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Background

I am liaising with a client about a project. My main contact works off-site a lot but is fairly responsive with e-mails. She e-mailed me with a status update of a pending task and when I replied, I got an out of office message:

Thanks for getting in touch. I am out of the office today due to a family emergency. Please contact the switchboard for assistance.

She still responded to my e-mail, at which point I asked if there was another person I could speak to so not to disturb her. However, I struggled to write a sign-off in light of this out-of-office response. Is it appropriate to mention the emergency, or just forego it? My pending response was along the lines of

Hi "Jane",

Thanks for getting back to me. I still can't access the documents that you sent. I just saw your out-of-office reply. Is there somebody else at your side that I can contact as I don't want to disturb you?

I hope everything is okay.

Kind regards,

"Me".

But this felt too personal, a bit clunky and awkward.

Question

In a casual-professional setting (note the use of 'Hi' and abbreviations in the example), is it appropriate to wish someone well or acknowledge bad news on their part? If so, how do you go about this without being too personal or it coming across awkwardly? I've tagged my location in case there is a cultural difference that could affect answers.

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    The initial OoO already says "contact the switchboard for assistance", so you don't really need to ask her who to contact I think. – Erik Oct 4 '17 at 10:34
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    @Erik: I understand that. In this situation however, we were working against an urgent task which required a prompt response. The switchboard is intended for initial contact and general assistance and can have quite long waiting times. My line of contact is direct to "Jane". – Digitalpeanut Oct 4 '17 at 10:35
  • I'd have to say what you wrote sounds perfect. It has a slight personal touch of saying "hope everything is ok" but the alternative is ignoring what she has announced to the world, that she has a family emergency. You make it clear that you don't want to bother her but you do need to get something done and are open to alternatives. – DaveG Apr 16 at 20:27
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I am out of the office today due to a family emergency.

How do you know for sure that it's really family related?

Often, people put an out-of-office reason that will lead people into thinking: yeah, that's really really important, I understand why they're not at work...

One supplier I work for is often out-of-office for training / management / you-name-it-but-its-important-enough-to-be-out. And when you get to his office, and ask the desk-clerk, you get a nice: Sorry, he's on vacation for a week :)

So, if Jane answers, it means she has time to take care of you. But maybe not enough time for everyone or every request. Be professional. Thank her, but don't investigate or go any further. Ask / offer for another way if necessary / urgent.

Hi "Jane",

Thanks for getting back to me. It's an emergency.

I still can't access the documents that you sent.

  1. Can I go [ A / B / C ] to fix it? /* for you, or you AND her if she wants to help */
  2. Do I need to contact the switchboard? /* for you alone, not bothering her */

Kind regards,

"Me".

If it's really important for her (the OoO reason), and that she has no more time for you, then you have let her know she has a way out, and that you could manage to handle it in another way.

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    Surely vacation is important enough to be out? I'm confused. – gerrit Oct 4 '17 at 21:15
  • @gerrit : of course it is, but why does he lie then?! Why change the reason? To look more "serious"? To look like the guy always on duty, always busy, with good excuses for not being available? – OldPadawan Oct 5 '17 at 4:00
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    This advice shows no sympathy. A) The message said what the message said, you're really recommending that the validity of it gets questioned? B) I'd be wary of using the word "emergency" when talking about work, she's the one with an emergency. – Carl Oct 6 '17 at 0:55
  • @Carl : OP said in comment that it was urgent and needed a prompt response -> emergency ? And yes, it shows no sympathy in the email, as it is professional. So, neutrality, nothing personal. If OP wants to be nice, it has to be separate things. – OldPadawan Oct 6 '17 at 4:42
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    @OldPadawan The question is basically "how do I show professional sympathy?". The whole point of "I have a family emergency and I have to go" is that work is just work. A work emergency in the context of a family emergency does not exist. I understand that OP really wants that file opened, but using the word "emergency" in specific is out of touch. – Carl Oct 6 '17 at 5:21
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Don't address it in your email. Some would appreciate the sentiment, while others would feel like you're prying, or feel pressure to give more information then they're willing to. I would take my cues from the other party, since you have no idea what is happening and could easily step on a landmine.

Example : a colleague took a week off because of a parent's (sudden) death. When they came back, someone from another department, not aware of the details, said "Glad you're back, I hope everything is well." Nice sentiment, but my colleague didn't want to mention their parent in the office, and was still quite affected.

So the best you can do is trying to be respectful of the fact she isn't available and contact the entity or person that she mentions in this out of office message. If she is the only one who can help, her office will make that decision and handle it.

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