feature.

This topic is near and dear to my heart because my vacation is a week away! So, let’s get your away message set up in Outlook and focus on what matters…packing that swimsuit.

Understanding Outlook’s Away Message Feature

Microsoft Outlook offers a helpful feature called automatic replies, which allows you to set an away message when you’re unavailable to respond to emails. This feature, also known as the “Out of Office” message, can save you time and help manage your inbox while you’re away.

What’s really helpful about this feature of your email account is that you can set different rules and messages for various contacts or types of priority. Any professional knows that some issues need a response fast, and the last thing you want is for the sender to wait around on you, not knowing your toes are snuggled in some sand.

Let’s get more specific so you can fully grasp the importance of Outlook’s away message.

Out-of-Office Message

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To access the “Out of Office” feature, open your Outlook and navigate to the “File” tab.

Click on the “Automatic Replies” (also known as “Out of Office”) button. You’ll find two options in the new window: “Send automatic replies” and “Do not send automatic replies.” Select the “Send automatic replies” option to enable the feature.

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You can customize your out-of-office message in two different ways, and I’ll dig deeper into these in a bit. One message can be for people inside your organization and another for external contacts. Type your desired message in the respective text boxes, keeping it professional yet friendly. You should also include information like when you’ll return, who to contact in your absence, or any ongoing projects needing attention.

Additionally, you can set a specific time frame for your away message to be active. Check the “Only send during this time range” boxes and input your start and end dates. During this period, your away message will be automatically sent to anyone who contacts you via email.

Setting up an Away Message in Different Outlook Versions

The bad news is not every version of Outlook is the same. The good news is that you will find little variation when setting up an away message. But to spare you some headaches, let me tell you how to find your specific automatic reply settings.

Outlook for Microsoft 365

To set up an away message in Outlook for Microsoft 365, follow these steps:

  1. Open Outlook and go to File > Automatic Replies.
  2. Select Send automatic replies and set the date and time range for your absence.
  3. Write a brief, informative message in the Inside My Organization tab.

Remember, you can also create a separate message for external contacts under the Outside My Organization tab.

Outlook on the Web

For or Outlook on the Web users, here’s how to set up an away message:

  1. Sign in to your account and click the gear icon in the upper right corner within the Outlook Web App.
  2. Choose Mail > Automatic replies.
  3. Enable Turn on automatic replies and write your message in the provided text box.
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Additionally, you can set an end date for your automatic replies by checking the Send replies only during this time period box and specifying the date range.

Mobile Outlook App

In the mobile Outlook app, follow these steps:

  1. Open the app and tap the hamburger menu icon or the home button in the top left corner.
  2. Go to Settings (gear icon) > Automatic Replies (within the Microsoft account desired.
  3. Toggle on Automatic Replies, write your message, and set your absence’s start and end times.
Away message outlook mobile app

With these simple steps, you can easily set up an away message in various versions of Outlook, ensuring that your contacts know you’re temporarily unavailable and when to expect a response.

Configuring Your Away Message

Now that you’ve found your way to your away message settings let’s get it all set for your impending departure. First up, let’s select our dates!

Start and End Dates

The start date represents when your away message will begin being sent to people who email you, whereas the end date marks when the automatic replies will stop.

To choose the appropriate start and end dates, consider the duration of your absence and any potential delays in responding to emails. It’s always a good idea to provide a small buffer, so if you return on Monday, set the end date for Tuesday.

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This gives you time to catch up on emails. However, this doesn’t work for everyone, so use your best judgment.

Remember that being transparent with your availability helps manage expectations and keeps communication running smoothly. So go ahead and set your away message duration confidently, knowing that you’ve taken the necessary steps to remain connected and professional.

Message Format and Signature

Now, let’s discuss the format. Keep your away message concise, easy to understand, and professional. Stick to plain text for compatibility and avoid adding too many colors or fancy fonts.

Here are a few tips to guide you:

  • Begin with a clear subject line mentioning your absence (e.g., “Out of Office: [Your Name]”)
  • State the dates you will be away and when you’ll return
  • Provide an alternative point of contact, preferably with their email address or phone number
  • Add a brief reason for your absence, if appropriate

Moving on to the signature, an away message should still include your professional signature. This typically contains:

  • Your full name
  • Job title and company
  • Contact details (email, phone, etc.)

Customizing Automatic Replies for Different Recipients

When configuring automatic replies, you can set different messages for contacts within your organization and those outside. Tailoring your responses to each recipient group is crucial to uphold your company’s standards and ensure smooth communication during your absence. 

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Inside My Organization

In the Inside My Organization tab, craft a concise yet informative message. For example:

  • Include your reason for being away (e.g., vacation, conference).
  • Specify your return date.
  • Share alternative contact details for urgent matters (e.g., a colleague’s email or phone number).


After completing your message, click OK to save your settings, and your automatic reply will be sent to internal contacts within your organization during the specified time frame.

Outside My Organization

Honestly, the format for those outside your organization may not be so different. But here’s an example if you’re having writer’s block.

See how similar they are? You could have probably used the same message for each, and that would be ok. The critical part of addressing either sender is composing a clear and concise message for the recipients that appropriately set expectations.

Remember to proofread your message and click “OK” to save and activate the automatic replies. 

Incorporating Rules in Away Messages

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While drafting your away message, setting up specific rules to manage incoming messages in your inbox is a good idea. For instance, you can create a rule that moves emails from your contacts to a dedicated folder.

You can also apply email handling rules based on alerts or even keywords found in the subject or body of the email. So take an extra minute to set some rules so there’s less to do when you return.

Creating Rules for Specific Emails

To set a new rule, click the rules button in the bottom left-hand corner of the automatic replies window. Here you can customize rules to send a custom message, move the email to a folder or colleague, delete it from your inbox, or reply with a template.

The conditions needing to be met to trigger a rule are in the first half of the rule window.

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The actions performed upon the conditions being met are in the bottom half of the window.

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I’d recommend setting your away message several days in advance, so you have time to consider what rules would benefit you most. The more you can plan ahead, the less fear you’ll feel on that flight home when work pops into your mind.

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