Benefits & Comp 2 min

8 Tips to Make Going Back to Work After Vacation Better

March 8, 2018

Whether you’re dreaming of relaxing among palm trees, the peace of a quiet cabin in the woods, or soaking up the history of an old European city, the weeks leading up to a vacation can be full of excitement. Unfortunately, the nightmares about coming back to work after vacation can be enough to fill your trip with dread.

The good news is that with a little planning, you can ensure work doesn’t pile up in your mind or on your desk while you’re on vacation. Here are eight tips to make going back to work after vacation easier:

Before You Leave

#1 Delegate:

Sure, keeping projects to yourself can be great for personal job security. But being the only one who knows how to do certain tasks isn’t good for your organization and it can make a relaxing vacation impossible. Instead of hoarding tasks, consider which ones can go on without you and find coworkers who can take them on.

Ask your boss to handle sensitive tasks that you can’t delegate to anyone else. Ask other coworkers if they’d be willing to keep an eye on other duties while you’re out. Your temporary absence office can create a perfect opportunity for cross-training. Plus, coming back to work after vacation might be a little less overwhelming if your work doesn’t stagnate while you are gone.

#2 Send a project update email:

The morning of your last day in the office, send an email to your managers and team members listing:

1) all the projects you recently finished or are currently working on

2) a brief status update about for each current project

3) who you are leaving in charge of any project should an emergency or immediate question arise

Sending it in the morning leaves time for your coworkers to get any clarification before you leave. Providing transparency into where all your projects stand helps put everyone’s minds at ease and gives you a good to-do list to review upon returning.

#3 Set up an email auto-reply:

Simply letting people know how long you’ll be out of the office and who they can contact in case of an emergency can save you (and the people emailing you) a lot of frustration. If your company culture is more casual, consider adding a sentence to your auto-reply that gives people some information about your trip:

– “Because [company name] values work-life balance, I’ll be enjoying my R&R and won’t be checking my email. ”

– “I’ll be enjoying The Most Magical Place on Earth™ with my family, and I’ll get back to you by [date].”

Giving coworkers a little peek into your trip while reminding them about a company value encourages them to respect your time.

How do distractions fit into the larger picture of work-life balance and productivity?

#4 Clean up:

Clean out your email inbox. Clear the clutter off your desk and wipe down your computer equipment. Organize your desk drawer. Take all those Tupperware containers home. It’ll be much easier to come back to a clean and organized work area after your trip, not to mention a clean workspace can help you stay focused, healthy, and calm.

During Vacation

#5 Unplug:

You know what isn’t relaxing? Worrying about what’s going on back at the office while you’re on vacation, checking emails constantly, or getting texts or calls from coworkers with a “quick question.” Do yourself a favor and truly unplug while you’re gone. You won’t be the only one who benefits: going on vacation can actually increase your work productivity.

If having some availability is a job requirement, make sure it’s highly defined and communicated. For instance, if you plan to check email every evening from 9-9:30 PM, let everyone know and stick to that schedule while you’re away. That way, you can compartmentalize your work and won’t have to worry about it while you’re snorkeling, touring the Colosseum, hiking through the jungle, or doing anything else on your bucket list.

#6 Write a Return-to-Work Letter If Necessary

Sometimes there are delays, cancellations, or emergencies that have us coming back to work earlier or later than initially planned. If that happens, write a return-to-work letter to inform your manager and colleagues of your situation.

Below are two back-to-work after-vacation email samples you can use. One is for returning to work earlier than scheduled and the other is for returning later.

How Do I Write a Return-to-Work Letter for Early Arrival?

Be sure to customize the details in this template based on your company and its culture, your role, and the vacation/leave circumstances. 

Dear Recipient Name:

I hope you’re doing well. As you know, I was on vacation in Argentina for the past two weeks. The time off from work has been very relaxing, and it’s been nice spending time with family.

Though I have one more week left for my scheduled time off, due to trip cancelations, I have decided to come back to work this Monday. I’m looking forward to getting back up to speed with a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm.

Much thanks,

Your Name

Learn five real benefits that come from encouraging your employees to take real vacations with their time off

How Do I Write a Return-to-Work Letter for Later Arrival?

Be sure to customize the details in this template based on your company and its culture, your role, and the vacation/leave circumstances. 

Dear Recipient Name:

I hope you’re doing well. As you know, I have been on vacation in Argentina for the past two weeks. Unfortunately, a family emergency will delay my return to home and work. My husband is in the hospital after a hiking accident, so we will have to stay here for another week.

I plan to come back to work on Monday, June 8. I apologize for any inconvenience this might bring, but please let me know if you need anything further from me. You can reach me through email or phone at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

Much thanks,

Your Name

Returning to Work After Vacation

#7 Plan a buffer day:

Before you start on your work backlog after your vacation, take some time to handle your personal-life backlog. Whether you need time to grab groceries, do laundry, get the kids back on schedule, or just sleep off the jet lag, scheduling a buffer day can be a great endcap to a vacation. It’s much less stressful to come back to work after vacation if all your personal ducks are in a row, and an extra day comes with a side benefit of acting like travel insurance for any unexpected delays.

#8 Set reasonable priorities:

You aren’t going to make up for five days of work (or however long you were gone) on your first day back. Write a list of priorities and knock them out one by one. That way, when your coworkers realize you’re back and the floodgates open, you can point to your list and set reasonable expectations. Remember: if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

#9 Reserve your first day (or two) back for catching up:

Block the days out on your calendar. Hide in your office. Maybe even fudge the date on your email auto-reply so people think you’re really out of the office for an extra day or two.

Whatever you have to do, don’t schedule meetings and don’t allow coworkers to pull you away from priorities for the first couple of days. You are the master of your own post-vacation ship, and you should give yourself time to catch up before diving back into other tasks.


You deserve some relaxing time away from it all. With a little planning, you’ll be able to rest and recuperate knowing your organization will survive without you. And when it’s finally time to come back to work after vacation, you’ll be able to dive into a manageable workload. Good luck, and have a great trip!

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