If you find yourself feeling a little flat after returning to work this year (or outright hating your job), you’re not alone.
#BackToWork is trending for Australia on Tik Tok, with many users complaining about the return to the office. A growing body of research also shows that this feeling is quite common.
But while there’s nothing new about the return-to-work blues, few companies have it strategy to facilitate the adjustment to work after the holidays.
So what does the research say about this problem and what could employers do to address it?
What does the research say?
A study found employee health and wellbeing:
increased rapidly during the holidays, peaking on the eighth day of vacation and quickly returning to baseline within the first week of returning to work.
Another found it:
short breaks have an advantage over longer holidays in some respects, and this can be explained by features of the environment and activities that holidaymakers engaged in.
But while you may feel uninspired in your first week back, hold on: Research has shown that employees notice that they are more creative two weeks after returning from vacation.
Many of us dreaded work, even before Christmas break. A December 2022 survey of 100 working adults on LinkedIn said 60% believed they had worked too much by 2022, while another study showed that 46% of Australian workers feel burnt out.
The pandemic has introduced new stressors to almost every area of our lives. As many of these stressors persist for several years, the risk of burnout increases increases.
Ensuring a psychologically safe workplace
In a recent report on mental health and the workplace, the Australia Economic Development Committee identified poor mental health cost the Australian economy is about A$70 billion a year.
Employers must provide a psychologically safe workplace and access to mental health services.
Taking regular breaks, creating boundaries to keep work from spilling into our personal lives, exercising and having other interests outside of work are important for reducing stress.
Taking a vacation is also essential. A study found “health and well-being improve during vacation, but these positive vacation effects fade within the first week of returning to work”. Still, the same researchers noted that vacations “can act as a buffer against future stressors.”
But an October 2022 survey found that 75% of Australians did not take their annual leave due to work and financial pressures.
This points to a broader problem that will not be solved by the announcement of a new employee wellness initiative.
Wellness fads don’t work if the cause persists
Organizations should be aware that wellness fads and token mindfulness programs do nothing to address stressors such as poor job design, overtime, inadequate management capacity, and poor organizational and leadership culture.
Sometimes a system change is needed. That may mean redesigning jobs, reviewing compensation, changing organizational structure, and meeting workload expectations.
Offering overworked employees yoga sessions, stress reduction workshops, meal vouchers, or personal resilience sessions probably won’t make a difference.
What is needed is an approach that addresses the root causes of employee burnout.
If I dread work so much, should I look for a new job?
While it’s normal to feel a bit flat at work for a few weeks after a vacation, some indicators suggest it’s time for a new job (or an extended break).
If you’re still not feeling well a month after your return, it’s probably more than the post-holiday slump.
Getting support to discuss the causes is an important first step.
If your stressors are largely caused by the pressures of balancing responsibilities outside of work, ask your employer for flexibility with hours or working from home.
And while many companies are offering more flexibility since the pandemic, recently changes federal laws will make it easier for employees to request flexible work.
So you’ve discussed your concerns with your manager – now what?
If there’s a lack of real action to address poor organizational culture, inadequate leadership capabilities, persistent overtime, and poor job design, then it’s probably a good idea to get a new job.