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Should the Office Secret Santa be Banned? 1/3 of Millennials Say Yes

December 12, 2019

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE 

According to a recent UK study from Jobsite, 35% of Millennials would like for the annual office Secret Santa gift exchange to be banned.  One of the many reasons Millennials provided for feeling this way is the pressure of the holiday tradition and the anxiety that it triggers.  Some of the issues they face include:

  • Almost three quarters (73%) of workers aged between 23-38 have contributed more than they could afford to an office celebration.

  • The financial strain of contributing to activities such as Secret Santa and presents for birthdays and promotions has led 26% of young workers to dip into savings and/or caused overdrafts to contribute.

  • 17% of Millennials have felt judged by colleagues in relation to their contributions.

  • The average Millennial’s contribution to the Secret Santa is 34% more expensive.

Not only do Millennials feel the financial pressure, they also can develop resentment about feeling pressured to participate. Just under a quarter of younger employees (22% aged 23-38) said they felt angry at the person organizing the Secret Santa for not considering their financial situation.  Some survey participants indicated they are even being called out on the amount they have contributed.  17% have experienced allegations of stinginess relating to their contribution, resulting in a sense of shame within the workplace.

These issues have resulted in 20% of workers believing that such events should not be celebrated at all in the workplace, and 35% of Millennials would even like to see them banned (25% of all workers).  Dr Ashley Weinberg, a psychology lecturer at the University of Salford who was interviewed about this survey stated the following, “If you’ve grown up in a world where social media is at your fingertips and those kinds of social judgments are being made fairly constantly, suddenly you’re even more aware of what others might be thinking. Naturally, that’s going to spill over into all kinds of areas, particularly something that can be a social taboo when you think about maybe not giving, or maybe questioning why people are giving.  I think there can be a bit of that, and naturally it does lead to anxiety for a lot of people.”

Despite some of the challenges that Millennials are facing, the majority of UK office workers think the Secret Santa tradition is good for the organization.

  • 61% of UK office workers think they are good for morale.

  • 60% believe they help build a healthy rapport amongst colleagues.

  • 64% assert that gifting between employees is a sign of respect and appreciation.

While many Millennials may be feeling anxiety or even resentment about holiday gift exchanges, those aged between 22-38 were actually more likely to acknowledge the positive benefits (67% vs 62% on average).  One interesting finding is that many workers feel that this holiday tradition needs an overhaul to update it to more modern views.  42% of the UK workforce deems the custom as ‘old-fashioned’.

When it comes time to set the guidelines for your upcoming holiday gift exchange, some best practices to ensure everyone has a good time include the following:

  • Set clear upper and lower spending limits

  • Ensure no one feels pressured or required to participate.  Any reasons due to religious, personal, or financial circumstances should stay confidential. No one should feel stigmatized for not participating.

  • Do not allow employees to swap names to make sure it feels fair and that there is no favoritism

  • Clearly communicate that gifts should be appropriate for the workplace and follow your policies regarding discrimination, bullying, and harassment. 

  • Employees should be cautious about gifts that could offend someone’s race or religion.  This should be taken into consideration when it comes to food or alcohol gifts.

Following these commonsense guidelines should hopefully ensure that your holiday gift exchange is one that ends the year on a positive note for employees.

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