When the weather is still sunny and warm but the lovely, lazy holidays are almost over, the thought of returning to work can be downright depressing.

Caroline Sandford, career specialist at Love Your Career, says the feeling of dread often felt in the last few days of the holiday is normal.

"A strategy to overcome this is to shift your focus from returning to work to the lovely holiday you're having, being grateful to have a job to return to, and catching up with workmates. The back-to-work blues are normal and don't necessarily mean you have a bad job."

Kris de Jong, life coach at Eclipse Life Coaching, says the feeling of dread is a result of what cognitive behavioural psychologists call fortune-telling, or assuming bad outcomes for future events.

Advertisement

"Thinking how miserable you're going to feel back in the office while the sun's shining, or how stressed you'll be trying to catch up with emails is naturally going to lead to feelings of dread or despair, even though it's not usually as bad as you think it will be."

He says that while you may be unable to completely eliminate fortune-telling thoughts, you have the power to dismiss them as unimportant.

"Instead, make a conscious effort to focus on the present moment," he advises. "After all, you're still on holiday. Being mindful involves using all your senses to savour whatever you're doing right now — playing beach cricket or enjoying a meal with loved ones. There's not much room for worrying thoughts when you're fully engaged in the now."

Sandford says a holiday filled with irregular routines such as sleeping in, late nights and erratic mealtimes can affect your body clock.

"Going back into a work routine can feel a lot like jetlag. Many people suffer from sleeping difficulties, difficulty concentrating, irritability and low energy. Be kind to yourself in that first week to allow yourself to acclimatise."

She suggests preparing in advance for the first day back to feel more in control. "Have your work outfit ready, your travel card packed, and food for your meals. Getting a decent sleep, eating healthily and drinking enough water are also keys to preparing well for that first day."

Once back at your desk, de Jong recommends organising and preparing as much as possible for the weeks ahead. "Identify your work priorities and schedule those tasks first to gain a sense of clarity and focus, and to minimise anxiety."

Employers can help employees ease back into work by having a sit-down welcome-back chat, he says.

Advertisement

"Ask how their holiday went, how they're feeling and what they want to achieve in their work this year. This is a chance to refocus and re-engage your employees after their break."

A new year brings opportunities to reinvigorate staff by developing new initiatives. "It could be an updated vision or mission, a positive culture change, or initiating new learning and development programmes," says de Jong. "Work engagement comes from a shared sense of purpose and aligned values from top to bottom. Motivation comes from knowing what you're working towards, and getting those small wins along the way."

But if you're still struggling to focus and motivate yourself for the year ahead, de Jong suggests asking yourself constructive how and what questions. How can I make my job as enjoyable as possible? What goals do I want to reach this year?

"Don't settle for the same old routine drudgery — set yourself new challenges, grab opportunities and be proactive in seeking out projects or tasks that take you out of your comfort zone. This will keep you interested in your work and build your skill base."

Sandford says the back-to-work blues can be helped by continuing to make the most of long summer evenings and sunny weekends. "Plan outings such as swims after work or meeting friends. It's a fantastic way to keep that summer holiday feeling."

She says it's also useful to have something to look forward to, such as a long weekend away. "This can be incredibly helpful as you adjust to your work routine again. You could also take up a new hobby or consider your career options, but it's important to ensure you have an easily-achievable goal to bring a sense of self-worth, rather than feeling like a failure if you can't meet your goal."

If you're unfortunate enough to have a toxic working environment and can't bear the thought of another year in your job, de Jong and Sandford offer some guidance.

De Jong says: "If you're in a role that's just not working for you and you don't have the power to effect change, it's time to start thinking about doing something else. This doesn't necessarily mean getting a job in another organisation, as there may be opportunities for a different role within your current employment.

"Begin by considering what you want in your career. What salary would you be happy with? Do you want to be a leader or work in a team? Would you prefer to work in a large corporation or a smaller company? Once you know what you want, think about how to get there and make a plan. When we have clear goals and smart systems in place, we tend to feel happier and more in control."

Sandford notes the first week in January often has the highest number of job searches, with people taking a fresh look at their situation.

"Use your re-found energy to assess your current role, but don't rush into anything. Are there new projects, different responsibilities or a new role within your organisation? Are there learning opportunities to help you move forward? If not, it may be time to move to another organisation or do something completely different."

Banish the blues

•Ignoring feelings of dread

•Preparing for the first day

•Identifying priorities

•Scheduling tasks

•Setting goals and challenges

•Planning something fun