Set Up an Out of Office Auto-Reply in Outlook

Man on laptop by the pool
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Set up an out-of-office vacation response in Outlook, and the program will reply to any new email messages you receive while you are away.

Taking Your Email with You is Easy; What is Hard is Leaving It Behind

Wherever you go, taking all your email with you in a small, handy packet is easy. Leaving it behind on a big, bulky computer is the hard and often the ​​sane thing to do.​

If you crave sanity, Outlook's here to help: while you take a vacation from the daily deluge of email, Outlook will automatically respond to incoming messages— taking that burden off your shoulders, even after you return.

Of course, Outlook could never respond in as coherent, cogent and concise a manner as you could personally, but it will respond diligently, letting senders know that you are out of the office, maybe when you will return, and whether they should follow-up then (if still relevant) or direct them to another contact for matters requiring a more immediate response.

Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook for a POP and IMAP Account

Screenshots showing how to make an Outlook email template
Creating a Template in Outlook 2016.

To set up an autoresponder in Outlook for an IMAP or POP email account (for Exchange, see further below), first set up the message used for the reply:

  1. Create a new message (click New Email) in Outlook.

  2. Enter the desired Subject and message for your Outlook out of office auto-reply.

    • If possible and relevant, do include when people mailing you can expect a personal answer, or whether they should expect an answer at all. This might be some time after you will have returned.
    • You can also add Cc: and Bcc: recipients to receive a copy of each automatic reply.
    • If you set up the Outlook out of office auto-reply to be sent in response to all incoming mail (instead of only messages from select contacts), do take into account that revealing too much information freely does pose a risk.
  3. Click File (or FILE).

  4. Choose Save As on the sheet that appears.

  5. Make sure Outlook Template is selected under Save as type:.

  6. Optionally, enter a template name under File name: (Outlook has chosen the template's subject by default).

  7. Click Save.

Go on to create the out of office auto-responder rule in Outlook:

Screenshots showing how to set up an auto-responder vacation reply in Outlook
Creating an Out of Office Email Rule in Outlook 2016.
  1. Click File (or FILE) in Outlook's Mail view.

  2. Make sure the Info category is open.

  3. Click Manage Rules & Alerts under Account Information.

  4. Make sure you are on the E-Mail Rules tab in the Rules and Alerts window.

  5. Now make sure the account for which you want to create the vacation response is selected under Apply changes to this folder:.

    You can have the rule applied to all your accounts easily; see below, step 21.

  6. Click New Rule...

  7. Make sure Apply rule on messages I receive is selected under Start from a blank rule.

  8. Click Next >.

  9. Make sure Where my name is in the To box is checked under Step 1: Select condition(s).

    You can leave all boxes unchecked and make the Outlook out of office auto-responder reply to all incoming mail, or you can check Where my name is in the To or Cc box to include emails of which you are but a Cc: recipient.

  10. Click Next >.

  11. Make sure reply using a specific template is checked under Step 1: Select action(s).

  12. Click on a specific template under Step 2: Edit the rule description (click an underlined value).

  13. Make sure User Templates in File System is selected under Look In:.

  14. Highlight the template created before.

  15. Click Open.

  16. Now click Next >.

  17. Make sure except if it is an automatic reply is checked under Step 1: Select exception(s) (if necessary).

  18. Click Next >.

  19. Type the desired name for your auto-responding filter under Step 1: Specify a name for this rule.

  20. Make sure Turn on this rule is checked to enable the vacation responder at once; you can uncheck Turn on this rule, of course, and engage the auto-response only when needed.

    To enable the filter at any time, open the Rules and Alerts window as above and make sure the vacation responder rule is check on the E-Mail Rules tab.

  21. Optionally, enable Create this rule on all accounts.

    Keep in mind, though, that filters may not work with certain account types (for which Outlook will not create them even with this box checked).

  22. Click Finish.

  23. Click OK.

Turn Off an Outlook Vacation Response Rule

Screenshots showing how to disable an email rule in Outlook 2016
Disabling an Email Rule in Outlook 2016.

To disable an out-of-office auto-response you have set up (and enabled) in Outlook:

  1. Select File (or FILE) in your Outlook's Mail view.

  2. Go to the Info category.

  3. Click Manage Rules & Alerts (next to Rules and Alerts).

  4. Make sure the E-Mail Rules tab is selected.

  5. Select the account for which you want to disable the auto-responder is selected under Apply changes to this folder: ( You'll need to disable the vacation response for each account separately.)

  6. Make sure the auto-responder rule you have created to enable the reply is not checked in the rules list.

  7. Click OK.

An Alternative: Outlook Vacation Responder Add-Ons

Instead of setting up a rule in Outlook manually, you can use a tool like Email Responder (FreeBusy) or Auto Reply Manager. These tools usually are also smart about sending only necessary out of office auto-replies.

Do take into account that Outlook itself will only send an auto-reply to each address once per session; a second auto-response may only be sent after Outlook is closed and re-opened. Also, Outlook will not automatically reply to a sender with two different messages.

Set Up an Out of Office Vacation Auto-Reply in Outlook for an Exchange Account

If you use Outlook with an Exchange account, you can set up an out of office auto-reply directly at the server:

  1. Click FILE in the main Outlook window.

  2. Open the Info category.

  3. Click Automatic Replies.

  4. Make sure Send automatic replies is selected.

  5. To have the auto-responder start and stop automatically:

    • Make sure Only send during this time range: is checked.
    • Select the desired date and time for starting the auto-responder under Start time:.
    • Pick the desired ending date and time under End time:.
  6. Enter the message of your out-of-office auto-reply under Inside My Organization.

    This email will be sent to people at your company.

  7. To send automatic responses to people outside your company as well:

    • Open the Outside My Organization tab.
    • Make sure Auto-reply to people outside my organization is checked if you are okay with the security risks involved.
    • Enter the message sent to people outside your company.
  8. Click OK.

To maintain out-of-office replies more centrally on an Exchange server (including templates featuring fields merged with Active Directory), you can try Symprex Out-of-Office Manager.

(Tested with Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2016)