Ahh, summer vacation. Whether it’s a week at the beach, a fortnight in Europe or even a staycation seeing the sites near home, you likely spend months planning it and looking forward to it … and then — poof! — it’s over. Back to the reality of deadlines, traffic-clogged commutes and hundreds of emails to dig through. And that relaxed vacation mindset is gone.
If it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-Being survey found 40% of workers say the benefits of vacation time — better mood, more energy, less stress — last only a few days after clocking back in. And nearly a quarter say the positive effects disappear immediately upon returning to work.
Workplace culture shoulders much of the blame. Only 41% of working Americans in the study reported their organization’s culture encourages taking vacation. And sadly, about 1 in 5 workers say they actually feel guilty taking time off, or are afraid they’ll appear less committed to their jobs if they do.
You might not be able to control your workplace culture, but there are positive steps you can take to help make the benefits of your well-deserved vacation last longer. And there are good reasons for trying, says Laurie Mitchell, assistant vice president of global wellbeing and health at Unum.
“You should use all the time off you’ve earned,” Mitchell says. “It’s there for a reason: We all need an extended break from work to rest, restore, refresh and reconnect — all which are proven to benefit our overall wellbeing and enhance both our personal and professional lives.”
Re-entry into the workplace can be daunting and it may take a day or two to get back into the work groove, but you can minimize the impact of work stress with a few strategies, Mitchell advises: Take strategically placed breaks during the day for a quick walk, some fresh air or to catch up with a colleague. Eat lunch away from your desk, and if possible put on your headphones and listen to your vacation music while you work.
Here are a few more tips to keep stress at bay and help your vacay vibe live long past the dog days of summer:
- Plan your work before you go. Make a list of all your active projects and their status, and share it with your manager and everyone who’s backing you up on important deadlines. That way you can relax knowing nothing will fall through the cracks.
- Update your to-do list. Sure, things will change while you’re out, but you’ll be better prepared to hit the ground running when you return without wasting time figuring out what your priorities should be.
- Set out-of-office messages on your voice mail and email. Let people know who to go to in your absence. Unless absolutely necessary, don’t set the expectation that you’ll return calls and messages during your time off.
- Clean up. This applies to the office and home. Take an hour off from packing to straighten up and you’ll thank yourself when you return to a clean, neat home (and desk). If you know you’ll be getting home late and jet-lagged, stock the pantry or freezer with a few treats to tide you over.
- Change your screensaver. Update your phone and desktop with a new photo that will remind you of your adventure: that beautiful sunset, your kids splashing in the waves or you and your bestie covered in mud after a long hike.
- Dress the part. You may have to swap your flip-flops for loafers, but maybe you can slip that new Hawaiian shirt into the wardrobe, at least on casual Friday. If nothing else, keep rocking those new shades on your drive or lunch break.
- Start planning your next vacation.