The “post-vacation blues” may not be an official medical diagnosis, but it’s definitely a real condition that afflicts millions of workers on any given day. Whether you were completely off the grid for the last month or were on a “working vacation” – when you continue to get the job done while traveling – the first day back to a full-time job can feel deflating and stressful. If you're greeted with a mountain of unanswered calls, emails and a lengthy to-do list on your first day back, it only makes the contrast between the relaxation of vacation and the stress of your job seem even greater.
There are important strategies, however, that can help minimize the stress of your return to the grind. Some of these involve taking concrete actions to reduce your workload, while others involve thinking about things in a way that can make you feel good about both your vacation and your professional life.
Plan for the return
It can be a major bummer to step into a messy home after a long vacation. Nothing spoils a trip more than a sky-high pile of dirty dishes in the sink, rotten food in the fridge and a bedroom covered with clothes that were strewn everywhere during the packing process.
Don’t let this be the scene you come back to. Take some time before you leave for your trip to tidy up the house and perhaps get some food that you can easily prepare when you get back home on a late night (frozen pizza works!) so that stepping back into your everyday life will feel refreshing, not exhausting.
The same is true at the office. Spend a little time on the day before you leave putting everything in the right place. Throw away old coffee cups and plastic containers. Clear your computer desktop of old documents so that when you turn it on after weeks away, you can be looking at a fresh new screen to symbolize a renewed start.
Set realistic expectations
Make sure to set up an automatic email reply so that anybody trying to contact you will know what you’re up to and when they should expect a reply. More importantly, if you’re not the only one who can help them out, let them know who they should get in touch with. This not only helps the customer trying to reach you, but it also makes it more likely that they will get their issue addressed by one of your colleagues, leaving less work for you upon your return.
You also might want to set your date of return a half-day or full day later than when you actually get back to the office. That way you can spend your first morning back going through the emails you’ve received and not having to deal with a new deluge of messages from people who expect prompt replies.
The same rules apply for voicemail. Let anybody calling your office or cell phone know when you’ll be reachable and tell them who they should contact instead in the meantime.
Schedule a full recovery
Returning to work is especially hard if you only get back on a Sunday night. You might be better off cutting the trip a day short and booking your return flight for Saturday. You’ll be able to sleep in on Sunday and have a full day to get your “regular” life back in order before jumping back into work.
If that’s not possible and you come back home the day before returning to the office, make sure you ease back into the job on your first day back. Don’t look at setting up client meetings and traveling to job sites immediately that morning. Rather, use that time to find out what you’ve missed to then prioritize your checklist. This way you’re not overwhelmed, which will reduce the post-vacation shock.
Work if necessary
There are different schools of thought when it comes to whether you should work when you’re on holiday. Certainly the purpose of taking vacation is to not work or think about work at all for an extended period of time. By even glancing at work emails during a trip, there’s a chance that it’ll diminish the ability to to fully appreciate the time off.
There are definitely risks to opening the door to work during a vacation, especially if you don’t put strict limits on how much work you do. Research has shown that people who mix the two are less likely to remember their vacations.
However, particularly for business owners, there may be a need to set aside a small portion of time to check back in with the office. If you do decide to put aside time in the morning to connect back to work, be very diligent and make sure the intended 30 minutes dedicated to work doesn’t stretch out into hours.
One way to ensure that you’ll actually spend more time on leisure than labor is to track the minutes you’re working. If your company already has a mobile time tracking solution in place then you can just punch in to your mobile time clock app and punch out when you’re done. You can also review a checklist of activities and tick each of your list as they are completed. Promise yourself to only work when you’re punched in and focused on the task at hand.
For employees, depending on your company as well as the labor laws of your country, you may be able to come to an agreement with your employer about working during your time off via mobile time tracking, in return for wages or additional time off. Such plans can be complicated, however, as by laws or company policies can bar working on vacation.
Remember it's not all about work
Above all else, the key to making a smooth transition from vacation to work is by trying to make your professional life as enjoyable as possible. The best long-term strategy is to try to find work that you love, but whether or not you are passionate about your job, there are almost always things you can do to make your work life more satisfying.
Try to socialize and strike up more conversations with your co-workers. Step away from your desk at lunch and eat outside. And perhaps more than anything else, remember that the workweek is not all about work! There are still plenty of hours in the day before and after work when you can be hanging with friends and family or engaging in your favorite hobbies. If you owe it to yourself to take a vacation now and then, you also owe it to yourself to make the rest of the year as fulfilling as possible. If you can do that, then you might have a better chance at preventing the post-vacation blues.