After a blissful few weeks idly spent sleeping late and relaxing at the beach, it's common to feel a sense of dread or anxiety about returning to the demands and stresses of work. These feelings typically occur in the final few days of the summer holidays and can prevent us from enjoying our last precious hours.
Gaynor Parkin, founder and CEO of Umbrella Ltd, is a registered clinical psychologist specialising in workplace resilience and wellness. She cites Harvard research demonstrating that people can spend up to half the day lost in thought about the past or future, which often leads to rumination and worry.
"These unhelpful thought patterns prevent us from experiencing the positives of the present moment and can mean we miss out on precious rejuvenation time at the end of the holidays."
Parkin suggests that any time we catch ourselves thinking about the return to work, we use our senses to re-orientate ourselves back to the present moment, "be it in the smell of a new book, the sound of crashing waves, the warmth of the sun on our skin or a sense of connection with people around us. We need to savour the good stuff."
She also recommends planning ahead so we have things to look forward to throughout the holiday, and if we do need to plan for the return to work, "designate a specific time to do this and boundary it. This helps prevent work thoughts and feelings encroaching on our holiday recovery time."
The next hurdle is how to settle ourselves back into work without feeling too fractious. Parkin says returning to work is a transition and transitions require a psychological shift with three distinct phases — ending, neutrality and new beginnings.
"We often experience these phases as post-holiday blues followed by apathy and low motivation, which in time turns to commitment and excitement for the new year. Recognising and understanding these psychological shifts is helpful as it normalises our experiences and provides hope that we will regain our work mojo as the year progresses."
In the short term, however, there are small everyday actions that can help ease our psychological transition. Parkin says it's a good idea to plan and action fun summer activities outside work hours.
"Picnics in the park, walks with the dog along the beach and late-night tennis games all help us feel we can continue to experience the joys of summer. Other ideas are wearing casual clothes to work when not seeing clients and booking in holidays for the year. Enable yourself the benefits of anticipation."
Once settled back in, Parkin suggests we refocus and re-motivate ourselves for the year ahead by thinking about what we want to achieve for the year and then defining specific goals and creating an actionable plan to achieve those goals. She says it's also important now to re-establish connections with team members and stakeholders.
"And another way of feeling good about returning to work is to sign up to some volunteering or community support to tap into gratitude for what you have and what you can share with others."
Managers have a key role in helping staff become motivated for the new work year, says Parkin, and they can do this by showing an authentic and personal interest in what the team got up to over the summer.
"Make time to listen and reconnect. Set time aside to support staff in their creation of 2019 goals and an action plan, and create uninterrupted space for this so it's meaningful, not a box-ticking exercise," she says.
"It can be a good idea to get staff together for a team day and define the collective purpose for the year, strengthen relationships, have fun and build motivation as a group."
The new year is also an ideal time for managers to outline ways in which successes will be celebrated and rewarded in the year ahead. Parkin says celebrating success boosts positive emotion, which has benefits for health, wellbeing, engagement and performance.
"Although businesses can celebrate success in large planned ways such as bonuses, research demonstrates that small frequent celebrations of success are just as beneficial, if not more so. Having a team conversation about how to recognise and celebrate success — which can be about process as much as outcome — will enable collaborative buy-in and build motivation."