Sarah just got back from a week of lounging in the sun and sipping cool drinks on the beach. She is well-rested and full of energy. But as she gets ready for work, a feeling of gloom settles over her.
She thinks about her overflowing inbox and sitting at a desk all day, and her enthusiasm dims. By the time she gets to the office, she’s exhausted and already counting the days till the weekend.
How did this happen so quickly after her restful break?
What Sarah’s experiencing is called the back-to-work blues.
Coming back to work after vacation can fill employees with a sense of letdown or even dread, and that’s not good for morale or productivity.
In this article, we’ll talk about why employees have these feelings and how you as an employer can help them overcome or avoid the back-to-work blues and get the most out of their vacation time.
Why getting back to work after vacation can be stressful
If employees aren’t exactly thrilled to get back to work, does that mean they’re no longer satisfied with their work or your company? Do you need to worry about losing them?
It’s common for people returning to work after the holidays or a vacation to feel a little down. It’s usually temporary, but it can be alarming for employers and HR departments.
Let’s take a look at why employees sometimes experience unhappiness when they come back to work. Then let’s talk about why it’s in your best interest to help make the transition back a more positive experience.
Why employees may dread returning to work
There are a lot of reasons people may not be thrilled to be back on the job, even if they were previously content at work. For instance:
- They feel a loss of freedom. On vacation, your time is your own. You can choose what to do with every minute of your day. But back at work (whether in-office or remote), you’ve got your responsibilities mapped out for you. Even if you love your job, the partial loss of choice around how you spend your day can be a downer.
- They dread a work pileup. Taking time away from work carries the risk of coming back to an avalanche of emails and client needs that built up in your absence. Forgetting about work while you’re out doesn’t make it go away, and it’s not exactly pleasant to think about how much heavier your load might be now than it was when you left.
- They have to get used to a more regimented schedule. With the loss of freedom also generally comes a strict schedule. Instead of waking with the sun and easing your way into the day, you’re beholden to an alarm clock and have limited windows of free time. Your day is planned out in necessary but restricting time blocks, which can feel like a shock after the more spontaneous vacation life.
Why you should help employees ease back into work
Making sure your employees feel optimistic when they get back from vacation (instead of just waiting for bad feelings to resolve themselves) serves both them and the company. Here are just a few reasons you should help team members overcome the blues and get back into work with a positive attitude:
- Because you care about their well-being and happiness. You don’t want your employees to be miserable.
- Because you want them (and your company) to be productive. Helping people regain a passion for their jobs means they’ll be more productive.
- Because you want to keep your employees. Feelings of depression or dissatisfaction can hurt employee retention if they go on too long.
There are plenty of ways you can anticipate and address this negative reaction to returning to work. Let’s look at a few you can implement today.
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5 ways to help employees beat the back-to-work blues
Be ready for the end of vacation season (and prepare for the upcoming holiday season) with ideas for how to motivate your team upon their return to work. Here are five tips for welcoming them back and helping them rebuild enthusiasm for work.
1. Emphasize the company mission
Take employees’ minds off of what they’re losing (free time, time with family) and instead help them focus on why they should be excited to get back into the work groove. Remind them of your company’s inspiring objectives.
Send a “welcome back” email to in-house and remote employees. Include an inspiring message at the top reiterating your company mission and the employee’s role in helping you achieve it.
2. Plan regular team activities
It can be especially hard to come back from time off when your office life is all work and no play. Keep your work culture a priority by scheduling regular team lunches or online activities that can include those who work remotely.
Host a conference call quiz afternoon. Or stream online cooking or crafting classes everyone can participate in. Putting activities on the calendar shows your team that there’s room for relaxation and rejuvenation in the workplace, too.
3. Show employee appreciation
A welcome back message can do wonders for showing employees that you notice them and appreciate their work. But when you regularly show employee appreciation, you’ll create a nurturing environment that’s easy to ease back into.
Make praise and gratitude regular parts of your interactions with employees. Whether it’s formal recognition or verbal thanks and kudos in one-on-ones, employees will be more motivated when they know their work is seen and matters to the company.
4. Have a contingency plan
Make it easier for employees to get away without feeling guilty or worrying about work piling up by providing backup solutions. Make it clear how their work will be handled while they’re gone.
Who should they refer clients to in their out of office message? What will happen with their projects while they’re out? Show employees that, while you’ll miss them, their vacation won’t be a hardship for the team.
5. Share best practices
Share tips with your team in advance around preparing for time off and coming back refreshed and excited to engage. Provide a document or give a team presentation on ways to truly relax on vacation and bring that feeling back with them. These tips could include:
- Turn on out-of-office notifications. An astonishing 79% of people admit to checking work email while on vacation (with 55% doing so on a regular basis). It’s hard to do a mental reset when you never completely let go of work responsibilities. This can be especially difficult for remote employees who are used to work and home lives overlapping. Be sure to unplug completely and set up your OOO to let people know you won’t be checking in.
- Delegate your responsibilities. Put a plan in place for who will cover any emergencies or requests that come up in your absence. You’ll be able to forget about work more completely when you know you’re not leaving anyone in the lurch.
- Bring back a souvenir. Bring something to the office (or keep it near your home work area) that reminds you of your trip. Catching a whiff of a scented lotion or enjoying a snack that reminds you of your time away can bring positive feelings to your workspace.
- Come back to the office with a plan. Take time the day before, or morning of, your return to map out your first day with a to-do list. This gets your mind in productive work mode and helps you jump back in with positive energy.
Team managers should also set an example by applying those tips. For example, if they check and reply to emails while they’re on vacation, their team members will assume they have to do the same, as well. Instead, if managers disconnect while taking time off, their team members will follow suit and manage to relax.
Be aware of employee disengagement
It’s important to do everything you can to help employees feel engaged in their work. Finding ways to motivate them after a vacation can benefit them and your company. But don’t end your concern for employee wellbeing there.
If the blues are not a temporary thing, or seem unrelated to time away, take time to understand the issue and help solve it. Longer-term concerns may take more than a great team culture to address (perhaps career development discussions or a look at making your workplace more inclusive).
Whether you’re addressing deep career concerns or the feeling of a letdown after a vacation, caring for your employees’ wellbeing should be a top objective. Whatever your approach, make it a priority to ensure that all your employees are motivated, happy, and productive at work.