Planning and Organization
There is more to coordinating an at-work gift exchange than simply drawing names from a hat. For example, what if someone draws his own name, or somebody else leaves the workplace prior to the swap and you don't know whose name she had selected? Drawing up a master list and tracking the names of givers and recipients will help everything run smoothly. You can download the free Microsoft Word Gift Exchange Master List template listed in the References section at the end of this article to help you assign and manage names.
Once you have created your master list and assigned names, you must establish the ground rules for gift giving. Set a spending limit with which everyone is comfortable. You can ask that everyone give homemade gifts if your colleagues are generally on restrictive budgets and everyone is in agreement. If, as a group, you enjoy humor and silliness, you can instruct participants to show up with the cheesiest, tackiest gifts they can find. Be creative, but make sure that everyone is aware of and concurs with the rules.
Great Gifts to Give
Put together your own themed gift basket with your recipient's taste in mind for a gift exchange present that will be the talk of your workplace. For the coworker who loves her morning coffee, fill a basket with a cute mug, a single pot package of flavored coffee and some biscotti. Tuck a visor, some tees and a golf towel into a small insulated cooler for that guy who can't wait to hit the course on the weekend.
Food is another gift that is almost always appreciated. This is especially true if you are known for your chocolate chip banana nut muffins or another homemade goodie that gets gobbled up any time you bring it to the employee break room. If you work in an office setting, you can find some practical and cool desktop gadgets, such as a miniature vacuum cleaner with a USB connection or an especially nice set of pens. Personalized gifts are thoughtful, as are items specific to a hobby or interest. If you are truly drawing a blank, everyone loves a gift card to a favorite restaurant or retailer.
Making the Swap
You can always opt for the traditional route and exchange gifts over a holiday lunch or company dinner. There are many other options, though, so consider trying one of the following ideas, or mix them up and create your own.
- White Elephant – This is a classic gift exchange idea in which gifts are not addressed to a specific recipient, simply wrapped and left unmarked. Everyone draws a number and the person who selects the number one chooses a present to unwrap. Person number two can either select a gift to unwrap or snatch the gift away from number one. Number three can choose number one's gift, number two's gift or a new present and so on.
- Right-to-Left Swap – This take on hot potato or musical chairs is a fun way to exchange gifts. As with the White Elephant, gifts are left unmarked. Everyone selects or is handed a present but must not open it. With everyone seated in a circle, turn on some music. Everyone should pass their gifts to the right as the music plays. Once it stops, everyone passes the gift they are holding to the person on the left. These are the presents they get to keep.
- Play bingo and pass out gifts as prizes to the winners. Make sure that each person receives only one gift so that everyone gets something.
- Secret Santa – Have a week- or even month-long gift exchange, wherein givers sneak small, inexpensive gifts into their recipients' inboxes or workstations. At the end of the designated time period, have a luncheon and ask each employee to guess who their "Santa" was. You may want to "penalize" those that guess incorrectly by obliging them to sing a carol or perform in an otherwise silly and embarrassing manner.
Alternatives to Gifts
If your group would rather not spend money on things they do not really need anyway, consider some unconventional ways to give and enjoy the season. Locate a family in need near your workplace or choose a non-profit organization that is similar in some manner to the type of work you do. Ask everyone to pick up a gift or pitch in a donation for the family or charity and give it to them with a card signed by everyone.
Another option is to have a fun swap of things you already own. For instance, ask everyone to bring in a gently used book, CD or DVD and exchange them using one of the options listed in the previous section. The same can be done with cookies or other food, holiday ornaments or household knickknacks.
Whatever you decide to do, remember that the spirit of the event is giving, camaraderie and fun. When you keep this in mind, you are sure to have a fun gift exchange at work.