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What to do if you’re dreading work after a holiday

12 Jun 2019

Does the prospect of returning to work elicit a sinking feeling? Hays’ Alex Shteingardt has some great advice.

Whether you’re worried about the mounting emails, incomplete tasks or important meetings scheduled for your return, these worries are far from uncommon. As a result, despite making a concerted effort to switch their ‘out of office’ on, many are, in fact, simply not switching off at all, with a shocking two in three people reporting working while on holiday.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With proper preparation, you can set off on your holiday, enjoy a restful break (which is hopefully uninterrupted by work) and avoid those looming back-to-work blues creeping into your mind.

Taking a break from work can often give us much-needed headspace to think about the issues we tend to push to the back of our minds in everyday life – for instance, worries about an overwhelming workload, an unclear career path or problematic relationships with colleagues. These deeper-seated issues can often come to the surface when we take time out and leave us dreading going back to work, especially after an amazing holiday.

While these issues won’t be solved overnight, which I’ll come on to later, the following short-term tips should help make your initial return to work that little bit easier.

Establish a positive mindset on your first day back

Moving from a negative mindset to more positive thinking won’t happen overnight, but practising positivity in the days leading up to your return can help. The life coach Brian Tracy explains that those who practise a happy approach to life are able to see the good aspects in their workplace.

When you are thinking about your first day back at work, instead of focusing on the negative such as your full inbox or a daunting client meeting, think about those elements within your role you enjoy – whether it is working on a particular project, spending time with a colleague or even visiting your favourite coffee shop during your lunch hour. Focus your mind on the things you are looking forward to about returning to work.

There are many podcasts and apps that can help you on your path to a more positive mindset, which can work well when you pair the advice with simple meditation techniques. The popular app Headspace will help you find a more grounded way of being positive in day-to-day life – it could even help you relax while on holiday. Our recent blog on how to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday working life may also help you.

How can you add more variety to your day?

If your typical working day leaves you feeling bored and you find yourself watching the clock, the prospect of returning to the same old routine after a fun-filled holiday understandably isn’t exactly filling you with joy.

So, instead of dwelling on what makes your days drag, spend some time working out what could add some variety into your week. For example, if your commute is long, buy some new books, subscribe to some podcasts or watch your favourite TV programmes.

If the day itself is leaving you restless, take a brisk walk during your lunch hour or find a nearby gym where you can try a short exercise class. These endorphins will improve your mood and could even help you become more productive. Alternatively, learn new skills or offer to train other colleagues. The variety will give you something new to focus on and reduce your levels of boredom.

A change of scenery can also help. Try to sit in a new place within the office or have lunch with some colleagues you do not get the chance to speak to during daily activities. Another great way to introduce variety into your day-to-day is to organise an event or involve yourself in a committee. Popular options in many workplaces are work-related quizzes or events that everyone can attend during the working day.

If your weekends are usually quiet, add some excitement by planning fun activities, trying a new hobby or visiting friends and family. It will give you something new to think about outside work.

Personalise your workspace

According to the Association for Psychological Science, creating a tidy and more personal workspace can improve your mood. Try adding simple touches such as a treasured photo – perhaps a snap of your recent holiday – or plants, which will give you an instant lift.

In addition, studies have found that natural light can improve the work environment so, instead of sitting near the fluorescent lights, ask to be sat near a window. These are very simple steps that could instantly improve your mindset when you return to work.

Accept that your inbox will be full

Before you return to work, it’s important to accept that your email inbox will be full and there will be lots to catch up on. However, it is possible to reduce the immediate pressure by setting your email expectations within your ‘out of office’ message. Make it clear when you will be returning to the office.

Another tip is to keep your first day back in the office as free as possible. Avoid scheduling lots of meetings and calls, and instead schedule time in your calendar to work through your inbox. Start by focusing on the emails you know are a priority or have been sent by key stakeholders within the business.

Help yourself quickly readjust back to work

The steps above will improve your mood as you prepare to return to work after your break. However, there are also some more practical steps you can take to help you get ready for the first day back.

Before you leave for the holiday, go food shopping and fill your freezer with pre-prepared lunches for work and healthy dinners. This will take the pressure off when you return and help you adjust back to a busy schedule. This also means you will benefit from home-cooked healthy meals instead of resorting to takeaway.

The same goes for your work wardrobe; avoid any last-minute panic by ensuring your work clothes are washed and ready to go before you leave for holiday. Once you get home, try to stick to your usual bedtime. This will help you fight jet lag and leave you refreshed for your first week back at work.

Are there deeper issues at play?

Although the above steps are quick solutions to ensuring your return to work is more bearable in the short term, they are unlikely to solve the bigger issues that may be at the core of your feelings of dread.

So, during your holiday, try to establish exactly what is making you feel so down about returning to work. By identifying the bigger problems, it will make it much easier to create a plan of action to solve them.

What parts of the role are making you dread going back to work? Maybe you no longer feel challenged and don’t feel invested in, which is leading you to feel bored and unmotivated. Perhaps a lack of support from your boss has seen you turned down for a promotion, meaning you are unable see a clear career path with your current employer. Or perhaps you’re struggling with an increasing workload, which is causing high levels of stress and is leaving you feeling burnt out.

If you have not made your manager aware of the problems, they will not know that you need help and therefore won’t be able to put measures in place to help put things right. So, the first step is to have an open and honest conversation with your manager and discuss the ways in which you can work together to address the issues you’re struggling with.

Is it time to look for a new job?

If you have already tried talking to your boss about the issues you’re facing but feel like little progress is being made, perhaps it might be time to follow your instincts and consider finding a new position.

Spend some time during your holiday thinking about the type of role you would like to find. This will give you something positive to focus on and a plan of action for kicking off your job search when you return. In this blog, we’ve outlined 20 things to think about before you start your search for a new job.

It’s important to remember that most people will experience some degree of back-to-work blues as they contemplate returning after an amazing holiday. These feelings can creep in before you’ve even packed your suitcase. However, these feelings of dread can be easily alleviated with some quick preparation before you set off.

By Alex Shteingardt

Alex Shteingardt is the managing director of Hays Russia. He has been with Hays for nine years.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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