8 Tips for a Stress-Free Return to Work

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For those of you who are planning a vacation or looking forward to a weekend break, I have compiled my 8 best tips to make going back to work as stress-free as possible.

Yes way, vacay

Whether it’s a vacation or a staycation, we all need a break every so often and it’s important to take some time to relax and regroup. 

Even during a pandemic, people are taking time off work. Sometimes it’s just for a few days, other times it could be for weeks… but the result is the same. You take a break from your usual routine and daily duties, you unwind and stop watching the clock.

One of my favorite parts of taking a break is having the time and space to step back and get some perspective. I find it helpful – powerful, even!

Unplugging is what vacations are for, so enjoy it! 

One way you may get to enjoy it that bit more is to ensure you plan ahead, both for whilst you are on leave and for your return to work, so that feelings of stress about what may be going on whilst you are away, or what may be waiting for you when you return don’t start to creep in.

Stressed about returning to work after a break?

It took me a number of years before I could return to work after a break without feeling any ‘Sunday scaries’ stress in my belly. Sometimes our daily life during vacations is so different to what we experience at work; I guess it’s normal to feel stressed about going back to a very codified environment.

One positive effect of taking a vacation is coming back renewed and revitalized. When I’m back from a break, that’s the moment everything starts again. I find I have a reinvigorated mindset with a thirst for new things.

So, in order to make the most of this and to avoid succumbing to the stresses I have mentioned when you return to work, I have devised my own efficient back-to-work routine which I compiled into the 10 top tips I am sharing with you below. 

I must warn you that, the more time goes by, the clearer it becomes that it is not actually possible to implement a perfect, stress-free return-to-work plan once you are back from your break. It is far more effective to prepare for this a little ahead of time in order to make your life simpler when you do get back. (This type of time management and organization should be taught in school!)

As Benjamin Franklin said, and I can absolutely attest to: By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.

Top 8 tips for minimizing back-to-work stress after a vacation

1. Set a clear out-of-office

It may sound obvious but how often have you received an Out of Office message that left you puzzled? Where there are no return dates listed, or the date given is incorrect; where there is no indication as to who to contact if your query is urgent, or what the protocol is for follow-ups, etc. 

To avoid this type of confusion, avoid setting your out-of-office at the last minute. Be sure to include all relevant information so that people know what to do when they receive it. And don’t forget the emergency plan. People love to know there is a plan.

Personally, in my OOO message I always include something like: ‘Don’t worry, if it’s urgent, you can always text me’.

I specifically say ‘text’, not ‘call’ because I am not a doctor who saves lives, right? And I am OFF, so I have listed my preferred method of communications for emergencies. I also don’t include my cell number in my Out of Office as people who are likely to need me urgently already have my number.

If you are a phone person, remember to update your voicemail message as well.  

If you don’t want to receive any messages whilst you are off work, that’s also very good. Just remember to block Whatsapp or whatever message app you’re using during your time off, or simply mute certain contacts and groups.

2. Set your agenda the week you are back.

Don’t go on vacation leaving a block of time wide open in your calendar for the week you are back. You know if you do this it will be filled with meetings before you even return.

You also know you’ll have work to catch up on whilst getting back into your work routine when you’re back. 

Manage your time wisely. Block out some timeslots beforehand, especially for the two first days when you’re back.

3. Make a running list of projects and important tasks

Before you go you will need to share a status report with the people you collaborate with, so do one for yourself as well.

Empty your brain and note it down in list form. This helps me to let it all go and leave my work behind me.

For the past few months I have also been doing this every Friday; I feel more free and light, ready to start my weekend.

4. Delegate the things that can’t wait until your return

You are part of a team, a department, so that’s the moment to leverage teamwork.
Delegate urgent matters to a co-worker. You’ll do the same for them. That’s the deal.

A good team at work is not supposed to stop running properly because one or a few elements are temporarily absent.

If the matter cannot wait, find the best person in your team to handle it but don’t bring work away with you. You are about to go on a break, remember?

5. Give yourself a buffer day

I know it’s tempting to make the most of every second of your days off. I used to come back from vacation and jump straight back into work because my plane had just landed, or plan activities with friends up until the very last evening before going back to work.

This approach was not a success. At least not every time…

I’m convinced everyone needs some time to get back into the groove of things. If you can, take a day to relax before heading back into work. Give yourself at least a few hours to chill.

6. Review your objectives

We are now at the end of your break. 

Thanks to the preparation, you left lighter than ever and clearly gained some perspective on your work. You probably had some good thinking time – about you, your life, your career…

We already tend to drift away from our objectives throughout the year, so clearly, after a short or long break, that’s where I start.

That’s the moment to reconnect, so I check my list of objectives that I wrote earlier this year and I challenge them:

  • Are they still realistic? Relevant? 
  • Should I adapt some of them? 

Even if you review your objectives regularly the perspective you build during your break will help you to clarify your ambitions and the way you want to achieve them! 

Don’t miss that chance.

7. Ease your way into work

So, you’re back at it. 

As you already planned blocked-out time in your calendar, you don’t have to run from meeting to meeting. These blocks are here to help you handle your workload and not get overwhelmed as soon as you’re back.

I would recommend not starting with your emails.

Emails are surely important but not the priority.

I usually gain better input for my prioritization after first meeting people and discussing the burning topics. As for the emails, they waited until you were back, they can wait a little bit longer. You need to understand the real priority. 

If you were gone for one week, that might not have changed. But over 3 weeks, a lot can happen, depending on the period.

Once your To Do list is clear and reset, thanks to valuable input and fair prioritization, please do not start too many things at once. One thing at a time 🙂

Take some breaks during the day to socialize or just relax for a few minutes. And don’t overwork yourself! Leave the office on time (or stop working on time).

Remember, you’re not supposed to compensate for the fact that you were OFF; you were taking a well-deserved break.

8. Make plans to enjoy yourself the first week back

You’re back at work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself or treat yourself well. Scheduling a lunch date or two with friends can make the week back seem a bit less brutal. Treat yourself to your favorite drink at the local café during your coffee break, or download a new podcast or book to make your commute a bit more interesting.

Finally, I want to tell you one last thing…

If the stress is still too much…

If the stress is still too high, and you feel sick about going back.
If the routines you keep trying are not helping.

I would recommend taking a step back… further. 

There are some work situations that are sometimes harder than others, and maybe some more questions should be asked, such as:

Is it a good environment for me? Do I like what I do? Can I change something about it? And surely many more questions about your own well being and your aspiration.

That’s also valid.

This may also be a sign that you need a longer break. And that’s ok.

I think the best thing to do then is to talk about it to a person you trust.

Voila! That’s my stress-free routine for going back to work.

I hope you find these tips useful and can start using them for your own routine. I find improvements that I can add in after each break, so if you have some tips that also work well for you, please do share them with me.

I look forward to hearing your feedback!


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Amélie Beerens


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