Holiday Fear


Keeping that summer feeling


Returning to work after an annual holiday needn’t leave staff wishing they’d never gone away in the first place, says Neil Massa, Smarter Not Harder.

Holiday season, great isn’t it? Two weeks off and plenty of time to unwind; rest, and re-charge depleted batteries. Well, that’s what holidays are supposed to do anyway. But how many times do you hear people say after their first week back, “It doesn’t feel like I’ve been away at all”. The problem is – for most people – holidays leave them with none of this positive feeling. In fact, far from leaving them suitably rested and recuperated, I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who break into a sweat just thinking about the return to work, and find it actually leaves them as tired and as frazzled as they were before they left. With the effort required to catch-up, many wish they’d never been away at all.


Don't blame work, blame lack of time management


Some might say the culprit is simply the build-up of work – projects or actions needed that inevitably pile up. But we would say there is nothing inevitable about this at all, and that the real reason people fail to maintain their holiday state is lack of preparation.

The truth is, even if staff look at emails while they’re away (which kind-off defeats the purpose – but I digress), there’s a basic mathematical reality that most people fail to factor time in for: that for every week a typical worker is away, they need to set aside six hours of time to catch up with what’s happened (i.e. get back in the flow). For a two-week break – that’s 12 hours of ‘stuff’ that needs catching up on – this is stuff they might not even know about, that’s additional to new things that crop up as soon as people are back.

It may sound obvious, but people are far too ambitious about what they think (or are expected), to achieve in their first week back. Even if they spend three hours’ a day catching up, that’s four days’ worth of mornings that are taken up just getting back to state of normality. It’s when people forget about this, and start piling themselves up with new work, that feelings of being unable to cope begin to dominate.


The business of catching up


The failure of holidays to leave people properly rested is a business issue, and so the solution is one the business must support. It must accept what does need to be inevitable – that there is a fall in productivity during the week following each person’s return from holiday – because each person needs to schedule in this vital catch-up time.

Ideally, time catching up should be face-to-face – to discuss with people in person the details of what’s happened, who’s done what, what still needs to be done. It’s far better to do it this way, than try and wade through parts of emails, with replies from different participants that inexorably build up.

But allow it business leaders must. It’s worth remembering businesses will have benefitted from a huge spike in productivity, in the weeks leading up to that person taking their holiday, because they were working extra hard to make sure they got things done. Surely, time to recover from this, is time well spent, if it enables them to get back to work, and not feel they never went away?

Allowing for this six-hours per week away time means staff won’t fear their return to work. It may well be, they don’t need all of this – in which case, you will have earned back some of this time unexpectedly. But preparation is the key. Employees shouldn’t be scared of taking a holiday simply because they dread coming back.