Tips for Winning at Secret Santa

by Dec 12, 2016

Most people look forward to the end of the year because it means getting some rest, time off work, and catching up with family and friends. There is, however, another benefit: work’s Secret Santa! Alright, it may not seem like such a benefit at the time, and many people find it quite stressful, but it can actually be a really great way to get to know your fellow co-workers. So we’ve put together a quick guide to help you conquer this year’s Secret Santa!

Secret Santa: Benefits

Okay, so there are several reasons why Secret Santa at work is actually a good thing!

1. Builds camaraderie

Whether it’s sharing whispered conversations with your colleagues about what to buy, or simply the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from giving someone a gift, Secret Santa is great for building camaraderie. It gives you the chance to show that you care, in a fun and professional way (and you totally get a gift as well, which is just nice regardless).

2. Meet new people

Particularly when you work for a large organisation, Secret Santa give you the opportunity to get to know a few more faces around the office. Take the opportunity to chat with people you’ve never spoken to before – ask if they have any plans for Christmas, if they’re travelling in the New Year, or if they’re particularly looking forward to something over the holiday season. Christmas-related small talk is an easy way to get to know someone, so give it a go. Just be sure to reach out to more people than just that one guy in marketing whose name you drew – if you don’t want to ruin the ‘secret’ element of Secret Santa, then subtlety is key.

3. Encourages positive office culture

Another great thing is about Secret Santa is that you’re all in the same boat. No matter how much of a hassle Secret Santa may seem, you still get to chat about it with your colleagues, jokingly complain about how much of a struggle it all is, and ultimately give someone a gift that’ll make their day. Really, what could be better?

Overcoming Secret Santa issues

There are a few issues that come up for people every year, and they can put a sour spin on the whole experience. Luckily, they’re usually pretty easy to overcome!

1. You simply don’t have the money

If you’re living paycheck by paycheck, then budgeting $25 for a gift for someone you don’t know well would seem more than a bit unfair. If this is you, then your main option is to immediately opt-out the first time you hear any Secret Santa plans. Staying quiet and trying to stay uninvolved not only means you can’t really participate at all in the general Secret Santa revelries, but could also lead people to assume that you’re still involved and just being shy about it. Just be upfront, and send your apologies. Besides, you can still sneakily help your fellow co-workers figure out what to buy each other (which may not quite be the same, but is still rewarding).

2. You’ve only just started at the workplace, and literally don’t know anyone

You’ve just landed this new job and everyone seems nice enough, but you just can’t get beyond the ‘nice weather we’re having‘ conversation? I hear you. Having to buy someone a Secret Santa gift when you’ve never really  had a conversation with most of your colleagues is going to be a tad stressful. So what do you do? You play it safe. Go for items that people are likely to want, but might not buy themselves – think fancy toiletries, gourmet chocolate or some nice new stationary. Sure, none of these things are overly exciting, but it’s more than likely your giftee will actually use them!

3. You really have absolutely no idea what to get your chosen giftee

Some people are just flat-out hard to buy for. Whether it’s because you don’t know them, or because they’re just one of those people who don’t seem to really like anything, it can be a struggle. Have a chat with some of the other people around the workplace who might have worked with that person for longer than you, and see if they’ll share ideas. Still no luck? Check out your person’s social media accounts to see what they’re interested in. Still no luck? Buy something that you yourself would like to receive. Obviously, if they’re of the opposite gender buy something gender neutral, but you’re unlikely to buy something truly awful for yourself, so they should at least appreciate the effort. Besides, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Gifts to avoid

While this will likely seem obvious, here’s our quick guide on Secret Santa gifts to avoid, to help you stay on track:

Anything related to race, orientation, or political standing

You could have the best inside joke with someone and find the perfect tie-in gift, but if it’s hitting any of these three topics it’s probably best to avoid it. Even if your giftee would find it hilarious (and even then, there is the risk you’ll just offend them), others in your office may see it and misinterpret your intentions. Really, it’s just better to stay on the safe side. And hey, if you really think they’d enjoy the gift, give it to them outside of work so you can both have a laugh without risking judgement.


So this isn’t a big no-no by any means, but you have to be a bit cautious. More and more people don’t drink nowadays, and others only like certain beverages. If you know the person pretty well, and you’ve had a drink together on occasion then it’s probably a safe bet, but if you don’t know them well it’s probably best to steer clear.


Yes, sometimes you might find the perfect novelty t-shirt for your giftee, but have a long think before you buy it. Unless you know the person well, you want to be careful with buying clothing so as not to offend or embarrass anyone. Some people are sensitive, so if you buy something the wrong size they could take it the wrong way, and a feud is not how you want to start the holiday season.

Curse words

Sure, ‘Typo’ has a tonne of humorous mugs/notepads/stamps/cards etc. that are riddled with curse words, but in most workplaces they’re probably not going to be appropriate gifts. You never know who’ll take offence to an item like that, and in most cases, the humorous payoff is never really worth the risk.

Image Source

With Christmas right around the corner, it’s time to get into the holiday spirit and get giving! With these handy tips as a guide, you’ll surely come out on top of this year’s Secret Santa. Good luck!

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

By Mia Casey

By Mia Casey


Mia is a Sydney-based copywriter and content creator, who ran the UTS Careers Blog for five years since its conception in 2016.
Her freelance work focuses on branding development and helping companies create a cohesive identity narrative tailored for each of their platforms.
She enjoys piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.