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With Christmas not far away, ‘tis a custom of the season to exchange Secret Santa gifts with your work colleagues. While this is a harmless and popular Christmas tradition popular with offices up and down the country designed to get everyone into the festive spirit, beware – it’s not as easy as it looks.

In theory, what could be simpler…? Let everyone pick a name out of a hat and buy a Christmas present for that person – anonymously, obviously, that’s why it’s called Secret Santa, duh! In practice, however, all sorts of things can go wrong. Did you hear about the one where Leanne from Accounts got roses and edible underwear and then thanked Jason from IT, except they weren’t from him? Or the time when Sue, the cuddly Sales Manager, got a mug that said ‘Keep calm and join Weight Watchers’? Awkward.

If you want your Office Secret Santa to be a success, not a total embarrassment or, worse, an HR calamity, here are 7 top tips you might like to secretly circulate through the office. Today wouldn’t be too soon.


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Don’t force the fun

Secret Santa is meant to be a bit of fun. By all means invite and encourage everyone to take part, but if anyone in the office doesn’t want to join in, don’t force them or tell them off for being Bah Humbugs. Some people have strong feelings about (not) giving gifts, or perhaps have no connection or desire to participate in a Christian tradition. Respect everyone’s opinions and preferences.

Appoint a manager

Put someone in charge of Project Secret Santa. Like anything, if it’s managed well, it will go with a swing. Imagine the embarrassment if someone has forgotten to buy a gift, or if someone has been missed out from the list! It’s not a big job but someone has to check that all names have been matched and that everyone turns up with their gift on the specified day.

Set the rules

It’s crucial that, for everyone’s enjoyment, there are clear parameters that everyone has to stick to. These should include a firm budget (£5, £10, £15 being the most popular), the exact date when gifts will be exchanged, perhaps a theme (gifts of a certain colour, or starting with a letter, or only homemade gifts, or food/drink gifts only, etc), and definitely an idea of what would be considered inappropriate.

Collect some information

How about sending round a questionnaire so that everyone can share a bit of information about themselves? There’s nothing worse than having to buy a Secret Santa present for someone you barely say ‘hello’ to in the morning, never mind what taste in music they have.

A little basic knowledge about your recipient will be extremely helpful in choosing something a little more exciting than a tin of Quality Street.

Select an appropriate gift

When it comes to choosing the gift, caution is advised. Do find out what your ‘target’ might like but unless you really know the person well, keep it inoffensive and fairly generic. Candles or picture frames, for instance, are a safe bet. As a rule of thumb, stay away from anything too personal or something you would give your significant other, such as perfume. Items of clothing can be embarrassing if you get the size wrong, but woolly hats or scarves are generally OK.

Stay light hearted

That said, don’t take the whole thing too seriously – it’s only Secret Santa! A light hearted, funny gift works best as long as you know your audience and know their sensitivities. A deodorant multipack is only funny if the recipient is in on the joke, otherwise it’s cruel. Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal, however, might be the perfect laugh-out loud present for the Sales Manager.

Don’t be disappointed

It’s a good idea to be prepared for the worst and practise your happy/surprised face, just in case. Not everyone is bothered about sourcing the nicest present for their Secret Santa; some people buy the first novelty gift they come across and think no more about it. If you end up with Christmas socks, a 3D dinosaur puzzle or an ‘I’m a Twat’ mug, tough it out with a smile and a joke. It’s only Secret Santa.

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About the Author:
Mike James is an independent writer and business consultant partnering with staff management specialist Planday on this and a number of other small business advice related articles.
About the Author

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