Exchanging gifts is a great way to show appreciation for your colleagues during the holiday season. When done right, a gift exchange can be a beautiful opportunity to gather the office and cultivate a sense of community within your company.
Hosting a gift exchange helps all team members feel included, appreciated and excited for the holidays. We’ll highlight gift exchange ideas to help create a memorable experience and share some do’s and don’ts of holiday giving.
Use these 20 gift exchange ideas as inspiration for your office holiday party. Depending on your company culture, some gift exchange themes may work better than others.
Host a game of holiday-themed trivia, and give the winners first pick at the pile of presents (brought by each person involved). Once you win and choose your gift, you’re out of the game; the others play on until everyone has something. A holiday trivia contest is a fun way to bond and get in the spirit with your colleagues.
Instead of everyone buying a small gift for one co-worker, collaborate on a larger gift that will benefit everyone, like a new coffee machine or wall decor for the office. Be sure to give everyone in the office a chance to weigh in on the gift.
As with most gift exchanges, set a price limit and ask everyone to bring one present. Then, host an auction where employees bid for the best price of a product, not exceeding the limit. The highest bidder gets the gift.
There’s nothing more sentimental than a homemade gift that requires time and thought. You can set it up so everyone has one person to make a personalized gift for or have everyone make one universal item that could be gifted to anyone.
Choose a theme for your office present swap, like “food” or “gift cards,” and have each person purchase a gift that reflects it. Couple your theme with another gift-exchange method to decide who gets what. It’ll be exciting to compare your group’s creative talents.
Like musical chairs, everyone gathers in a circle while a holiday song plays. Each employee brings a present they purchased and wrapped; 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 gift exchange at some point. 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.
A gift guess is another great option for virtual get-togethers. In 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 you’re looking for corporate gift ideas that strike a balance between professionalism and thoughtfulness, consider a Book of the Month Club subscription, personalized gift basket or a donation to a vetted charitable cause meaningful to the recipient.
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 chooses and opens a gift; 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 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 a copy of their favorite book or a book by their favorite author. Draw names to decide who gets which book. To make things even more special, ask employees to write a note to the recipient explaining why that book is so important to them. This is a fun and inexpensive way to exchange gifts, help employees learn more about each other 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 specific 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; have all employees select theirs according to the numbers they drew.
Nearly everyone in the office can use a coffee mug. Why not simplify gift-giving by limiting 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. Employees will make a small donation (again, limit the amount) to that charity in the selected person’s name. Charitable giving is a great way to celebrate the holiday season.
Even if you’re not a great cook, everyone has a favorite recipe. A fun alternative to giving actual presents is to exchange your favorite recipes. However, don’t just write instructions on a card. Employees should make a gift basket complete with recipe instructions and the ingredients needed to make the dish. To choose who gets which basket, draw names out of a hat.
A holiday cheer exchange is a great way to get into the spirit of the season. Have everyone bring in a wrapped gift under a certain price and sit in a circle. Then, give them directions to stand up if they meet specific 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 ensure everyone ends up with a gift. This is another option that can be played virtually over Zoom.
A scavenger hunt is a fun activity that is easy for employees to participate in from their homes. Send out a list of scavenger hunt items, have employees log in to the video call from their phones and send them out to retrieve those items. Try to include items everyone can reasonably find around their house or yard; give a prize to whoever finishes first.
A gift train is another excellent option for remote workers. The gift train works by selecting and wrapping gifts and putting them all into one box. That box is then sent to the first recipient. That employee chooses a present to keep and sends the box to the next recipient. This process continues until everyone has received a gift from each participant and the box is empty.
Have one participant prepare a list of questions that must be answered with “left” or “right.” Each person starts with a gift in their hands; gifts are passed back and forth as each question is answered. When the questions run out, whatever present is left in your hands is yours to keep.
A cookie swap is a fun way to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth. Have each participant bake a batch of their favorite cookies and bring them in. Each guest can fill a bag or basket with a few of each type of cookie. For a competitive element, have participants vote on their favorite cookie and crown a winner. Just be sure to consider dietary restrictions when baking – maybe offer a gluten-free or allergy-friendly category.
Who doesn’t love a good ugly sweater? Have everyone bring in an ugly sweater and swap them using any method, like passing them around in a circle until the music stops or using a grab pile. Offer a prize or vote for the ugliest sweater.
Consider the following tips and best practices for exchanging holiday gifts with employees and co-workers.
Colleagues can give gifts to each other, and managers can give gifts to their team members to show how much they appreciate their employees. However, employees shouldn’t be expected to purchase a gift for their supervisor. Consider hosting lateral gift exchanges, where workers can exchange only with those on their own level. Whatever the case, ensure no worker feels obligated to buy a gift for their manager or the person in power.
When setting up your holiday gift exchange, ensure you set limits and boundaries on the types of gifts allowed during the exchange. For example, workers shouldn’t purchase overly personal or inappropriate items for another employee. Gifts like expensive jewelry, offensive gag gifts and specific clothing items should be prohibited.
Some people might not want to participate in your gift exchange for various reasons, from financial woes to holiday overwhelm. The exchange should be a fun, stress-free and optional idea to get the office together and express gratitude. If someone doesn’t want to participate, ensure they know there will be no negative repercussions.
While the gift exchange should be optional, ensure everyone feels included if they’d like to participate. No employee should feel left out. This might mean opening your gift exchange to the entire office (even to remote employees) and hosting lateral gift exchanges across each level.
Don’t set a high price limit on gifts; many employees will feel pressured to match that price. This can stir up financial-related stress or lead to an unfair gift exchange where one person receives an elaborate, pricey gift while another receives a stocking stuffer. Select an appropriate and agreed-upon price limit so no one needs to break the bank, everyone feels included and everyone receives a thoughtful gift.
Hosting a holiday gift exchange in the workplace can be an excellent way to express gratitude, exercise team building and keep employees engaged during the holidays. However, if not done properly, gift exchanges can stir up financial troubles, insecurities or even legal issues. Whichever gift exchange idea you choose, follow the above advice to ensure a smooth and appropriate process. When handled with care and consideration, your holiday gift exchange will help everyone feel appreciated and included.
Kiely Kuligowski contributed to this article.