How to Bounce Back at Work After a Long Holiday Weekend

The morning before you’re supposed to be back on the job, start to think about work again.

Unsplash / Hannah Busing

Summer blessedly has two federal holidays — the Fourth of July and Labor Day — meaning that many Americans get at least two weekends this season with a bit of cushioning on the side. But the thing about long weekends and vacations is that eventually you have to get back to business. And, as nice as employment is, that can be a bummer.

But here is some good news: According to Chu-Hsiang “Daisy” Chang, Ph.D., a Michigan State University associate professor who specializes in industrial and organizational psychology, the best way to bounce back at work from your vacation is to not think about work while you’re on vacation.

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.

“Research on recovery from work suggests that the best thing people can do during the break is to really detach themselves from work,” Chang tells me. “You shouldn’t think about the unfinished tasks or respond to work emails or check your work messages during off time.”

She explains that this detachment experience allows people to actually feel refreshed from their time off and come back to work with more energy. If you stay connected to work during your break, Chang warns, you won’t fully recover from the work stress you left, and you could experience an even higher level of stress during your time off and after.

Dr. Lisa Bélanger, CEO of ConsciousWorks and a researcher at the University of Calgary, explained to me that we work best when we alternate between periods of cognitive load (working) and rest. That rest is necessary so that we can perform at our best, and studies show that rest helps prevent burnout, alleviate workplace stress, and increase employee engagement.

Generally, Bélanger says, research indicates that weekends have a positive impact on both mental health and either positive or no impact on productivity. Vacations, on the other hand, can be challenging to come back from and sometimes can only have a short-term positive impact.

For example, in a 2010 study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life researchers found that before a trip, vacationers-to-be reported more happiness than non-vacationers, possibly because they were looking forward to the holiday. However, it was only people who went on super-relaxing trips who experienced a boost in happiness when they came back to work. Generally, the scientist reported, “there is no difference between vacationers and non-vacationers’ post-trip happiness.”

Maybe that’s not what you want to hear at the end of a long weekend, but don’t worry. That does not have to be your post-vacation future.

Bélanger advises that “to prolong the respite benefits of days off or vacation, building in breaks during the workday for restorative activities, such as physical activity, socializing, and mindfulness can be very beneficial.”

She recommends that, in an effort to have an easier transition back to work after vacation, you can take steps like writing a “to-do” list before you even leave on the trip. That way you know what your priorities are when you back, and you don’t need to think about them while you’re gone. Bélanger also recommends that you take advantage of your email’s “away message” and let people know that you won’t be looking at your inbox.

“I have seen extremes of this done with away messages, saying, ‘during this period of time all emails will be deleted; if it is important, please email following my return,’” Bélanger says. “While I don’t have any scientific evidence behind this practice, I imagine it makes the transition back more manageable.”

And when you’re gone, you detach. That means no work emails, no work calls, and not spending your time away ruminating about the negative aspects of your current job. You engage in relaxing activities and socialize with the people who make you happy.

Then, the morning before you’re supposed to be back on the job, you can start to think about work again.

“Some newer research suggests that as we get ready to come back to work after the weekend, it’s helpful to get reattached to work,” Chang explains. “That is, we want to be mentally prepared for the week ahead of us and come up with plans and ways to overcome potential roadblocks for achieving your goals before Monday’s work actually starts.”

This is beyond having a to-do list — this is having a game plan for your to-do list, and identify the potential alternatives you can choose if any roadblocks pop up.

Generally, Chang says, maintaining a positive work/life balance can be challenging. But recognizing what your challenges are, and knowing when to be considering those challenges, is a step in the right direction. Just make sure that you don’t sacrifice the “life” part of that balance, especially when you’re in the precise period of time dedicated to it.

Now Look at This Oddly Satisfying Thing

Just another "computer generated awesome color palette," in the words of creator Mike Bespalov.


This is a computer-generated color palette shared on the Twitter account Palitra, created by Mike Bespalov. Every day, this account shares several new palettes with various colors and gradients — each very pleasing to the eye.

A version of this article first appeared as the Sunday Scaries newsletter. Sign up for free to receive it on Sundays.

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