When Secret Santa Stops at the Office

Dec 12 2019 - Workplace Policies - Bianca Saad

Setting guidelines for Secret Santa participants prevents any potential hurt feelings and trips to HR.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song goes. Holiday parties, potlucks, and other festivities, including the well-known tradition of “Secret Santa.” Of course, many would agree that gift-giving can be fun and helps to keep the holiday spirit alive — but for some employees, the whole process can feel awkward or even stressful. For those employers who invite employees to participate in a Secret Santa or other similar gift exchange activities, here are a few things to remember.

Include All, but Require None

If there is a holiday gift exchange in the workplace, it should include all employees and exclude no one. At the same time, it should be made clear to employees their participation is one hundred percent optional and not mandatory at all.

Set Spending Limits and Rules

There should be rules in place for how the Secret Santa Gift exchange will operate. Will there be a small gift delivered each day? And if so, for how many days? Or will there just be a single gift exchange? There should also be clear guidelines as far as a budget goes. What will be the minimum and maximum price range? You want to avoid employees feeling like they will need to spend an arm and a leg in order to partake, and the activity should be accessible for all those who want to participate.

Emphasize Suitability for  Workplace

Any gifts exchanged in the workplace should be (gasp!) — workplace appropriate. Some of your employees might ask, “What does that even mean?” A good rule of thumb often used is, “If you have to ask yourself if a gift is appropriate, it probably isn’t appropriate.” When inviting employees to participate and in setting other guidelines in place, don’t forget to remind them to use their best judgment when selecting gifts for others. Something that might seem funny or well-intended could be received in a completely different manner. Things employees should steer clear of are gifts that might seem romantic or risqué, gifts that are religious in nature, gifts that target someone based on their protected class (race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.), just to name a few.

As a final note, tell your employees to use their search engines cautiously. All sorts of fun or (seemingly) funny ideas can come up when searching “Secret Santa for co-workers” or similar verbiage on the internet. While many gift ideas may be aimed at getting a laugh, it very well could be at the expense of someone’s feelings, and could even lead to a complaint to HR.

Bianca N. Saad, Employment Law Subject Matter Expert

CalChamber members can read more information on holiday festivities in the Questions & Answers section of HRCalifornia. Not a member? See what CalChamber can do for you.

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