Have you ever run into a situation where your email message was automatically deleted because the recipient was on vacation? Does your company have a policy like this? If so, you may want to reconsider. While some companies favor this approach because it puts the onus on the person sending the email to follow up later, it can have a negative impact on your clients and other employees.

Personally, when I’m sending an email and I get a response like this, I won’t necessarily remember that I will need to resend the message a week or even a few days later. The policy can have a chilling effect on client relationships and even inter-personal relationships because it puts the strain on the sender while the receiver is on vacation. It can make a very bad impression, and for most companies, reputation is everything.

Most customers will feel put off by a message stating, “If you’re emailing me, this message will automatically be deleted, please try again in seven days.” I honestly wouldn’t send the email again. There are better ways to deal with employees with a heavy email load who go on vacation. Here are a few suggestions to make it a win-win for both the employee and the clients.

If your employee is on a team, have a co-worker follow-up

The only caution I need to add to this suggestion concerns the question of privacy between the employee and the client or whoever else is emailing them. If it’s a work-monitored email, and the work you do is not client-sensitive, then there shouldn’t be any problem with having your email automatically forwarded to someone else on the team, so he or she can to take care of it while you are out. This not only frees up the inbox of the employee on vacation, but the clients wouldn’t be inconvenienced in the least.

Be honest and put on a vacation responder

The typical and most common type of email responder is a basic message stating, “I’m on vacation.” This offers flexibility since the email stays in the employee’s inbox. The most effective messages give the client or business the opportunity to contact someone else on the team if the email is important. Unless you’re working on a big project and decide to duck out without letting anyone know, most projects should be tied up before a long vacation happens, and clients should be notified in advance. This gives the client the power. If something is urgent, they’ll know to send the email to one of your co-workers. If it’s something that can be followed up on next week— it’ll be followed up on next week.

Go on vacation with no responder at all

I understand that some people don’t even put a vacation responder on at all, because of the line of work they’re in. They want to appear available at all times. I also know a lot of people who never respond to email until it’s a week old. It’s important to understand your industry, and if you can leave for a vacation without putting a responder on, you’ll know it. You just want to be careful that you’re not giving any clients the impression that you’re ignoring them.

All in all, is an auto-delete policy the best way to go? In my opinion, no. The away message isn’t supposed to be something that gives the client or anyone else extra work, and personally I have never seen it used successfully in the workplace. The three suggestions above can be used to good effect when you’re going on vacation. Knowing who your clients are and how to handle them will go along way towards helping you choose the best method for your office.

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.


  • Avatar Karin says:

    This topic is very interesting. But I don’t think there are many companies that use automatic deletion policy e-mails when the recipient of the message is away on vacation. Or at least I’ve never heard of this before. The company where I work lets the employees choose how they notify people about whether or not they will be available on certain days.

  • Avatar Glennis R. says:

    I think that if I receive an automatic response to an e-mail that tells me my message will be automatically deleted within a few days because the recipient is away on vacation, I would probably not re-send it. It seems totally unprofessional for a colleague not to announce that he is going to miss work for an extended period of time. I really think I would change my opinion about a company that has a policy to delete e-mails, because it denotes lack of respect for its employees and customers.

  • Avatar Cleavon Thomas says:

    When I have to go on vacation or miss work for an extended period of time, I have to think about the most polite way to notify my staff and my clients about this. Initially, I thought that the best thing would be to forward messages to a colleague who was supposed to cover for me. But there is a risk that she would not be able to solve these additional problems, having to deal with all the rest of the duties. So I’ve decided that I will check my messages at least every other day and respond to them or divert them only when necessary.

  • Avatar Ivy says:

    In my company, there is no specific policy when it comes to e-mails received by an employee who is out on leave or absent for medical reasons. In principle, each of my colleagues handles these issues in their own way. There are people who automatically redirect e-mails to colleagues who are taking their place. Others prefer to notify their customers about their absence and leave a phone number for special situations.

  • Avatar David Crisp says:

    As all emails are the property of the company, it is prudent to have the IT chap set up that several people in an office get a copy of the email. This way, no sales are lost or issues with customers becoming irate or unhappy at no response due to whatever reason.
    In a large department, split into groups of three or four. It pays dividends, and also tidies up the “private” use of emails while at work.

  • Topics

  • Subscribe to Our Blog

  • Latest Posts

  • Stay Social