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Many say they feel triggered by their workplaces honoring the tradition, in which groups of people draw names to buy Christmas presents for each other, according to research from the British job-hunting board Jobsite. Frustrated by pressure to shell out cash for presents they can't afford, and sometimes having to dip into their savings to cover them, they'd like to see the practice banned.
“Celebrating special events for our colleagues is great for morale in the workplace. However, there can be unfortunate unintended consequences," said Dr. Ashley Weinberg, an expert in workplace psychology at the University of Salford in the UK. "The spirit of giving – especially at a seasonal time of exchanging gifts via ‘Secret Santa’ – is something we’d hope can be expressed in many ways, and it’s worth remembering that where this involves financial contributions, not all colleagues have the same disposable income."
Seventy-three percent of office workers from 23 to 28 years old have regularly have spent above their means when contributing to an office celebration, according to the report. Twenty-six percent of those younger workers have dipped into their savings or used overdrafts in order to "chip in."
Part of the reason they do so is that not giving enough or not contributing at all can prompt co-workers to unfairly label them as "stingy," which can cause lasting damage, according to Weinberg. In fact, 17 percent of survey participants say they have been accused of being "stingy" with gifts, leaving them ashamed.
Twenty-two percent of employees between the ages of 23 and 38 reported anger toward the organizer for not considering varying financial situations; some said they have been "called out" about the size of their contributions.
As a result, the study revealed that one in five workers, or 20 percent, believe that such events should not be held at all in the workplace. Thirty-five percent of Millennials would like to see them banned.
“While the act of giving and celebrating personal milestones like birthdays and weddings can bring teams together, our research shows that we should be mindful in how we approach monetary contributions, " said Alexandra Sydney, marketing director at Jobsite. "For those who are part of bigger teams, or who are more junior and therefore have a lower income, it may simply not be feasible to contribute to every celebration."
Sydney says Secret Santa should be “opt-in” rather than a requirement with a budget range agreed upon by employees.