After a much-needed respite over the Christmas period, we often imagine we will return to work recharged with energy and motivated for the new year. However, as January draws to a close, that positive energy can quickly be overcome with back-to-work blues as unhealthy working habits begin to resurface.

Lesley Cooper, CEO of WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps organisations to manage pressure and stress, comments on the employer’s duty concerning back-to-work blues:

Leaders must remain vigilant in noticing tell-tale signs that people are struggling, in order to prevent manageable issues spiralling into long-term damage. They should also remain aware of their own working habits and take active steps to model the right well-being and performance behaviours. This will help leaders maintain the culture of psychological safety that enables and supports sustainable high performance.

Lesley Cooper, CEO of WorkingWell

To kickstart healthy working habits in 2023, Lesley has shared 5 signs to watch out for as you settle back into working life this year:

Increased irritability

Our patience often depletes as our energy reserves become low. Increased irritability can often signify deeper wellbeing issues. If you notice someone is being short with colleagues, or particularly sensitive to criticism, this could signal that they are headed towards burnout or struggling with their emotional wellbeing and self-regulation. It is important to also reflect on your own interactions and notice if your responses were the best ones.

Struggling to manage pressure

When our wellbeing is suffering we become less resilient, and more likely to struggle to manage pressure in a sustainable way. If maintaining control of emotions is becoming challenging, or you notice colleagues being frantic, this can signify wider wellbeing concerns. Managers and leaders should encourage open conversations about workload and how teams are feeling about it as they continuously develop both their own, and their team members capacity for emotional self regulation.

Not taking breaks

Overworking is a common response to spiralling demand and an unhealthy habit that many of us fall into. It can be easy to default into not taking regular breaks because in the short term it makes us feel more productive. In the long term, being continuously ‘on’ undermines rather than enhances personal and team performance. If someone appears to be working through their lunch breaks, or not taking leave, then they could be fast tracking themselves towards burnout.

Unlike computers, the human brain cannot do the same task repeatedly for more than 90-120 minutes before losing focus. Intentional recovery reduces the linearity of challenging tasks, and should be deployed as an investment in the next performance wave.

Working outside of hours

Even if people are recovering and taking breaks, during the day, work should not be allowed to bleed into the time allocated for their personal lives and additional responsibilities outside of work. Breaks in the working day don’t make up for time lost in evenings and weekends. This time is needed for recovery and renewal. Everyone needs time away and  disengaged from work, in order  to maximise performance when they return.

If people are feeling stressed about workload that has accumulated after time off over Christmas, they may try to ‘catch-up’ by working through their personal hours. Leaders should discourage this tendency and allow appropriate boundaries to be set.

Withdrawing at work

If people become quiet and withdrawn at work and reluctant to engage with colleagues, it could mean they are lacking the energy to communicate and deliberately detaching themselves. This detachment could be seen in meetings, reduction in output or more home working (if this is an option). Once noticed, this must be addressed with the colleague supportively and cautiously, signposting to specialist support as required.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.