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It was the best vacation you’ve had in recent memory. Only now, a week into being back on the job, you’ve discovered a common problem: you’re still on vacation.
At least mentally, that is. Recent surveys suggest people are finally taking the vacations they had put off during the pandemic. According to a June Korn Ferry survey, 79% of professionals say they will use more vacation days in 2021, and 46% say they will take a longer vacation than in past years. But while there is plenty of advice on how to get away from the office (a struggle for many), few career pros focus on how to come back well.
Experts say hitting your stride is just one challenge, with so many unanswered emails and so many check-ins with colleagues due. What’s more, the lingering pandemic keeps shifting operations while people are away. “When you come back, you end up doing two times the amount of work to catch up,” says Seth Steinberg, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Supply Chain Center of Expertise. Below, some advice:
Get a handle on what you missed.
Business seems to be moving at an accelerated pace this year, so if you were gone for a week or longer, your company’s priorities might have changed while you were away. It’s important to find out where things stand as soon as you’re back in the office because that unfinished project might have been resolved or it could be languishing in your absence. “Rather than dive into emails or schedule a full slate of meetings on your first day back, connect with key stakeholders so you have an understanding of anything that has transpired while you were gone,” says Korn Ferry senior director Mark Royal.
Address email strategically.
Expect to have twice as many emails as you might have had after your vacation two years ago, and accept that you won’t be able to respond to—or even read—every email immediately. Scan through your inbox on Sunday night or early Monday morning and decide which 10 or 20 emails need your immediate attention. “Be purposeful in addressing the high-priority issues first,” Steinberg says.
Don’t flaunt your vacation.
Be mindful that not everyone has been able to take a post-COVID vacation. For instance, colleagues with young children who can’t be vaccinated might still be reluctant to travel, and they might not want to hear about every detail of your exotic vacation. “Unless you’re specifically asked, it’s probably not a smart move to take the first 10 minutes of every colleague or client call to talk about your vacation,” Steinberg says.
Be surprised by an easier-than-expected return to work.
If you and your colleagues are still working remotely, returning to work after a long vacation might not be as difficult as returning to the office. “When we’re gathered in an office physically and if you’re the person not there, there are ad hoc conversations you miss; but with Zoom, all our interactions are quite scripted, so it’s not as difficult to transition back,” says Radhika Papandreou, managing partner of Korn Ferry’s Chicago office and sector leader of the firm’s Travel, Hospitality, and Leisure practice.
Thank the colleagues who covered for you.
We’re often hesitant to thank the employees who covered for us because we feel guilty about taking time off. But it’s important to help your colleagues feel like their contributions are appreciated, Royal says. “Don’t be afraid to say to colleagues, ‘My vacation was great, I enjoyed it, I was able to unplug, and it was very helpful to me. Thank you for filling in.’”