Christmas Quarrels and Conflict Management


“The challenges are substantial at this time of year and many issues present at the workplace,” says labour lawyer, Marleen Potgieter, of Cape Town law firm, Equity Works. She fields many calls at this time of year when clients suddenly wake up to how much they have left until the last minute.

The busy season intensifies and deadlines must be met. When the pressure is on poor performers come to light, so she finds herself inundated with performance enquiries during this period. She has noticed an unfortunate trend with some employers retrenching at this stage. “This is awfully unfair to employees just before Christmas,” says Marleen.

Additionally, employees’ personal lives begin to fracture unexpectedly. The wife of a financial director disappeared with his children for two days when he moved out due to marital problems. A woman’s husband collapsed beside her on the couch, dying suddenly, without warning. “This obviously impacts on a person’s work performance and employers must balance compassion with the need to get the work out,” she said.

Marleen’s best advice to business owners is to have good conflict resolution mechanisms in place at this time. “Conflict is best managed immediately, the more you let it unravel the more impact it has on the workplace,” she says.

She noted that in a conflict situation people gather armies behind them, which polarises the environment. Having done that, it’s all too easy to sabotage a situation, potentially withholding or distorting information that makes one person look bad. “The time spent discussing the conflict wastes money. It is far wiser to resolve the issue quickly,” she says.

Four Pointers for Managers:

1) No Ostriches

Don’t pretend the issue isn’t there. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. The sooner you attend to the problem; the sooner there can be resolution.

2) Bring On the Eyeballs

Call the disaffected parties together. Let them eyeball each other. It’s easy to say things in an email that you might not say aloud when you’re looking at each other face-to-face. This is more apparent in small business. In big business you can hide behind the structures.

3) Get It Off Your Chest

Employers need to be mindful of the emotional state of those involved in office conflict. What happens at home gets brought into the workplace. Don’t be afraid to talk about the issues an employer might be facing. Say something like, ‘I’ve noticed you’re quite emotional. Are you okay? Can we help you?

“A well person is a productive person,” she says. Often an employer can’t speak to anybody about the troubles on their heart, but the relative objectivity of a work colleague or mentor can enable them to unpack the difficulty and find their own solution.

4) Be Realistic

At this time of year unrealistic deadlines loom larger than is strictly necessary. Logic seems to fly out the window and there is the perception that December heralds the end of the world. “It isn’t so,” she says. “Consider what is critical, for example your EE reporting which if not done, could result in a R1,5 million fine. Do only the essentials.”

Stress management is vital. De-escalate the avoidable tensions by taking the pressure off. For the rest? Marleen says, “Life does not stop. January is close. We will all survive!”

Follow Marleen Potgieter on Twitter (@MarleenRing) and Facebook, or visit her website, Equity Works, for further information.