Summer’s over, time to hunker down

Labour Day signals the start of a pickup in the pace at work. But it’s tough to adjust, and get motivated to get back into gear

JOANNA SMITH
Friday, August 31, 2007 – Globe and Mail, Section C, Globe Careers

Ignacio Oreamuno says he thinks that Canadian summers are kind of weird.

Born in the perpetual summer atmosphere of Costa Rica, Mr. Oreamuno finds himself frustrated that very little gets done around the office when so many people are off on vacation.

“For the last two months, no one has made any decisions, no one has written any e-mails back, no one has called me back,” says Mr. Oreamuno, who runs the ad industry website ihaveanidea.org in Toronto. “It’s like all of Canada just stopped.”

Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer. But they’re coming to an end.

Labour Day signals the start of a busier pace around the office, with more people back at their desks and projects put back on the table for the final sprint to the end of the year.

And like many managers ready to kick-start their teams, Mr. Oreamuno is set to send an e-mail to his staff that says: “Hey! We’re not an vacation any more! You’ve actually got to get things done!”

But adjusting to that sudden seasonal switch back to hunkered-down work mode can be difficult. So what can employees and managers do to avoid a post-summer slump and find motivation to get back into gear once Labour Day rolls around?

Toronto-based career coach Nina Spencer, president of Nina Spencer & Associates, says to start preparing for the change of pace by looking forward to what autumn brings.

For example, Ms. Spencer says that she eventually tires of the laziness that takes over her body in the summer months, and looks forward to shaking it off.

She suggests workers focus on what is good about that little bit of healthy stress that helps keep your work ethic in check – “that little positive tension that spurs you on.”

She also suggests making a list of 10 things that you love about your job. That, she says, can help get you in the mood to let go of the vacation mindset, and get back to work.

“See what you can do about putting a positive spin on it and say, ‘I love my job, I love my job, I love my job,’ even if in this moment you don’t really love your job,” she says. “You know, fake it till you make it.”

Renewed vigour means autumn is also the time to put your summer dreams into action.

“If you’ve got a desire to do something, then now is the time to act on it because it’s still fresh in your mind,” suggests career coach Randall Craig, president of Pinetree Advisors Inc. in Toronto.

“Ask yourself a few questions,” he says. “If there’s one thing I could do better, what would it be? If there’s one thing that I perhaps should do less of, what would it be? If there’s one thing I’ve been putting off, should I actually do it now?”

In other words, stop dreaming about getting the big promotion and start gunning for it.

Managers can help refocus their teams by setting clear deadlines and specific goals so that everyone knows what the expectations are and how to meet them, the pros say.

“Nothing works better than a deadline,” says John Eckmire, vice-president of public programs and education at the Canadian Management Centre, a non-profit business training centre in Toronto.

He says managers should avoid cutting employees extra slack right after the holidays and instead set the example by getting right down to work.

“People get paid the same in July and August as they get paid in September, so there shouldn’t be any grace period whatsoever.”

Mr. Eckmire notes that there is no grace period for employees who return from winter vacation, and so everyone should be able to adapt after the summer holidays as well.

“When you come back from a winter vacation, you step right back into the current going at the speed it normally does,” he says. “You can do the same in September.”

Still, it often helps to mark the change in season by gathering the team together for a fun time to catch up and remind everyone of common goals, Ms. Spencer suggests

“It’s been a ghost team all summer, so, once you get into the groove of autumn, it would be terrific to hold some sort of team reconnection or an off-site team-building event where we remember why we like each other and why we’re such a hot team,” she says.

Mr. Craig adds that holding on to a little piece of summer is another great way to help the transition into fall.

He suggests finding a way to incorporate summer habits, such as jogging with your spouse or reading novels, into your year-round schedule.

“You still have a fun-for-you release valve that can help make that transition a little bit easier,” he says.

Rod Phillips, president and chief executive officer of employee-assistance provider Shepell.fgi, says that it helps to get to the root of why people find it so difficult to get back into gear after the summer vacation season.

One of the reasons, he believes, is that we have lost the ability to relax and recharge on a regular basis.

So when we do finally get the chance to take two weeks off, we are especially unwilling to return to work.

So he suggests employees practice setting parameters for themselves by having work time and non-work time on a daily basis.

“The ability to turn work off and on shouldn’t happen once a year,” Mr. Phillips says.

Back to the grind

Tips for avoiding the post-summer slump.

Employees

Look forward to what the autumn brings. Whether it is a renewed sense of purpose, an autumn wardrobe or sending the kids off to school, it helps to focus on the good things about the fall season.

Put your summer dreams into action. Now is the time to stop thinking about the big promotion and start gunning for it.

Keep something from the summer with you. Finding a way to work positive habits you developed this summer – such as exercise or reading – into your regular schedule helps you adjust to the lifestyle change.

Set aside time to relax on a daily basis. Try to slow down the pace of your life a few minutes every day so that you are not waiting until summer vacation to recharge your energy.

Managers

Set clear deadlines. Set clear deadlines for employees to help keep everyone focused and make expectations clear.

Hold a “back-to-work” team-building event. An off-site event helps everyone reconnect and be reminded of why they work so well together. It is also a great way to review key priorities for the rest of the year.

Joanna Smith

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