Workzone: Ways to avoid the stress of returning from vacation

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We all know the feeling of coming back from vacation only to find, an hour into the first day back at work, that we are more stressed than when we left.

There are ways to avoid that.

Jim Craft, a professor of human resources at the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, said one key to successfully landing from vacation is to make preparations before you take off.

The first trick, he said, is to schedule a vacation with an eye on the professional calendar. Taking off during a traditionally busy time at work means a vacation where you are being pulled back into the office, even if only remotely.

Before you go on a vacation, make sure other members of your work group are versed on any projects you have outstanding and that contacts or customers know you have a backup at the office if they have problems.

It’s a good idea to create informal partnerships in the office so that if a co-worker covers for you, you will do the same for them. Then you can let the people you work with regularly from outside the company know how to get in touch with their temporary contact. And when you come back, there shouldn’t be any emergencies waiting for you.

Still, a survey by online job and career site Glassdoor this past spring noted three quarters of Americans don’t take all of the vacation time they have coming to them and 15 percent don’t take any of their vacation time.

Mr. Craft had some ideas about reasons for that kind of behavior.

He cited both personal and professional reasons. People have their identities wrapped up in their jobs and want to maintain that even on vacation. It’s how we define ourselvesy: “I’m a doctor,” “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m a stock broker.” In addition, many people think that if someone steps in and does their job, that person might do it better, which would hurt their career.

Some people are never really on vacation even when they are out of the office.

They are still constantly in touch with the office, taking their cell phones right to the beach so it is easy to check work email and take calls. In those cases, Mr. Craft calls the cell phone “wireless manacles” that keep a worker chained to the office.

A solution, he said, for those who feel they have to spend some time every day checking work email to do it at the same time. Maybe at 4 p.m. take half an hour to check in and handle the most pressing issues. Then turn the computer off and rejoin family or friends.

Finally, friendship can keep people from fully checking out of work. For example, a boss may be friends with his employees and neither side really feels it is an imposition to call.

Mr. Craft said that is the most apparent for adults in their 20s and 30s who grew up in a time when people were in constant contact through cell phones. A text or email here and there is just normal communication.

And when you get back? The strategy there is the same as before you left: startby catching up with colleagues about what happened while you were gone.

Then, maybe the tan — and the credit card bills — won’t be the only sign of a relaxing vacation.

Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699

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