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Employers encouraged to change Secret Santa due to cost of living crisis

Secret Santa can have negative impacts on personal finances and the environment

Employees will spend £167 million on workplace Secret Santa gifts this year, but £60 million of this will be wasted on unwanted items, according to finance network UK Money Bloggers and review website Smart Money People.

The research also showed a quarter (24%) of Secret Santa participants have had to buy a gift for a colleague they have never spoken to, while 18% say that Secret Santa is an additional unwanted stress at that time of year.

Given the rising cost of living, almost three quarters (72%) would like to see changes to Secret Santa this year, including setting a smaller limit for donations (31%) and preferring to give to charity (22%). 

Read more: Christmas parties: social media, sexual harassment and the right not to attend 

Simon Jones, director of HR consultancy Ariadne Associates, said it is time for employers to reconsider Secret Santa.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “People don't generally like the idea of mandatory fun and if they feel pressured to take part in activities like Secret Santa, it can be counterproductive. 

“It might be time to stop linking workplace social activities and team-building; there are plenty of more effective ways to build workplace teams than forced participation. 

“And arguably the run-up to the festive period is the worst time to do this anyway; it's a busy period for many businesses, while for some staff their focus is on much needed time off and family."

Jacqueline Dewey, CEO of Smart Money People, urged workplaces to donate to charities instead, for example KidsOut, which buys Christmas presents for children in women’s refuges.

She told HR magazine: “Buying and receiving Secret Santa presents from colleagues can make some staff feel really awkward. This is especially the case in larger organisations when it’s impossible to know everyone well and with hybrid working meaning staff do not see each other regularly. 

“Giving to charity instead of gifting presents is the ideal way to ensure all employees feel more at ease with this workplace tradition and is the much more socially and environmentally-conscious option too.”

Read more: Hot topic: Work rotas at Christmas

Environmental charity Hubbub has suggested replacing Secret Santa with Second-hand Santa by sourcing gifts from charity shops or regifting items already owned to reduce the environmental impact.

Alex Robinson, CEO of Hubbub said: “Embracing Second-hand Santa is an incredibly simple thing we can all do to support the environment. This not only reduces demand for new novelty items which use resources and energy to produce and transport, but also reduces waste as we know a good proportion of these don’t even make it home after the Christmas party. 

“The plastic inflatable mobile phone chair you received last year may seem like a drop in the ocean but collectively these gifts really add up.”