Christmas Cheer or Mediation Madness: Your Survival Guide to December




Christmas is just around the corner, and guess what, most of us survived (ish). I would like to start off by saying congratulations on that, an achievement in itself!

However many people may claim that Christmas is always “full of cheer”, so to speak, in my opinion they are extremely confused about the true meaning of Christmas. Workplace mediation is in my opinion, more important in December than in any other month of the year, for a variety of reasons. Even if people don’t celebrate Christmas, December  is the time of many celebrations, which may be joyous, and unfortunately at times, conflictual.

My first reason is simple; December is one of the most stressful times of year. Whether you have a family of your own, a partner or simply love to pull out the stops for Christmas, you have a huge amount of work to do. And that’s not even counting your ACTUAL workplace. The fact that the business shuts down, even if just for a few days, can be a blessed holiday for some, but a nightmare for others. Work deadlines, meetings and other events are tighter, which can create even more stress and conflict within the workplace.

Below I have put some stressful December situations that could create conflict within the workplace, and how to de-escalate these situations, through the use of conflict resolution (self-resolution, conflict coaching and mediation).

The Horrors of Secret Santa

Secret Santa is an inspired idea. People buying gifts for one another, making everybody feel like part of the team. It also gets people into the Christmas spirit. However, you will also receive these sorts of issues:

“I don’t like my person, I want another!” “I have no idea who my person is because I don’t care about my co-workers…..so yeah….” “Secret Santa is stupid, and I don’t want to do it!” “I don’t have the time.”

I’m sure you get the point. You are always going to get these situations with something like ‘Secret Santa’, and this can cause tension within the office. In some cases, this can escalate to arguments and very uncomfortable situations that we would all rather avoid.

You are never going to make everybody happy in any situation, and the best thing you can do in this situation is compromise, a textbook conflict management style. My first piece of advice would be to set a budget for the gifts, so that people aren’t spending ridiculous amounts of money on their gifts. Something else that could help is on the paper you hand out, alongside the name; write down their department, or even a picture of the person. These sorts of things can help a lot more than you might expect. Lastly, set parameters on the types of gifts so that people do not give or receive gifts inappropriate in the workplace. See also our blog on conflict resolution for managers.

As for those who have complaints about Secret Santa or the process, simply explain things from your perspective, the reasons you wanted to do it, and what you hope to get from the process. If you have an answer ready, in all honesty they can still decline without looking like a Scrooge. Ask for how they want to be involved in order to get their support and buy-in, or to simply include them in a way that makes them more comfortable.

Leave/Holidays and Conflict

This one is a toughie. Whether it’s about completing those horrific holiday deadlines or every employee attempting to get work leave around December/January, there’s going to be conflict, whether you want it or not. Everybody wants family time, everybody wants to go on a trip, and you can’t just shut down the office to make allowances, sorry to say.

This one comes down to tough love, good communication and planning ahead. If you don’t tell them, you should. It could be a case of first in first served, and if you have already used up all your leave, pushing your luck will not work during the Christmas period. Although compromise and meeting in the middle is usually the best option, in these situations you need to set down the rules firmly, so any issues or complaints are not on your head, but theirs for not keeping in mind those boundaries you set down.

The Dreaded Staff Party

This particular horror causes conflict mostly between those in higher-tier positions. This is because it is due to the more technical aspects associated with a staff party. Variables such as budget, alcohol, venues and events can cause high stress levels, and disagreements. There is also a constant worry that the co-workers might be unhappy with the event, and this can cause long-term resentment of their job positions. I will deal with these issues one at a time. 

VENUE to avoid conflict during workplace parties

It is a tough call. Should it be done off-site, or should we book out a venue? Booking a venue is often the biggest source of conflict in terms of the staff party, as it would be the biggest blow to the budget. First of all, you should sit down with the accountant and discuss the budget you have. It isn’t about the venue, it’s about what you do with it. Decorations and food can go a long way. Every business is different, but if you ask those obvious questions, there will be no need for conflict in the first place. The party is one way to show appreciation and recognition for hard work, so a better venue shows employees that you care and value their contribution.

ALCOHOL and avoiding conflict during workplace parties

Alcohol nearly always leads to conflict. Whether it is someone acting like a fool, a thoughtless comment or office gossip, something always happens. I work in events, and my staff party secret is serving wine and beer ONLY, and keep an eye on both the employees, managers and the rate of consumption. This will save you both money out of your budget, and possible conflict management needed further down the track. Make sure that someone in HR or a manager is there to offer sober support should anything escalate or get out of hand. Also be considerate that some people might be uncomfortable with the consumption of alcohol for religious reasons, so be sure to help them feel included. 

EVENTS and avoiding conflict during workplace parties 

Events have winners and losers. Some people are graceful, some people are not. It does not mean that you are a bad person; personally I believe that being ambitious and having a competitive personality can be a real asset within the workplace. However, this can often lead to unintentionally hurting people, and thus begins a deadly cycle that leads to a conflicted workplace. Firstly, the party itself is a big event, so to be honest, you do not need to go overboard in terms of events.

Staff parties are a great idea and bring people together, but keep in mind preparation is everything, and have some alternate options in place, because you can never be too careful when it comes to conflict resolution and workplace mediation.

The Christmas Blues, dealing with family and personal conflict during the holidays

Although by reading this blog you may think I am the Grinch in disguise, I truly am a big fan of Christmas. Whether it is the decorations, the carolling or the presents, I have a good time. However, what people often fail to remember is that not everybody is a fan of Christmas. This could be due to a lot of things, whether it is religious, family and personal conflict, well being, situational or they are simply not a fan of the holidays.

This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation from their co-workers and peers, or vice versa. Although this conflict might not be shown in open and explicit conflict, it is still very important to consider, if not more so.

Don’t block them out and exclude anyone. This can cause deep conflict between both parties or even within the so-called “Scrooge” themselves. There could be bad memories associated with Christmas. They might be all alone this year. They simply might not celebrate the holiday. This doesn’t mean they are bad people, or that you should exclude them from everything in December.

Think of how you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Include them, but keep in mind their boundaries. You should always respect your fellow co-workers, and just because it’s December, does not mean that should change.

Anyway, if you have actually read through all of this, congratulations!!! I hope I have given you some useful tips for dealing with Christmas conflict. Leave some comments below (I’d love to hear what you think), and of course, have a very, VERY merry Christmas!!!


Contact the Mediate2go Blogger:


Ashton, Mediate2go Communications Blogger

Ashton Bult is a graduate of tourism studies, with a strong interest in media outreach. He spends his free time winning water polo games and reading several books a week. Ashton also acts, dances and choreographs in a Drama club in Auckland. He is currently working on a cruise ship.



Christmas Cheer or Mediation Madness: Your Survival Guide to December

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