Merilyn Speiser, Catalina Consultants
Merilyn Speiser, Catalina Consultants

As the year progresses, the risks of workplace conflict and bad behaviour escalate, requiring HR to be on the lookout for warning signs.

HR can play a key role in ensuring workplaces manage the conflicts that typically arise out of end-of-year pressures, Catalina Consultants founder and principal consultant Merilyn Speiser tells HR Daily ahead of her upcoming webinar on the topic.

"We tip over into the second half of the year, so people who haven't had holidays are starting to get a bit fatigued and tired. A lot of businesses reset targets on 1 July, so people are in that whole mode of 'we've got to perform, we've got to hit our KPIs'. They start to feel that pressure and it builds between now and December," Speiser says.

Come October, the "silly season" kicks in and employees start socialising more, she adds. People also have busy lives outside of work, so they're balancing their workload as well as family commitments.

"Those things all compound and bring out stress in people. That all manifests itself in the workplace with people's natural symptoms and pressures coming to the fore, whether that be that they become more angry and grumpy and argumentative, or whether that means they become really withdrawn and they don't communicate and they don't pull away.

"It does create this breeding ground for bad behaviour."

There are warning signs employers can watch out for, Speiser says, such as increased sick leave and absenteeism. "People get sick when they're stressed and feeling under pressure."

Employers should also keep an eye on employees who haven't had a holiday for more than a year, as they could be starting to get burnt out, she adds.

Other red flags include long hours, which "are a tell-tale sign that people are going to give in eventually, because people can't sustain that".

Employees buckling under end-of-year pressures typically either become withdrawn and disassociate from their surroundings, or become inappropriate in the ways they deal with their colleagues.

This can occur in the form of short tempers, arguments, employees resenting those they perceive to have a lighter workload, a lack of delegation, and employees not carrying their workload and letting down their team.

"Resentment and toxicity creeps into the team environment. At its worst, they stop trusting each other and communicating properly," Speiser says.

"It's those kinds of things that are a symptomised sign that pressure's being felt and it's not being handled properly."

It's generally short-term problems that are workload-related that cause conflict and bad behaviour, Speiser says.

"The preventative thing is to plan from the outset, but if the cracks are starting to show, then [employers should be] thinking about how to address that particular issue."

"From an HR point of view, our responsibility is to make sure line managers, the people that are managing the team, are communicating more regularly than they think they need to," Speiser says.

This means encouraging managers to conduct regular check-ins, and identify signs of change in behaviour, "as this is the clue that there is pressure going on".

"That's where we as HR can really help the managers put a bit of structure around that, so whether it's a monthly check in or a weekly."

The full webcast, accessible with HR Daily Premium membership, outlines why this time of year sees an increase in conflicts, burnout and bad behaviour; early warning signs of workplace issues; and steps HR can take for short- and long-term cultural impact – upgrade here if you're not a premium member.