How an ‘Out of Office’ Can Amplify Your Talent Brand

Getting an out-of-office reply can be frustrating. Ugh — you have to wait for someone to return or send another email to their “next in line.”

Since most out-of-office replies are hum drum, “be back on this day” two-sentence yawn-fests, imagine the impact you could make for your employer brand if the out of office emails from your company could stand out in a crowd.

For example, Cisco gives employees paid time off to volunteer in their communities. While I think that perk is particularly interesting to any generation, Fortune conducted a poll and found out that millennials are more likely to work for a company that gives back. (And the numbers for the other generations weren’t that far behind.)

So what if your out of office for the day you were volunteering looked something like one I recently wrote?

“Why do you #lovewhereyouwork? For me, one of the reasons is that Cisco lets me take time off beyond my regular time off to volunteer. Today, I am off to the beach to scour for new sea turtle nests and do some clean up so they can successfully get to their nesting areas. I might check email from the beach on occasion, but since today is about the turtles, please expect a delay in my response.”

Of course, the drawback to such out-of-office emails is that you have even more emails to respond to the next day, because I got so much feedback about how cool my out of office was. But the 300-some people that emailed me while I was out that day (that’s a whole other blog post) each of them saw why I was out of the office.

Because people crave a bit of humanity. It’s the same thing that makes our @WeAreCisco social media efforts so successful. We “talk” in social like we’re employees (because we are.) We’re not marketing to market, but the result is that our brand goes farther because it’s authentic. We don’t say that you can work at Cisco, but we show why you’d want to. Out-of-office emails like these do the same thing.

Another, way-less-fun-but-still-impactful out of office I wrote recently got an even bigger response.

“I love my Cisco team because I know they have my back, both in good times, and in bad. Unfortunately, this is one of those bad ones. I’ll be away due to a death in the family, but rest assured that the amazing Talent Brand team will be available to cover for me. I’ll respond when I return.”

One person responded to me that this was the best out-of-office message that she’d ever read. “What a testament to Cisco and your team! Please don’t worry about my last email at all, your team has already answered.”

We talk a lot at Cisco about the moments that matter to employees. This was a moment that mattered to me, and a moment that mattered to someone else, for two entirely different reasons. All I did was just say that “S&HT happens,” which everyone can relate to. But it made an impact.

Did it drive clicks to the careers site? Nope. But it impacted someone’s view of what it’s really like to work at Cisco — which is not the reason I did it, but that’s a byproduct. It’s what I felt — and still do. I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid; I’ve never felt the need to tell these stories at any of my other companies.

Which brings me to some important take-aways. First, you have to trust your employees to be honest like this, and then let them know that they can! The Talent Brand team has developed a series of videos on demand to help employees understand why they’d talk about our culture externally, and showed them how, and we’re adding an out-of-office training as well.

Even for your standard, “I’m going on vacation, leave me the heck alone” out of office, being human can make an impact.

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This is what I wrote when I got to be on the first cruise to leave from an American port and visit Cuba. (Had to get my travel-brag in!)

“The best career advice I ever received? Take time to unplug and smell the roses. 

So I’ll be using some of my PTO from April 18-April 25 (back on the 26th) to unplug and enjoy time away, knowing that my amazing teammates have my back. I will not be checking email, because of the whole “unplugging” concept.”

Go ahead. Get real. Get human. It’s catching.

Carmen Shirkey Collins (@CShirkeyCollins on Twitter and Instagram) is the social media lead for Cisco’s Talent Brand team, and has worked in the social media space for several Fortune 500 companies over the last 10 years. When she’s not driving social media strategy, you can find her writing novels, spending time with her husband and cat, and enjoying shelling and sunsets on Florida’s Gulf Coast. 

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