Many people are plagued by a real lack of motivation after the holiday - the post-holiday syndrome. A few measures can make it easier to get back to work.
Just sleep in as long as you want, let your soul dangle and travel to foreign places - and then the first working day after the holiday is just around the corner. At the latest when the alarm clock rings much too early, many people's mood is in the basement. But does it have to be like this, or can the lack of motivation, also known as post-holiday syndrome, be avoided?
A little all-clear: The post-holiday syndrome is a normal low mood and performance and not an illness, according to Robin Kaufmann from the Institute for Occupational Health Consulting (IFBG). "It's nothing more than switching from holiday to work mode, which our bodies find difficult because we are still relaxing."
According to Prof. Dirk Windemuth, Director of the Institute for Work and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IAG), people are primarily tired after their vacation, similar to what we know from Mondays. You first have to get used to the new sleep-wake cycle, which usually only takes a few days.
Even if the post-holiday syndrome is not dramatic, you can prevent listlessness and excessive demands. "If I'm already in a stress tunnel, I can no longer think of any alternatives," says Dirk Windemuth. It is therefore advisable to plan your return to work before you go on holiday.
Kaufmann advises, for example, to schedule vacations so that you can get back to work in the middle of the week. This shortens the first week of work. Ideally, certain processes should be completed before the time off, such as important projects or presentations. Another tip: simply schedule the out-of-office notice for a few days longer so that the existing e-mails can be processed in peace.
Even on vacation you can do something to ensure a successful return to work. Kaufmann strictly advises against checking e-mails from time to time. The increasing blurring of leisure time and work has been proven to lead to stress. It is better to focus on relaxation-promoting activities on holiday. With fully charged batteries you are much better able to cope with the new demands of the job.
According to Prof. Windemuth, on the first day back at work you should consciously create some free time. He suggests hanging a sign on the door, for example: holiday returnees on duty. That means something like "Please don't disturb me now, he has to find his way back to his work". However, this must be agreed in advance.
The body needs time to switch, says Kaufmann. "That's why you should take more breaks in the first few days or work shorter hours in order to take the relaxation of vacation with you into the first few days after the break."
According to the psychologist, putting up a picture from vacation to keep good memories alive can brighten the mood. A positive view of the future is also important and increases motivation: what can I look forward to? It can be colleagues and great projects, but also appointments with friends or a planned trip. Such prospects can counteract the frustration of having to go back to work.
Dirk Windemuth finds it much more important to prevent motivation gaps in the long term. It is above all the task of the company to create a culture of prevention in which employees are not completely exhausted again immediately after their vacation. This includes, for example, a working day without too many meetings. Where meeting follows meeting, employees often no longer have the time to complete tasks or delegate them properly.
Kaufmann points to further design options at management level. This can trigger certain structures, such as mailbox releases during vacation time, so that returnees do not have to work through hundreds of emails.
But what if I work in an industry or company where I can't really afford to softly re-enter after the holiday? Because the workload is high or unpredictable or there is even a shortage of staff and performance is required from day one?
IAG director Windemuth advises mutual respect. This means that people are much better able to cope with pressure situations. Saying to a team member: It's nice to have you back, and that helps us immensely. "There's always time for the sentence."
It can also help to reflect on one's own role in the structure. You can ask yourself: "If I hadn't come back from vacation today, but had torn my cruciate ligaments while skiing, would that be the end of the company?" Being able to answer such questions with no takes a lot of pressure off.
By the way, if motivation gaps last longer than a week, that doesn't always mean that you've landed in the wrong job. According to Kaufmann, a temporary overload can be behind it. Then it is worth talking to the HR department about how the team could be strengthened.
(This article was first published on Wednesday, August 17, 2022.)