Ahh, the Christmas / New Year break. Holiday time, over-indulgence, parties, families. If nothing else, you’ll likely have a day or two off work that you normally wouldn’t. Me, I took the three days between the Australian Xmas / NY public holidays off, giving me a grand total of ten days job free.
Sooner or later, though, we all have to crawl out of bed, de-shabbify ourselves and get our arses back to work. Sucks, dunnit? You walk in front door of the same old premises, see the same old faces (some of whom you mightn’t be looking forward to seeing) and feel like you’ve not been away at all.
But does going back to work really have to suck? What if there were a way to bring a bit of zing to your first day back? Well, there’s not just a way. Let me offer not two, not three, but seven suggestions for helping you get back to your desk with that post-holiday freshness and charge intact.
1. Do something for you before you go to work.
When people think holiday, they think of big trips, parties, catching up with mates and lots and lots of sleeping. But have you ever noticed that you wind up putting some of your holiday time into work? Not work work, mind, but all those little projects and hobbies that you never quite had time for when you were working. Why let the momentum you’ve built drop off as soon as you’re back to the nine-to-five?
In many ways your work day starts as soon as you wake up; everything you do (clothes, food, cash, transport) centres around making sure you’re at your workplace on time. Reclaim some of that morning routine for yourself; put a few minutes (or as many as you can claim) toward those personal projects you did during your holidays. And don’t just do it on your first day back; do it every morning.
I make sure to write something, whether a journal entry, blog post, story volume or brainstorming note. Maybe you’d make a shopping list for the meal you’re going to serve for a party this coming weekend, sew a sleeve onto your next cosplay outfit for the convention, pull some weeds out of your garden bed or even meditate. Whatever it is, you should feel like you’ve made some sort of improvement when you put your project down, even if you’ve not finished it.
This is why a video game isn’t necessarily a good idea; not beating that high score or progressing past that save point is more liable to leave you frustrated instead of having made progress.
2. Change your workday routine.
They talk about holidays as a period to recharge your batteries, but what they don’t mention so often is that the break allows you to come back to the processes and routines you’ve built to manage your work with a fresh pair of eyes. Use them; look at how you do what you do and figure out at least one way to do it differently. Don’t worry so much about whether it’ll make an immediate, measurable improvement; the change alone will probably give you a mood boost and erode that sense that your holiday was just a hallucination.
Maybe even try doing a morning task in the afternoon. If you’re quitting smoking, replace your smoko break with a walk around the block with a piece of fruit (heck, do that even if you’re not a smoker).
3. List your accomplishments and discoveries.
One sad fact of a lot of workplaces is that you rarely get any meaningful feedback unless and until you make a mistake. Most of the time there’s nothing malicious in it; it’s just that the folks around you are as busy with their own priorities as you are with yours. Redress that balance by using those aforementioned holiday-freshened eyes to observe anything unusual or just generally noteworthy that you do, then use your hands to making a note of those things. Your post-holiday freshness will help you turn this into a habit that will continue long after your holiday is a distant memory.
It could be as simple as a one line note or a five-minute series of notes on what you did, what you learned and how you can apply it in the future. And it’s not just handy for personal improvement; it serves as a great database of your accomplishments when annual review rolls around or you put in a raise request. At the very least, reviewing your list can give you a shot of confidence if you find yourself feeling incompetent.
Keep that note somewhere you can get to it easily. I have an A4 spiral notebook dedicated exclusively to such notes and can fit a whole week – plus an end-of-week review – in on one page.
4. Make note of someone else’s good work.
This might be as involved as writing a nomination for a colleague in an employee award scheme or as simple as thanking a colleague for a specific thing he or she did that made your day easier. Not only will it help them keep their own post-holiday buzz, the smile you put on their face will give you a boost as well.
5. Talk with your manager.
Your time off could well have given you some perspective on your job and how you do it that you couldn’t have got by being in the middle of it all every day. If so, it’s worth talking about it with someone, and the best person is your immediate manager.
At first blush, this might feel scary. Your manager is generally the one person who sees your performance every day and is often the first person to give you feedback on mistakes and practices you could improve. Yet you should remember that your manager’s job is to make sure you can get your work done with the least amount of obstacles possible.
Also, never forget that your manager’s a human being just like you; your vent about what’s going on with you could well become a relaxed conversation that helps each of you help the other.
6. Talk with Human Resources / Employee Assistance.
Companies are doing a better job of recognising the stresses that they place on their employees nowadays. My current and two previous permanent jobs offered counselling via an Employee Assistance programme. This service can come in handy when you’re feeling stressed and don’t know what to do about it. If you find yourself really dreading your return to work, then make some time to discuss your situation with an Employee Assistance psychologist.
Just having someone to talk with about your problems really helps. I’ve taken advantage of Employee Assistance three times; twice at two different employers when I was stressing out about my job and once when a colleague at a previous employer took his own life.
Even when you’re not stressed out or in emotional turmoil, it’s worth having a chat about any workplace concerns with your employer’s HR department. Maybe you’re not sure about career progression or what opportunities the company offers. Maybe you want to draw the company’s attention to a set of skills that you could offer them. Like your line manager, your HR department’s job is to ensure that the company’s people are using as many of their skills to serve the company’s clients as possible. They may be able to suggest opportunitites that neither you nor your manager would be aware of.
7. Sign up for some courses.
A lot of companies are subsidising employee coursework that could contribute to their work performance. Many even offer digital education via their internal networks. Looking at your employer’s list of training opportunities could well convert your holiday bounce into enthusiasm for some novel skillset you’ve never contemplated before. Not only that, it shows the company you’re keen to make yourself more valuable (never a bad thing nowadays).
Finally, if you’re skilled at something but have never got any accreditation for it, doing an online course can turn that vague skill into something the company can see, especially if your existing knowledge enables you to perform well in the course. In fact, HR departments often have specific measures for that sort of thing; they call it Recognition of Prior Learning.
If change is as good as a holiday, why not have both?
We never look forward to that first day / week back from holidays. But perhaps the reason it’s always a drag is because we make it so. Instead of bemoaning the return to work or trying to guilt yourself into being grateful that you have a job to go back to, focus on the things that have the potential to improve those forty hours per week you put into earning a crust.
There’s one more thing I’d like to address in this post. Sometimes we let the daily routine turn itself into a daily grind. We feel like what we do serves no purpose, has no real meaning. If and when you feel this way, remember:
Your employer pays you to do the job you signed on for. This fact alone tells you that you and what you do are important to your employer; these times of fiscal trouble only make that more evident. If your work was really as valueless as you might feel, then you wouldn’t have a job.
Then think about how what you do contributes to your employer’s ability to execute the service it sells to its clients. Odds on you’ll come up with the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing pretty quick – and maybe a few simple ways to have more fun doing it.
A Question for Comment:
How do you get back into the swing of things at work after a holiday?