Company Gift Exchanges Can Open a Pandora’s Box of Troubles

Scrooge was on to something—not all gifts are good ones. Don’t make employees feel they must participate in “voluntary” holiday cheer.

Workplace holiday gift exchanges may seem harmless, but can be an invitation for trouble. And gag gift exchanges are especially dangerous. There are a host of reasons why they should be discouraged, and publically so.

Holidays are typically spent celebrating with family and friends. Since many of us spend so much time at work, it is easy to find ourselves incorporating our “work family” into those celebrations, especially at small companies. But minimizing this is not Scrooge behavior; it is smart management. Here is why.

Rarely are teams or workplaces as a whole “one big happy family.” A gift exchange implies everyone likes each other. This is not the case. Such exchanges could end up inflaming underlying tensions, not making things better. Also, some employees will feel compelled to participate, even when participation is ostensibly voluntary. Think about the message you are sending: “I need to spend $25 of my own money, to buy a present or gift card that is probably unwanted, with my time outside of work, to give to someone I don’t particularly know well or like. And, I don’t even typically celebrate this holiday.”

Sadly, we still have cases where some people give extremely inappropriate gifts, such as sex toys. And yes, that led to an expensive case of sexual harassment only recently settled.

Recognize the holidays are busy enough, and often stressful for employees trying to accomplish professional tasks and work what feels like a second job as they prepare to celebrate. Ban the box—the gift box, that is. You may not be able to control individual gift gifting (though if you could it would be wise), but you can discourage gift exchanges.