6 Tips for a Stress-Free Return to Work After Vacation

Lächelnde Geschäftsfrau arbeitet an ihrem Laptop.

In this post, we explain exactly what post-vacation syndrome is and share six expert tips for overcoming it. 

Returning to work after a vacation is never easy. We spend so long eagerly awaiting our time off, only to find that it passes by in a flash.

Then there’s that horrible feeling of dread as we think about setting our alarms and getting back to our routine — not to mention the pile of unread emails that inevitably awaits.

Sound familiar? Then you’re among the majority of working professionals who suffer from post-vacation syndrome. But fear not. Keep this guide on hand as you prepare for your next vacation and you’ll be better equipped than ever before to beat the return-to-work blues.

What is post-vacation syndrome?

Post-vacation syndrome — or the post-vacation blues — refers to the temporary feeling of distress, anxiety, and dread that starts to creep in as a long-awaited vacation ends and the return to work is imminent.

If you’ve ever experienced post-vacation syndrome, you’re not alone. According to a survey commissioned by Zapier, 87% of workers feel the return-to-work dread after taking time off.

Some of the main reasons for post-vacation syndrome reported by survey respondents were:

  • finding a routine after vacation (37%),
  • catching up (31%),
  • and the prospect of dealing with a pile-up of unread emails and messages (26%).

Whatever the cause of your post-vacation blues, there are steps you can take to alleviate them and set yourself up for a stress-free (or, at least, less stressful) return to work. Here are our tried-and-tested strategies for overcoming post-vacation syndrome.

How to overcome post-vacation syndrome: 6 tips for a stress-free return to work after vacation

1. Write yourself a status report before you go

The lead-up to vacation can be especially stressful as you rush to finish projects, meet deadlines, and tie up loose ends. If you log off in a hurry feeling frazzled and disorganized, you may end your vacation (or even spend the duration of it) dreading the chaos that awaits you when you return.

Even if you’re not able to get everything done before you go (and, let’s be honest, when has it ever been possible to completely finish a to-do list?) you can help your future post-vacation self by writing a status report.

A pre-vacation status report summarizes what you were working on before you left, noting any outstanding tasks or loose ends that you’ll need to pick up when you get back. Getting it down on paper will help to clear your mind and leave you secure in the knowledge that, when you do return from vacation, you’ve got your status report to refer back to.

If you can log off for your vacation feeling organized, it’ll be much easier to switch off and enjoy your time away.

💡 Did you know?
When you constantly feel like you have too much work on your plate, your work habits might be the cause of that. Find out more in our blog post “Are Your Employee’s Work Habits Working Against Them?

2. Block your calendar for the first day back

As you return to work, it’s essential to give yourself time to catch up on what you’ve missed. You can’t be expected to resume your job as normal and sift through the pile of unread emails that inevitably awaits — there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Before you head out for vacation, put a blocker in your calendar for your first day back. This will ensure that you’re not inundated with meetings upon your return, and that you have a chance to play catch-up with minimal disruption.

Knowing you have this catch-up day already scheduled will go a long way to reducing your anxiety about returning to work.

3. Triage your emails and messages

One of the biggest sources of return-to-work dread is knowing that a pile of emails and messages awaits. Rather than simply working your way from top to bottom (or vice versa), come up with a strategy to triage your emails and messages.

To efficiently tackle your inbox, you might assign labels based on the recipient and subject line (before even opening the emails themselves). For example, if you see an email from your manager with the subject line “Important team update” or “Feedback required,” you might assign it with an “Urgent action needed” label. An email from the events manager with the subject line “Summer party update” may not be so urgent, so you might assign it with a “Check back later” label.

Scanning through and organizing your emails in this way will help you to prioritize your next steps. You’ll have a clear plan of action for which emails to read and respond to first, while saving the less urgent messages for another day.

4. Schedule a coffee and catch-up with a trusted colleague

Oftentimes, the dread we feel upon returning to work is rooted in a fear of the unknown. What happened in our absence? Did something go wrong? Was there any fallout from a tricky decision you made before you left for vacation?

Even as you scan through your emails as part of your triage strategy, you might be anxiously looking out for signs of a disaster.

You can alleviate this particular strain of post-vacation syndrome by scheduling a quick coffee and catch-up with a trusted colleague. They can fill you in on what went on while you were away and give you a heads-up if there’s anything urgent that will need your attention.

Chances are, nothing really changed in your absence. Once you’ve had the reassurance from your colleague that you’re not coming back to a catastrophe, you’ll be able to get on with your first day back in peace.

Smiling business woman talks to her co-worker.

5. End your first day back with a plan of action for the week

Similar to your pre-vacation status report, ending your first day back with a solid plan of action will help you to regain control and ease back into your routine.

Hopefully, with your calendar blocked, you’re able to catch up on all your messages and get an overview of what’s been going on in your absence. From there, identify your priorities and action points for the remainder of the week.

As you do so, be realistic with your return-to-work goals. Don’t put pressure on yourself to work at full capacity in those first few days (or even double capacity, as many of us tend to do after a vacation). Set out a plan of action that doesn’t require overtime or skipping breaks. This will only make your post-vacation syndrome worse.

Having a clear and realistic plan for the first week back will help you to transition from “catching up” to “business as usual” without unnecessary stress.

6. Reward yourself with a post-vacation treat

Having spent so long planning and anticipating your vacation, the return to work can leave you feeling extremely flat. And, with the added stress of playing catch-up, the jolt back to reality is often pretty harsh.

Before you even set off on vacation, plan something nice for your first day (or week) back. This can be anything: a trip to the movies with friends, a swimming session at your local pool, or an evening to yourself with a book or podcast.

Whatever it is that feels like a treat, schedule it in the calendar and make sure you go through with it. Not only does this give you something to look forward to after your vacation, it also helps you resist the temptation to work late, encouraging you to establish and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Post-vacation syndrome is something that we all suffer from. Hopefully, with these strategies, you can plan for a stress-free return to work and enjoy your next vacation to the fullest.

💡 Need more help?
In our blog post “The Importance of Work-Life Balance and How Your Company Can Get More of It” we will show you, what people with a good work-life balance do differently.
Anika Wegner

Anika Wegner

B2B Blog Editor — Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.