How to Come Back to Work from Vacation: 5 Quick Tips

Amber Johnson Care for people, Leadership


Returning from vacation can be tough. Here’s how to leave
the baggage behind. (Photo credit nhanusek via Compfightcc)

Some people love work so much they never mind returning from vacation. Good for them.

For the rest of us, the return to work after a long weekend or a vacation can be daunting. Even if you love what you do, not many of us look forward to the rush of questions, unanswered emails, back to back meetings, and catch up work that waking up post-vacation requires.

Returning rested will take some advance planning. Here are five tips on how to return to your company ready to face the workday:





1. Plan your departure. 

No doubt you’ve already set a next-in-command and cleared your calendar. Now clear your email account:

  • Unsubscribe from messages you don’t need. I recently discovered I was getting a weekly email from an airline I never fly, to let me know I had no miles in their loyalty program. I’d been deleting the message for two years: better just to unsubscribe and unclutter your inbox.
  • Use the Rules and Alerts function of Microsoft Outlook (or your own email program) to sort incoming email. Have mass emails – such as newsletters from membership organizations – filter into a folder instead of my inbox. This allows you to more clearly see the important messages in your inbox.
  • Set an administrator. Allow your assistant or next-in-command to weed out lower priority emails and flag top concerns. Everything that’s not a top priority can wait until a few days after you return.
  • Turn your Out of Office message on. Let people know how long you’ll be gone, that you’ll not respond to email until after your return, and that they can contact your next-in-command.

2. Turn off completely while you’re away. (Or at least, turn off 90%.)
It’s not vacation if you’re looking at spreadsheets while lying on the beach. To really return rested, you have to step away. Trust your staff, turn off the computer and walk out the door. Leave the laptop behind and rely on your tablet or smartphone, but sparingly. Ask that only your next-in-command contact you with questions or concerns.

If you’re at the helm of a fledgling company, it may not be possible to let go entirely. Set one hour a day for work, let your next-in-command know your available time, and maintain your boundaries beyond that.

Consistent vacations have been shown to improve mental health and decrease likelihood of heart disease, so consider this part of your ongoing corporate sustainability plan.

3. Plan your return. 
No doubt you planned for your departure, tying up loose ends, rescheduling meetings, and leaving some directions for your staff. Before you go, plan for your return as well. If you can, schedule an hour of catch-up time for each day you were gone. For your return to work to go smoothly, you have to actually book this time and hold it sacred.

As part of this catch-up time, schedule quick check-ins with your top leaders: 15 minute calls to get project updates, review the relevant metrics, and confirm the week’s priorities. Start each conversation with this question: Are there any opportunities or concerns that need to be discussed because delays could be costly, or could negatively impact our culture? If the answer is yes, spend your 15 minutes discussing this. If not, use the conversation to catch up on project statuses, but hold the call to 15 minutes or less.

4. Rethink your current priorities. 
Returning from vacation offers the opportunity to make changes: to move things off your plate, to set better boundaries between work and family, or even to assess who among your leadership team is most ready to be your successor.

During your scheduled catch-up time, take a few minutes to ask these questions:

  • Now that I’ve handed responsibility to my team for a short time, is there anything I don’t need to take back?
  • Has vacation shown me I need to set new guidelines for work-life alignment? What would be best for me and my family? For my team members?
  • Did time away give me any new perspectives on the company’s overall path, or on specific projects or people? How do we need to develop?

5. Report back to the larger staff. 
In small companies, a leader’s absence is truly felt. Let your staff know you’re back. Through a company-wide email, or in your next all-staff meeting, let your staff know you appreciated the time away (and their hard work that made it possible) and remind them to schedule their own breaks. Share a photo or family story. And let them know if the break gave you new ideas for the company’s initiatives.

Do you have your own tips for how to return to the office energized and able to tackle the challenges ahead? Share them here.
Amber Johnson is the CVDL’s corporate relations advisor and a non-profit and small business communications specialist. She writes about forgiveness, and other non-business topics, on her blog,

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