Vacations - or holidays, as they’re more commonly called in some parts of the world - are an important part of well-being at work, as they give us the time to recover from the mental and physical strain caused by work. Even the word itself tells you that it’s a time when a place of work or education is vacated by its inhabitants. However, while most people do manage to physically leave their work for a vacation period every year, more and more people are finding it difficult to truly disconnect from work and return well rested. A question for you: if you’ve taken out vacation days this summer, did you truly leave work behind?
If you managed to forget one or more passwords during your time off, that’s a good sign! A common issue is that with all the ways we stay connected to different types of media, it can be almost impossible to disconnect entirely. Even if you kept your promise and did not check your work e-mail, maybe you get work-related tweets or Facebook notifies you of things that remind you of work. While for some people this is fine, it can be harmful if it keeps you from truly getting time off - your recovery time.
Are you happy or anxious about returning to work?
When your summer vacation is about to come to an end, it’s good to stop to think what it feels like to return to work. If it doesn’t feel nice or even neutral, it’s a good idea to consider why. Is it a passing feeling, a sadness about the loss of freedom to sleep late, spend time with family and friends, take a detour because you’re not in a hurry to do anything? Or is it a feeling you know will last, something that’s actually telling you that your work setting is not good for you? Many people work close to their maximum capacity, or even above it, throughout the year and expect vacation times to fix the problem. But if the strain has been too high for a long time, it is unreasonable to think that a few weeks of vacation will fix the situation. It is risky to assume it will. Also, if there are conflicts or other issues at the workplace, a vacation will not be the solution to those.
So think about it: What exactly is it that causes this feeling? Now that you’ve had some time off, it can be easier to see the situation clearly than when you are living in it every day. Try listing the pros and cons of your work situation - what do you like, what don’t you like? What kinds of possibilities do you see? What threatens your well-being at work? The time right after summer vacation is actually a good time to make changes. What are the main projects, challenges and new ideas that will be the focus of the coming months? Make a road map that can be reviewed and adjusted later on. What are the issues that have been annoying people for a while? Think about what can be done to solve them. Initiate this discussion with your manager and/or your team. Time off work can also be a time when you realize your current work is not what you need or want - let yourself think about that option as well.
I like my work but I don’t feel relaxed after my vacation!
Sometimes the anxiety about returning to work is actually more about disappointment in your vacation time and unfulfilled hopes of feeling refreshed, rested and ready for new challenges when returning to work. But if things didn’t go as expected, the weather wasn’t good enough to do any of the fun things you had planned, the kids were cranky and maybe your relationship suffered from some tensions as well, perhaps you’re not rested at all. Of course, nobody can change the past but it can be worth it to think about this experience when planning the next vacation period. Here are some things to think about:
- If you like your work so much that you decided to keep in touch with it even during your vacation, think about it - was it a good decision? Even if you did this voluntarily, it can still mean that you did not get your recovery time. Vacation time is actually a part of work, in that it gives your brain a much-needed break that can boost creativity and help you see things in a new light. Talk to your colleagues - can you help each other truly disconnect by agreeing that whoever is on vacation doesn’t exist, unless there is a true disaster (preferably with predefined characteristics) that nobody else can solve?
- Do you usually have a long vacation period, using up all your vacation days? Is that a good solution for you, or would it be better to divide it up? Then there’s always some free time to look forward to. This can also help reduce expectations and increase the chances of at least one vacation period with great weather.
- Did you expect too much and plan too much? Sometimes we set ourselves up for disappointment by dreaming about something upfront, to the extent that reality can never live up to our expectations. Extensive plans for holidays can be counterproductive, because they often become a continuation of our work routines - must go there, be on time, do that, accomplish this, see those people. How about planning less next time?
- What are some of the things you like to do when you’re really tired and just need to completely sign off? Do more of those things next time you’re off work.
If it’s the case that you actually can’t wait to get back to work so that you can escape what’s going on in your life outside of work, don’t ignore these feelings. If there is something in your personal life that is causing you significant stress, listen to yourself, talk to people, get help with resolving those issues. It is not good for your health to feel like you want to escape any part of your life.
However you feel about returning to work: When returning from vacation, give yourself some time to adjust. It’s normal to be a bit out of pace for a while after coming back from such a different setting. But if going back to work causes more than a passing feeling of anxiety, nervousness, disturbed sleep or other stress-related symptoms, it may be a good idea to seek advice from someone at work, like your manager or someone in HR, or even a health care professional.
The Coachademy coaches are also here for you, just a click away.
About Mari Järvinen
I’m a psychologist (MSc), currently specialising in work and organisational psychology. For 10 years, I’ve been working with the most intriguing, complex and varied workplace issues you can ever imagine. All the good things: work engagement, flow, innovation, creativity, leadership, teamwork...but also the dark side: conflicts, problems, stress, incivility and even bullying.
Currently I’m living in Amsterdam and getting immersed in the wonderful, innovative and exciting world of startups - learning about them and also volunteering to help great businesses grow and avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. Writing this blog is a part of my collaboration with Coachademy, who were kind enough to invite me to work at their office for a few hours per week. I will cover different topics depending on what pops into my mind, so let me know if there are specific topics you would like me to write about! I hope you enjoy reading it!