Should ‘Secret Santa’ be BANNED in the office?

Secret Santa and other office ‘whip-round’ occasions have come under the spotlight today, as new research from UK job board Jobsite found that younger workers are feeling so pressured to contribute that they are dipping into their savings or going into debt in order to chip in. 

The Jobsite report revealed that three quarters (73%) of office workers aged between 23-38 have regularly contributed more than they could afford to an office celebration, compared to only over half of the UK population on average (58%). The financial strain of contributing to activities such as ‘Secret Santa’ and presents for birthdays and promotions can be so severe that 26% of younger workers have either dipped into their savings or gone into their overdraft to contribute. 

WHAT OFFICE ‘WHIP-ROUNDS’ ARE WE CONTRIBUTING TO? 

The report investigated how much and how often UK office workers are invited to ‘chip-in’ for an office celebration – ranging from birthdays and work anniversaries to engagements, promotions and even seasonal events such as ‘Secret Santa’.

On average, we’re spending our own money on office occasions such as birthdays, engagements and Secret Santas 15 times a year. Birthday celebrations take the largest slice of cake, with workers forking out an average of 5 times a year. When it comes to popping our hands in our pockets, employees are spending an average of £6.78 per whip-round, totalling £99 every year on gifts for our co-workers. Over the course of our careers, this adds up to £4,667. 

Shockingly, Millennial workers see their contributions add to 34% more, with a total of £151 per year spent on 17 colleague’s celebrations, which represents £7,111 over a career. 

THE IMPACT ON YOUNGER WORKERS

The ramifications of young workers being left out of pocket are not just financial but can also cause a rising tide of resentment amongst employees. 

Just under a quarter of younger employees (22% aged 23-38) said they had felt angry at the person organising the whip-round for not considering their financial situation and to make matters worse, some are even being ‘called out’ on the amount they have contributed. 17% have also experienced allegations of stinginess relating to their contribution, resulting in a sense of shame within the workplace. 

As a result, one in five (20%) workers believe 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).

OFFICE ‘WHIP-ROUNDS’ ARE GOOD FOR MORALE… IF DONE RIGHT

However, despite the financial and emotional pressures – ‘Secret Santa’ and other office whip-rounds are here to stay, as the majority of UK office workers recognise benefits associated with their participation. 61% believe they are good for morale, 60% believe they help build a healthy rapport amongst colleagues and a further 64% assert that gifting between employees is a sign of respect and appreciation. 

Interestingly, those aged between 22-38 were more likely to acknowledge these benefits (67% vs 62% on average) – despite being more likely to be on the receiving end of some of the negative side effects of contribution (85% felt pressured vs 79% on average). This implies that while office celebrations carry value, they are in need of a modern-day rethink – especially as two fifths (42%) of the UK workforce deems them ‘old-fashioned’, compared to only a third (32%) of Millennials. 

A FAIRER WAY OF GIFTING? 

With office celebrations carrying a number of benefits, it seems businesses should continue to support them – but look to put less burden on the individual employee. 

A significant proportion of young workers feel like the business should shoulder the burden – rather than adding to the pressures of individual employees. Millennials workers particularly agree with 24% asking for dedicated company budgets to avoid chipping in, compared to 21% across all UK workers surveyed.

Dr Ashley Weinberg, an expert in workplace psychology at the University of Salford added his thoughts on the report: 

“The giving and receiving of gifts is a natural part of our make-up as social animals. In fact, the basis of most of our face-to-face communication relies on taking turns and understanding the unwritten rules which underpin it. The workplace is an obvious testing ground for our ability to negotiate, but we don’t always feel we have the power to say ‘no’ and we should.

Having the chance to share our appreciation of colleagues and to celebrate positive events is really valuable – just as long as this is done fairly. Workplace organisations can play a positive part in this, whether helping to suggest sensible parameters or even by setting the ball rolling with a contribution to collections for employees.” 

GIVING YOUR SECRET SANTA A PUBLIC MANTRA 

“Celebrating special events for our colleagues is great for morale in the workplace. However, there can be unfortunate unintended consequences, especially in workgroups or organisations where there is an expectation to give to material gifts for colleagues.

The spirit of giving – especially at a seasonal time of exchanging gifts via ‘Secret Santa’ – is something we’d hope can be expressed in many ways and it’s worth remembering that where this involves financial contributions, not all colleagues have the same disposable income. This can mean that an individual’s contribution or lack of one is labelled ‘stingy’ where actually they may not be in a position to contribute. Clearly this is unfair and creates stigma. 

As the spirit of giving is also about generosity of spirit, we argue that where Secret Santa is concerned, something ‘secret’ should probably remain so. What shouldn’t remain secret is that giving is a mindful activity and one hopefully that is designed to do something good and not to be a trigger for something worse. 

Our suggestion is that workplaces operate a not-so ‘Secret Mantra’ to share good cheer and avoid any stinginess of spirit, by removing expectations and pressure on colleagues to give or conform to high amounts, when they may not be so easy.” 

Alexandra Sydney, Marketing Director at Jobsite, comments: “While the act of giving and celebrating personal milestones like birthdays and weddings can bring teams together, our research shows that we should be mindful in how we approach monetary contributions to these events. For those who are part of bigger teams, or who are more junior and therefore have a lower income, it may simply not be feasible to contribute to every celebration. 

If a set company budget for celebrations isn’t an option, the best way to approach whip-rounds is to highlight that it’s a worker’s personal choice as to how much they contribute, or whether they contribute at all. When it comes to Secret Santa, again this should be “opt-in” rather than a requirement, and a budget range can be agreed from the offset to avoid any awkwardness. The main thing to bear in mind is that bringing teams together for celebrations should act as a boost to team morale, not be something that individuals avoid as a result of feeling pressured to contribute a particular amount.” 

Author: Editorial Team

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