‘Tis the season for unreason

Tradie HR director Leigh Olsen

Tradie HR director Leigh Olsen provides some tips as to how to manage your workforce during the silly season.

Employees passing out in work vehicles, ringing in sick with strange excuses and sending questionable texts after work functions all make for an interesting time when you work in HR!

Typically, the period from October through to December is the busiest time in many an HR professional’s calendar, and this year is no different.

It can be hard as a business owner or manager to know what to do at this time, as you may be tired after a hard year of work, and the thought of having to conduct an investigation or start a disciplinary action is the last thing you feel like doing.

Following are some tips and tricks to help you and your employees navigate through this potentially tricky period.

Christmas — so close yet so far away

Some of the reasons why employees and managers may “play up” at this time when, for the most part, they have been well behaved through the year, include:

Extra pressure to get everything finished before close-down, and a shortened work month in December,

Extra overtime hours needing to be worked in order to complete last-minute jobs,

The time between public holidays (most of our public holidays in New Zealand are front loaded at the start of the year), and

Financial and family obligations.

However, it could be that they have just simply had enough — had enough of their boss, had enough of the work or had enough of their colleagues.

Research has shown that we spend more time on a daily basis with people we work with than our families. This is not a problem if everyone gets on, but if not, then we are putting in many hours throughout our work week with people that may be good for the business, but not so good for our personal lives.

Identifying potential holiday stress issues

Your employees can display some key signs to indicate that they might be experiencing holiday stress and anxiety. These may include:

Change in normal behaviour — becoming uncharacteristically irritable or withdrawn,

Change in their appearance,

Lack of focus or concentration,

Unusual tension with their teammates,

Reduction in their productivity or quality of work, and


The earlier you can identify an issue or problem, the sooner you can guide your employees to get any help or resources that they need.

As the boss, what can you do about it?

This is a time when you, as the boss, really have to step in. Below are some suggestions to help alleviate end of year pressure:

Be visible and let the team know how much you appreciate them,

If you can let some people take their holiday leave early, do so. Several employees I have spoken to said they would like to start their holidays before close-down, but are too nervous to ask for fear of letting the boss/team down,

Incentivise if asking for extra effort — make sure you reward those extra hours,

Regularly communicate by checking in with your workers to see if they are ok,

If you have a holiday leave calender, make sure it is scheduled fairly to accommodate your employees’ personal plans,

Help prioritise projects to manage pending deadlines that might be causing stress, and

Shout morning tea. Sounds simple but it can mean a lot.

The workplace Christmas party — and the days after

I often get calls the day after the workplace Christmas party as these can bring up issues of conduct and discrimination. For example, employees may misbehave, or fail to turn up the next day.

We’ve probably all heard stories of work functions gone wrong. Some of my more interesting ones in which I have been called to help deal with are:

A senior manager who sent an abusive two-page email to the head of the company at 3am following a Christmas boat cruise,

An accountant threatening their manager that they will destroy the IT system if they don’t get a bonus (also sent via email),

Rude, lewd and highly inappropriate pictures and texts sent to female employees by work colleagues and, in two cases, from their manager.

As an employer, you want your team to have fun at work events. In order to ensure everyone has fun but behaves, you can communicate your expectations prior to the event.

This can be done either as part of the invitation, or shortly before the event. It is recommended that you explain to all invitees what you expect from them. If you require them to behave in a mature and responsible manner throughout the event let them and other guests know that.

You can refer to your HR policies/code of conduct and reference those relevant areas. For example, a lot of my clients have a “standards of behaviour at company functions” clause in their code of conduct, and remind their workforce of that prior to the event.

If you need any help trying to navigate through this festive season, please feel free to call me in confidence to talk through any concerns you may have. I am here to help, and wish you all safe and happy holidays!

Note: This article is not intended to be a replacement for legal advice.

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