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Build Your Career Office Life

15 Gift Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party

15 Gift Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party
Credit: SP-Photo/Shutterstock

Getting ready to plan your company holiday party? If employees will be exchanging gifts in the office, try making things a little more fun and interesting by turning it into an activity. Incorporating themes and rules, such as spending limits, can also help take the struggle out of holiday shopping and help everyone get into the holiday spirit.

From the traditional Secret Santa exchange to themes like books or recipes and even trivia games, here are 15 fun gift exchange ideas for your next holiday party.

You've probably already participated in a few Secret Santa exchanges in the past, but in case you've forgotten how this long-time tradition works, everyone in the office gets anonymously assigned one co-worker for whom they will buy an inexpensive gift. Usually, names are drawn from a hat and there's a strict spending limit. And if you want to make it more fun, encourage employees to leave hints about their identities for their recipients up until the big reveal.

A gift guess is a really simple way to make exchanging presents a little more fun. For this activity, employees buy a random gift and wrap it in a way that others can't tell what it is or where it came from. When it comes time to swap presents, have each employee hold up his or her gift while the others guess what's inside. The first person to guess correctly gets to keep the gift. Employees can give hints if necessary, but they shouldn't be obvious. Go around until all the gifts have been exchanged. Be sure to set a spending limit and encourage employees to get creative with their purchases — the harder it is to guess, the better. Employees should also be sure not to share what they've bought so they don't spoil the surprise.

A great way to take the stress out of finding the perfect gift is to go the monthly membership route. Rather than asking employees to purchase individual presents for co-workers, have them buy an inexpensive monthly membership for a year for one employee. This way, every employee gets a new gift every month. Some great examples include a wine- or beer-of-the-month membership or popular subscription box services like Dollar Shave Club or Birchbox. You can even incorporate this into other gift exchange activities like a Secret Santa exchange or a gift auction.

For a joke match exchange, every employee has to purchase and wrap one random gift. Employers should create a list of fun, work-appropriate, holiday-themed jokes and pass a different one out to each employee in advance. When employees wrap their gifts, they should include a card with the punch line to their joke inside. When it's time to exchange gifts, have everyone draw a joke (punch line not included) from a hat — make sure no one draws their own joke — and search for the gift that has the matching punch line. Employees keep the gift that matches the joke they've drawn. It's a good idea to set a price limit for this activity, too. 

If your employees have a good sense of humor, a white elephant gift exchange (sometimes also known as a Yankee Swap) may be just the thing you need to spread some holiday cheer. For this game, each employee will bring in one wrapped gift to be put in a central location. From there, they'll take turns selecting presents. The first person to go opens the gift they chose, and the next person has the option to steal the previous person's gift (in which case, that person would have to choose another) or select a new one. But what makes a white elephant exchange unique is the type of presents involved; white elephant gifts are usually weird or funny items, or unwanted things that employees choose to re-gift.

Spice things up at your gift exchange with a little friendly competition. For a gift auction, have each of your employees bring in a gift that will be put on display in the office. Then, assign each employee a certain number of points (100 usually works well, for example) with which they can bid on the gifts they like as they're presented. Let the auction run until each employee has used up his or her points and everyone wins a gift. And if you prefer to keep things a little quieter, you can always run it as a silent auction. In that case, put boxes in front of each gift so that employees can write their bids on slips of paper to be drawn and checked for a winner afterward.

This one works especially well if your office is full of bookworms. Have each employee bring in a copy of his or her favorite book, or a book by his or her favorite author. To decide who gets which book, simply draw names out of a hat. And to make things even more special, you can ask employees to write a note to the recipient, explaining why that book is so important to them. Not only is it a fun and inexpensive way to exchange gifts, but your employees can learn a lot about one another and potentially discover similar interests, too. 

To do a gift grab, all of your employees have to bring in a small, wrapped gift under a certain price limit and place it in a central location. Put a number in a hat for each person participating, and then have everyone draw a number to determine the order in which they get to select their gifts. Simple enough, but what makes a gift grab special is the ability to steal gifts after you've chosen one. Once the first person has gone, anyone after that can choose to either take another person's present or choose from the pile. The person whose gift is stolen can do the same — either steal another's gift or pick a new one — but they cannot steal back their gift. Play until there are no gifts left to exchange.

Nearly everyone in the office drinks coffee or tea, or at the very least, has a use for a coffee mug. Why not make gift-giving much simpler by limiting your employees to exchanging fun and decorative coffee mugs? Assign everyone a random recipient (you can draw names from a hat, like in a Secret Santa exchange), and set a price limit. To make it even more fun, have employees fill their mugs with little edible treats, like candies or hot cocoa packets, before they exchange them.

A co-worker trivia game is a great way to turn your gift exchange into an icebreaker. Have everyone bring a wrapped gift under a certain price limit, and put all the gifts in one common place. Then, have your employees write out a little-known fact about themselves and put it on a slip of paper. Draw papers one at a time, reading out the fact. The first person to guess whom a fact is about gets to choose his or her present first. Keep going until all the presents have been exchanged — and your employees know each other a little better, too.

Instead of giving out presents, why not do some good while spreading holiday cheer? Have everyone write down their names and favorite charity on a piece of paper, put it in a hat and then let each employee take turns selecting names. Then, employees will make a small donation (again, set a money limit) to that charity in the selected person's name.

Even if you're not that great at cooking, everyone has a favorite recipe. A fun alternative to actual presents? Exchanging your favorite recipes, but not just a card with instructions. Employees should make a gift basket complete with the instructions and the ingredients needed to make the dish. To choose who gets which baskets, draw names out of a hat.

This is a great way to really get into the holiday spirit. Have everyone bring in a wrapped gift under a certain price limit, and sit in a circle. Then give them directions to stand up if they meet certain holiday-related criteria. (Things like, "If you've already decorated your Christmas tree," or, "If you're wearing red," work perfectly.) Those who are standing should swap gifts. Play as many rounds as you like, but make sure everyone ends up with a gift other than his or her own.

"Musical gifts" is a play on the classic game musical chairs. For this one, everyone brings in one wrapped gift under a set price limit. Then, have employees sit in a circle holding their gifts, and play a song. While the song is playing, employees should pass their gifts to the left. Whatever gift they have when the music stops is the gift they get to open.

For a cakewalk, everyone buys a random gift (it's probably best to set a price limit), and you'll have to randomly place numbers on the floor. Similar to musical chairs, someone will play a song, and when the song ends, everyone has to stand on a number. Then, you have two options: You can draw a random number and let whoever is standing on that number choose their gift. Or, as an alternative, you can label presents with numbers so that the number an employee ends up standing on corresponds to the gift they get. There may not be real cake involved in a cakewalk, but it's still a more interesting way to give out presents.

Updated Sept. 23, 2015. 

Brittney Helmrich
Brittney Helmrich

Brittney M. Helmrich graduated from Drew University in 2012 with a B.A. in History and Creative Writing. She joined the Business News Daily team in 2014 after working as the editor-in-chief of an online college life and advice publication for two years. Follow Brittney on Twitter at @brittneyplz, or contact her by email.