The holidays can be pretty hectic. They’re full of people shopping for gifts, baking dozens of cookies, decorating trees, and wrapping hundreds of presents. However, when you spend most of your time at work, it’s sometimes difficult to get into the holiday spirit.

Adding holiday festivities around the office, like Secret Santa, might make the workplace a little merrier. A holiday party at the end of the year gives your employees something to look forward to and be excited about.

So, how do you totally crush it at the office? Set a designated day for your event and follow these tips!

# 1 The Do’s and Don’ts

For those who don’t know, Secret Santa is a gift exchange done in the spirit of old St. Nick. The idea of the game is to play Santa himself, but shhh, you can’t tell anyone who you have!

Secret Santa can be a lot of fun and is an excellent way to get the whole staff together for the holiday season. However, when it’s not executed properly, the experience can be a total downer for everyone involved.

These directions and rules will put you on track for a smooth, gift-giving event!

The Do’s:

  • Set a spending limit – This will eliminate confusion and make sure the gifts are similar across the board.
  • Be unique and creative – Money and gift cards are great, but homemade, thoughtful, or creative gifts are even better!
  • Participate – Enjoying the party is so much more fun than being Mr. Scrooge.
  • Know your audience – While you might think a joke or prank is a funny gift, your co-worker may think otherwise.

The Don’ts:

  • Tell anyone who you have – It’s called Secret Santa for a reason!
  • Go over budget – How upset would you be if Suzy spent $25 on your gift when you spent $50 on Jack’s gift?
  • Be passive-aggressive with your gift – Secret Santa isn’t the time to tell Steve he needs a spritz of cologne.
  • Show poor character – Even if you don’t like the gift, you should pretend likes it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Setting ground rules upfront will ensure everyone receives a gift within the price limit and nobody’s feelings get hurt. After all, Secret Santa is about bringing joy to the office, not leaving people feeling blue.

# 2 Pick Your Strategy

Now that you’ve established the rules, it’s time to pick your strategy! The best and easiest way to guarantee you’ll have a great turnout is by providing a sign-up sheet for your staff.

You can do this by setting up a couple sheets in your breakroom or sending out a mass email invitation with RSVP instructions. Ultimately, your execution will depend on the number of employees, offices, and remote workers. Make sure you give everyone the opportunity to participate.

From here, you can go one of two directions: traditional or white elephant. Not sure which path will suit your company best? Follow these easy steps to get the gist of each exchange.

holiday gifts


  1. Hand out small pieces of paper or a notecard to every participant.
  2. Have each individual write their name and 3-5 gifts within the set price limit.
  3. When everyone is done, they’ll fold their paper and place inside a hat.
  4. Everyone takes turns drawing a name from the hat until there are no names left to pull.
  5. Start shopping (after work of course)!

White Elephant:

  1. Everyone brings a generic gift, wrapped and ready to go on the day of the gift exchange.
  2. Place gifts in the middle of the room.
  3. Have everyone draw a number from a hat.
  4. Start with whoever has lucky number 1.
  5. Person #1 will go grab a present that isn’t theirs and unwrap it making sure everyone else can see what they got.
  6. Person #2 can now grab an unwrapped present from the middle or steal person #1’s present. If person #2 steals, then person #1 will get to grab another present from the middle.
  7. The game will continue repeating step 6. When a  gift is stolen, the person who lost a gift will be able to steal from someone else or pick from the middle. Keep in mind, you can’t immediately steal back the gift taken from you. There are also only 2 steals allowed per round, otherwise the game could go on forever.

As a general rule of thumb, the traditional Secret Santa works best for smaller, more intimate work settings. It’s a lot easier to buy gifts for co-workers when you know them personally versus the occasional chatter with acquaintances at a big office. If you have more than 50 employees, a white elephant gift exchange might be the way to go. Not to mention, it’s the only game where coming in last can really pay off!

# 3 Gifts to Avoid

Buying presents for people, even when you know them personally, can be difficult and frustrating. The endless supply of options and the desire to make sure you get the best gift are what make the task of giving so tricky. Narrow down your options with this list of gifts you should never buy someone, ever.

  • Gift cards or money – While gift cards are great for birthday or appreciation gifts, they scream “lazy” for Christmas. Nothing says, “I don’t know anything about you” like money.
  • Used or opened items – When it comes to gifting presents, it’s the thought that counts; however, regifting items shows you put zero thought into the gift at all. Going this route will make you look cheap and tacky.
    “My grandma bought stocking stuffers, like Kleenex and facial cotton pads. It was really weird because I was only like 10 at the time.” -Kate Oscarson, Marketing Director at Quality Logo Products®
  • Controversial gifts – Items like underwear, diet pills, toiletries, or gag gifts are not appropriate and should never be given to your co-worker, especially at a work event. Presents that poke fun at political issues, religious beliefs, or gender identity is a no-go as well.
  • Food – Cookies, candy, and brownies are sweet and delicious, but they’re not proper gifts. Although intentions might be good with this one, most people might not want treats in place of an actual present. Also, you never know who has allergies.
  • Office supplies – Sure, Scott might be running low on staples and tape, but I can guarantee he doesn’t want them as a Christmas present. Go shopping at a store and buy a real present.
  • Clothes – I know some people might appreciate clothes as a present, but if you’re anything like me, it’s the absolute worst. We’re all adults here and unless someone asked for a specific item, we don’t need other people picking out our clothes for us.

Receiving a lousy present is a surefire way to dampen anyone’s mood. Take it from kids who have received the worst “gifts” from their parents just days before Christmas thanks to Jimmy Kimmel.

# 4 Speak for a Cause

Giving to others is a great way to spread some holiday joy throughout your community or around the world. Many charities and nonprofits rely heavily on donations throughout the year, so they can continue to provide their services for people in need. As an alternative to the traditional Secret Santa, have people write their favorite organization and have participants donate to whatever organization they picked from the hat.

go green

This spin on Secret Santa is versatile enough for practically any company to implement. Whether you have remote employees or multiple office locations, this version can be done entirely online. People will also have the decision of giving money or donating items. For example, if you pull an animal shelter, you can give them money or purchase dog beds and treats.

You can also elect to purchase gifts as a company and donate them to families who can’t afford presents. This will give your employees the opportunity to spend money without a predetermined price limit. Have them pick which items they want to buy based on how much they’re able to spend. In place of a gift exchange day, throw a wrapping party instead.

We have the power to make a difference. By giving to local or national organizations, you’re assisting those who need help the most. Whether it’s supporting animals, cancer patients, finding cures for diseases, or wildlife conservation, we can make the world a better place one donation at a time.

# 5 Raffle for Promos

Freds family restaurant cup

People love getting free giveaway items. At the end of the year, you may have some leftover promotional products from a trade show or advertising event. I once worked for a restaurant who did Secret Santa at their annual holiday party every year. If you signed-up and participated, you wrote your name on a piece of paper and a raffle ticket. The tickets were tossed into a container and put aside until the night of the party.

The day of the party, everyone brought a dish to pass and exchanged their gifts. Afterwards, the company pulled the raffle tickets to give away promotional items to the people who participated in Secret Santa. There were koozies, water bottles, headphone sets, wine keys, and t-shirts. Among the promos, they also raffled off luxury items like flat-screen TVs and gift cards for restaurants, stores, or gas. Everyone had fun, and it was a great way to lock-in participation. This example shows how happy you can make your employees and its awesome publicity for your brand!

# 6 Have a Blast

Christmas gift

The whole point of incorporating Secret Santa in the office is to have fun! No matter how many times you tell people the rules, there will always be one person who didn’t get the memo. It’s never going to be perfect, but you can still have a great time and enjoy doing something with all of your co-workers.

The holidays revolve around the tradition of giving. So, relax, talk about things other than work, enjoy tasty treats, laugh until your abs get a workout, and live in the spirit of the holidays. To add to the fun, switch it up every year! Go traditional one year and white elephant the next, or have employees vote on various gift exchange ideas. The options are endless!

The important thing to remember is that Secret Santa isn’t just about the presents. It’s about destressing at the office, spending quality time with your co-workers, and rounding out the year on a positive note. After all, everyone has worked hard and deserves a teeny, tiny break, including the boss!

Do you have any gift exchange traditions at your work? We’d love to hear them!

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