This very question; should workers continue the tradition of Christmas Gift Exchanges in the workplace is really a loaded one considering the changes in our society today.
Here are some of the reasons why Christmas gift exchanges can be frowned upon in some work environments
Political correctness is a heated topic, but nevertheless it is at the heart of our culture in the USA and Canada mixing with other cultures around the world today. Since we are talking about Christmas we must also take heed that other religious or non-religious people might take offense, or feel left out even if they choose not to participate.
Some times looking on at other people exchanging gifts, laughing, and having a good time can be lonely, uncomfortable, or offensive.
The other major factor putting a damper on the traditional holiday tradition of Christmas gift giving is the economy. Many families are feeling the pinch this Christmas, they barely have enough extra money to spend on their own families and the Christmas gift exchange might really be more than they can handle no matter how extravagant or little the cost may be.
Some people are quiet, they don’t socialize much they just do their work and then go home. Others might like to be included in office the camaraderie, but feel they just don’t fit in. These very people who are ignored the year round and then asked to give a give a gift to a person that never speaks to them might take offense or at the very least feel very uncomfortable.
Being left out
Sadly there are cases where certain people are not included in offices parties and gift exchanges on purpose. These people no matter if they were the ones at fault or not for their alienation may feel offended, outraged, and this further serves to socially isolate them.
People can feel obliged to participate just because they don’t want to be the only person who decides against the Christmas gift exchange for whatever reason.
Sensitive situation concerning the Christmas gift exchange organizers
Awkward situations concerning religious values for the Christmas gift exchange organizers can surface. Do you or don’t you ask a Buddhist, atheist, Jewish person, Hindu, or Moslem to participate? Christmas gift organizers really don’t know what protocol to follow. They don’t want to offend people by asking them to participant in something they do not believe in. Yet, at the same time, they don’t want to offend these people by not asking them either.
There is always a danger of the popular people getting all the nice gifts and the less popular people getting not nice or well thought out gifts at all. I remember one time in a Christmas gift exchange I had bought a beautiful gift for the person I had picked. I knew she was a writer and so I got her a pen set that I knew she liked. However, the person who had chosen my name (we did not know who bought the gift) gave me a magazine, one I would never have read, but what was even more disappointing was that it was used. It was not a gift selected for me at all it was something they had hanging around the house. It was the lack of thought that bothered me.
Prices of gifts
Though this may sound trivial for some people it is an issue. One person may go out and buy a lavish gift while another may give a gift from the dollar store or a used magazine like I got. Hey don’t get me wrong; if that person had given me a knick-knack or something from their home I would have loved it. I just did not appreciate a used magazine with dog-ears, and a page that was torn inside! To me that used magazine in such poor condition was no different than giving someone a half used candle.
Should the boss be included?
That is another sensitive area. I think this one involves how close the gang is to the boss. If this is a person that is rarely around or has no communication with the employees other than barking orders than asking him or her may not be a good thing. However, if not asking the boss will cause even more friction then maybe it is a good thing. Each workplace environment is different.
Then there is the issue of the gift; bosses may feel that because they are the boss they are obliged to make an effort to get a lavish gift for that one person they have chosen. That may cause problems in the office or work site and again the question of favoritism comes up. Certain individuals will resent the fact that the person got a gift that was far above the monetary value intended in the exchange.
The reverse side of the coin is the employee who gets the bosses name and buys an elaborate gift. That person might do it because he or she feels foolish giving the boss an inexpensive gift. They may genuinely feel that the boss deserves something special. Or, they might want to impress the boss with their gift to get some recognition. The rest of the people will think, “brown nosing.”
Some guidelines for having or not having a Christmas Gift Exchange:
Change the name from Christmas gift exchange to end of year gift exchange. It does not really change the idea; Christians will still see it as a Christmas gift exchange even if the word is not mentioned. You still can be politically correct and have your exchange. Some people, who would not participate or be offended because the name Christmas is mentioned, may not at all be offended with an end of the year exchange. They might be happy to exchange gifts with their fellow workers with whom they have made friendships.
To avoid the embarrassment of some people not having enough money for the Christmas gift exchange regardless of the amount set, have a closed ballad vote to decide whether or not there should be gift exchange. Make sure that at least half the group is in favor before you proceed with the organization. If not scrap the idea and tell the interested parties to do their own private exchange outside the workplace.
If possible, if the exchange is going to take place, do it on a lunch hour, or in a special room such as a conference room or even the cafeteria when not in use. This way the ones not participating are not particularly visible (stick out like a sore thumb) and the commotion does not disturb those who are not participating. Of course if you have 100 per cent participation and the company is in agreement then exchange can be done right in the office or on the shop floor.
Tips on organizing the Christmas gift exchange
Discretion is required
Practice discretion. In order to eliminate favoritism including any favoritism from the boss, or for the boss, have a committee set up in advance to buy the required number of gifts and place them in the designated area. The money to generate the purchase of the gifts will be donated by the participants. The money will be a fixed amount per person. It may be $5 each, or $15 dollars each or whatever is agreeable to the people on hand. Again, this can be done in advance by vote. Then when it is time to make the exchange a name will be pulled out of a hat, that person will select a gift, yet that person does not know what the gift is because it is wrapped up. Keep going until each person has gotten a gift, opened it up, and the oohs and aahs have all been made.
Again put the names in a hat for all the participants. Each participant will draw a name. The rule is that you are not allowed to exchange names once you have chosen a name. The reason behind this rule is to avoid favoritism. If there is an unpopular person in the group no one can refuse to buy that person a gift especially when that person is so eager to exchange gifts with another person regardless of who that person is.
The boss or Christmas gift exchange organizer must decide the exception to this rule. An example of an exception would be that a husband picked his wife or she picked him and would like to have somebody else, or two people are feuding with each other and one of them picked the name of the other and really would not want to exchange gifts with that person. In this case it would also avoid a really inappropriate gift giving to somebody out of spite or revenge. You might find it hard to believe that this would ever happen. Trust me it can. My own boss gave me a very inappropriate gift of a sexual nature.
Set a price range as you don’t want one person to buy a gift of $30.00 and then received a gift of a dollar. You might even further limit it to a range such as $15.00 – $20.00, or $5.00 to $15.00. This can be decided in advance by voting or public meeting whichever system works best for your group.
Have everyone participating make a list of 5 to 10 things they would like to get as a gift just to make it easier for the person who picks the name. Also they might list surprise me, meaning they are happy to receive any gift at all.
Make the exchange secret. You don’t want any hard feelings amongst co-workers if you have a group of people you are not so sure of.
The same as method two, but you can allow people to put their names on the gifts so the recipient will know the giver and properly thank them.
Same as method 2, but make a game out of the gift exchange. Each person would have to guess who the giver was and why. For example, Mary says, “This gift has got to be from Johnny because way back in the summer we were talking about toys we received as kids and I told him I collected teddy bears as a child and that I still have my collection, only Johnny would know to get me a teddy bear.” Then Johnny will say if he was the person who had given the gift or not.
This is a very fun game especially if the person cannot figure out who gave the gift. At the end the moderator can ask if the real gift giver would revel him or herself. Again, the giver can accept or decline to reveal his or her identity.
In the case of a correct guess the organizer can add a little gift of his or her own such as a candy bar, home baked cookie, or party favor etc. This game can be a lot of fun and adds to the festive mood.
Whatever you do for the Christmas/end of the year gift exchange remember to keep it fun, in good taste, and a way to honor the spirit of the occasion.