I’m Out of the Office. Really.
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I’m Out of the Office. Really.

The key to a truly restorative holiday? Crafting the perfect out-of-office email.

By RACHEL FEINTZEIG
Tue, Jun 28, 2022 11:49amGrey Clock 4 min

In January, Claire Davis started buying bathing suits. In February, she prepped videos to send to clients in her absence. In April, the vacation finally arrived, and the day before her flight to Hawaii, she sat down to write her first out-of-office message since starting her own business six years ago.

“Girl, you’re looking so professional,” Ms. Davis, a Spokane, Wash.-based career consultant for medical-sales professionals, thought to herself as she crafted the note. As she pressed the button, “I felt free.”

The feeling lasted about an hour. While waiting in line for brunch with friends, frantic texts started pouring in. Somehow, she had inadvertently set her auto reply to spam message everyone who’d sent her an email since 2016.

Some—like the close contacts texting her—had been inundated with hundreds of out-of-office replies, one for every email they’d ever sent her.

“It was horrifying,” she says, estimating the messages reached tens of thousands of people.

You’re going on vacation. All that’s left to do is unlock the magic wording that will free you from your inbox—and by extension, your work life. So why is it so hard?

Fiddling with the settings is just the start. Do you make a joke, open up about your personal life? How do you get people to leave you alone without making them feel abandoned or annoyed? Are they judging the length of your absence? Maybe it’s not even worth trying to log off at all.

“You want this time off, but at the same time you feel so pressured and so guilty,” says Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal who studies how workers manage the boundary between work and life.

The agonizing isn’t our fault, she says. Modern workplaces expect people to be perpetually reachable, and the pandemic seems to have shortened expectations for message-response times. Working from home, out of sight, we should at least be a click away, the thinking goes. A survey from cloud-software company Qualtrics earlier this year found that 49% of respondents did at least an hour of work a day while on vacation.

The out-of-office email has the potential to be your shield, Dr. Ollier-Malaterre says. Don’t apologize for taking time off. Remove email notifications from your phone, or delete the whole app if you’re brave enough.

That said, if you do ruminate on work matters while on vacation, taking a peek at your inbox might be worth it, she adds.

“Sometimes you’ll feel better because you can see that nothing is burning,” says Dr. Ollier-Malaterre.

Brian Brown long went with the standard out-of-office-template, trying to imbue it with a quiet sense of “No, really, I’m actually not here.” It usually didn’t work.

When co-workers received his out-of-office email, “The next thing you get is a second message that’s, like, ‘Hey, but I really need this,’” says the 33-year-old, who works for a tax-software company in Lehi, Utah.

He bulked up his notes, enclosing details about his whereabouts (his hometown in Southern California, a Tim McGraw concert, camping with no cell service). He wove in facts about the destinations. He noted why the canyons he was traipsing through on a recent day off reminded him of tax compliance.

Rather than messages demanding work, colleagues and clients now chat with him about his travels. He feels more connected to them, and seen as a person, “not a 24/7 robot,” he says.

The away message can be a thrilling canvas for office workers with poetic souls. Aaron Konter, a one-time aspiring screenwriter, joined the advertising industry hoping to do the creative writing he had long dreamed of. Instead, clients wanted the work done their way. Supervisors slashed his copy.

Then the Atlanta-area resident discovered the freedom of the out-of-office email.

“I didn’t have to get it approved by anyone,” he says. “I could just be myself.”

Subject line of one recent note: “Aaron is OOO (Baby Baby),” referring to Smokey Robinson’s and the Miracles’ 1960s hit. In others, he riffed on how addicted we all are to technology and implored the recipient to create a vision board to try to manifest what they’re seeking from him. He signs off with “Love, Aaron.”

“This is me,” he says of his away messages. “And if you don’t like it, that’s OK.”

Some out-of-office messages hit a nerve. I heard from an entrepreneur who was outraged by an automated reply from a vendor saying he was surfing the coast of France. Meanwhile, the entrepreneur and his team were rushing to wrap a behind-schedule project that required the vendor’s help.

To avoid having your message land poorly, use language that assumes you don’t know the recipient well and that they have more power than you, says Erica Dhawan, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based leadership consultant and author of a book about digital communication.

Keep your note to two or three sentences, because being brief signals you respect people’s time, she says. Include an emergency contact and when you’ll be back. But feel free to hedge, publicly sharing a date that gives you some buffer time upon returning.

If you still have trouble turning on your vacation responder, help awaits. Iceland’s tourism-marketing office recently launched an online campaign starring three horses who clomp across a giant keyboard in western Iceland, majestic waterfalls flowing in the background. The gibberish their hooves type is available for anyone to use as an out-of-office reply.

Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, the head of the marketing unit, assures me that the out-of-office templates available on the Visit Iceland website were truly generated by the horses, though humans proofread them to ensure no swear words in any language accidentally made it into messages.

The horse babble sends a message, she says, and that message is: “I’m on my vacation.”

Going all out, with an equine twist or not, just might do the trick. After all, Ms. Davis—the career consultant who spammed thousands of her contacts with the away-message misfire—came home from two weeks in Hawaii to just a couple dozen emails.

“They let me have that vacation,” she says. “Without really bothering me at all.”



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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