Still struggling with back to work blues? It might be time to reassess

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Struggling to adjust to the routine of work after a holiday is pretty normal. In fact there’s a term for it – it’s called ‘post-holiday syndrome’ (a general feeling of discomfort caused by the person’s inability to adapt to work after finishing holidays).

But depending on the severity and duration of your struggle, it could be a sign that there is more going on.

The problem could be that you are working in a 'bullshit job'. According to British anthropologist David Graeber, who coined the phrase, you know if you have one of these jobs if you answer “Yes” to the question: “Would society be better off if your job didn’t exist?” Graeber found that 37% of people in the UK believe their own jobs fall into this category.

André Spicer, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Cass Business School in London, believes that bureaucracy is on the rise and, as a result, there has been a growth in these so called bullshit jobs – such as unproductive management jobs which “suck the life out of an organisation”.

“Sometimes doing something in companies can be quite dangerous. It’s often better to talk a lot and do nothing,” he said in a recent RNZ interview.

Whether you agree with his viewpoint or not – clearly not all management jobs are bullshit jobs, and not all bureaucracy is unnecessary – the point is; there are people (at least 37% in the UK…) who believe there is absolutely no point in the work they are getting paid to do every day. And if you are one of them, it’s not surprising you find it difficult to feel excited about going to work – post holiday or not!

There are people who believe there is absolutely no point in the work they are getting paid to do every day


In fact, one of the most common reasons people come to see me for career coaching is that they want to find work that is meaningful. Some have worked for years in a career that they fell into, got better at and got promoted. But they eventually get to a point where they fail to see how the role is making any real contribution.

Contribution means different things to different people, of course, so the challenge is to work out what is meaningful to you.

In the end, it’s up to you how you live your life and what you do to make a living, so if what you are currently doing isn’t making your heart sing, then maybe it really is time for a change. As I often say to my clients, "you get to choose".

Admittedly some people have practical constraints – such as large mortgages or dependents to support – but often the biggest barrier to making a move towards a more satisfying work situation is fear, and unhelpful beliefs such as "I should be grateful just to have a job" or "It's self-indulgent to think about my needs". Beliefs like these make it difficult for people to invest time and energy in themselves and in finding work they enjoy. But, as the airlines tell us in the pre-flight emergency briefings, you need to "give yourself oxygen first". Looking after your own wellbeing means you are better placed to assist others you care about. 

Research shows that if people work in jobs that enable them to play to their strengths, they are six times more likely to be engaged in their work and three times more likely to report having excellent quality of life.

So it's worth finding out what you are good at, what you enjoy and what you believe is meaningful work. Then, hopefully come next holiday season, those post holiday blues won't feel quite so harsh.

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About the author: Lucy Sanderson-Gammon, MBA, is a Wellington-based career coach helping mid-career professionals who have fallen out of love with their jobs to find meaningful work. She also provides career development for those who want to get ahead at work or make a transition after redundancy. Find out more about Lucy's coaching services here.