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your extended absence greeting is on February 10, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Lessons Learned, Technology Trouble.

After spending several weeks on leave from CorporateSpeak — you didn’t notice because I pre-scheduled posts to appear daily, like any experienced blogger — I returned to the office yesterday to being clearing my backlog of tasks and e-mails. I figured it was as good a time as any to talk about extended absences.

Phone Greetings

There are two kinds of phone greetings in this world: the short, and the long. The short version is something like, “This is Jeff Smith, and I can’t take your call right now. Please leave a message, or dial zero for the operator. Thank you.” The long version probably contains your name, position, dial zero, e-mail address, the fact that you’re not here, when you’ll be back, what sort of information to leave to ensure a prompt response, and who to call in case of emergency.

With most phone systems, you can press # to bypass the greeting and get straight to the beep. But new systems have this little trick embedded in them that forces callers to listen to the entire greeting to get to the beep. It’s usually automatic when you set your extended absence greeting. Not that that’s going to stop Jeff Smith from spending ten minutes recording and re-recording this:

Hello, this is Jeff Smith with CorporateSpeak’s Accounts Payable Department. I will be out of the office until Monday, January 26, 2009, at 9:30 am. Please direct all questions to Rachel Sullivan at 212-555-0427 — that’s 212-555-zero-four-CS — extension 5150, or e-mail her at rsullivan@nyc.corporatespeak.com. That’s r-s-u-l-l-i-v-a-n at n-y-c dot corporatespeak — all one word — dot com. If you need to reach me specifically, you can leave a message at the tone, or send me an e-mail. My address is jsmith5@nyc.corporatespeak.com. That’s j-smith-five — the number five — at n-y-c dot corporatespeak dot com. I will be checking e-mail periodically while I’m away. Or you can leave a message, and I’ll return your call when I’m back in the office. Thanks for calling.

And then, after that 50-second greeting (I counted), if you’re lucky you’ll hear a beep. If not, you’ll hear this:

To leave a message, press five, or just wait for the tone. To return to the operator, press zero. For more options, press the star key.

That’s another ten seconds.

One minute. To tell someone you’re not around. That goes beyond the bounds of ridiculousness — perhaps even redonkulousness.

The alternative is to change your main greeting so you can say all that stuff above, but begin with:

Hi, this is Jeff Smith. I’m out of the office until January 26. To leave a message, press pound, or stay on the line to hear more options.

Of course, when I went on leave, I went with the long message in the hopes that no one would leave me any voicemail. I haven’t checked it yet, but the red light is on. That’s not a good sign.

Out-of-Office Auto-Responders

Now, an out-of-office auto-responder is the way to go if you want to convey a lot of information. But here’s what you don’t want to do:

Hi, this is Marc Burton. I’m out of the office right now, but I’ll return your e-mail as soon as I get back in.

How long will Marc be out? When will he be back? Should I e-mail someone else? HALP!

Then there’s the simple ones:

I will be out of the office until January 26, 2009, but will occasionally be checking e-mail. In my absence, please direct all questions and concerns to Jeff Smith (jsmith@nyc.corporatespeak.com). Thank you.

Finally, the one I tend to use:

Greetings. I will be out of the office until January 26, 2009. Please direct all questions and concerns to Jeff Smith in Accounts Payable (jsmith@nyc.corporatespeak.com). For questions about sales or advertising, please contact Rachel Sullivan (rsullivan@nyc.corporatespeak.com). Thank you.

The difference is that I don’t tell people I have access to e-mail — I mean, I may be out of the office, but it’s not like I’ll be far away from my computer or my smartphone. If the e-mail is important enough, I’ll reply, but otherwise, I’m letting Jeff and Rachel take care of it for me.

The Desk

Because I work with people who can generally appreciate my sense of humor, I have a tendency to put a funny sign on my monitor — last time I was away, it said “Gone Fishin'”, and I drew* a little caricature of someone on a dock with a fishing rod. I don’t even enjoy fishing, and haven’t since I was a lad, out on the boat with my grandfather.

But when your co-workers — the juvenile-acting ones, usually** — see that you’re gone for a while, they take it upon themselves to pull a Robert Goulet:

Your pens will be turned upside-down. Your post-it notes will have a sexually-semi-explicit animation in the bottom-right corner — every pad. Any useful change in your drawer will be gone. If you have a digital photo frame, you never know what he’ll put on your memory card. Your reference books? Written in. Your bulletin board? Pins in a funny shape. Your computer? Oh, don’t even get me started.

Here’s how to avoid Robert Goulet when you go on vacation:

  • Turn off or put a password on anything electronic.
  • Put your toys or tchotchkes in a drawer. Heck, put everything on your desk that isn’t nailed down into a drawer.
  • Lock your drawers if you can.
  • Bring home anything you eat out of.
  • Alert your co-workers that Robert Goulet is on the prowl — bring them some Emerald Nuts if you want. Bribe someone with food to watch your area.
  • Hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Avoiding Drawing Attention to Yourself

This is one of That Guy’s special tips, and it really only applies if you’re leaving for medical purposes. If you’re going on vacation, there’s no reason not to gloat.

Last year, one of my colleagues left for six weeks due to cancer treatment. He’s fine now, recovering, and cancer-free. On his last day, an e-mail was sent out and, as he departed, everyone stood up and clapped. The same thing happened when he got back.

It was actually very touching.

But I’m not the kind of person into having that much attention drawn to myself. So here’s the tip:

  • Take a half-day on your final day. Tell only your supervisor.
  • Come back extra-early the first day back — at least 45 minutes before the official start of the workday. Not only will it help you get through that mountain of e-mail, but it will also preclude any major attention being drawn to you. Just acknowledge people as they walk by, tell them you’re fine, and go back to work.

Be Indispensable… But Not Too Indispensable***

If you’re really good at your job, you can take a medical or personal leave of absence — even a paid one — and be welcomed back. But if you’re the only person who can do what you do, you won’t get a vacation. You’ll be inundated with e-mails and phone calls asking you how to do things that, really, the people calling and e-mailing should know how to do. You’ve only explained it to them several… dozen… times…

Yes, this happened to me. A combination of budget cuts, department shrinkage, and too many meetings with too little time to do actual work.

But hey, a few weeks off are a few weeks off… and it’s even better when those few weeks off don’t count against your vacation or sick time, and you get paid. So I really can’t complain.

But I will.

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* Poorly, I might add.

** Everyone at CorporateSpeak who reads this blog knows exactly who I’m talking about.

*** Is it just me, or does that word look like it should be spelled indispensible? I looked it up, and it’s an a, but I wish it wasn’t.



1. “blind transfer” and “keyword transfer” « corporatespeak - February 13, 2009

[…] really interesting part is that even when my voicemail message says I’m out of the office for an extended period of time, the receptionist still forwarded […]

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