Culture   //   December 22, 2022  ■  4 min read

Before signing off for the holiday, do these four things to avoid return-to-work dread

It’s officially the days of  “let’s circle back after the holidays,” which means it will soon be, “ugh, why didn’t I close this out before the holidays?” 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As much as we love to push things off before a collective holiday break, it can come with drawbacks when the new year starts. What’s worse than coming back from time off with a mountain of work that wasn’t finished? 

Our future selves will thank us if we block out some time before signing off at the end of this week to close any loose ends, answer remaining emails, and prepare for a smooth return in January. We spoke with a workplace expert and therapist to compile a short list of what to do before closing your laptop this week to ensure a restful, relaxing week off without enduring any return-to-work dread in the new year.

“It’s completely normal to feel stressed and anxious about transitioning back to work after the holidays,” said licensed therapist Nicholette Leanza at LifeStance Health. “The key is preparing in advance and taking care of yourself so you can make the transition a little easier.”

Talk to your boss about what you can do to prepare for January now

“I encourage employees to have a context-setting with their bosses,” said Dr. Stefanie Tignor, vp of data science at human resources company Humu. 

This could involve scheduling a beginning-of-the-year growth conversation with your manager so that you are on the same page when you return. During a meeting like this, workers might ask questions like: Am I giving you the right type of updates on my work? Are they frequent enough? Do they include sufficient detail? 

“Let them know how you are hoping to grow this year, and ask if that is in alignment with their expectations,” said Tignor. “I encourage managers and employees to think of the new year as a fresh start.”

Tignor suggests taking a moment to think about what you would like to do differently in the new year; how you would like to show up differently, or what goals you would like to attain this year. 

Clear any unnecessary meetings during the first few days back

A packed meeting schedule on the first day back after a lengthy break involving, for many, some much-needed R&R and the inevitable food comas associated with celebrating during the holiday season, is enough to rattle anyone’s cage. This stress can be avoided by simply rescheduling those meetings (apart from the one set with your boss) this week, rather than on the day of return, to avoid feeling overloaded, Leanza advises.

Use that time in early January to skim some of the content you may have missed and look through important emails. However, Tignor warns to not get too carried away with this either. “Catching up on mountains of content won’t help you understand what is most important; in fact, it could make all tasks and all messages seem equally important,” said Tignor. 

Make a to-do list

It sounds like an obvious one, but not everyone remembers to do it. If you have a clear, concise list of what you need to do when you sign back on in the new year, it’ll help you stay organized. “When you do get back, you’ll have a good, clear plan of action to help you feel focused,” said Leanza. 

Writing it all out will allow you the ease of stepping away while on PTO knowing that you have a plan of action already in place. Leanza says it’s a part of self-care. With organization, it allows you to get better sleep, relax, and enjoy time off that maybe you wouldn’t if your head was spinning about what was waiting for you at work.

Remember that even if you’re organized, your coworkers might not be

“What works for one person might not work for another,” said Leanza. You might be doing all you possibly can to make sure you don’t even think about work once during your time off, however, other people on your team might be the type who shoot you a work email despite a company-wide break. “It’s really important that we’re understanding and respectful to what their circumstances could be,” said Leanza. 

She suggests talking to coworkers or colleagues about any questions or concerns you have for either the time off or the return-to-work plan. An open and honest conversation might clarify any misunderstandings, while also building trust before coworkers. 

“Oftentimes people have resolutions for the new year,” said Leanza. “What a good way to go into the new year – setting a different standard for yourself than maybe you did in previous years.”