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Build Your Career Office Life

9 Gift-Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party

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

'Tis the season for cheer, happiness, eggnog and company holiday parties — which may mean giving gifts in the office.

You may be thinking of exchanging gifts only with a couple of co-workers or employees, but why not give the whole team the chance to get into the holiday spirit? From the traditional Secret Santa exchange to gift themes, here are nine fun gift exchange ideas to try at work this holiday season.

You've probably participated in a Secret Santa exchange at some point, but in case you've forgotten how this longtime tradition works, everyone in the office anonymously draws the name of one co-worker for whom they will buy an inexpensive gift. If you want to make it more fun, encourage employees to leave hints about their identities for their recipients up until the big reveal. [See Related Story: 25 Inexpensive Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Co-Workers]

A gift guess is a very 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 of the gifts have been exchanged.

If your employees have a good sense of humor, a white elephant gift exchange (sometimes called a "Yankee swap") may be just the answer to spread some holiday cheer. Have each employee bring in a wrapped gift to be put in a central location, where everyone will 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 regift.

Reading is a gift in its own right, and this exchange 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 discover a new author they may love. 

To do a gift grab (also known as a grab bag), all of your employees have to bring in a small, wrapped gift under a certain price limit. Put a number on each wrapped gift, place corresponding numbers in a hat and have participants draw one to determine which gift they get. Alternatively, don't label the gifts, and have all employees select theirs in the order of the numbers they drew.

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, as 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.

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 limit for the amount) to that charity in the selected person's name.

Even if you're not great at cooking, everyone has a favorite recipe. A fun alternative to giving actual presents is to exchange 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 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. (For example, you can say, "Stand up if you've already decorated your Christmas tree," or "Stand up if you're wearing red.") 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.

Employers should understand, however, that some people would rather not give gifts at work around the holidays due to budgetary or time constraints, Alison Green, of the Ask a Manager blog, noted in a piece for U.S. News and World Report.

As such, if your office organizes a gift exchange, make it opt-in rather than opt-out, Green said. 

"Most people feel awkward declining to participate, so asking people to sign up if they're interested is more considerate than making someone announce that they don't want to take part," she wrote.

Finally, Green advised setting a low dollar limit for any office gift exchange so that people who do want to take part can do so, no matter their budget.

Additional reporting by Brittany Morgan (Helmrich).

Shannon Gausepohl

Shannon Gausepohl graduated from Rowan University in 2012 with a degree in journalism. She has worked at a newspaper and in the public relations field, and is currently a staff writer at Business News Daily. Shannon is a zealous bookworm, has her blue belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and loves her Blue Heeler mix, Tucker.