Remember Secret Santa? The gift-giving holiday classic was a staple of many office cultures for years. But new data is showing that the tradition may be going the way of the dodo.
Blame the economic crunch.
While Secret Santa gifts are usually capped at a low price tag and more people have returned to the office, half of American workers are doing away with the holiday tradition this year, compared to only 22% who scrapped it last year, according to a recent study by payment network Affirm. The same study, which interviewed over 1,000 people in early October, revealed that 58% of American workers won’t buy their co-workers any kind of gift this year, compared to 79% who bought gifts for their co-workers last year.
While there is increasing evidence that people are feeling disconnected from their colleagues and employers, the reason why gift-giving office traditions are losing favor is far more clear-cut: economic uncertainty and the tidal wave of layoffs currently sweeping workforces.
“The things around inflation and the macro-environment are making people think a little bit more intentionally about how they spend this year,” said Ashmi Pancholi, vp of Consumer Insights at Affirm.
In lieu of spending on colleagues, consumers are planning to spend more on friends and family. In response to increased costs, nearly a third of Americans plan to start their holiday shopping earlier this year.
“There are the changing dynamics of our workplace as well as stresses people are feeling from inflation,” said Pancholi.
Doing away with gift-giving in the workplace does come with the risk of company culture fading, though. Experts have said that this year leaders are rethinking holiday parties to make sure there is a balance between being cost-effective while also bringing people together. Similar to canceling a holiday party entirely, removing company traditions like Secret Santa or general gift giving could have a negative impact on how people feel about a company, and their sense of connection with their co-workers and employers.
And while employees might not be giving gifts to their colleagues this year, people do still expect something from their employers. Payouts company Tremendous conducted a recent study that found 75% of employees have increased job satisfaction when they receive a gift from their employers. Of that, 46% say the boost actually lasts as long as a year or more.
“We’ve entered a new era in terms of the relationship between employees and companies and it’s really important for companies to show appreciation for all the hard work and effort employees put in,” said Nick Baum, co-founder and CEO of Tremendous. “Employees have a lot of choice as to what company they want to associate with, especially in the remote work age. They want to feel they have chosen the right company.”
So, what is the ideal gift? Money. Gifts like a company t-shirt or a fruit basket might leave employees feeling unappreciated, especially if they know the company is doing well. Two-thirds of the 1,500 U.S. respondents in the Tremendous study would be satisfied with a $100 gift, with nearly half experiencing an improved attitude about their jobs for over a year when employers give the right gift.
What makes a gift really special, though, is when a note is included, said Baum. “It’s being able to express the sentiment of appreciation with a note that comes ideally from the employee’s boss or the CEO,” he added. “That can transform a gift that is just money into one that’s really thoughtful.”
This doesn’t refer to a holiday bonus that is an item on payroll. This is something that might be a physical Visa card in the mail, or a digital distribution that the employee can click on and redeem.
“In the news headlines there are lots of layoffs, and it’s really important that companies and current employees maintain a positive and healthy relationship with that as a backdrop,” said Baum.