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10 Gift Exchange Ideas for Your Office Holiday Party

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

It's been said that we spend more time with co-workers than we do with family. Your colleagues might even feel like friends at times, and exchanging gifts is a great way to show your appreciation during the holiday season.

The entire office or team should be involved so that no one is left out. However, employers should understand that some people might not want to participate, and those who do should be given the same reasonable price limit.

Jazz up your office holiday party this year with one of these 10 gift exchange ideas. [See related story: 25 Inexpensive Secret Santa Gift Ideas for Co-Workers]

Much like musical chairs, everyone gathers in a circle while a Christmas song plays. Each employee brings in a present they purchased and wrapped, and they pass gifts to the person next to them until the music stops. Once the song pauses, whatever gift you're holding is yours to open.

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.

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 their 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.

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 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 their favorite book, or a book by their favorite author. To decide who gets which book, simply draw names out of a hat. 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), employees 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 has a use for a coffee mug. Why not make gift giving much simpler by limiting your employees to exchanging fun and decorative 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 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 to put in a hat, and then let employees 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 their own.

Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl and Brittney Morgan.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.