When It Comes To Your Auto-Reply, Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down | Gwen Darling | Healthcare Blogs Skip to content Skip to navigation

When It Comes To Your Auto-Reply, Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down

March 19, 2010
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Over at Healthcare IT Central, we send out a Weekly Job Alert email to some 5000+ subscribers who want to be the first to know when a new opportunity presents itself. Because I am a firm believer in the value of personal relationships, especially in a field immersed in technology, we send the email from my personal email address, which means I get my fair share of responses. I try to answer each one – usually it’s a quick question or a request for more information, or a thank you, which is especially gratifying to receive. All good. But I also get the auto-responders – the “vacation” reply, the “so and so is no longer with us (aka fired)” reply, and the “out of the office on business” reply. Usually I don’t pay much attention to these – delete, delete, delete. But since the majority of our subscribers were at HIMSS10 a few weeks back, the volume increased significantly. Always thinking of the next great blog post idea, I thought it would fun to compare the ones that came from hospital CIOs, so I sorted through the pool of replies and came to a startling realization:

Many CIOs are wearing the equivalent of Granny panties when it comes to their auto reply.

I’m fairly certain that all women reading this post know exactly what I’m referring to when I talk about “Granny panties.” Granny panties (or emergency panties in some circles), are the last resort panties that a woman wears when she’s in a hurry and behind on the laundry. I think I can safely speak for all women when I say that we all have a pair, and I’m also confident in saying that the thought that crosses all of our minds as we yank them on is, “Please, God, don’t let me get into an accident.” Guys have them, too – those boxers you got for Valentine’s Day with the big arrow pointing you know where, the Homer Simpson briefs that you secretly think are cool – you know the ones.

So, what do Granny panties have to do with a hospital CIO’s auto replies? Take a look at three real examples of responses I received:

“I will be in Vegas at HIMSS for the week of March 1st and will have limited access to email or my cell phone. If this is about the ________ position, please contact the HR Manger at . . .

“I will be out of the office during the week of March 1st for the anal HIMSS conference. I will be checking email . . .”

“I will be at HIMSS from February 28 – May 4th. If you need me. . . “

Like your Granny panties outfit, most auto replies are pulled together in haste - the last thing you do before flying out the door. And like Granny panties, you certainly wouldn’t want examples such as these to be thought of as representative of what you had to offer every day. Obviously a hospital CIO IS one of the sharpest tools in the shed. But Vegas? Spelling errors? A big (Freudian?) slip on the word “annual?” A two-month long HIMSS? What if a candidate who was applying for a position in your department submitted an application with similar errors – would you question their attention to detail? Their professionalism? Their ability to do a good job? I’m thinking you would. Because that’s what I was thinking about when I read these auto replies (and many more just like them). Well, about that . . . and Granny panties.



Guilty. Well, sort of.

"... the Homer Simpson briefs that you secretly think are cool — you know the ones." For me, it was the Bart Simpson Tee shirt. It has the same warming appeal as my son's T-shirt when he was four which read "It wasn't me"

Next time they have to cut my clothing off at the trauma center, they'll read that and say "Actually, it is you."

In the age of continuous mobile connectivity (Blackberries, iPhones and Droids), the Out-of-Office auto-reply is a telling relic. At a minimum, the rule or rules behind the OOO-AR should distinguish between those with addresses in your address book, and those who don't. Since everyone should have Gwen in their address book, she (Gwen) should never receive impersonal OOO-AR messages!

Gwen - I love this post and laughed like crazy as I read it... I am on vacation and am checking my OOO message right now!

Thanks for being entertaining and provocative at the same time!

Gwen, Consider your challenge answered.

Daphne, thanks for your observation. That led me to wonder, is going to a HIMSS conference the same thing as going on vacation?

Perhaps we should evolve our notion of Out Of Office. If we're traveling on business, and can reasonably expect to reply to email within 24 to 36 hours, should we be broadcasting OOO messages?

I do agree that we need to turn off, and disconnect. I think that's different than business travel, and other variants of being away from one's desk.

Most executives I know do not set their auto-reply Out-of-Office messages. They have mobile devices. And, if they're so bloody important, their organization has arranged for an administrator to up their game, including reviewing their inbox for urgent/emergent messages. That's a lot more effective and respectful for the professional and the recipient (original email sender) than an OOO message.

I'll apologize in advance to the have-not(s) for whom I've just triggered a drama. Thoughtful and cost-effective use of administrative support is a work-in-progress for many organizations.

No, please God no. That's an image we don't need burned into our brains...
Joe, I don't agree that out of office is a relic in this age of connectivity. Unfortunately, that is. When people are on vacation, they really should NOT be checking their emails. But in reality, we've all been there checking, even if it is right before we jump in the pool. The truth for most of us is that only a small portion of those emails get an actual reply, so autoreply serves well for the rest of the mail. The automatically generated response in Outlook is just fine for me, elegantly impersonal, and all I have to do is add the dates.

Joe I agree with you, business travel, no OOO necessary. Vacation, yes. An I have the same experience as you, you almost never get those OOOs from the C-suite, an assistant is reviewing their mail for the urgents. If I don't get a reply right away, that's who I reach out toand you better remember them and make nice. The exec asst is still a critical gatekeeper.

:D Hear hear! Especially since I am rather annual about these things...

And Dr. Joe - I really do think you need to work a photo of you in your Bart Simpson tee shirt into your next blog post. Consider it a challenge. . .



Gwen has actually become quite skilled at being entertaining and provacative at the same time. It's an art she has mastered!

Great points! I went back and counted - 12 CIOs who need to budget for a mobile device and/or a trusted assistant. As always, thanks for your comments.