Returning to work after the holidays,

not at all restful!

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Scientific interpretation

The American philosopher Elbert Green Hubbard wrote that No person needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one! This quote resonates well with a current problem that is not often discussed but nevertheless impacts everyone: the difficulties related to returning to work after holidays. Whether you like your job or not, returning to work after a period of absence presents challenges that are not necessarily considered by employees nor employers and that can have negative consequences for employees and the workplace.

To better understand the issues surrounding this problem, we have interpreted the article by Sousa and Gonçalves (2019), which seeks to identify (1) the strategies used by employees to overcome difficulties when returning to work after the holidays; (2) the emotions and feelings associated with them; and 3) the strategies put in place by employers to facilitate the returning of employees.


 Marie-Michelle GOUIN, assistant professor, human ressource management, Université de Sherbrooke


Étienne FOUQUET, research assistant, University of Sherbrooke

Marie-Élise LABRECQUE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY vacations

In this study, holidays are considered paid time outside the workplace for the health and well-being of employees. This period is often characterized by the vacation effect: a feeling of well-being and general happiness. However, this effect tends to dissipate as a result of the returning to work routines and everyday life; this is called the vacation cycle.


Complete reference

Sousa, C., et Gonçalves, G. (2019). Back to work bang! Difficulties, emotions and adjustment strategies when returning to work after a vacation. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-22.


Country: Portugal
Participants: 93
Vacation length: 2 weeks and more
Mean age of participants: 36 years
Sex of the participants: 66% women, 34% men

Why Portugal?
Algarve, a Portuguese site, hosts a significant number of tourists that increases to triple the population of the region during the summer period, which makes it a good research ground on the issue of returning to work since:

  • the general atmosphere makes returning to work potentially more difficult for residents (too much traffic, too hot, forced to go to work while others enjoy good weather);
  • it allows residents to enjoy the festive atmosphere on the way out of work (going to the beach in the Algarve).

Method used:
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 93 participants, who were asked to identify the difficulties they encountered in returning to work after the vacations, the feelings and emotions related to the return, and the strategies put in place to overcome these difficulties.

What are the findings of the study?

The article was intended to serve three purposes: (1) the identification of the main difficulties related to returning to work after the holidays reported by the employees; (2) identifying the emotions and feelings associated with the returning; and (3) the strategies used to overcome negative feelings.


1. Four main difficulties identified

1. Work-related difficulties: resuming a routine, respecting work schedules and accumulated work;

2. Difficulties at the social level, such as returning to an organizational culture / climate different from home, changing habits and    reintegrating the work team;

3. General difficulties: related to work-life balance, lack of time and availability for family and leisure activities, fatigue

4. Lack of identification: loss of collective identity both with colleagues and the organization, a sense of exclusion from events that occurred during their absence.


2. Emotions and feelings associated with returning to work

Different emotions and feelings emerge from the interviews with the participants: the negatives and the positives. 

Dark humor

Missing colleagues

Of all emotions, anxiety is the one that is most widely mentioned, both in anticipation of returning than following the return:

  • The day before the returning to work: the factors that contributed to the anxiety were the returning to a work schedule, the oversights and the fear associated with potential changes in the workplace;
  • Once back to work: the most common factors that contributed to the anxiety were the accumulated work, the organization of tasks, the lack of concentration and the reactions of colleagues.

3. Strategies used to overcome negative feelings

From the previous results, different strategies are used from the employee to overcome negative emotions and feelings.

Strategies to overcome negative feelings:

  • Resignation;
  • Maintaining a positive attitude;
  • Maintaining focus on the job;
  • Planning;
  • Hobbies.

Strategies to overcome anxiety:

  • Planning daily and weekly activities, with the help of family members (meals, chores, shopping, etc.);
  • Set priorities and prioritize late work.


Strategies to overcome difficulties in managing household and family tasks:

  • Activity planning to reduce stress in order to restore work-life balance.
  • Organizing daily and weekly activities in advance, most with the help of family members;


Strategies to overcome the difficulties of managing professional tasks:

  • Set priorities;
  • Give priority to overdue work.

Strategies deployed by the employer to help employees adapt to the return:

  • The participants in the study all mentioned that their employer did nothing to facilitate the readjustment of tasks upon returning to work;
  • Employees participating in the study raised a common expectation that the employer would clearly and quickly communicate information about what happened during their absence.


Prevent the lack of information felt by employees after their returning to work.

  • Organizing information meetings with employees upon their return from holidays to make them aware of everything that happened during their absence;
  • Implement a new process of resocialization aimed at a better reintegration.
  • Keep in mind that not all the information available is necessarily useful for every employee. Indeed, too much information may create an overload to the employee. Depending on the case, it is better to target the relevant information.

Strengthen the support offered by organizations

  • During the holidays, the organization should avoid phone calls and emails outside office hours.
  • When returning to work, establish work-life balance practices to facilitate the recovery of the routine;
  • Remain aware of the potential difficulties that employees may experience when returning to work and communicate available support options

Improve the process of reinstatement of employees

  • Provide the ability for a more flexible schedule or schedule and the assignment of less complex and demanding tasks within few days of returning can facilitate readjustment to the work routine.


As mentioned above, holidays are one of the measures that can be used to promote employee health and well-being. The privilege to “refuel” can contribute, more broadly, to organizational health. The general difficulties identified during the return may seem paradoxical: how can an annual holiday, recognized to facilitate the reconciliation between work and personal life, lead to such difficulties? On a “practical-practical” level, the following question is essential: can the difficulties documented by the authors be prevented?

It seems indeed possible to prevent these difficulties … With a minimum of planning, flexibility, communication and support.

Planning for the return of vacation combined with less time or workload could prevent difficulties reported by the authors in terms of work-life balance.

Workplaces can put several measures in place to provide their employees with flexibility in scheduling or task management:

 – Working time arrangements, which are well documented to facilitate work-family balance, allowing for flexible work options (e.g., flexible or variable work schedules and banked hour usage); and

 – The adaptability of work organization, which allows a certain flexibility in the way workers can organize their work, which can e.g., result in sharing certain tasks with colleagues;

In concrete terms, an employee who has greater flexibility in organizing its work could collaborate with colleagues before their holidays and assign them important tasks during their absence. In anticipation of its return, the employee could establish a list of keys “to dos” and plan a “buffer” period by rearranging some of their tasks during the first days of return. The buffer period would then allow him to reacclimate, to return emails and, if necessary, to better respond to emergencies. This planning opportunity is an interesting feature of holidays: it can be more easily planned than other types of leave (e.g., certain absences due to illness). All in all, the two measures mentioned above can be put in place, not only to facilitate the returning to work after a holiday, but also to promote work-life balance.

Communication and Support: Practices to Prevent Anxiety

The article also mentions that workers frequently experience anxiety when returning to work after a vacation. In this regard, communication is a particularly well-documented good practice for returning to work after a disability, since it allows for a dialogue about the fears and expectations of everyone when returning to work. Facilitating the expression of fears on return (e.g., as part of a “post-holiday” lunch), in addition to strengthening the connection with the workplace, can also aid in finding solutions to problems that may arise. Therefore, more broadly, communication is a practice closely related to that of support, also recognized to facilitate work-life balance.

Some nuances and additional details

It should be noted that, depending on the country and region of interest, holidays are governed by various provisions, which affect their duration (e.g. 4 weeks in Portugal, 5 weeks in Sweden and France, 2-3 weeks in Quebec). Knowing that returning to work after a prolonged absence is generally more complex than short-term absence, it seems essential to adapt the preferred practices according to the context.


Gouin, M.-M., Fouquet, É., Labrecque, M.-E. (2019). Returning to work after the holidays, not at all restful!. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at


Sousa, C., et Gonçalves, G. (2019). Back to work bang! Difficulties, emotions and adjustment strategies when returning to work after a vacation. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-22.

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton