HR BLOG: Gift giving in the workplace with a reimagined Secret Santa

You know that the festive season has well and truly arrived when temperatures are going down and lights are going up! Plus, of course, the return of Mariah Carey, Michael Bublé and co to the airwaves.

The pandemic is still making headlines, but virtual or otherwise, the countdown to Christmas is on and continues to give plenty of people a reason to feel joyful.

Some employers may be wondering if they should proceed with a work Christmas party this year. Check out our blog from last week if this is on your mind and you need a little help from HR.

Another staple of the season which has become a tradition in many workplaces is gift giving under the guise of Secret Santa.

Like it or loathe it, the office Secret Santa can guarantee some laughs, maybe an awkward silence and at least one inappropriate gift. That is, unless you have provided a gift giving guide, which is always a good idea.

The tradition is a fun way to bring people together and embrace the season of giving. However, with a spotlight shining firmly on climate change and sustainability this year, some are questioning its shelf life.

Should you do Secret Santa in your business?

Those that look forward to the fun will cheer in unison – “Yes, of course. It’s tradition!”. However, a recent study from Instaprint has revealed that more than two million workplace Secret Santa gifts are destined for the bin.

Although these findings certainly give pause for thought, the game may not be over yet with more than one third of people surveyed still keen to participate.

If you’re currently on the fence about whether to organise Secret Santa in your business, a quick poll with your employees should help you to decide. A top tip from us is to make it a voluntary activity so that those who prefer not to play don’t feel pressured.

If your team isn’t invested however, there could be some tweaks or alternatives to boost morale and still spread festive cheer this Christmas.

An alternative approach to Secret Santa in the workplace

Before anyone gives Secret Santa the old heave ho ho ho, there might be an easier way to update the tradition to keep it going.

Firstly, to save unwanted gifts from the bin, you could announce a charity donation drive ahead of time. This gives employees a chance to donate their gifts and might make others think consciously about their purchases.

Another idea could be to encourage participants to make a charitable donation in their colleague’s name rather than seeking out a stocking filler. For this, or any gift exchange, it’s a good idea to set the donation budget and keep it low as this can already be an expensive time of year.

If you employ some keen cooks or bakers, a team lunch where everyone brings a homemade dish is a nice idea to bring everyone together and learn something new about each other. The money that would usually go on Secret Santa can be used to purchase ingredients instead. Got remote workers? How about sending them recipe cards and instructions with a little input from your team.

Or, if you’d like to try something completely different, how about a fun quiz or competition? You can pair up people from different departments to encourage networking and team building, whilst prizes could be something that doesn’t require purchasing. For example, five minutes extra lunchtime for every correct answer. This can also work really well for remote teams as it doesn’t require attendance in person.

Fun for all and all for fun

Being committed to sustainability doesn’t have to take the fun away from the usual festive traditions. With some creative thinking and teamwork, you can still embrace the season of giving and find a way to bring everyone together.

If you have HR questions about gift exchanges in your workplace, remember that we are here to help.

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