Paul Butler | Out of Office

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile
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Call me judgmental, but I always believe you can learn a lot about someone when they’re away from work. What do I mean? Well, in my experience, those three words, “Out of office,” can reveal a great deal about a person’s spirit of service or lack thereof.  

Let’s take a stroll around, and I’ll introduce you to five people who are out of the office. Let’s see what we can glean about their level of service. 

Firstly, there’s the colleague who doesn’t even have the courtesy to inform fellow workers that they are “out of office.” Your emails and phone calls go unanswered. It’s no wonder that when this person eventually returns, they’re overwhelmed for a few days simply dealing with all the unread emails and unheard voicemails. This person seems very self-centered to me. They’re on vacation and they’re just … out. They don’t see the need to inform anyone else, as they think independently even in interdependent circumstances. 

Secondly, there’s the person who is kind enough to let co-workers know they’re “out of office” by setting such a message on their email and office voicemail. At least fellow staff know their co-worker is out of the office, but the question now is, “When will you be back?” There is an awareness of other people’s existence by informing us they’re “out of office,” but there’s still a lack of consideration for the practical needs of others. 

Thirdly, there’s the person who not only is kind enough to inform you they’re “out of office” but also tells you when they’ll be back. Such consideration of others is evident in this person’s emotional intelligence (EQ), as they realize someone else’s work may be affected by their own unavailability. At least the inquirer knows when their colleague will return. 

Fourthly, there’s the person who proactively informs the inquirer who they can contact in their temporary absence. What a great idea! This person understands that the economic world needs to keep moving while they’re “out of office,” and they have such a high consideration of this fact that they carefully inform you who is handling what for them while they’re away. This is highly appreciated by others but, sadly, is rarely received in response to an unanswered email or unreturned voicemail. 

There’s only one level of service from a colleague I’ve ever seen above this. This fifth and final type of person epitomizes excellence at work. What does such a person do when they’re away for a while? Well, they certainly do what person No. 4 does — let us know who is covering what task while they’re away — but here’s the extra mile: They actually give us a heads up in advance that they have a vacation coming up! What an incredible spirit of service! I witnessed this just last week, which sparked the idea for this article in my mind. 

This fifth type of person clearly and concisely stated they had a vacation planned for a certain date. The email footer and voicemail sign-off mentioned the dates (from and to) when they’d be away and also shared which colleague would be covering which key task in their absence. This was immensely useful and greatly appreciated. 

I had the opportunity to speak to this rare breed of person and asked where they got the idea to do such a wonderful thing. Was this a corporate mandate? Was this something they learned in a customer service seminar? Did they read a book that inspired them? If so, what book? Their reply was simple. They said, and I quote verbatim: “I just treat people the way I would like to be treated. I do my best to anticipate people’s needs. I find that when I seek to be of service to others, all is well.” Now that’s the Golden Rule in application.  

And there you have our five types of colleagues and how they choose to inform others when they’re “out of office.” Which one are you? Which one could you be to provide even better service to those you work with and serve? 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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