Sally is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.
Is your office thinking of doing a holiday gift exchange this year? Gift exchanges can be a lot of fun and bring coworkers together for a bit of seasonal cheer.
The truth is that no matter how old we get, almost everyone enjoys giving and receiving gifts. If you've been put in charge of organizing the office gift exchange (also known as the Secret Santa Game), this article features some tips and suggestions to ensure everyone has a good time participating.
If you aren't in charge of planning the gift exchange but will be participating, this article also features some great tips for shoppers who want to bring a smile to a coworker's face.
Tips for Organizing a Gift Exchange
- Plan ahead. Draw names from a hat early so that people have a chance to pick out and buy a suitable gift. If the gift exchange revolves around a theme such as homemade or handmade gifts, draw names even earlier. People will need extra time to put their gift together.
- Be clear on who is participating in the gift exchange. Is it just full-time staff? What about the cleaning lady who everyone adores and has always been made to feel like part of the office family? If you're a nonprofit organization with volunteers or unpaid interns, will they be allowed to participate? Make sure that everyone who is on the list has agreed to participate. You don’t want to force anyone to play along if they don’t want to. Let people opt in or out of the gift exchange before names are pulled from a hat.
- Keep it under wraps. If you're the one organizing the exchange and everyone has agreed that the names will be kept a secret, take your role seriously. Keep your lips zipped no matter how much coaxing and cajoling your coworkers do in an attempt to get you to spill the beans.
Office Gift Exchange Etiquette
- Avoid giving alcohol at an office gift exchange.
- Stay within the agreed upon spending limit. If your group has set a spending cap on gifts, stick to it. Going over the mutually agreed upon price has the potential to make people feel awkward. At the same time, buying a gift way, way below the agreed upon gift value might make your recipient feel cheated out of a fair gift.
- Try to personalize your gift without going overboard. Try finding a gift that related to the recipients favorite hobbies and interests.
- Don't give sexualized, raunchy gifts at the office gift exchange. You don't want to be accused of sexual harassment. Also, now is not the time to be revealing your secret office crush by giving the object of your adoration chocolate body paint.
- Don’t assume that just because your gift will be anonymous you can get away with giving a cheap lousy gift. People have a way of ferreting out who gave what to whom. Do you really want to be exposed as a cheapskate? Select your gift as though the recipient will eventually find out who you are.
- Buy your gift on your own time. Running out on your coffee break on the day of the gift exchange to buy something at the drug store is cheap and tacky, especially if everyone sees you doing it.
- Go along with the agreed upon theme of the gift exchange. If everyone is giving gag gifts, then get a gag gift. The gift exchange, when done well, can be a great team building experience. But if you decide to flaunt the rules or show that you haven’t put much effort into the exchange, you'll dampen the team spirit. Even though this is a social activity, remember you are still at work. What you do and how you treat others will be noticed.
- When it's your turn to open your gift, put on your best face and always be kind, generous and grateful.
Fun Gift-Giving Themes for an Office Gift-Exchange
- Edible: Tasty baked treats, gourmet spices, oils, salts, and indulgent confections are popular with “foodie” types. Edible gifts are also great because they don’t add extra clutter to the recipient's home. Just make sure that if any of the gift exchange participants has food allergies or restricted diets (i.e. vegan, religious practices, gluten-free) those food restrictions are announced ahead of time so that the gift-giver can choose something the recipient will be able to enjoy.
- Eco-friendly: Gifts that are easy on the environment are always popular. Gift baskets filled with organic spa products or sustainable coffee and treats are good all around: for you, for Mother Earth, and for the recipient! Triple your good karma at Christmas!
- Humorous: Giving gags as presents can be a fun way to add a little humor to the gift exchange and take a bit of pressure off finding something that suits someone’s tastes and personality. Just make sure not to give sexually explicit, off-color gifts, and knick-knacks. As a rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t give the gift to your boss, don’t give it to your coworker.
- Experiential: Movie passes, show tickets, or vouchers to local attractions make great experiential gifts, and they also cut back on the amount of garbage generated during the holiday season. The only drawback to this type of gift exchange is that it may be hard to find tickets that fall within the gift exchange spending limit.
- Homemade: Homemade gifts, crafts, and baked goods make popular presents and can be a fun way to learn about each others' hobbies, family recipes, and creative talents.
Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection.
A Few More Quick Ideas
Still not sure what to gift to bring to the office holiday gift exchange? Here are a few quick ideas:
- A lovely holiday floral bouquet.
- Fancy, decorative office supplies that will make your coworker's desk feel one of a kind.
- A handmade coupon for a lunch-run to your coworker's favorite take-out joint the next time they're totally swamped. A custom lunch order is super handy when your coworker is feeling frazzled.
© 2014 Sally Hayes