Secret Santa: tips to avoid an HR headache

The festive season is on the horizon, and you know what that means? Eating, drinking, merry making and a visit from Santa. And by Santa we mean a hastily-wrapped, reasonably priced gift because an anonymous colleague picked your name from a hat.

Yep, it’s Secret Santa time.

A well-loved tradition in workplaces up and down the country, Secret Santa is not without its pitfalls. Businesses can actually put themselves at risk by failing to issue proper guidance on what’s appropriate when it comes to Secret Santa gifting.

While it’s a great team-building exercise, full of the good will of the season, as a business owner you can open yourself up to claims of bullying and harassment if a gift is deemed offensive or upsetting.

But it’s not all “bah humbug!” We’ve put together some simple and easy-to-implement tips that will let you and your business enjoy all the fun of Secret Santa, without the HR headache!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

If you or your staff decide to organise Secret Santa this year, the best way to start proceedings is by bringing everyone up to speed. Communicate expectations and guidance on what is deemed acceptable gifting in advance. Whether via email, memo or a team meeting, making sure everyone is singing the same carol will make the whole process much smoother.

Merry Christmas to all

Be sure to invite everyone to participate from the outset. Excluding people is guaranteed to upset some and could be constituted as bullying. Make sure everyone has the chance to enter into the spirit but remember to add that there’s no pressure to participate if someone chooses not to.

Yuletide budget

Set a maximum spend limit and encourage everyone to stick to it. There’s no better way to alienate a room full of people than spending £50 on a gift when the budget was £10. It’s a great idea to canvas opinion and come to a compromise, as you don’t want people to feel forced into spending a huge amount. A budget makes everyone more creative!

Nice, not naughty

This is a biggie. Gifts must be workplace appropriate and sit within the boundaries set out at the beginning. Regardless of whether you know your giftee well, or you think a joke or prank gift is hilarious, you must consider the rest of the team and the mood of the occasion. Remember, if you or your staff have to ask if a gift is appropriate – it probably isn’t!

The season of goodwill

Secret Santa is intended to be light-hearted fun for all, regardless of race or religion. Respecting colleagues’ different beliefs must be maintained during Secret Santa festivities, as all the normal rules still apply.

A Bedfordshire Police officer was forced to resign in 2008 after giving a Muslim colleague bacon and wine as a Secret Santa gift. What one person might perceive as funny has the potential to inflame sensitive subjects with others. Keep it nice.

With all that said, Secret Santa really is a great way for employees to get to know each other during the holiday season. It’s all about clear communication, setting expectations and making sure your staff are aware of any and all relevant policies that could affect their festive gift giving. It’s the perfect way to spread festive cheer while avoiding a lump of coal in the shape of a costly court date.

Shaping your policies, together

From bullying and harassment to discrimination, every company needs a robust set of policies and a comprehensive employee handbook to keep everyone in your team on the same page.

To help ensure you have all the right policies in place to protect your business, we’ve created two free guides on how to create a bullying and harassment policy and a discrimination policy.

In them, you’ll find the guidance you need to equip your business with a comprehensive policy and a template you can modify to reflect your business. All you need to do is download and get started.

Here to help

If you’re looking for help implementing HR policies in your business, Citation is here to help. With everything from harassment and discrimination, to dismissals and tribunals, our industry-leading HR & Employment Law experts are here for you all year round. Get in touch on 0345 844 1111 or hello@citation.co.uk for a chat.

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