9 Mistakes To Avoid When Returning to Work After Vacation

9 Mistakes To Avoid When Returning to Work After Vacation
08 August, 2023 • ... • 11859 views
Diana Kussainova
by Diana Kussainova

Have you ever sailed down a river? You’re on the water, everything around you is rapidly changing. You have to be alert at all times, and that can be very overwhelming! But if you have never sailed down a river, it’s actually similar to returning to work after a vacation. Navigating a ton of incoming tasks, trying to keep up with your colleagues, and adapting back to your life at home. Uhh, we’re stressed just thinking about it!

To help you calm your anxious thoughts down and have a smooth start, we’ve gathered 9 mistakes to avoid when making your work re-entry. Read for productivity tips and Selzy employees’ stories and advice

What is re-entry anxiety?

Before going back to work after a vacation, you may experience anxious thoughts, worries, sleep problems, headaches, and more. All of these symptoms are very common. Some call this state re-entry anxiety or stress, others — post-vacation blues and even post-vacation depression.

A GIF of Pam from The Office being upset with a text above that reads Going back to work after my vacation…
Source: Pinterest

Why do you feel this way? The abrupt change of routine and having to go back to a stricter set of tasks instead of doing whatever you want make returning to work stressful. 31% of people dread catching up on administrative tasks, 27% find busy work overwhelming, and 26% feel especially anxious about unread emails and messages.

But there are other reasons as well. Some may feel unsatisfied with their vacation and regret going back without a proper reset. Others don’t want to return to an unwelcome work environment.

Is re-entry anxiety normal? Feeling blue and not wanting to go back to work is perfectly normal. Know that it is temporary and will probably stop in one or two weeks. But if the depressive state lingers, it may be a sign of something more. It may mean that you aren’t enjoying your work as much as you used to and it’s time to consider some changes. It may also be a reason to see a psychotherapist.  

But even if you are returning to the work you like, the process can be very harsh. Here’s what you shouldn’t do to cause yourself less stress.

Mistake 1: Leaving in a hurry

A photo of a girl making a funny face and running fast with a soap bubbles bottle
Source: Pinterest

Were you so excited about a vacation that you shut your laptop closed without planning a return? Well, that’s one reason why coming back may not be smooth. On your first day, you may need to tackle new tasks, remember where exactly you left off, and try to tie up some loose ends. 

If you still can, plan your return beforehand.

Iegor Nikolaiev
Iegor Nikolaiev

Email marketer at Selzy

A recommendation that works for me personally is to create a work plan before a vacation. This way when you’re back to work, you will only need to add new tasks to your backlog, not create it from scratch. It will save you time and make the return less stressful.

Mistake 2: Making a harsh transition

Futurama’s Fry squinting with the text that reads Not sure if Too Fast Or Too Furious
Source: Quickmeme

When we do leave on vacation, we all want to make the most out of what we got. If you travel, you may even want to postpone heading home till the last moment. But being in mid-air 8 hours before your work starts isn’t such a great idea.

In fact, you should give your mind and body time to recover.

Selzy HR team member
Selzy HR team member

I used to travel to the US for 2-3 days, then came back home at 7 am and started my computer in the office at 10 already. In this super crazy travel schedule, my brain didn’t have time to adapt to the time zone change, change of language, and work/rest regime. You really shouldn’t do that! 

Try planning your trips so that you have at least one day to decompress, remember the names of your colleagues, unpack, and return to your dream team with a fresh head.

A tired-looking French Bulldog lying on the floor and text that reads Jet lag the struggle is real
Source: I Am Writing blog

Jet lag isn’t the only thing you need to prepare for. Some extra time between the end of the vacation and the return to work can help you settle, adjust, and accommodate the change.

Hanna Bondarenko
Hanna Bondarenko

HR People Partner at Selzy

I plan my vacation so that I have a couple of days to adapt before returning back to work. If I spent the time by the sea in another city or even country, it would be exhausting to run back to work the next day I come home. I need time to adjust, unpack my bags, prepare the apartment, shop for groceries, take care of myself, and tune in to work. A couple of days are exactly enough for all that!

Do you know what can make a buffer between your vacation and work even better? Adding some mind-trickery to it!

Hanna Bondarenko
Hanna Bondarenko

HR People Partner at Selzy

Returning from a vacation, I try not to start working on Monday. Even if I have an extra day off, I take it on a Friday instead. Mondays always make me feel like I am going back to the salt mines. And besides, if you start on a Tuesday, the weekend seems closer!

Mistake 3: Settling right into your previous routine

Squidward repeating the same daily routine and getting more and more unhappy with it
Source: Giphy

During your vacation, you enjoyed waking up early. But when you return home and go back to work, you get up 5 minutes before the morning call just like you used to do before? Well, one of the most insidious mistakes you can make is to ignore your vacation experience and follow your habitual routine without a change. 

Vacations are so much more than just periods of rest. They can help you reflect on your life, try something new, and learn more about yourself. It all goes to waste if you don’t put what you discovered into practice. 

In fact, we are especially susceptible to trying things differently when we return from a vacation. And who knows, maybe a different routine is exactly what you need!

Daria Zhuravleva
Daria Zhuravleva

Selzy blog author

It happened back in 2019 at my first job after I quit my master’s program at the uni. It was an office job but you could work from home for any reason, you just had to notify your colleagues. At that time, I thought of remote work as some kind of house arrest and I only requested it if I had side gigs to do and needed to go to sleep later or do these gigs during my work time unsupervised. It all changed after I went on vacation. 

I went on a trip to a city that was pretty far away from my hometown, in another time zone. I was dumb enough to not include a couple more days in my vacation to recover from jet lag, so I asked permission to work from home for a couple of days so I could have enough sleep. It was the very beginning of September, a beautifully warm autumn, and since I live near the woods, I started going for walks in nature during lunch breaks. The thing is, I liked it so much that I ended up not going back to the office, and, due to the pandemic and me living in a town with low wages and changing my profession, I haven’t worked offline since 2019.

Mistake 4: Losing yourself

A man looking puzzled with flying numbers and equations around and a text that reads When you return from vacation & try to remember how to do your job
Source: Twitter

It’s possible that your vacation changed you in more ways than you expected. So coming back to the office, your coworkers wouldn’t even recognize you. But being on this side of the spectrum isn’t good either. 

Try sticking to the middle: don’t neglect everything you’ve learned and experienced during the vacation but don’t forget what your life at home is as well.

Kate Shokurova
Kate Shokurova

Chief editor at Selzy blog

I remember a guy back at my first (real) job who practiced writing letters to his future self, the one that’s going to come back from vacation. He used to write real paper letters and stick them to the screen of his computer. They would go like this: “Hello John! You’re a website developer, your boss’ name is … You are responsible for …” plus a dozen other points.

We treated these letters as a joke and added more jokes of our own to the texts. This person wasn’t super serious about all this himself so he didn’t get offended in any way, but I think only now do I understand the deeper meaning of this philosophical practice — finding yourself anew after a long break 🙂

Mistake 5: Staying in your shell

Chandler from Friends sitting by a window watching the rain with a sad face
Source: Giphy

Did you update your Slack status to “Leave me alone” as soon as you’re back to work? Closing yourself off and trying to navigate the changes in your workplace alone isn’t a good idea. If you want to ease into work and quickly learn what’s new — simply talk to your colleagues! You will learn the latest news and also make the day go by faster.

Kate Shokurova
Kate Shokurova

Chief editor at Selzy blog

Although I like to communicate with people around me, I’m an introverted person and I’ve been more so when I was younger and a bit more reserved. And that’s speaking about friends, while the business environment is much harder to navigate without stress.

Back when at my first job I sometimes found it hard to get back into things after vacation, especially a long one, because I was too shy to take part in some of the office activities. Today I know more about how to organize my social life and get as many positive emotions out of it as I could. So I think it’s a good idea to start your get-back-to-work process by socializing with colleagues and finding out what’s new.

Mistake 6: Just winging it

Aubrey Plaza saying: I have no plan
Source: Giphy

So, you open your laptop on the first day back. You check your inbox and start tackling tasks in the order that they arrived or maybe even in no particular order, just whatever catches your eye first. Right? Wrong!

If you start working right away, without understanding everything that needs to be done, you risk losing time and not coming around to the most important tasks. Instead, take time to assess tasks that piled up while you were gone and prioritize them.

Selzy HR team member
Selzy HR team member

When you return after a vacation, you’ll always find a ton of emails and tasks. If you try to do everything at once, you’ll get scared and your brain can just freeze! As with other things, you should first put things into perspective. 

Separate the tasks into several categories: important and urgent, important and not urgent, mildly important and urgent, and mildly important and not so urgent. Then you start with the important and urgent ones and do everything else after. 

And also, always let your coworkers know you saw their requests and will circle back to them. Give those who wait for you a timeframe, so that they don’t feel neglected.

Mistake 7: Tackling everything on your first day

A man saying: It’s grind time!
Source: Giphy

So you made a to-do list, and it’s probably quite lengthy. What’s the next logical step? 

If you think it’s trying to fit everything into the first day, you’re wrong. You probably won’t finish everything in one day. And even if you do, you risk running yourself dry. That means you will get overwhelmed and tired quicker and start the next day without a smile on your face, to say the least. 

Hanna Bondarenko
Hanna Bondarenko

HR People Partner at Selzy

Don’t try to finish all the tasks on your first day back. It took more than one day for these tasks to stack up, so they’re impossible to go through in one sitting. Instead, make a plan and spread these tasks over a week, for example.

Iegor Nikolaiev
Iegor Nikolaiev

Email marketer at Selzy

Don’t plan a lot of tasks on your first day, at least. The re-entry day is essentially for shoveling tasks you got during vacation. Some of those tasks can be urgent, so you generally have what to do. And if you have a “lighter” first day, the return back to your workload will be more gradual.

Well, if you shouldn’t jam-pack your schedule the first day, what can you fill it with besides the most urgent tasks? Rest and relaxation, actually.

Selzy HR team member
Selzy HR team member

For a smooth start, don’t go crazy trying to get everything done on your first two days back. The human brain can’t adapt that quickly! The good idea is to plan something nice for yourself during those adjusting days and plan periods of rest. That’s what helps to make the transition from total chill to a productive state smoother.

Mistake 8: Turning into a couch potato

Sailor Moon crying and shaking her arms and legs with a caption reading I don’t wanna go outside! Don’t wanna! Don’t wanna! Don’t wanna!
Source: Giphy

During your vacation, you climbed every mountain, forded every stream, and followed every rainbow? No wonder you don’t want to get off the bed! 

But after resting for a couple of days, you should really go outside or spend some time exercising. Trust us, it will improve your health and well-being!

Hanna Bondarenko
Hanna Bondarenko

HR People Partner at Selzy

An advice to everyone, whether you are returning back after a vacation or not. Physical activity is a great mind switch. Plus, you can release your negative energy. And when you’re enjoying yourself, you stress less and stop thinking about work all the time.

Mistake 9: Walking in someone else’s flip-flops

Willy Wonka smiling suspiciously and a caption that reads Take my advice, you’ll need it
Source: Make a Meme

Following advice is good and all, but taking it at face value isn’t going to help you much. Some things just aren’t for you, and before stepping into someone else’s shoes (or post-vacation flip-flops), reflect on your needs, values, and desires.

Some people prefer to forget about work entirely on vacation or even give digital or dopamine detox a go. But it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some members of the Selzy team don’t unplug from work, so they never have to truly go back from a vacation.

Evgeny Kotelevskiy
Evgeny Kotelevskiy

Business Development Manager at Selzy

I have only one piece of advice. Just don’t go on vacation, so that you don’t have to return 😀

I don’t even remember the last time I had a full-on vacation, so I have no trouble coming back. When you work in digital marketing, you never unplug from work entirely. You are still online on your phone, checking social networks and email, so you are still keeping up with your projects. Even if you are resting by the sea, you have your laptop on you.

I think for digital nomads, the traditional separation of work and vacation has changed a bit. It is less strict, as is the boundary between the office and remote work after the pandemic.

And this vacation style, although not appropriate for everyone, can be very effective.

Selzy HR team member
Selzy HR team member

During a small vacation in March, I accidentally filled up 3 job openings. You just look at the beautiful landscape from a high-up observation platform and listen to a job interview with one ear. Or single-handedly type in an offer to a candidate in the aquarium. That’s my style!

In conclusion

Going back to work after a vacation, especially a long or intense one, can be hard. So take your time and follow these recommendations from the Selzy team members:

  • Before you even leave on vacation, prepare a to-do list to catch up on after your return.
  • Return early and have a couple of days to decompress at home.
  • Follow the things you discovered during your vacation but don’t forget what your life was at home and who you are at work.
  • Prioritize your tasks and deal with the urgent and important ones first.
  • Take it easy the first few days and remember that you probably won’t be able to resolve everything on your first day back.
  • Plan breaks during the workday and do something you enjoy after work.
  • Find what works best for you and stick to it!
08 August, 2023
Article by
Diana Kussainova
Writer, editor, and a nomad. Creating structured, approachable texts and helping others make their copies clearer. Learning and growing along the way. Interested in digital communications, UX writing, design. Can be spotted either in a bookshop, a local coffee place, or at Sephora. Otherwise probably traveling. Or moving yet again.
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