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Out of Office

There is a saying — If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will need to make time for your illness.

High-performing professionals know that to be our best selves, we need uninterrupted time to rest, relax and recharge. However, too many leaders and public relations pros have “worked through weekends and breaks” during the last two years, and the effects are beginning to catch up with us. Stepping away for a short time prevents the more extreme decision of later stepping away for good. 

Whether you want to plan a spring break vacation, or just attend an evening concert with friends, you can set a positive example on how to step away from your desk and create healthy boundaries in the workplace. These three tips will help you maintain your professional standard, while also feeling more comfortable (and confident!) being inaccessible while out of the office.

#1. Choose You

Focusing on your personal wellbeing can seem almost impossible in the workplace, especially with emails piling up faster than Tetris blocks. “It’s not easy to pause your demanding daily responsibilities and step away from the office. Still, it’s necessary,” says Kristin Magette, communications strategist with CEL and co-founder of #K12prWell. “We know that chronic stress leads to occupational burnout. The challenge of managing stress over the last two years has made burnout a real concern, and the effect is far-reaching.”

You will be your best at work and at home when you place as much importance to caring for yourself as you do to your job. Start small, Magette advises.

    • Take your lunch break away from your desk, no matter how short
    • Schedule a tech-free brain break
    • Go for a 10-minute walk around or near your office 
    • Silence your phone notifications during dinner
    • Stop checking or sending emails at least one hour before bed
    • Recognize not every situation requires immediate response
    • Use your device’s do-not-disturb functions
    • Schedule your vacation days

“Small steps over time create healthy habits and boundaries,” she says. “The more you communicate your needs with your supervisor and work with your team on back-up planning, the more empowered you will feel to step away for longer periods of time. Best of all, you’ll feel confident in your colleagues’ ability to handle any urgent communications needs that come up while you’re gone.”

KYSPRA member Hillary C. Wright-Kaufman agrees. The self-described workaholic is slowly making herself a priority after experiencing several family emergencies and the loss of loved ones in the past year. For her, that means enjoying feel-good moments away from her laptop, including traveling, unwinding with a good television show and good food, or scheduling a spa day in the middle of the week. Creating intentional times of rest has also allowed her to do her best work for her school district, day in and day out.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that work is work, and it will be at the office when you get back,” Wright-Kaufman says. “I enjoy my job, but I had to learn to take care of myself, too.”

#2. Conversations and Check-Ins

While “choose you” might sound like a cheesy rom-com line, it really is the first step in establishing effective work-life boundaries. Next, you’ll need to have honest conversations with your supervisors and colleagues.

Talk to your supervisor

Before scheduling a meeting, outline what support you need from your supervisor to be productive at work and successful in taking time away from the office. No one wants to have a vulnerable conversation with their boss, but it is the most important step to achieve realistic and professional expectations, as well as sustainable changes.

NYSPRA member Mandee Puleo, APR, explained to her superintendent that she was struggling with boundaries, taking on too much and feeling unable to say “no” to anyone. The result was a long-overdue two-week break. This was followed by meaningful action steps, including Puleo being more open about her workload capacity. She and her superintendent were also able to reassign menial tasks, particularly those not connected to her school PR role.

“You are better at what you do when you find a balance and allow time and space for yourself out of the office,” she says. “When I went back to work, it was like a weight had been lifted. I discovered that my boundaries have greatly increased my productivity, the quality of my work, and my reputation as an expert in my field.”

Talk to your colleagues

Don’t feel guilty when requesting time out of the office. Rather, make it easier to let go of work tasks by being proactive and preparing your colleagues. Wright-Kaufman has come to rely on the office receptionist as her backup. “She always has my back and does her best to support the communications department,” she says.

Create an emergency sub plan to make sure your district is covered while you’re away. And use these sample questions as a guide to check in with colleagues before leaving. (Thanking them for their assistance is nice, too!)

      • Do you understand your assigned tasks?
      • Do you have access to all necessary information, documents, files and folders?
      • Do you have access to accounts and passwords?
      • Do you have a list of important contacts?
      • Did you review your crisis communication protocol?
      • Do you have any other questions?

#3. Craft an Out-of-Office Automatic Reply

Embrace writing your out-of-office message, which can be both empowering and exhilarating. It’s like a personal permission slip that signals you’re officially tapping out for a designated time, and it quietly encourages others to care for themselves, too.

Based on your personality and office culture, messages can range from the straightforward “I’ll be out of the office” to more tongue-in-cheek like “Putting everyone on hold. Paradise is calling.”  If you aren’t quite sure how playful to be, check with your supervisor. The last thing you want is an out-of-office message that hits a sour note with your audience while you’re away. 

Out-of-office messages are also a good opportunity to remain accountable to your work-life balance. By explaining you’ll be unavailable and will have no access to email while away, your recipient has a clear idea of when they can expect a response and what to do if they need help sooner. After-hours out-of-office messages can even be scheduled for 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. during the work week to also help create a work-life balance.

No matter the message style, include:

    • Thank you for the email!
    • The dates you’ll be out of the office
    • Directions for your contacts to reach a teammate who will be available. Include an email address and phone number.

Here are some sample messages to get you started. Mix and match to find the best fit for you, your district and the community you serve.

    • Sample #1: Straight forward
      Hello, and thank you for your email! I will be out of the office from Tuesday, Feb. 1 until Monday, Feb 7. I will not be checking messages during this time but look forward to responding when I’m back in the office on Tuesday, Feb. 8. If you need immediate assistance while I’m gone, please contact Roy Kent at 999-999-9999 or
    • Sample #2: Include a value-embedded detail
      Thank you for the email! I will be out of the office to catch up on professional learning goals and recharge my creative thinking. I will be back in the office on Monday, Feb. 7, and I am excited to help you in any way I can when I return. If you need someone sooner, Keeley Jones can be reached at 999-999-9999 or
    • Sample #3: Tongue-in-cheek
      Thank you for writing! I am out of the office through Tuesday, February 8. Expect plenty of Ted Lasso references when I return to the office because I plan to relax with an AppleTV marathon and a pack of Sour Patch kids. I will not be checking messages during this time, but I look forward to responding when I’m back in the office. If you need immediate assistance while I’m gone, please contact Roy Kent at 999-999-9999 or
    • Sample #4: After-hours
      Hello: I limit my use of email from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Monday through Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday. If you have an urgent matter or emergency, please don’t hesitate to call or text me on my mobile phone at 999-999-9999, which I monitor 24 hours a day. Otherwise, I’ll reply as soon as I’m able.

Published on: February 28, 2022