Christmas stress and office tantrums

by Michael Hempseed - Managing Director, Employee Solution Service

A company based in Christchurch was planning their office Christmas party. Everyone wanted different venues and different food selections. The planning caused so many arguments amongst the staff and so much bad will that some staff left the office in tears and some threatened to leave.

On the surface this office may sound like it was filled with school children. When I looked closer I discovered the office had experienced a very stressful year, the business was losing money and there had been two office moves related to the earthquakes in the previous two years. Office stress levels had been building and building for quite some time. The Christmas party was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In 1985, JAL flight 123 broke apart in mid-air resulting in the single worst aviation accident of all time. The airframe had been slowing cracking for over seven years. Just one flight before the tragedy it seemed as through everything was fine. On the outside the aircraft looked just fine. However, beneath the surface it was fatally damaged. It took just a tiny amount of stress for the airframe to break open. For many workplaces Christmas is the final straw.

The office mentioned above is not alone, many New Zealand workplaces experience significant tantrums and problems in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I get a lot of phone calls around Christmas with the same type of scenario. Something small has happened that has been blown all out of proportion.

This almost never happens out of the blue. It happens when workplace stress levels reach breaking point. Employers need to be mindful of stress levels throughout the year but particularly during the Christmas period. They should regularly ask questions about stress. If you just ask people if they are stressed they will often say no.

Employers need to ask questions such as do you take your work home with you, what time do you finish and can you switch off or are you always thinking about work. These questions often reveal true stress levels.