The Stress of Returning to Work

As I write, I am preparing for a week’s holiday by organising my work-load on my return. Because I am returning late on a Thursday night, I’ve had to prepare my sermon for the following Sunday. I have already written the front cover for that Sunday’s Update. I’ve drafted the beginnings of an agenda for the Ministry Team meeting on the Monday. And here I am writing the next blog for my return. I find it quite stressful preparing to go on holiday – but I gather that I am not alone. According to one survey, 44% of the respondents said that they spend the week before going away on a two-week holiday preparing for their return; while another 18% said that they spend more than two weeks before their holiday preparing for their return.

And then, of course, there is the stress of the return itself. There will be so much work to catch up on. Take all those e-mails which will be awaiting me when I go back to work. British workers are said to send and receive 190 e-mails a day – hopefully there won’t be 500 e-mails awaiting me on my return. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology says that 76% of returning employees estimate their stress levels are back to pre-holiday highs within a week of returning to work. He recommends taking the following steps:

  • Stay in the holiday mood – don’t be tempted to stay late at work catching up
  • Only tackle the really important tasks during your first few days. Colleagues may welcome your return with a deluge of ‘urgent’ requests, but people will have just to wait.
  • Take a break – five minutes at the water cooler can keep you keep more sane
  • Don’t feel guilty. It’s bad enough, he says, missing your sun lounger and 800-page beach novel, but don’t make it worse by feeling guilty for leaving your colleagues in the ‘lurch’ while you were gone.

As I thought about the stress of returning to work, I wondered what the Scriptures would say about it. My mind went to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells us “not to be worried” about the future (Matt 6.25). “Look at the birds: they do not sow seeds, gather a harvest and put it in barns; yet your Father in heaven takes care of them! Aren’t you worth much more than the birds?” (Matt 6.28). What was Jesus saying? ‘Sit back and relax – leave everything to me?’. No. Jesus was not saying: ‘Birds don’t work – neither should you’. Birds do in fact work – it has been said that no one works harder than the average sparrow to make a living’. Rather Jesus was saying: ‘Birds don’t worry – and neither should you’.

As an old piece of doggerel put it:

Said the robin to the sparrow:
‘I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so’.

Said the sparrow to the robin:
‘Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me’

This doesn’t mean that there is no need to work hard before going on holiday to ensure a smooth entry back into work on our return. It should, however, help relieve the stress.

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