Focus On: Seeing off post-holiday blues

Employee under umbrella

Nick Hood, partner at the UK corporate recovery firm Begbies Traynor, suggests ways to alleviate workers’ holiday withdrawal symptoms.

With summer holidays now behind us, most employees back off furlough and Christmas still a good 15 weeks away, workers will undoubtedly be looking forward to the next few months with a heavy heart.

According to traditional management theory, after a break workers should feel re-energised and brimming with enthusiasm, not to mention eager to return to the office and prove just how efficient they can be. However, the sad truth is that in the real world this simply isn’t the case.

A study by researchers YouGov for Investors In People shows that only one in four employees return to work feeling refreshed and almost 60% are less-than-enthusiastic about resuming their daily chores.

In reality, people returning to work are usually to be back in body, but not in spirit. In fact, unless they are exceedingly peculiar types or have little or no social life outside of work they are likely to be a little lethargic and almost certainly unmotivated.

A study by Begbies Traynor found that more than four out of five of the 500 workers we interviewed admitted to “working to live, not living to work” so it’s not surprising that returning to work after a summer break produces post-holiday misery.

A survey on recruitment website monster.com reinforces this: only 7% claimed not to get some form or other of back-to-work blues.

Further findings from the YouGov survey provide more proof, if it is needed, of the effects of post-holiday blues. Of the 2,000 UK workers surveyed, a quarter claimed that their post-holiday ‘glow’ disappears the moment they switch on their PCs and discover an in-box full of emails demanding their attention.

Moreover, more than half of the employees surveyed admitted that they return to their job with the determination that they will spend less time in the office – and a fifth immediately set about planning their next holiday.

Of course, this situation is of little help to owner managers struggling to achieve performance targets. It is even more important for managers at smaller companies that staff quickly regain their productivity when back from holiday, particularly as they often have little spare capacity and every role is vital.

But thankfully there is no need to despair. Plenty can be done to ease a person back to work, often involving little more than common sense procedures.

First and foremost, spend some time with staff members before they go on holiday to make sure there is a formal handover of work. They should be encouraged to write a formal handover document which lists all outstanding tasks that must be completed in their absence.

Their manager should make sure that all the tasks have been delegated to colleagues. Many will, I’m sure, agree that there is not much that is more demotivating than going on holiday knowing that little (if anything) will be done in their absence and that they will come back to a large amount of urgent work.

A holiday won’t stand a chance of reinvigorating an employee if in the back of their mind they fear the possibility of carnage upon their return.

On the day they get back to work, you should dedicate time to the returning staff member to debrief them fully about progress and changes made in relation to their role since they took their holiday. Immediately, this demonstrates their importance to the organisation, and offers a timely boost to their morale.

As with all staff, the best way of generating goodwill and hard work is to treat them with the respect you like to be treated with. It’s wise not to overload staff members with tasks after their holiday. It’s much better to allow them at least a day or two to get back into the swing of things.

Like you, they need time to digest emails, speak to colleagues, and generally catch up on work gossip and news they missed while away.

An effective way of restoring enthusiasm is to save a particularly interesting task, or even a nice treat, for their return. Again, this speaks volumes about your respect for their role and their contribution.

It’s also wise to realise that even the most highly motivated and strongly performing of employees might suffer from the very real psychological aspect of ‘post-holiday blues’.

According to the well-known psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, post-holiday blues are more than a case of being a little down-in-the-dumps. “Huge demands are being made on us [at work] both mentally and physically. Going straight back into that from a stress-free holiday environment can be a real shock to the system,” he says. The same applies for a long break as a result of furlough.

Naturally, getting staff back into the swing of things after a holiday or break should not all be the manager’s responsibility. Older and more experienced staff members often develop their own coping mechanisms. One of my former colleagues used to immediately book his next holiday on return, giving himself the pleasure of something to look forward to.

The problem of post-holiday blues is intensified by the fact that when compared to their European counterparts, Britons take the least time off. Perhaps if managers were a shade more generous with holiday allowances, there might be less pressure on staff to fit so much relaxation into a fairly short summer break.

NB. The above article has been slightly edited since its original publication.

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