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Post-Vacation Glow? Survey Finds Two-Thirds of Employees Return to Work Feeling Stressed

How do you feel when you come back to work after taking a vacation? Are you relaxed? Happy? Sad? Stressed out of your ever-loving mind?

If you selected the last option, then you're right on trend with a new survey out today from Seattle leadership development firm Fierce, Inc.!

Fierce surveyed more than 1,000 full-time employees about vacation time, and reveals two-thirds return to work feeling either more stressed or as stressed as they always feel on the job. Welcome back?

Back-To-Work Stress Is Real
The three main causes of back-to-work stress for employees are (1) catching up on missed work; (2) having to readjust to a work mindset; and (3) needing to resolve major issues that percolated to the surface while they were on vacation.

Even though half of employees surveyed report checking in with the office while they were out (and 13% report checking in daily!) there is still so much to fix do upon their return. Vacation all I ever wanted, vacation had to get away, vacation meant to be spent alone but I'm on a conference call.

Perhaps not surprisingly, how employees feel about returning to work following a vacation depends on how much they like their job. Nearly four in 10 employees surveyed (38%) who report being unsatisfied with their current job position feel more stressed when they return to the office. For those surveyed who generally enjoy their job, this number drops by more than half to 14%.

Two-thirds of employees surveyed think their managers encourage them to take time off. That's great, but get this: only 40% of employees believe their co-workers support their right to a vacation! In fact, when car rental agency Alamo surveyed 1,500 employees, it found more than four in 10 Millennials (42%) admit to making their co-workers feel badly for taking time off. The same percentage (42%) indicate they are "at least somewhat serious" in their vacation-shaming efforts.

Wow, it must be nice to take a vacation when it's always so busy around here. I can't imagine dropping my work on my co-workers just so I can go snorkeling in Hawaii, but maybe that's just me. I love my job too much. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Bottom line: Employees need to feel supported on the day they return from vacation. From the official Fierce Inc. press release:

"PTO is a key benefit for any full-time employee, and one that most individuals take to heart as it is an essential component to striking a healthy work-life balance," said Stacey Engle, executive vice president of marketing at Fierce. "The fact that returning to work is a stressful situation speaks volumes to the lack of support many employees feel both leading up to, and upon returning from vacation. This is an issue all organizations should address to ensure employees are getting the most out of their time outside of the office and returning refreshed and ready to tackle what’s ahead."

Hear, hear! So what can we do about the stress we feel going back to work post-vacation?

First, remember that back-to-work stress generally lasts for a few hours and then we're back in the swing of things. Two, an overwhelming sense of return-to-work dread that persists upon return might be a sign it's time to explore the job market.

Finally, never feel guilty about using your hard-earned vacation time. If a colleague guilt trips you for taking time off, then this post is for you. I hope you have fun on your vacation this summer. You deserve it!


  1. Thanks for bringing attention to this topic! Yes, even when employees go "on vacation" they really don't get a break or any of the benefits that come with taking real time off. Just look across the pond to Europe to see what a "real" vacation can do for employees AND companies. They typically take vacations that last several weeks (or months!), presumably long enough for them to stop obsessing over work. And in return, those employees are usually more productive. So, with "real" vacations, everyone wins...which makes me wonder why North American companies seem so against it.

    1. I agree. Employees are more ready to work when they feel rested. Real vacations are very important. Thanks for your comment!

    2. Good read. Yes - productivity is very important, which can only really come from well rested employees.

  2. I get this. I can usually forget about work and I don't bother checking in when I'm on vacation, but numerous times I've been contacted by co-workers and managers requesting items or asking where things are. I think employers should arrange for minimal contact when employees are away to ensure their employees return and feel like they actually took a vacation.


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