If you’ve found yourself feeling a bit flat after returning to work (or outright hating your job) this year, you’re not alone. #BackToWork is trending for Australia on Tik Tok, with plenty of users lamenting the return to the office. A growing body of research also shows this feeling is pretty common.
So what does the research say on this issue, and what could employers do to address it?
What does the research say?
increased quickly during vacation, peaked on the eighth vacation day and had rapidly returned to baseline level within the first week of work resumption.
Photo by RF._.studio/Pexels, CC BY
short breaks have an advantage over longer vacations on some measures, and this may be explained by attributes of the environment and activities in which vacationers engaged.
Many of us were dreading work even before the Christmas break. A December 2022 survey of 100 working adults on LinkedIn showed 60% felt they had worked too much in 2022, while another study showed 46% of Australian employees feel burned out.
Providing a psychologically safe workplace
Employers should provide a psychologically safe workplace, along with access to mental health support.
Taking regular breaks, creating boundaries to stop work spilling into our personal lives, getting exercise and having other interests outside of work are important to reduce stress.
Taking holidays is also essential. One study found “health and wellbeing improve during vacation, but these positive vacation effects fade out within the first week of work resumption”. Even so, the same researchers noted vacations “may act as buffer against future stressors”.
This points to a broader issue that isn’t solved by announcing a new employee wellness initiative.
Wellness fads don’t work when the root cause remains
Organisations need to be aware wellness fads and token mindfulness programs do nothing to address stressors such as poor job design, overwork, inadequate management capability and poor organisational and leadership culture.
Sometimes, systemic change is needed. That can mean redesigning jobs, rethinking pay, changing organisational structure and addressing workload expectations.
Offering overworked employees yoga sessions, stress reduction workshops, meal vouchers or sessions on personal resilience are unlikely to make any difference.
What’s needed is an approach addressing the root causes of employee burnout.
If I’m dreading work this much, should I look for a new job?
While feeling a bit flat at work after a holiday is normal for a few weeks, some indicators suggest it’s time for a new job (or a longer break).
If you are still feeling flat a month after you return, it’s likely to be more than the post-vacation slump.
Getting support to discuss the causes is an important first step.
If your stressors are largely driven by the pressures of balancing responsibilities outside of work, you might ask your employer for flexibility with hours or working from home.
So you’ve discussed your concerns with your manager – now what?
If there is a lack of genuine action to address poor organisational culture, inadequate leadership capability, continued overwork, and bad job design, then looking for a new job is probably a good idea.
- ^ strategy (www.tandfonline.com)
- ^ Photo by cottonbro studio/Pexels (www.pexels.com)
- ^ CC BY (creativecommons.org)
- ^ Working from home: 7 tips to boost wellbeing and productivity (theconversation.com)
- ^ study (link.springer.com)
- ^ Another (www.sciencedirect.com)
- ^ research (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- ^ Photo by RF._.studio/Pexels (www.pexels.com)
- ^ CC BY (creativecommons.org)
- ^ survey (www.news.com.au)
- ^ study (www.hcamag.com)
- ^ increases (www.apa.org)
- ^ costs (www.ceda.com.au)
- ^ study (www.researchgate.net)
- ^ survey (www.hcamag.com)
- ^ toxic culture (sloanreview.mit.edu)
- ^ narcissistic boss (link.springer.com)
- ^ changes (www.abc.net.au)
- ^ How many days a week in the office are enough? You shouldn't need to ask (theconversation.com)
Authors: Libby (Elizabeth) Sander, MBA Director & Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Bond University