Ho, ho, ho…. how on earth did you think that was an appropriate gift for an office Secret Santa?!
Let’s hope these aren’t the festive words coming out of your mouth this holiday season! While a bit of holiday cheer around the office is appreciated, there are always those people who take it too far or too seriously. As with most parties in a professional environment, there’s a fine line between having a good time and having far too good of a time at your office shindig. (Those photos can follow you around for far too long — shudder).
A Secret Santa can be a fantastic way to get people involved in a fun, low-pressure activity. This is even better if you’ve put a bit of thought into it beforehand and have the rules clearly laid out for everyone. So, that’s why we’ve selected our favourite ideas for doing one in your office so that everyone has a nice time.
The Office Secret Santa Survival Guide
Choose a theme. You could have everyone bring gifts related to a certain colour or letter, or make a rule to have everyone gift food and drink or small monthly subscription services. That way, you don’t have to worry about somebody bringing a Rolex to the gift exchange while someone else shows up with a £10 gift card to Starbucks.
Try using your Secret Santa for a good cause. Can you centre your theme around something charity-related, or all gift small donations to charities? (Just make sure they’re non-controversial ones). Maybe you could even arrange a Secret Santa for local children instead of doing one within your own company.
Go white elephant. Everybody gets something they don’t really want at all over the holidays, so why not have a white elephant themed Secret Santa? People show up to re-gift the stuff they got that just wasn’t quite what they’d asked Santa for. Who knows, it might be what was on the top of someone else’s list! And if not, you’ll definitely get a good laugh out of some of the guests.
Note: You may also enjoy reading ‘What to do and NOT to do at the Office Christmas Party.’
Try your best to make sure everyone is included, but only if they want to be. Some people just aren’t into this kind of stuff, or make a point of not giving gifts. Try your best to get people to participate, but if people really aren’t into the idea, then don’t force them. Some work places also have rules about things being overtly related to one religion or another, so you may have people who don’t want to participate in anything related to Santa.
Give people a questionnaire ahead of time. A lot of the time with these gift giving things, you get somebody who you might not know that well. Some people are shy in general, others are especially shy at the office so you never get to know them. How do you give a gift to someone you don’t know apart from saying hi in the mornings? That’s where your organisers should step in and have a small questionnaire for all the participants to fill out to give people an idea of what sort of things they like.
Limits are your friend! Cash limits, gifts you can and can’t give, dates when people have to give their gifts by — those are all good things to make very clear. It’ll make your whole game run more smoothly and keep things friendly for everyone.
Have a wish list people can create. This is similar to the questionnaire idea, but leaves less room for surprises. This could be a good thing depending on your office! People can just say directly what they’d like, so you don’t have to worry whether June in accounting would prefer receiving something generic, or if she’d like something a bit more special.
Assign people to oversee the project. It’s not a big event to pull off, but you will want to do things double-check everyone has gotten a gift. It’s uncomfortable to be the person left out of the gift exchange, or the guy who forgets to show up with a gift on the day.
Note: You may also enjoy reading ‘10 creative ideas to rock the Christmas marketing season.’
Add a twist to the game. Have everyone leave their gifts on a table and put their names in a hat. The first person whose name is drawn opens a gift. From there on, people can choose to either open a new gift or steal one from someone else. At the end, the first person can pick to steal a gift from anyone.
Get people to guess what the gifts are. Before giving it to the recipient, the giver will hold up the gift and everyone will shout out their best guesses as to what’s inside. This is more fun if people wrap their gifts in creative ways so people will have all kinds of crazy guesses.
Have a medium-sized gift-giving party (not a huge one). Pretty much everyone is swamped during the holiday season, so try not to have your event take up too much time. Short & sweet is ideal this time of year. Take the time to make the event special, but it doesn’t have to be a huge deal (and your team probably wouldn’t appreciate a huge ‘do either).
Do’s and Don’ts
As an extra holiday gift in the spirit of giving, we’ve also included a few do’s and don’ts for an office Secret Santa to give it that extra touch of holiday cheer:
❌ DON’T make it a competition. If you do draw your boss or a senior colleague then go simple: nothing too risky either way. Bland is sometimes best!
✅ DO investigate your target but
❌ DON’T cross the line between curiosity and invasion of privacy. If June has a picture of a cat as her screen saver or a key ring with a Mexican wrestling mask then something along these lines would be a good idea.
❌ DON’T use Secret Santa to further your love life. This probably has the biggest potential for embarrassment and should not be attempted in any case. There is a large possibility that June does not feel the same about you or, even worse, thinks the roses and edible underwear were from someone else causing a whole office drama. Better to wait till the office party for this one.
❌ DON’T think too hard or take it too seriously. Fun and humorous gifts work best but tread carefully, know your audience (see note 2) and set the line accordingly. One of the best Secret Santa’s I’ve seen was a Borat Mankini and moustache given to a PE teacher who wore them over his suit for the school Christmas dinner. Many a laugh was had. Probably wouldn’t have been suitable, however, for the elderly RE teacher.
✅ DO practice your surprised/happy face. Chances are, the person providing your Secret Santa this year didn’t read these great tips and has probably bought you some socks, handkerchiefs or another novelty tie, in which case you will need to smile, laugh and ask them how they know you so well. It will be good practice for the big day when you unwrap the same jumper you gave your brother-in-law the year before.
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