I need to interface with a lot of people on a day-to-day basis. The problem with this sometimes is that when I go out for lunch or for a quick snack, I am not available.

I hate to make people wait for me to return and if I'm going long enough I usually leave a sticky on my cubicle saying I'm out for so and so.

Firstly, is it even professional to leave stickies? It feels childish somehow.

Secondly, also I have the nagging feeling of being mistaken. What if I'm mistaken to be a slacker who takes breaks that are long enough to justify writing a note, by someone like say my manager? What is the popular approach here?


4 Answers 4


Has anyone ever actually commented to you on "hey you weren't around earlier and it was a problem?" You should ask yourself this first.

Second, are these interactions with people who share a messenger/interoffice communicator? Most places have something you can set a status to "away" or "be right back" which is considerably more professional in my opinion.

Assuming you have people asking and cannot use this, to answer

Firstly, is it even professional to leave stickies? It feels childish somehow.

This depends completely on your office environment. Some places this would be seen as completely unprofessional and some places this is completely fine. Because you are asking about this, it would seem you have a slightly more professional environment, and if you really do not think a post-it/sticky would appear unprofessional, simply print off a page saying "Sorry I missed you - I am away" or something similar. Or if you have a whiteboard at your desk use this. Lots of more professional options.

Secondly, also I have the nagging feeling of being mistaken. What if I'm mistaken to be a slacker who takes breaks that are long enough to justify writing a note, by someone like say my manager? What is the popular approach here?

Again, this completely depends on the environment. If your office is a 7:00 - 11:30, lunch, 12:00-3:30 type of office where you have a very structured working hours you may be seen that way. If you work in a more laid back environment then not.

Having a printed sheet, by the way, would make this seem less "slackerish" if you use the same sheet every time.

Something else to keep in mind is you may be making a huge issue out of nothing. People in office environments are frequently gone for meetings or other obligations other than breaks. This is to be expected in most environments. Additionally, as people become management or have more responsibilities, they even more often away from their desk.

  • Follow up question: Do we really have to wait for someone to come back saying they had a problem because of your absence to identify a bad methodology? IMHO it wouldn't be just unprofessional but just plain wrong if someone came back saying they had a problem.
    – Arpith
    Oct 9, 2012 at 17:08
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    @Arpith I had actually edited another paragraph before your comment - people in most office environments have meetings or other things during the day. I don't know what your particular situation is, but I would say it's rare for most office employees to sit at their desk all day every day regardless of breaks
    – enderland
    Oct 9, 2012 at 17:11
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    I frankly don't understand why a sticky note would be considered unprofessional. Maybe I just haven't worked in an environment where it would be. In the past, I've had a few hand-written sticky notes ("back soon", "out to lunch", etc.), and I'd just put the appropriate one on my monitor screen. If somebody had a problem with that, I might ask them what planet they're from. What am I missing? Oct 9, 2012 at 21:55
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    @KeithThompson in some more professional environments (say a corporate office with lots of executives or visiting groups where having a super professional image is important) this may be an issue, I guess
    – enderland
    Oct 9, 2012 at 22:24
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    @enderland: I wouldn't call this a "professional" environment. I'd say it is an environment that requires strict adherence to arbitrary behaviour standards. "Professional" gets the job done and gets paid for it.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 26, 2015 at 8:47

It depends on the environment. Most places I've personally worked, the stickies aren't really necessary. People are more often away from their desks than at them. And it doesn't really take a rocket scientist to realize that if someone isn't at their desk or replying to email around noon that they're probably at lunch...

Some places though are different and the notes are commonplace. See what others do and follow their lead.

  • This I guess is OK when you are in a small group and the people are working in the same common shifts. But what about when you have to meet loads of people, apparently for the first time and they know nothing about you and they do not find you at your desk. Will notes in your absence be seen in the wrong light?
    – Arpith
    Oct 9, 2012 at 16:59
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    @Arpith I've not worked many places where physically walking to a random person's desk was commonplace. Email is good, mmmkay.
    – Telastyn
    Oct 9, 2012 at 17:46
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    @Arpith If you're supposed to meet "loads of people", then you should really just plan the meetings. I see walking up to someone's desk as something you generally do when there's a plan (so they should be there) or you have a quick question that can be solved faster in person (in which case you can generally send an email or check back later if they're not there). Oct 9, 2012 at 19:32

One job I had required me to have lots of meetings and make regular trips to the various production facilities. I got a small magnetic dry erase board (similar to this one) and hung it by the cubicle entrance. I labeled it "Tangurena Finder" and had a large pie chart drawn on it. I moved the magnet to indicate where I was. I'd jot an estimated time when I expected to return. At this job I usually spent about 10-15 hours per week in my cubicle. Sometimes, jokers would change the labels on the pie chart. At this time, dry erase boards were very rare to see in cubes. If I were in a similar situation today, I would print the daily schedule from Outlook and post it in my cube. Ad hoc/last minute meetings would be handwritten on the schedule.

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    I've worked in a couple of places where there was a whiteboard with everyone's name on it. It was customary to put a note there if you were out of pocket for whatever reason. That way everyone could see where the whole team was at a glance. Oct 9, 2012 at 22:54

If you're mostly away for scheduled meetings, perhaps simply sharing your calendar with your colleagues would be a better solution? Microsoft Outlook allows you to share calendars with your co-workers, meaning they will be able to check exactly when you are busy and when you are available without having to walk to your desk, and without you having to manually write a note.

Also, in line with Enderland's suggestion of marking yourself as "Away" in your office IM system, some calendars (e.g. Outlook) can automatically do this for you.

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