Just like children fear the words, “back to school,” your employees feel a similar anxiety when returning to the workplace after a long vacation. This can happen any time of the year, but typically, this dreaded return to work happens in the summer months.
For many workplaces, August is the least productive month of the year. Employees are either vacation, or recovering from one. The days after returning from a vacation tend to be the hardest and re-engaging an employee who has been gone for some time is a challenge.
Some employees returning to work will feel overwhelmed or stressed about the amount of work that has piled up in their absence. Others will still have “vacation brain” and not bother with catching up on delayed tasks. At times, an employee who has just returned from a trip can be a distraction to other employees as everyone will want to hear about and see photos of the trip. All these things can make it difficult to get employees back on track.
Before you outlaw summer vacations simply to avoid the struggle to re-engage employees who take time off, it’s important to understand the positives of giving employees time off. When you let your employees take vacation, your company can benefit from:
- Stronger company culture
- Increased employee retention
- Less employee burnout
- An appreciation for teamwork
- Healthy work-life balance among employees
In order to experience these benefits, employee engagement must begin before your employees leave for their vacation. Get creative with engagement activities throughout the summer season. By setting the pace and making the summer months in the workplace more engaging, employees who take time off know what to expect once they return.
Prepare Before They Go
Try to circumvent the anxiety or overwhelming feelings of work piling up by having an open discussion with your employees about workload and shared responsibilities. Talk to the employee who will be gone for vacation about what things need to be prioritized, then set reasonable expectations for those employees who will cover the workload while your employee is out of the office. This will help keep everyone on the same page while also giving the vacationing employee peace of mind that things are not falling through the cracks while they are gone. For the team staying behind to cover the workload, be sure to recognize their extra efforts by taking them to lunch, or offering some type of incentive.
Know When and What to Communicate
Even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully you and your employees prepare for the absence of a staff member, there will be things that go long. During these times it is important that you avoid contacting the vacationing member of your team. Doing so can give the absent employee feelings of guilt, distrust, anxiety, and other negatives while they are taking deserved time off. Motivate your employees still in the office to help find creative solutions to the issue. Give recognition to those who go above and beyond to resolve the problem. Being away from the office can create disconnect from the work being done. Employees who return to find a project they were working on has taken a big turn can be disgruntled, stressed, or dissatisfied that their input was not asked for. If changes were made to a vacationing employees project, be sure to communicate the issue and inform them of the chosen resolution as soon as they return. Offer to assist in following through on the work that is remaining. Openly communicating changes on a project will help the returning employee to assimilate back into their role without feeling as if they no longer matter to the project.
Don’t Get Angry
Having an employee return from vacation only to have them act like they are still on vacation can be frustrating. Their laid-back attitude may come across as if they don’t care about the work that needs to be done. It’s only natural for employees to take some time to get back into the daily grind. They may be suffering from jet lag, or just the stress of travel. And believe it or not, some vacations are actually more tiring than they are relaxing. Getting stressed and angry about your employees being a bit aloof is only going to set the tone that you don’t want people taking vacations. Instead, give returning employees a little time to settle back into their day to day. Find a balance between letting your employees know they were missed without making them feel like the company can’t survive without them. We all want to be respected and appreciated, so use this opportunity to let your employees know how much they mean to you! Employees returning from vacation will feel a sense of purpose in their work and get back to their responsibilities without creating too much disruption.
Engage Your Whole Team
While it may feel like you need to focus on those individuals who are less engaged after returning from time off, it’s important to remember that a strong workplace culture is one where all of your employees are engaged. You may still have employees in the workplace feeling as if they are missing out, jealous that they aren’t on vacation, or even disgruntled they have to do extra work in their coworker’s absence. These attitudes can cause a serious case of disengagement.
Continuous engagement happens when company leaders take time to plan activities and benefits that employees look forward to and enjoy. Allow your employees to enjoy the summer months and help them to relax a little by planning events and activities that will boost their spirits and renew their sense of purpose.
Sadly, there isn’t a fix-all cure to the summer slump. Your entire company is going to feel the effects of “vacation brain” whether they were the ones taking time off or not. Curb disengagement by preparing vacationers and remaining staff ahead of time, maintaining acceptable communication, and offering engaging activities to motivate your staff all summer long.
Learn more ways to recognize your employees throughout the entire year in our Recognition Resolutions Ebook. Download it here!