How to set your OOO for parental leave
One of the last things most expecting parents think about is what they should say in their out-of-office (OOO) auto-reply as they head out on parental leave.
While your OOO can be as simple as stating you’re out on leave and won’t be answering emails, we have found that taking a few minutes to thoughtfully consider your OOO reply before you go on leave can pay off in the long-run.
The first step in deciding what to include in your OOO is to think about the goal of the message and just how much (or little) you want to share.
Are multiple colleagues covering different parts of your role? Do you want people to know when you’ll be back? Can you use your experience planning for leave to help others do the same, or advocate for parental leave in general?
We’ve outlined a few specific questions to ask yourself while drafting your OOO message to help ensure your return-to-work is as seamless as possible, as your re-onboarding should not require you to comb through months of emails that may or may not need your attention after being out for several weeks.
Question 1: Who should you send people to?
Option 1: Designate one person
If you have one person who is the obvious choice to quarterback all of your email and is aware they’ll be the go-to for anything that comes to your inbox, that’s great! Send them to that person.
- Option 2: Send to different people based on topic
If you have a few buckets of responsibilities with different colleagues covering for you while you are out, it can be helpful to try to direct folks to those specific coverage people. This will help provide those inbound requests with a better experience and hopefully prevents them from being passed around while you are out.
- Option 3: Create a group email address
Perhaps you’re not sure who should handle the inflows of requests you receive while you’re out on leave. A creative solution we have seen is to direct people to a generic email address like “email@example.com” if they need urgent help. This is great because 90% of emailers won’t follow up (their ask is not important enough) and then you can have a few people monitor that inbox instead of sharing out their direct emails. Bonus: when you return, you can check that inbox to see what “more urgent” topics came up while you were out.
Question 2: Do you want to include when you will be back in your OOO?
Most people will include a line like “I’m out on parental leave until February.” But we encourage everyone to think twice about whether or not you want to share that. Instead, you can avoid sharing a date, or you can pick a date that is actually a month after your real return date.
The challenge with sharing your return date is people may then barrage you with emails right when you’re back from work since they know that date - and that is the last thing you need. But if you don’t share the date - or you give a later date - then by the time they follow up with you, you’ve already returned, onboarded, and dug out of the depths of your inbox.
Question 3: Do you want to “make a statement” about parental leave?
Fancy yourself a parental leave advocate? This is a great place to make a statement about parental leave to voice your support. Your OOO will be sent to hundreds of people in your absence - what is something you feel about parental leave that you want them all to think about? For example:
- Giving a shout-out to your company for their parental leave policy (and sharing details about it)
- Sharing research about paid parental leave and its huge benefits
- Directing people to helpful resources if they feel their company’s policy could be improved (shameless plug - we’d love for you to link out to our "request to increase my company's parental leave policy" template!)
Example Standard OOO:
Thank you for reaching out! I am currently enjoying a 16-week fully paid parental leave after welcoming my second child.
If you need to speak to someone immediately, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and the team will direct your request to the right person.
Note that when I return I will likely not be reading through or responding to every email I received so I encourage you to email the address above with anything urgent.
Example research/resources you can link to in your OOO to advocate for better paid parental leave:
Depending on the statement you want to make, you can link to the following:
- How to increase your paid leave policy (here)
- What other top employers are providing for paid parental leave (here and here)
- How small companies can provide parental leave (here)
- How parental leave helps gender equity
- Parental leave has proven to increase female retention, advancement, earnings and retirement security (here)
- For each month that men take paid parental leave, their partners earn 7% more per year (here)
- Employees deeply value paid parental leave
- In a recent study, 90% of working mothers said they would consider leaving their jobs for better parental benefits (here)
- 82% of Americans say they want a federally-mandated paid maternity leave (here)