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In our day-to-day lives, we are all confronted with situations that we have to adapt and adjust to. When we return to work after a vacation, we also go through an adjustment process. The aim of this study is to identify the difficulties of adjusting to work after the vacation, the emotions and feelings associated with this transition period and what strat- egies people use to overcome them. Through 93 semistruc- tured interviews, the results show that the main difficulties can be grouped into four dimensions (work-related difficul- ties, social-level difficulties, general difficulties and the feeling of dis-identification). The emotions and feelings reported have two facets (positive and negative) and companies do not have any type of strategy to facilitate readjustment to work. Thus, the identification of the main difficulties and emotions felt by the respondents is of extreme importance for the design of intervention practices that facilitate this moment of transition, aiming to enhance motivation, well- being and productivity. On the other hand, the emotions associated with this period of return can act as possible pre- dictors of attitudes toward work, presenting an added value to the enrichment and to an improvement of the processes underlying the management of human resources.
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Back to work bang! Difficulties, emotions and
adjustment strategies when returning to work
after a vacation
Cátia Sousa & Gabriela Gonçalves
To cite this article: Cátia Sousa & Gabriela Gonçalves (2021) Back to work bang!
Difficulties, emotions and adjustment strategies when returning to work after a vacation,
The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 32:10, 2242-2263, DOI:
10.1080/09585192.2019.1602784
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2019.1602784
Published online: 19 Apr 2019.
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Back to work bang! Difficulties, emotions and
adjustment strategies when returning to
work after a vacation
C
atia Sousa
a,b
and Gabriela Gonc¸alves
a,b
a
Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Faculty of Human and Social Sciences,
University of Algarve, Faro, Portugal;
b
CIP-Research Center in Psychology, Universidade
Aut
onoma, Lisboa, Portugal
ABSTRACT
In our day-to-day lives, we are all confronted with situations
that we have to adapt and adjust to. When we return to
workafteravacation,wealsogothroughanadjustment
process. The aim of this study is to identify the difficulties of
adjusting to work after the vacation, the emotions and
feelings associated with this transition period and what strat-
egies people use to overcome them. Through 93 semistruc-
tured interviews, the results show that the main difficulties
can be grouped into four dimensions (work-related difficul-
ties, social-level difficulties, general difficulties and the feeling
of dis-identification). The emotions and feelings reported
have two facets (positive and negative) and companies do
not have any type of strategy to facilitate readjustment to
work. Thus, the identification of the main difficulties and
emotions felt by the respondents is of extreme importance
for the design of intervention practices that facilitate this
moment of transition, aiming to enhance motivation, well-
being and productivity. On the other hand, the emotions
associated with this period of return can act as possible pre-
dictors of attitudes toward work, presenting an added value
to the enrichment and to an improvement of the processes
underlying the management of human resources.
KEYWORDS
Adjustment to work; annual
paid vacation; return to
work; individual strategies;
human
resource management
Introduction
Getting back to work can be a pleasure
it all depends on how gratifying the vacations were and consequently,
how pleased we feel when we get back.
The authors
CONTACT C
atia Sousa cavsousa@ualg.pt Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Faculty
of Human and Social Sciences, University of Algarve, Campus de Gambelas, 8005-139 Faro, Portugal
ß2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
2021, VOL. 32, NO. 10, 22422263
https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2019.1602784
Back to work! This is a reality that for some can be a true nightmare.
That is why specialists have sought to understand the socio-psychological
processes associated with returning to work and their impact on the
individuals performance and the organization as a whole, such as pro-
longed illness or maternity leave. For example, Ervasti and colleagues
(2017) conducted a literature review and a meta-analysis investigating
factors influencing returning to work (RTW) after depression-related
absences. Furthermore, Abedzadeh-Kalahroudi, Razi, Sehat, and Asadi-
Lari (2017) evaluated returning to work after a trauma. With regard to
returning to work after maternity leave, Spiteri and Xuereb (2012) sought
to understand the experiences of first-time mothers who returned to
work after paid maternity leave. The results of 10 semistructured inter-
views showed that planning was the main strategy used by mothers in
order to reduce stress in an attempt to maintain their work-life balance
(Spiteri & Xuereb, 2012). Similarly, Martins, Abreu, and Figueiredo
(2015) investigated mothersnegative feelings when returning to work
after maternity leave, concluding that the timing of the return to work is
especially critical in the transition to parenthood; it is so critical that it
can cause mothers to emotionally suffer and disturb the dynamic of the
whole family. Returning to work after maternity leave, therefore, chal-
lenges the resilience of both women and their families (Martins
et al., 2015).
In both cases, returning to work (a graduated return to work process
(Krause, Dasinger, Deegan, Rudolph, & Brand, 2001)) is a major chal-
lenge. Although an individual returning to work after a holiday is signifi-
cantly different to those returning to work after maternity or medical
leave, because after vacations the individuals return from a period of rest
and free time and with recharged batteries (e.g. K
uhnel & Sonnentag,
2011), there are common aspects between the two that make returning
to work an equally challenging process as people have been out of the
workplace for some time. This is because, in a break period, people tend
to develop new schedules, practice alternative activities, change their eat-
ing habits, and begin wearing other types of clothing. They also live with
people other than their co-workers, and move awayfrom the daily rou-
tines of work and organizational life. Thus, returning to work after vac-
ation may trigger what some call social jet lag (e.g. Wittmann, Dinich,
Merrow, & Roenneberg, 2006). Moreover, it may still provoke a shock in
their professional reality, where an individual returns from vacation and
experiences an abrupt confrontation with their working life.
Before this back-to-work bang, workers returning from a vacation
need time to adjust, either to their working schedules or to restart their
work routines and rhythms. Additionally, in this period of absence,
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2243
people are distanced from the life of the organization. It is true that this
distancing contributes to holiday rest, physical and mental recovery and,
consequently, to increased well-being (e.g. De Bloom, Geurts, &
Kompier, 2013), but distancing limits the individuals exposure to organ-
izational life. In this regard, we recall that organizational life is consti-
tuted and mediated by organizational symbols (Koc¸o
glu, Akg
un, &
Keskin, 2016). According to Dandridge, Mitroff, and Joyce (1980), organ-
izational symbols operate as manifestations of the experiences of an
organization and its members. These symbols include stories, social
activities, encounters, parties, jokes or verbal expressions, strategies, for-
mal structures and plans, among others (Koc¸o
glu et al., 2016) and can
support the development of organizational identity and organizational
attachment. Thus, during the vacation period, there is a breakdown of
the events, the organizational symbols and history of the group; this, in
other words, is a loss of collective identity. The return will certainly
involve the readjustment of routines, activities and relationships associ-
ated with being part of the company. In this sense, although employees
returning to work after vacations do not go through the same process of
socialization new employees experience (e.g. Greenberg & Baron, 1997;
Van Maanen & Schein, 1979), they lack a certain process of reception
and readjustment to their routines, professional tasks and organizational
life. This process can be called tune-up day; that is, the day when
employees, confronted with the reality of their return, seek to re-adjust
to their professional routine. Thus, this moment of adjustment or meta-
morphosis will correspond to a (re) adaptation to the (old) new context.
According to Dawis and Lofquist (1984) work adjustment is a
continuous and dynamic process by which a worker seeks to achieve
and maintain correspondence with a work environment(p. 237). That
is, it is a reciprocal process between employee satisfaction (which
depends on variables such as compensation, company policies, safety,
recognition, etc.) and employer satisfaction (Degges-White & Shoffner,
2002; Eggerth, 2008). From the organizational point of view, one of the
factors necessary for a successful work adjustment is the ability of the
worker to adapt to the organizational culture (Burlew, 2006). Thus, when
workers return to work after vacation, they need to (re)adapt again to
their workplace and organizational culture.
Going back to work after a break implies a confrontation with work
and a quantitative reduction of leisure time and rest (e.g. K
uhnel &
Sonnentag, 2011). This reduction of available time may also increase the
labourfamily conflict, defined as a form of interrole conflict in which
the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually
incompatible in some respect. That is, participation in the work (family)
2244 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in the family
(work) role(Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985, p. 77); this is experienced sim-
ply because people have less time available to devote to their family.
Thus, just as returning to work after motherhood is a difficult process,
returning to work after the holidays can also accentuate the imbalance of
the work-family interface.
In general, the advantages and benefits of a break from work are
unquestionable. Studies on the topic of vacations and breaks have mostly
focused on their benefits and effects on individualswell-being (e.g. De
Bloom et al., 2013; De Bloom et al., 2011; Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), indi-
vidualssatisfaction with their vacations (e.g. Etzion, 2003; Lounsbury &
Hoopes, 1986; Westman & Eden, 1997) and on the period after vacations
(e.g. Nawijn, Marchand, Veenhoven, & Vingerhoets, 2010),
among others.
In this sense, we can question the problems that may be present when
individuals return to work. The literature on the subject of vacations is
proliferating, but fails to cover the difficulties individuals experience
when returning and readjusting to work or the reintegration of employ-
ees who have returned from a break. Research on post-vacation adjust-
ment to work is practically non-existent in the literature, thus presenting
itself as a phenomenon to be explored.
Drawing on a sample of Portuguese workers and using the Algarve as
the background, this study aims to identify the main difficulties experi-
enced by individuals when returning to work after vacations and the
emotions and feelings associated with this transition period, as well as
identifying the strategies that people use to overcome them. It also
sought to identify the strategies that companies have to facilitate employ-
eesreadjustment to work after returning from vacation.
Vacations
Vacations can be defined as a cessation of work, a time when a person
is not actively participating in his or her job(Lounsbury & Hoopes,
1986, p. 393). In this study, we considered vacation as a paid time away
from the workplace, that is, provided for the health and well-being of
employees (Besser & Shackelford, 2007). In the specific case of Portugal,
the vacations corresponds to an additional salary
1
provided, in the gen-
eral law of the labor code, to all workers and corresponds to 4 weeks of
vacation that can be enjoyed as a whole period or distributed throughout
the year (always in periods superior to five consecutive days).
Vacations are an unconditional characteristic of modern life in devel-
oped countries, representing a way to increase life satisfaction
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2245
(Rubenstein, 1980) and feelings of physical and psychological well-being.
In fact, after a period of rest and free time, workers tend to recharge
their batteries, their work demands are removedand they have the
opportunity to recover from the negative effects of work (e.g., burnout,
fatigue, stress) (K
uhnel & Sonnentag, 2011).
Some studies have tried to identify the effects of vacations on several
variables. For example, Westman and Eden (1997) found that a summer
vacation of two weeks had a positive effect on burnout and that the
greater an individuals satisfaction with their vacation, the greater the
decrease in their burnout levels. Furthermore, Strauss-Blasche,
Ekmekcioglu, and Marktl (2000) discovered the positive effects of a two-
week break from work on various aspects of an individuals well-being
(e.g. sleep, mood and physical complaints). The same authors, in a study
with 53 workers, verified that those who reported greater levels of recov-
ery during the holidays had fewer physical complaints and a higher satis-
faction with life when they had a high workload compared to those who
reported a lower level of recovery during the holidays (Strauss-Blasche,
Ekmekcioglu, & Marktl, 2002).
On the other hand, some studies indicate that vacations can also be
stressful (Nawijn et al., 2010), causing some negative effects such as
health problems, homesickness (e.g. Kop, Vingerhoets, Kruithof, &
Gottdiener, 2003; Van Heck & Vingerhoets, 2007), worries (Larsen,
Brun, & Ogaard, 2009), relational problems (Ryan, 1991) and/or cultural
shocks (Pearce, 1981). Additionally, activities performed during the holi-
days or a break from work may have an influence on an individuals
well-being (e.g. De Bloom et al., 2011; Rook & Zijlstra, 2006; Sonnentag,
2001). Gao and Kerstetter (2018) showed, for example, that during vaca-
tions individuals use three phases of emotional regulation strategies
(interpersonal, situational and intrapersonal); that is, even in the context
of vacations, emotions may vary (from sad to happy; from happy
to happier).
Although several studies have shown that vacations positively influ-
ence well-being, satisfaction or performance (e.g. Dolnicar,
Yanamandram, & Cliff, 2012;Etzion,2003; Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006;
Westman & Eden, 1997), they also suggest that this effect is transient
(K
uhnel & Sonnentag, 2011). As to the duration of this effect, the lit-
erature presents some contradictory results (Kirillova & Lehto, 2015). A
meta-analysis by De Bloom and colleagues (2009) on the effects of
fade-out showed that the vacation effect tends to disappear after two to
four weeks. Other studies have pointed out that after one week, mood,
tension, energy and life satisfaction levels return to normal (De Bloom,
Geurts, & Kompier, 2010).
2246 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
Although emotional indicators (e.g. humour and psychological well-
being) quickly fade after a holiday, the indicators of physical well-being,
such as health and fatigue, tend to linger (Chen, Lehto, & Cai, 2013;De
Bloom et al., 2010). However, few studies have reported on the extended
effects of vacations (Westman & Eden, 1997). These results point to a
classic model of peak (Clawson & Knetsch, 1966) where positive emo-
tions reach their peak during the vacation season, followed by a decline
(Mitas, Yarnal, Adams, & Ram, 2012; Kirillova & Lehto, 2015).
In this sense, some research has shown that it is possible to prolong
the so-called vacation effectand recover from the demands of work by
engaging in relaxation activities such as walking, listening to music or
meditating at evenings or weekends (e.g. Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davis, &
G
arling, 2003;K
uhnel & Sonnentag, 2011; Pelletier, 2004).
Literature has shown that during vacations, individuals experience a
physical impulse of well-being and general happiness called the vacation
effect (Kirillova & Lehto, 2015). However, these feelings tend to rapidly
disappear as individuals return to work and experience the fade-out
effect (Kirillova & Lehto, 2015). This succession of sensations can be
considered to be the vacation cycle (Kirillova & Lehto, 2015). In this
way, after a vacation, individuals are reintroduced into their normal
everyday routine, thus exhausting the holiday effect. It is precisely this
moment of returning to both their everyday and professional routines
that we will be investigating in this study.
Overview
This study has the Algarve, a Portuguese tourist site, leader of the list of
the destinations preferred by European citizens, as its situational context
for two reasons; firstly, as a matter of convenience and accessibility, and
secondly, because of its specificities. Since the population of the Algarve
triples in the summer months, the Algarvians witness this holiday envir-
onment more strongly. This situation may make it harder to return to
work (e.g. too much traffic, too hot, having to go to work while others
enjoy the good weather); on the other hand, it allows them to enjoy the
vacations environment after hours (e.g. going to the beach in the late
afternoon, experiencing the nightlife typical of the Algarve summer).
Research aiming to identify the main difficulties, feelings and strategies
related to returning to work is scarce. When considering the extant lit-
erature on the effects of the holidays, it is important to extend this
theme to the return and readjustment to work. Thus, our objective is to
investigate the main difficulties experienced when returning to work, the
associated feelings and emotions and the individual strategies used to
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2247
overcome this transition period using the inductive method and explora-
tory, descriptive, and qualitative research. We also sought to investigate
whether companies have some kind of strategy to facilitate the adjust-
ment of their employees when returning from a vacation.
Knowing how workers feel upon returning to work will allow organi-
zations to design intervention practices that assist individuals returning
to work, seeking to promote the well-being and satisfaction of their
human assets and reinforcing the alignment between people and organ-
izational strategy.
Method
To identify the main difficulties experienced in returning to work after a
vacation, 93 semistructured interviews were carried out. The inclusion
criteria were defined as individuals over the age of 18 who were
employed and who had taken a vacation of at least two weeks. The par-
ticipants interviewed were contacted by the authors and invited to par-
ticipate in the study. A day and time were set according to the
availability of the respondents and the interviews took place at the inter-
vieweesplace of work. The interviews were carried out by the authors
and with the informed consent of the individuals, who were assured of
the confidentiality and anonymity of their responses. The anonymity of
the responses allowed us to protect the respondents from possible dam-
ages, as well as to obtain richer information and details (e.g. Kaiser,
2009). According to the Confidentiality Convention, the protection of
respondentsprivacy increases their trust and allows the maintenance of
ethical standards, as well as the integrity of the research process (Baez,
2002; Kaiser, 2009); thus, pseudonyms were used to maintain respond-
entsanonymity.
The interviews were conducted in a face-to-face, individual and infor-
mal environment. Each interview took 1520 minutes and the order of
the questions was maintained for all interviewees. At the beginning of
the interview, the respondents were asked to answer the questions cen-
tred around their last vacation. After the interview, respondents were
debriefed about the purpose of the study and had the opportunity to
review and verify the appropriateness of the recorded response in order
to preserve the integrity of the responses. The interviews were collected
during October and November 2016.
The saturation point (Lofland & Lofland, 1995) was reached around
interview number 32. However, according to Guest, Bunce, and Johnson
(2006), technical literature recommended that the number of observa-
tions ranges from 6 to 200, since a new property of the category
2248 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
investigated can be identified in both the first and the thousandth obser-
vation (Thiry-Cherques, 2009). In addition, it was the authorsobjective
to cover the entire Algarve, and not just a specific location. Since the
Algarve is a region of international tourism, it is expected that residents
feel that it is more difficult to return to work since there are so many
people on vacation in the area. For this reason, we sought to include a
representative sample of the entire region. In addition, and in the case of
an exploratory study, a greater number of responses allows us to observe
how much more central, relevant and significant certain attributes are
and which of them are present in the population, consequently allowing
a greater degree of generalization.
Participants
The sample consisted of 93 individuals: 65.6% female (N¼61) and
34.4% male (N¼32), aged between 18 and 66 years (M¼36.43, SD ¼
11.319), and all were of Portuguese nationality. All participants were resi-
dents in the Algarve region. With regard to educational qualifications,
approximately 24.7% of respondents had basic education, 28% secondary
education and 47.3% higher education. Professional activities were div-
ided into the service and commerce sectors (N¼12), administrative staff
(N¼31), civil servants (N¼7), protection and security (N¼6), hotels
and restaurants (N¼13), education (N¼8), health (N¼9) and unskilled
workers (N¼7).
Data analysis
This study presents an exploratory investigation that inductively allows
the emergence of ideas (Hallier & Summers, 2011; Skinner, 1985;
Starkey, 1990). This qualitative design allows the exploration of the dif-
ferent emerging themes about the postvacation adjustment to work, as
well as an exploration of the experiences of returning vacationers, pro-
viding important information about this adjustment process. Qualitative
analysis of the interviews was performed using the methodology of con-
tent analysis (e.g. Bardin, 1997; Hsieh & Shannon, 2005; Moraes, 1999;
Stemler, 2001) in which the three categories of analysis were defined:
pre-analysis, category formation and data discussion (Bardin, 1997).
The pre-analysis stage, which includes the exhaustive reading of the
interviews, was based on an open codification that was performed inde-
pendently by each author. In the second stage, open codification was dis-
cussed and categories were defined, which allowed us to determine the
main units of analysis: (a) difficulties in returning to work (three
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2249
questions); (b) feelings and emotions associated with this return (five
questions); and (c) strategies to overcome the main difficulties experi-
enced during this period (two questions). In the third and final stage,
the contents of the interviews and the discussion of the data were
interpreted.
Results
Table 1 shows a summary of the defined categories (difficulties in
returning to work, feelings and emotions associated with returning to
work and strategies to overcome difficulties) and some representa-
tive comments.
Difficulties in returning to work
To identify the main difficulties associated with returning to work, the
following questions were posed: (1) For me, returning to work after a
break is:(respondents should answer on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1 is not
difficult and 6 is extremely difficult), (2) Why?and those who evi-
denced difficulties were still asked the question: What are the main diffi-
culties you experience when returning from a break?
In relation to the degree of difficulty, it is possible to observe in
Figure 1 that approximately 38 participants reported some degree of dif-
ficulty in returning to work: difficult (N¼28), very difficult (N¼8) and
extremely difficult (N¼2). In second place are those who considered it
to be not very difficult or not difficult (N¼37). 18 participants were
indifferent about their return to work. The average response was 3.82.
The interviewees who reported having difficulties indicated that their
main difficulties centred around the reduction of the time available to
dedicate to their family, the return to the routines and the rhythm of
work and the characteristics of the work environment:
Its difficult because after a few days of holiday without schedules, it is hard to
return to the daily routine.(Ana, female)
Table 1. Main categories of analysis.
Category Representative comments
Category 1
Difficulties with returning to work
Wake up early and get [back] into the routine.
Its difficult because I do not like what I do.
Category 2
Feelings and emotions associated
with returning to work
Anguish/Anxiety; Tiredness; Sadness
Im afraid to forget something important and necessary to work.
What brings me the most anxiety is [understanding] what has
changed in my absence, to know if everything [has remained]
the same and what the reaction of my colleagues will be.
Category 3
Strategies to overcome difficulties
First things first.
I try to reconcile with my wifes schedule.
2250 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
Its extremely difficult because of the work environment.(Maria, female)
The return to the monotony of some tasks and the need to organise free time
according to work.(Fatima, female)
For those who claimed that returning was not difficult or slightly diffi-
cult, the reasons are somewhat different as these individuals generally
said they liked their work and had rested during the holidays:
Its a little difficult because I come back with my batteries recharged.
(John, male)
Because I go back to my place of work, I do what I like, I go back to socialise
with my colleagues and it is always good to communicate with clients.
(Ana, female)
Feelings and emotions associated with returning to work
Respondents were asked about the main feelings and emotions associated
with returning to work; the answers are varied. For those who previously
reported feeling little or no difficulty in returning, the feelings and emo-
tions portrayed were positive. For those who stated that it was difficult
to return, the feelings and emotions were more negative (Figure 2).
When questioned about how they dealt with these feelings and emo-
tions, the respondents presented an attitude of resignation. Others stated
that they dealt with these feelings in a positive way, whilst for others this
was a more complicated time:
I deal [with it] badly. I feel that I am more grumpy, [and do not have any]
patience for the most varied tasks, even the simplest ones.(Joan, female)
To explore the question of feelings and emotions, the interviewees
were asked about the aspects of their work that created the greatest
Figure 1. Difficulty level upon return to work after a vacation.
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2251
anxiety: (1) in the moments or day preceding the return to work; and
(2) in the first moments when they arrive at the workplace. On the day
before returning to work, the main factors that create the greatest anxiety
are the schedules, the forgetfulness and reuniting with colleagues. The
factors that generate the greatest anxiety when they arrive at the work-
place are the accumulated work, organising tasks, their lack of concentra-
tion, the reactions of colleagues and that they have little knowledge of
what happened during their absence:
What brings me the most anxiety is realising what has changed in my absence, to
know whether everything is the same and what the reaction of my colleagues is.
(Claudia, female)
Strategies to overcome difficulties and negative feelings and emotions
To ease the negative feelings and emotions, some of the interviewees
adopt strategies that focus on work organizationon the work itself
while others use leisure activities to distract themselves from
these feelings:
I try to focus on work, start to prepare the lessons, try to anticipate what might
happen [so that I] feel prepared.(Catarina, female)
I try to distract myself with friends, my girlfriend and physical exercise.
(Jaime, male)
Figure 2. Main feelings, emotions and attitudes associated with return to work.
2252 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
Working to the fullest, forgetting that Ive been on vacation and thinking that if
its to work lets work.(Pedro, male)
To overcome the main difficulties experienced when returning to
work, the interviewees were asked about the main strategies used: (1)
regarding the management of family/household tasks and (2) in relation
to the management of work/overdue work (i.e. the tasks that were sus-
pended/that remained on standby during their vacation). Some respond-
ents (N¼21) said that they did not have any type of strategy. For the
remaining respondents (N¼72), the main strategies at family/household
level included the early organization of household tasks (e.g. meals,
clothing, shopping) and sharing and distributing the tasks among the
household members:
I organise everything in advance, meals, shopping, clothes.(Rita, female)
I usually distribute household chores among the family. Everyone must help.
(J
ulia, female)
As far as professional tasks are concerned, everyone chose to set prior-
ities and start overdue work:
First things first.(Manuela, female)
The interviewees were also asked whether they could distract them-
selves from work during the vacation period. Some respondents sug-
gested that it is difficult, although others expressed that it is easy to
disconnect from work:
Yes, because I work in a law office and Im a secretary, my work is all done in
the office. I have no work to bring home or to take out of the office. And also,
when I take a vacation, I go out most of the time which also helps me to think of
nothing.(Mariana, female)
The interviewer also asked respondents whether their employer pro-
vided any assistance to help employees overcome their difficulties return-
ing to work after a break. All interviewees replied that the employer had
no strategy to facilitate job readjustment:
The company does not have this perception or does not want to have it. As [the
company focuses on] profit, it does not matter what the employee feels.
(Grac¸a, female)
We also asked the respondents what kind of strategy they would like
the employer to implement to facilitate this adjustment. The majority
stated that it is important to receive information about what happened
during their absence:
I would like [my employer] to let me know about the events that occurred in my
absence.(Andreia, female)
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2253
In summary, the analysis of the results allowed to identify the main
difficulties in returning to work, the feelings, attitudes and emotions
associated with this return and the strategies to overcome the main diffi-
culties experienced during this period.
Discussion
The principal objective of this study was to identify the main difficulties
experienced by workers in their return and adjustment to work after a
vacation and the emotions and feelings associated with this return, as
well as the strategies used to facilitate this transition period. Our second-
ary objective was to identify whether companies employed any readjust-
ment practices for employees returning work after a holiday. To this
end, 93 semistructured interviews were carried out with workers who
had recently returned from a vacation.
The main difficulties identified in this adjustment period can be
grouped into four dimensions: (a) work-related difficulties, such as get-
ting back into a routine, keeping up with schedules and accumulated
work; (b) difficulties at the social level, such as meeting with colleagues,
the organizational culture/climate and changing their habits; (c) general
difficulties related to the reconciliation of the professional and family
spheres, having less time and availability for their family and leisure
activities and fatigue; and d) a lack of identification with both their col-
leagues and the wider organization due to the interruption of their
shared history and the collective unconsciousness (Koc¸o
glu et al., 2016).
In other words, this is the feeling of not being a part of the events that
occurred during their absence from the workplace and that build the col-
lective or social memory, and consequently their identity within the
organization (Connerton, 1989; Meleady & Crisp, 2017).
Likewise, the emotions and feelings associated with this return have
two facets: for those who claim to enjoy their work, feelings and emo-
tions are positive (e.g. joy, relaxation, enjoying the company of their col-
leagues, serenity, enthusiasm, curiosity); for those whose adjustment to
work was more difficult or who felt that the rest was not enough, the
answers and attitudes are negative (e.g. pressure, demotivation, laziness,
stress, moodiness, nervousness, irritation).
As for strategies to overcome the negative feelings associated with
returning to work, the most common were resignation, maintaining a
positive attitude, maintaining a focus on work and planning activities.
The factors that created the greatest anxiety the day before their return
to work were their schedules, forgetfulness and a general fear of what
they were going to find in the workplace. As for the factors that generate
2254 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
the greatest anxiety when employees arrived at the workplace, the most
common was the accumulated work, organizing tasks, a lack of concen-
tration and the reactions of colleagues. In terms of strategies to overcome
the difficulties in the management of household and family tasks, the
majority of participants focused on the anticipated organization of daily
and weekly activities, most of them with the help of family members.
This is similar to Spiteri and Xuereb (2012); people focus on planning to
reduce stress in an attempt to reinstate their work-life balance. To over-
come the difficulties of managing professional tasks, most tend to set pri-
orities and give priority to overdue work.
Participants in this study were also questioned about their ability to
separate themselves from their work during the holidays. Although some
respondents claimed to be able to leave work behind, most said that it
was impossible, frequently consulting their e-mails and answering work-
related calls. This issue has been the subject of a number of debates; in
France, for example, a law has been passed that gives workers the right
to disconnect, that is, to stay offline without answering phone calls or
responding to professional e-mails outside working hours. Spain will also
implement the same law. In Portugal, there are plans for companies and
unions to discuss the issue (Martins, 2017). Considering the advantages
of breaks at work, the right to disconnect seems to be an extremely
important benefit to the well-being of workers, especially for those who
have more difficulty in distancing themselves from their work, often
because employers demand that they work outside working hours. For
example, Kirillova and Wang (2016) concluded that work social presence
through the use of smartphones acts as a negative moderator during a
vacation. According to the authors, the use of smartphones to communi-
cate for both work and nonwork purposes has the power to take a tour-
ist out of his touristhoodin order to reconnect with everyday life.
However, this study demonstrates that modern tourists are digitally elas-
tic; this is useful to achieve desirable vacation outcomes, such as recov-
ery (Kirillova & Wang, 2016).
None of the employers of the participants interviewed promote any
type of intervention strategy or practice for easing their readjustment to
work, which the interviewees mentioned would be usefulnamely that
the organization should provide information about what happened in
their absence. This need, which is reflected in the responses of some par-
ticipants, may be associated with the feeling of loss of the symbols of
organizational life (e.g. Koc¸o
glu et al., 2016) and a certain fear of the
unknown; that is, while they were away the companys activities contin-
ued: there were meetings, conversations, activities and perhaps even
changes. So, those who were not present may feel that they have lost out
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2255
on something, such as information or an activity. This need for informa-
tion concerning what happened in ones absence is in line with our pre-
vious suggestion. In other words, workers returning from a break need,
like newcomers, a process of reception and integration in which they are
given information about activities (e.g. meetings, reports, small talk,
changes, etc.) that had occurred in their absence. We call them
oldcomerssince, this not being their first time in the company, the feel-
ings and emotions felt are similar (e.g. nervousness, curiosity, fear).
In summary, we can see that this is a process that entails initial difficul-
ties (such as new employees joining a company). It is also a process that
implies a readjustment and adaptation effort, resocialization and a meta-
morphosis (tune-up day) that allows one to return to the professional rou-
tine and that requires readjustment in both the private/family spheres.
Practical and managerial implications
From the results obtained in this study on the period of readjustment to
work after vacations, important implications can be drawn for both
organizations in general and human resources managers in particular to
implement some changes. For example, to address the lack of informa-
tion felt by respondents after returning to work, although it is common
practice in some organizations (e.g. change of shifts in hospitals), organi-
zations should focus on organizing briefings with employees who have
returned from a break, bringing them up to date with everything that
went on during their absence. This practice could culminate in the cre-
ation of a new (re)socializationprocess for oldcomers, aiming at their
(re)receptionand (re)integration. This process is an important task for
human resources management (Bauer, Bodner, Erdogan, Truxillo, &
Tucker, 2007) and could be fundamental for strengthening identification
and attachment with the organization, in returning to work after vaca-
tions, increasing the trust, commitment, satisfaction, motivation and per-
formance of the employees (e.g. Eberl, Clement, & M
oller, 2012).
On the other hand, the emotions and feelings reported by participants
find support in the Affective Circumplex Model, originally proposed by
Schlosberg (1952) and further developed by Russell (1980). According to
Russell and Barrett (1999) affection can be understood as a state of pleas-
ure or discontent that has some degree of activation and is constantly
experienced (Russell & Barrett, 1999). In this sense, states of pleasure, dis-
gust, tension, calm, energy and fatigue are considered examples of affec-
tion (Ekkekakis, 2013). The Affective Circumplex Model is composed of
two dimensions: valence and activation, which are bipolar and orthogonal.
The valence dimension is related to the coding of the environment as
2256 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
pleasurable or unpleasant. For the stimulus at a given moment, the subject
can assign a meaning: good or bad; useful or harmful; rewarding or
threatening (Barrett, 2006) Activation, in turn, is the dimension of experi-
ence that corresponds to the mobilization or energy dispensed; that is, it is
represented by a continuum, from the low activation, represented by sleep,
until the high activation, represented by the excitation (Russell & Barrett,
1999). In sum, this model proposes that all affective states arise from two
fundamental neurophysiological systems, one related to valence (a con-
tinuum pleasure-displeasure) and the other to arousal or alertness (Russell,
1980), and that each emotion can be understood in varying degrees of
valence and excitation (e.g. Posner, Russell, & Peterson, 2005). In other
words, and establishing a parallel with this model, it is possible to verify
that the respondentsresponses reflect pleasure without arousal (e.g. seren-
ity) and with arousal (e.g. happiness), as well as displeasure without
arousal (e.g. sadness) and with arousal (e.g. stress/pressure, nervousness).
In this sense, the emotions associated with returning to work can act as
predictors of attitudes toward work. For example, emotions of resignation
or discouragement may indicate an instrumental type of commitment
(individuals remain in the organization because they need it) or a norma-
tive type (individuals feel they should remain) (Allen & Meyer, 1990;
Meyer & Allen, 1997). Thus, deepening the emotions experienced by their
employees during this return period may allow organizations to identify
work-related attitudes (e.g. commitment, satisfaction, engagement and
attachment, among others).
In addition to this need to promote a process of (re)socialization, there
is also a need to strengthen the support offered by organizations, which
may facilitate the process of readjustment to work insofar as an
employee who feels supported by his or her organization will have a
greater connection with it and experience less difficulty in returning. For
example, implementing work-life balance practices may make it easier to
readjust to the routine.
Another aspect that must be addressed by human resources manage-
ment is not only respect for the hours of work and nonwork of its
employees (avoiding telephone calls and emails outside of business
hours, especially during holidays), but also by improving the re-integra-
tion process, thus facilitating employeesreadjustment to work in the
first few days of the transition period. For example, a more flexible
schedule or a shorter schedule and assigning less complex and demand-
ing tasks within the first two or three days after returning may facilitate
readjustment to the professional routine. In view of the benefits of the
holidays mentioned above, it may be important for organizations to set
up mechanisms to extend the effect of holidays, which would result in
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT 2257
an increase in positive feelings (e.g. well-being) and a reduction in nega-
tive effects (e.g. burnout, stress).
Direction for future research
This study presents itself as a basis for further research. For example, it
would be relevant for future studies to deepen the existing differences
between (e.g., managers, levels of education, those who went away, those
who were on/off call, those with family ), as well as the duration of
the effects of the holidays. Further analysis, in particular through further
studies, may support the similarities between emotions and feelings
reported in the study with the Affective Circumplex Model, and thus
verify the predictive effect that emotions that arised from returning from
holidays may have on various factors (e.g. professional satisfaction and
organizational commitment, degree of fit between the person and his/her
organization, influence on performance).
On the basis of the literature concerning vacations, it seems equally
pertinent to identify the activities that people perform in their free
time (e.g. to observe the vacation cycle) and how these activities influ-
ence their readjustment and degree of difficulty in returning to work
(e.g. similarly to the vacation cycle, to explore the existence of a pos-
sible cycle of readjustment to work), or active research comparing dif-
ferent types of adjustment strategies. Longitudinal studies covering the
periodsbeforeandaftervacations,aswellastheperceptionsofhuman
resource managers regarding these times, are also viable options for
future analysis.
Conclusion
How do employees readjust to work after vacation? The research on this
topic is too limited to comprehensively answer this question, so this
study is presented as a contribution to the development of the theme of
postvacation work adjustment. In sum, knowing the main difficulties
experienced by employees (e.g. work-related difficulties, difficulties at the
social level, general difficulties related to the reconciliation of the profes-
sional and family spheres, and a lack of identification with both their
colleagues and the wider organization when returning from a break), and
their adjustment strategies (e.g. management of household and family
tasks and to set priorities and give priority to overdue work), can be
used to improve the underlying human resources management processes.
Since human capital is the most valuable asset of each organization, it
seems indispensable to identify employeesmain difficulties in their
2258 C. SOUSA AND G. GONC¸ALVES
process of readjusting to work. It is urgent, therefore, to construct meas-
ures or instruments that are able to help organizations in the establish-
ment of human resources practices aimed at mitigating this
transition process.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
Note
1. As a rule, workers are entitled to a vacation period of 22 working days (article
238Labor Code). The vacation allowance corresponds to the employees basic
salary and other remuneration benefits which are a consideration for the specific
way of performing the work, corresponding to the minimum duration of his/
her vacation.
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... In particular, they include significant relief and recovery from stress, both via commercial tourism products [16,[100][101][102] and independent outdoor recreation [103][104][105], especially in parks and nature [106][107][108][109][110][111]. The well-being effects of vacation experiences fade out over periods of weeks, months, or years [3,101,[112][113][114][115][116][117][118][119][120][121]. The well-being effects of wildlife tourism have been examined specifically [122]. ...
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