Strategies for Success: Going Back to Work After Vacation

A friend of mine always developed a post-Christmas “flu” in high school. The holidays would end and suddenly, that first day back to school, he would complain to his mother that he didn’t feel well, and he would end up staying home an extra day or two to recover.

Those of us who struggle with returning to work after the holidays can likely understand this phenomenon.

Almost 75% of workers admit to feeling stressed over the winter holidays about returning to work afterwards.

Christmas WreathIn a number of ways, the holidays can disrupt our regular schedules, making getting back into the workday challenging. For example, if the holidays were relaxing and enjoyable, we may experience a sense of loss as we are faced with less interesting tasks, away from family and friends. If the holidays were difficult due to family conflict, grief, or loneliness, we may come back to work depleted, without a feeling of optimism for the new year.

As well, the stress of trying to find the money and time to do everything that needs to get done to make the holidays special can be incredibly stressful (especially for women, who tend to bear more of the burden of “memory-making”).

By the time they return to work after New Year’s, workers may have little emotional and physical energy left in the bank.

So, how can employees, managers, and business owners cope with the post-holiday blues? Here are some concrete strategies you can try—from preparing yourself beforehand to making the transition and setting workplace new year’s resolutions.

Manage Holiday Stress & Train for Your Return

We may not always take care of ourselves over the holidays—skipping exercise, overeating, overdrinking, and missing sleep. To help offset the physical holiday stress, you can try to get yourself back into your routines at least a couple of days ahead of going back to work after vacation: get a good night’s sleep, eat well, go for a walk, and take it easy. Think of it as physical conditioning for your job.

If you’ve got kids who are about to return to school, encourage them to do likewise. Helping ease the transition for them will make your return easier as well.

Change Your Mind

There can be a multitude of stressors at work, making a return to work after vacation difficult (there’s a reason that more heart attacks happen on Mondays than on any other day). If you can’t stop worrying about what’s waiting for you when you return, you can try to address your anxiety early on.

Focus on three positive aspects of the return to work. If there are particular tasks related to your job that you especially enjoy, try to plan some of these for the first few days back. You can also look forward to enjoyable activities that aren’t directly work-related. These can be small—perhaps re-connecting with a friend at work or going for a walk on your lunch break.

Make the Transition & Ease Work Stress

One strategy for easing the transition back to work is to tackle your inbox before you are forced to. I’ve heard some of my co-workers say that going through their email the day before the return from a vacation helps reduce work stress about what’s waiting for them when they return.

Having a chance to prioritize and organize tasks can help alleviate anxiety and set you off on the right foot that first day back in the office.

On the other hand, you may feel strongly about staying away from work altogether while on vacation—and there are definitely some excellent reasons to refuse to check your email while away. Instead, you can opt to arrive a bit early on your first day back in order to get a jump on things while your workplace is still a bit quiet, or you can set aside the first part of your day to prioritize tasks (block off this time in your calendar, if you like).

Stay in Touch with Reality

Given that you may be tired and distracted, be wary of expecting yourself to perform at your peak right after the holidays. Set realistic expectations for yourself about how much you will actually get accomplished those first few days and, if possible, take more frequent breaks, to help offset fatigue.

The same goes for your expectations about others. Remember that clients and strategic partners may also be sluggish about responding to emails and tackling projects right after the holidays, as may colleagues and direct reports.

Workplace New Year’s Resolutions

According to a recent survey, 70% of people consider looking for a new job right after they return from a vacation. The time away may have provided room for reflection about goals and priorities, but the stress of transitioning back to work may also be a factor. It is therefore likely wisest to wait until you’re past those first couple of weeks in January before you make any major decisions.

On the other hand, if your anxiety about returning to work is debilitating, and your stress levels continue to be high well into February, it might be time to reassess your working life and consider other options. The new year can be great time to set new goals for yourself.

Whether you’re reading this and are back at work, or you get to enjoy a few more days off, we wish you the best of luck in the workplace this year. Stay on top of 2020 Canadian SME business news by registering for Mentor Works’ Weekly E-Newsletter.

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Sunnie holds a PhD in English from Dalhousie University, and has published her writing in several academic journals, as well as in magazines, newspapers, and blogs. She combines years of experience as a professor in English with practical experience in the private sector as a trainer in writing and analytical thinking.

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