Are you really ready to get back to work?
Christmas and New Year have been and gone again for another year, and the break feels shorter every year. But how long has it been since you were back at work? Is it just a few days, a few weeks or more than a month? Depending on how long it’s been since you were at work, you might have some adapting to do to safely and effectively re-enter the workforce.
Just as you might be careful playing a vigorous team sport when you haven’t played a while, you should consider whether you need to ease back into work, or if your employees or co-workers may need to ease in. Take time to consider the changes a person may have gone through during a month’s absence from the workplace:
Muscle conditioning may have reduced
Sleep patterns may have changed when not required to get up at the same time every day
Recent long haul flights, and changes in time zones will also impact on sleep
People often go hard on their bodies during a vacation with poor food choices, drug and alcohol use increasing
Time spent with family (or without family) can sometimes be stressful and highly emotional.
It is reasonable to presume (in the absence of hard data), that any of these factors can alter the way a person performs at work with less predictable fatigue patterns, bodies fatiguing faster, and reduced mindfulness on the job. Will the fatigue and lack of attention contribute to accidents and injuries at work, anxiety and stress, or even just a reduction in productivity? The impacts of these holidays perhaps should be considered when allocating work to a person or planning for your labour force.
Some thought should also be given to the changes that might have occurred at work, while you or your workers were on holidays?
Has machinery, plant or equipment been modified since the holiday started?
Have there been procedural or rule changes?
Has there been a change in the organisational structure, or job roles?
Has work been left to pile up unattended while they were away?
What will the impacts of these changes be to somebody who is just returning to work? Will changes make a person anxious or concerned? Can changes cause an accident if somebody interacts with them the wrong way? We all need to have a think about whether our capabilities have changed over the holiday period and plan accordingly. We’ve tried to come up with a few practical ideas to try to manage everyone’s post-holiday return to work.
If you have people engaged in manual work and they have been on an extended break, encourage those workers to take additional breaks in their first days back. Keep checking on your workers to see how they are feeling and monitor fatigue levels. If possible rotate tasks more frequently to both manage the fatigue and help people maintain focus on the job. If you’re just trying to manage your own physical fatigue, think about stretching before you start working and taking short stretch breaks during the day. If you feel you’re not physically ready to get through the whole day without an injury, talk to your manager or supervisor and discuss options for rotation or rest breaks until you’re back to full condition. Be aware that with any new or change to physical activity you might suffer from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is not always a bad thing (see link for more on DOMS-Painscience.com article on DOMS ) but should be managed carefully.
Make sure your organisation has a way of communicating changes effectively. Ensure any corporate communications, toolbox talks, important emails and alerts, have been captured for absent employees and these are communicated within the first day of their return. We don’t mean by email either. Spend a few minutes of face to face time briefing absent employees on what they’ve missed. The message will sink in faster, and its importance will more likely be registered.
If your organisation doesn’t have this, then be proactive and take a few minutes to get around the workplace before you start and find out what’s changed since you were gone. You’ll save yourself lots of grief later, when new information isn’t making sense. If you have questions about changes when you start work, deal with them as early as you can, again to avoid frustration and mistakes.
After luxurious lie-in’s every day, getting up with the alarm on the first day back might be horrifying, and seriously fatiguing. Try to manage your own fatigue proactively by:
Trying to get back into the rhythm of things a few days early
Mix-up your work day as much as you can
Take mini-breaks where you move around and get the blood flowing
Eat wisely (avoid the foods that you know will lead to a low-sugar crash later)
Caffeine ?? (but not those nasty foul energy drinks!) – I’m not one for advocating using substances to control your mood and energy, but some days caffeine really helps (I have a two long-blacks-a-day habit, that won’t be broken any day soon). Don’t overdo it either and be mindful of what’s mixed in with your caffeine (i.e. sugar!).
If you’re managing other people, be mindful of these fatigue issues, and come up with a plan. Encourage your team to get moving and mix up their day, and take proper breaks.
Anxiety of the return
First I should acknowledge, I’m no psychologist or psychiatrist. Although I’ve seen a bit of this first hand as an OHS professional, and as somebody who has always been the only person doing my role. This means I go on holidays, and nobody does my job. The longer I’m off work, the more work, emails, investigations, document reviews, changes, projects have not been progressed since I left. There are a lot of people (especially in middle management) who have this same problem. Going back to work can seem very daunting and to some, downright overwhelming. Here’s my personal tips on minimising the terror that may come from going back to work.
Plan ahead- Plan your deadlines to accommodate the time off you know you’re taking
Delegate – Delegate essential tasks to trusted personnel in your organisation, so they’re taken care of while you’re away, and you don’t need to check your phone while on leave
Communicate- make sure everybody knows who will be doing those tasks, and provide assurance that it will be done well in your absence (so they don’t just wait for you to come back),
Book your time out when you return – Don’t fill your return days with meetings and deadlines if you can avoid it! Blank out your calendar as you will be busy clearing emails, planning and prioritising your next few weeks.
Find your Inner Calm – whatever that thing is you do to manage your stress normally, make sure you start that early, and don’t wait for the stress to build-up.