presents wrapped

With Christmas just around the corner, work Christmas party planning is in full swing. Secret Santa, or Kris Kringle is a popular gift giving tradition celebrated in workplaces across Australia. While this activity is meant to be fun and enjoyed by all, it can be a source of worry for some businesses, as some staff may be offended, and it could have a negative effect on team morale.

What is Kris Kringle?

Kris Kringle (or K.K.) starts by putting the names of all employees in a hat. Each person draws out the name of a colleague and that is the person that they need to buy a gift for. K.K. is also referred to as “Secret Santa” and the idea is to not tell anyone whose name they have drawn.

While K.K. is intended to spread some Christmas spirit, sometimes jokes can fall flat, and because the gifts are given anonymously, K.K. could be used to send a message to the recipient that the gift-giver would not ordinarily share face-to-face.

Even though the intention of K.K. is to be light-hearted and fun, it can easily lead to distress and legal consequences.

Employees should be warned against engaging in pranks and be reminded that not everyone shares the same sense of humour.

Gifts that have sexual connotations may be viewed as sexually harassing and other gifts may breachworkplace health and safety laws.

There is potential for legal implications to occur as a result of K.K. There could be instances where an employee feels that they were being bullied or discriminated against and an employee could be offended by a gift they receive. In one case, an employee received a plastic reindeer that produced chocolate droppings. The recipient believed that the implication of the gift was that his work resembled animal droppings.

As with other workplace bullying or harassment claims, it is not about the intention of the gift giver, who probably meant this reindeer gift to be humorous, but about its effect on the recipient.

How to manage Kris Kringle

The big question for employers is how to manage K.K. As it is work-related, employees should be reminded of appropriate conduct and that:

  • All workplace policies apply, including anti-bullying, discrimination and harassment, disciplinary action and code of conduct.
  • Their gifts must reflect the business’ expectation that all employees are treated in a respectful and courteous manner.
  • Not everyone shares the same humour, so gifts should be chosen carefully. No one wants to see the manager’s face when someone opens an inappropriate gift.
  • Anyone who feels distressed or upset by a gift should inform management immediately so the matter can be appropriately handled.

What are some other tips to help Kris Kringle run smoothly?

  • Don’t force people to take part. The Christmas season is expensive and not everyone has extra cash to spend at this time, especially those with children or those who care for someone.
  • Set a reasonable price limit. This helps encourage more people to participate and alleviates the concern some people may have about spending too much money.
  • Get staff to fill out a little profile of themselves. This will help their K.K. find a gift that they know their colleague will like. It also helps the team get to know each other better, which helps with team building.
  • Set a date for buying and wrapping the gift and get everyone to put their gift under the Christmas tree. This will help bring some festive cheer into the workplace and ensures that people bring their gift to work on an agreed date so no one misses out.

A “master” sheet may also be useful, which has a list of the gift-giver and the recipient. This can be kept confidential unless a problem arises and needs to be resolved. Employees should be advised that a master sheet will be kept to regulate gift-giving behaviour.

If a business has had problems with K.K. in the past, consider whether it is appropriate to run it again. K.K. is a nice idea and is fun but can be risky if not handled appropriately.

If managers are concerned that K.K. will cause complications, there are other team building festive activities such as a Christmas baking competition, where everyone bakes a dish for the whole team to enjoy together.

Further advice or assistance

For further advice or assistance on this topic, or any workplace relations matter, Employment Plus clients who have placed two or more candidates have free access to the Ai Group Workplace Advice Line.

Call 1300 862 217, 8.30am– 5.15pm AEDT Monday-Friday