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  • Writer's pictureSarah Butler

Strategies For An Effective Return To Work After A Vacation

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

After only one hour in the office, you're not sure you'll make it to the end of the day. There are loads of emails to read, phone calls to make, reports to write, and meetings already planned. The good feelings generated by your holiday have disappeared already and you are regretting even going.

After taking a break from work, returning to the daily grind can seem daunting and the transition difficult, but with the right strategies, you can make the process smoother, more effective and manageable.

In this article, we'll discuss different strategies you can use to help you transition back into work after a break. We'll go over how to manage your workload and cope with the emotional side of settling back into your job.

Before you go

You will find it easier to relax and enjoy your break with some thorough planning before you leave.

Decide whether or not you’re going to fully unplug

You should decide if you want to completely disconnect from work or if you need to take some of your work with you on vacation. Let your team know your decision so they know the boundaries of their contact with you and also what work will be completed during the time you are not in the office.

If you do decide to completely unplug then remove all work temptations. So silence all email, calendar and other app alerts that are work-based.

Delegate tasks to your team

Talk to your colleagues and make sure they understand what needs to be done while you’re away. Write necessary notes for their reference and decide if anyone will have access to tools like your emails or contact list in your absence.

Ensure your team has access to what they need and permissions to complete tasks in your absence.

Tell your manager what arrangements have been made to cover your work and keep the team running while you are away.

Write and prioritise your to-do list for your return

While it is fresh in your mind, list all of your outstanding tasks, when they are due and prioritise them so you know exactly what needs to be done first upon your return.

Also, consider scheduling in work in progress/catch-up meetings with key team members now for your first day back. Doing this will also prevent your valuable first day back being filled with meetings that are not immediately as crucial.

Put together a brief, professional out-of-office autoresponder

Let your coworkers and clients know when you’ll be available again or how else to get in touch or who to get in touch with. Programs like MS Outlook give you the ability to write different auto-responders for internal and external contacts. Make use of these to give the appropriate level of information and relevant contact people for the recipient. If possible you might want to tell external contacts you are back a day later than you actually are - this will give you a day to catch up internally before dealing with external matters.

Also, ensure you notify, and have the agreement, of those you are referring people to before including them in your auto-responder.

Returning physically

Plan for your return and prioritise the following activities.

Start early

When you come back to the office, you'll likely be bombarded with people wanting different things from you or just popping by to welcome you back and inquire how you enjoyed your vacation. To compensate, you might want to come in early before everyone else arrives to have time to yourself to sort your tasks and prepare before the day starts. Or, you might work from home on the first day and focus on what you need to do without being interrupted.

Review your to-do list

If you neglected to leave yourself a to-do list before departing, get your act together on the initial morning of your return. Look at your schedule and what you were engaged in prior to taking off. Create an agenda of tasks to do, and prioritise what needs to be handled first. This will stop you from devoting time to activities that are not critical. Check-in with your team to find out if there is anything that needs to be addressed urgently that arose while you were away.

Meet with your team but don't take any other meetings

Don't return to the workplace without a strategy and just try to carry on as normal. You should make time in the morning to check in with colleagues, go through emails, listen to voicemails, create a task list, and respond to any pressing tasks.

If you don't manage your time, you will be bombarded with requests and tasks with no understanding of what you should be focusing on first. Additionally, try not to arrange meetings on your first day back. Take some time to familiarise yourself with what happened while you were away before you meet with your manager or clients.

Attacking your email

Before getting right to your inbox, make sure you spend a few moments catching up with your colleagues. Spend 10 minutes to see what has happened since your absence and find out if there is anything that requires your immediate attention. Doing this will reduce the amount of time you spend trying to figure out which emails are the most important and allow you to focus on those tasks right away.

Start with the most recent messages first. Although it may seem more logical to start with the oldest first you may become bogged down in issues that have been resolved while you were away. If you have the option, then view emails as threads. These are linked emails presented as one long trail rather than as many separate emails that clog your inbox. They also make it easier to scan all relevant communication in order.

Decide on whose emails or what subjects you will prioritise before opening your inbox so that you have focus and purpose before you start. This will help to avoid being distracted by unimportant communications.

As you go through your email, update your to-do list with action items as you go.

Return emotionally

It is natural to have an emotional slump after a vacation. Shake it as fast as possible by doing the following:

Ease back in

Try to avoid returning from vacation the day before starting work. It is much less stressful if you have at least a day to do things like pick up groceries, do laundry and even address your inbox by deleting all unnecessary messages before going to the office. Making sure everything at home is in order will make you feel much calmer and relaxed, with a better mindset to enter the workplace.

If you are facing a full week back and find the thought overwhelming or daunting then plan a fun activity for the weekend whether it be catching up with friends, catching a show or just downtime with your family. Planning a fun day for the following weekend will give you something to look forward to.

Book your next vacation

Stay motivated by scheduling in your next vacation - even if it is a year away. This gives you something to look forward to and plan for. Your manager and colleagues will appreciate the advanced notice. Major projects will also be able to factor in your absence from inception.

Improve your mood and energy

If you experience the 'back to work blues', become too stressed and have a negative attitude on your first day (or week) of returning, try some of these strategies:

  • Remind yourself why you're doing your job - what your purpose is and how you make a difference

  • Keep your energy levels up by moving around the office and conversing with colleagues

  • Place a memento from your holiday on your desk as a reminder of all the enjoyable moments

  • Take a break to go outdoors and take in some light and fresh air

  • Go for lunch with a colleague or friend

  • Do something nice for someone at work

  • Smile even if you don't feel like it; this will help lift your spirits

  • Remind yourself that it was your hard work that allowed you to be able to go on vacation

  • Start daydreaming about your next vacation during your lunch break to get yourself psyched

Take time for reflection

A huge benefit of taking a break is that it provides you with a renewed perspective when you go back to your job.

In the first week of returning take some time to reflect on your job and career. Think about your work. Start by evaluating your emotions. Were you worried and overwhelmed about resuming your job? If so, what caused the most stress? Record every single thing that brought negative thoughts about going back to your job.

What parts of your job do you find the most rewarding? What makes your job so gratifying? Which aspects of your work align and don't align with your core values?

Use your new viewpoint to examine the objectives you've set for yourself. Are these goals still as significant to you now as they were when you first established them? Determine what you like and don't like about your present role, and attempt to tailor your career around what has genuine significance to you.

Wrapping up

Before you leave for a break, it is a good idea to assign some of your tasks to someone else and collaborate with your team to address the most important aspects of your job. If possible, book an additional day off after your break to get on top of any priority tasks and emails.

When you return, make a list of your priorities, speak with your colleagues to get up to date, and plan something enjoyable for the end of your first week back.

Additionally, when you return from your vacation, it is a great chance to re-evaluate your career and objectives. Identify what you like and dislike about your current role and attempt to design your job and career around what is truly meaningful to you.

Lastly book your next vacation so you have something to look forward to, plan for and motivate you.

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