Kris Kringle or Secret Santa can be an effective way for staff to bond and get into the festive spirit. If done correctly employees can have some fun and get to know one another. However, this office tradition does carry some risks.

What may be intended as banter or a funny joke by one employee could be perceived as embarrassing or demeaning by another employee. And no-one wants to be known as the worker who gave the boss that rude present! 

A healthy cookbook or personal hygiene products could be viewed as personal judgement, while a present which is sexually suggestive or religious in nature may be outright offensive. This could result in interpersonal issues such as poor internal communication and decreased employee engagement. In more extreme cases, conflict could result in allegations of bullying or harassment, resignation, or even a psychological injury workers compensation claim.

How to manage Kris Kringle

To minimise potential conflict, the business can take the following steps:

Make it optional

Some employees may not celebrate Christmas, while others might be unable to afford extra gift giving during the festive season. Some employees might just feel awkward buying a gift for someone they don’t know very well. Limiting participation to those who want to take part can help take pressure off employees and avoid resentment. Those who elect not to participate should feel free to do so and not be stigmatised.

Set clear guidelines

Be specific about when the gift giving will occur and consider sending a reminder closer to the day. A clear dollar amount should be set ($10 or $20 limits can be a good guide). The business may also wish to restrict employees switching who they are buying for, in the interest of fairness and employees not being left out.

For a festive atmosphere the business may wish to set up a tree and ask people to pop their gifts under it. 

All workplace policies apply

As Kris Kringle is work-related, workplace policies therefore apply. This includes including any bullying, discrimination and harassment policies and those related to discipline and termination of employment. Gently reminding employees about such policeis and any relevant code of conduct is encouraged. The business should also explain that failure to comply with these may result in disciplinary action.

Keep things appropriate

To avoid people feeling uncomfortable, the business can outline what types of gifts would be inappropriate. Items involving politics, religion, or sexually explicit material should be avoided. 

It is important to note that even if the gift recipient is not offended, it could still make other people uncomfortable. The business could also choose to provide a list of generic examples (such as sweets) to give staff inspiration.

Not everyone has the same sense of humour and above all fellow workers should be treated in a respectful and courteous manner. 

Anonymous or not?

There are a few ways a Kris Kringle can be run, each of which has their own pros and cons. For example, gifts can be given anonymously – this could add fun and intrigue, but also cause conflict between the employees. A gift without context from the giver might change in meaning. If taking an anonymous approach, the business could consider having one employee who monitors the gifting pairs. Alternatively, online generators can help to randomise the gift giving.

Attend to issues quickly

If management are aware of any employee being uncomforable or distressed then they should follow this up immediately so that the matter can be appropriately handled. 

Further information

Having clear policies in place before the holiday period and clearly communicating these to staff is a good way to mitigate the risks of festive events and staff functions

If there is an incident any investigation should be launched immediately and the business should contact Ai Group if assistance or advice is needed. 

To discuss this topic further, or any workplace mattter, please contact us or call the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.

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Clinton Fraser

Clinton is the Publications Manager at Ai Group. He is responsible for a number of key services including Annotated Modern Awards, Workplace Relations Handbooks and the management of Ai Group’s HR and Health & Safety Resource Centres. Clinton has a Masters in Employment Relations and previously held advisory roles with the Workplace Authority and Fair Work Ombudsman.