Time off is an essential part of producing quality work – but 54% of us aren’t using all our vacation entitlement for fear of returning to a mountain of work. While returning to work after a vacation will always be unpleasant, it shouldn’t make you anxious or stop you from enjoying quality time away. Try this winning strategy to help you avoid the worst of post-vacation stress:
We can’t stress this enough: make sure your workspace is organized before you go away. Returning to stacks of papers and folders is effectively a visual representation of how much work has piled up while you were away – and you don’t need that! Don’t forget to give any desk plants some love before you leave too.
Obviously, it completely depends on when you booked your holiday, but we can thoroughly recommend returning to work towards the middle or end of a week. Psychologically, it’s much easier to approach two or three days of intense catch-up, than a whole 5-day stretch of the stuff. Feeling safely close to the weekend provides great mental support and motivation to get your loose ends tied neatly.
Putting a little extra thought into your out-of-office can massively reduce back-to-work stress. Make sure your message is strong to minimize unnecessary emails (good examples here!), and be clear on contact details for anybody you’re delegating tasks to. Then, stretch the truth: extend your office return date by a few days. There’s no need to create unnecessary pressure to reply to everyone on your first day back – be kind to yourself and enjoy an extra buffer.
Ask colleagues to stop CC-ing you in emails and instead create a short update for your return covering any key progress, actions and decisions that happened while you were away. Ideally they’ll send this to you before you return, so you have time to absorb everything before reentering the bear pit. Have a quick catch-up meeting once you’re back to ask questions, expand on details and ensure you are clear on the week’s priorities.
Returning to a ton of work can tempt you to stay late on your first day back. Don’t! You went on vacation for a reason – to destress, disconnect from work, and relax. Your work should enable you to take an annual scheduled vacation without having to do overtime. If possible, go one better and work your first day back remotely. You’ll be in a familiar, comfortable and quiet place to tune back into everything – free from the commute and office distractions.
Never read your emails chronologically when you get back to the office; chances are you’ll just waste time replying to things that are already resolved. Group your emails by subject or sender instead – you can see the entire thread and current status before you wade in. And be ruthless: if the email’s not genuinely important to you or your company, delete it. If it’ll only take a minute to reply, do it now. If it’ll take more than a minute, put it on your to-do list. You don’t need to reply to everything in one day!
Remember that returning to work after a vacation will always be a transition period. Don’t get discouraged by how out-of-the-loop you are; it will take a few days to fully catch up on what’s been going on, and no one expects otherwise. Try to stay focused and positive, and if you do feel overwhelmed, take a breather. You’ll slip back into your old routine before you know it.
If your post-vacation stress is caused by other people’s past behavior, or the absence of communication around work and vacation, it’s time for structural change. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them: who should be able to contact you while away? Should you introduce a complete contact embargo? What constitutes an emergency? This includes making sure company leaders realize the example they set for other staff when they work or respond to emails on vacation.