Stages of Returning to Work after the Winter Holidays

For most employees, the last few weeks of December are dedicated to holiday parties, time off, or low-productivity days in the office. Very few people schedule meetings because no one would attend and those who are available often work on low-priority tasks. When not at work, people are traveling, enjoying festive events, or simply relaxing. It’s no wonder that upon returning to work, some experience a case of holiday hangover. Mild or more severe, we all need a minute to get back into the swing of things.

Stages of Returning to Work after the Winter Holidays

Fortunately, you can empower your team’s returning to work and help them resume their normal levels of productivity within a few days. Here are a few post-holiday stages that most companies experience.

Stage One: Emailageddon

In the first days back to work we all face the Armageddon of emails 🙂 The average person receives 100 to 120 emails per day. Some of your team members might receive that many emails within a few hours. If your staff took a few days off for the holidays, they might open up a packed inbox on the first morning. Give your team time to go through their messages, see what they missed, and respond accordingly.


Have a 15-minute call or meeting with your team to welcome them back and review your priorities for the week. This will help your staff sort through their email messages and create a task list.

Give your team time to read and respond to messages. Give everyone a little grace as they get to your requests.


No point in scheduling lengthy meetings on the first day back after the holidays, especially with external vendors and clients. Moreover, don’t immediately ask team members for responses on emails unless there is an immediate emergency.

Stage Two: Contractor, vendor, and client check-in

Once your team is settled back at work, you can reach out to external parties who have also returned from the holidays. Oftentimes, projects that aren’t completed by early December get pushed into the new year.

Now is the time to look at all of the tasks that you put off and create a plan to move forward with them. This is also the time to launch new projects with your clients and vendors.


Respect everyone’s timeline for returning to work. It might take a few days for teams to respond as they get out from under piles of emails and left over tasks.

Set aside extra time on calls to review where you left off in December and what needs to be done in January. Everyone can benefit from this refresher.


Don’t be shocked that your vendors didn’t work during the holidays unless they agreed to. These contractors have families, too.

There’s no rush to schedule these check-in meetings or calls before your clients or vendors are ready. They will be unproductive if key stakeholders can’t attend or come unprepared.

Stage Three: Project reviews and priority setting

Now that everyone has their bearings and is ready to move forward with new projects, you can set your priorities for the coming weeks and months. Identify the most important tasks and prioritize them. This is particularly important if some people are back from their holiday break before others.


Organize and assign tasks based on what is ready to be completed vs. what needs client approval or additional review.

To help them, even more, provide a visual representation of the most important priorities for your team. This could be as simple as a bulleted list created ahead of a team meeting.


From experience, it’s useless to expect everybody to remember projects and tasks assigned before the holiday break. It’s better to review something they already know than assume they are aware of a task they never heard about.

Upon returning to work after the winter holidays, don’t overwhelm your team with a quarter’s worth of work. You can go over big-picture plans, but end your discussion with immediate action items for your staff.

Stage Four: The stragglers return to work

Not everyone is returning to work on January 2nd. Some people take a few extra days off to travel or rest after the holidays. This is why each stage of returning to work will be staggered. Some of your employees might be done responding to messages and ready to start new projects before others even get back.

During this stage, most of your staff members are clocked in and getting settled after the holiday. You can schedule more meetings and assign tasks, but know that some people will still need time before they are fully productive again.


You can now operate at a normal pace for your company. Your team can move forward even if a few staff members are still away.

It’s a good opportunity to welcome team members when they get back. Start the year on a positive note with small talk about the holidays. This creates a positive tone and a healthy culture before everyone gets back to work.


Getting time-off is a great way to unwind and recharge batteries. Thus don’t get frustrated with people who take time off. Vacation is an important part of productivity and employees deserve to feel safe when they use it.

People who return are not always ready to immediately kick it. They deserve the same grace to work through their email messages as people who got back on January 2nd.

Stage Five: Fully operational teams

The final stage results in your team being back at work and operating at full speed. Your staff is rested, productive, and on the same page. Your vendors and contractors are also back and producing for your company.

This entire process could take a few weeks depending on your company and location. As a manager, your job is to guide your team through each of these stages until the holiday hangover is busted. Be prepared for a ramp-up period when your team gets back, but know that with the right guidance, they’ll be at their best before you know it.

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