Should Secret Santa be banned? Up to 2.5 million workplace gifts go in the bin

·5-min read
A whopping 2.5 million office Secret Santa presents end up in the bin. (Getty Images)
A whopping 2.5 million office Secret Santa presents end up in the bin. (Getty Images)

Up to 2.5 million Secret Santa gifts exchanged in UK workplaces this year look set to end up in the bin, rather than being donated, recycled or regifted, new research has revealed.

Based on average spend, this equates to a whopping £32,400,000 as almost one in 12 people revealed they would simply throw away a present they disliked.

The office Secret Santa is a Christmas tradition adopted by many workplaces, but buying a surprise gift for a colleague you barely know can be a bit of a festive minefield, so it's hardly surprising that some Brits are calling for Secret Santa to be cancelled. 

The survey, compiled by online printing specialists instantprint, compared research taken from a previous study of the same topic to discover how UK employees feel about the festive tradition of Secret Santa, and how attitudes have changed since pre-pandemic.

And turns out the pandemic has had a pretty big impact on how we feel about giving secret gifts to colleagues with the number of UK workers who claim to dislike the Secret Santa tradition rising sharply from 19% to 31% since 2019, pre-COVID. 

Read more: Government issues guidance for parents on how to buy toys safely this Christmas

'No really I love it!' - the popularity of the office Secret Santa is on the wane. (Getty Images)
'No really I love it!' - the popularity of the office Secret Santa is on the wane. (Getty Images)

Despite over a third (35%) of UK employees finding joy in the workplace tradition, the number of office grinches is on the up, with one in ten people admitting they want to see it banned (10%).

Perhaps that's because one in eight (13%) say the thought of exchanging gifts with colleagues makes them anxious.

The majority of workers spend around £10 on a gift, according to the research, but one in four people spend £5.

Chocolate and sweets top the list of the most desired gift, followed by alcohol, candles and 'smellies', food related items and vouchers.

Unpopular items include framed photos of colleagues, rude or adult themed gifts, soft toys and items of clothing.

Feelings about swapping gifts with your colleagues aside, there's a sustainability element to consider with regard to the festive tradition too, particularly as almost one in twelve people admit to simply binning a present that they disliked.

Watch: People who decorate earlier for Christmas are happier. 

Despite the high numbers of gifts finding their way to landfills, encouragingly, almost a third of workers (28%) said they would donate an unwanted Secret Santa gift to charity where possible, and an additional 28% would consider regifting the item if they could not use it themselves.

Meanwhile one in eight (12%) would even hold on to their unwanted gifts, claiming they would feel too rude to throw them away.

Commenting on the findings Laura Mucklow, Head of instantprint, said: “Secret Santa gift exchanges have been a staple Christmas tradition in offices across the country for many years and can certainly help those of us who enjoy the gift swap to get into the festive spirit.

"As such, it’s nice to see that many UK employees still enjoy gift swaps with their colleagues ahead of Christmas, even if not everyone is so keen to get involved."

Ahead of the festive season Mucklow is urging Secret Santa participants to think twice about what they do with any unwanted gifts.

“Amidst all the fun and games, we would encourage those taking part to think carefully about how they dispose of their gift once the exchange has taken part. Sustainability is a key issue the world over and so recycling, donating or regifting any unwanted items should be prioritised ahead of simply throwing them away."

Read more: Would you rent your kids' Christmas presents? Meet the mum who does

The number of UK workers who dislike the Secret Santa tradition has risen from 19% to 31% since 2019 - prior to the pandemic. (Getty Images)
The number of UK workers who dislike the Secret Santa tradition has risen from 19% to 31% since 2019 - prior to the pandemic. (Getty Images)

The Secret Santa news follows previous research, suggesting the tradition is whipping millennials into a frenzy with more than a third (35%) wanting to see it banned for good, according to a new survey.

The study by Jobsite showed that more than a quarter of young office workers (26%) were spending more than they could afford on gifts for coworkers, and 17% felt judged on their expenditure. 

In fact, the financial strain could be so severe that more than a quarter (26%) admitted to having used their savings or gone into overdraft to contribute.

Read more: Family stocking fillers under £10: Ideas for men, women and children

You don’t have to get involved, though. At least, that’s what psychotherapist and life coach, Christine Elvin thinks: “Christmas especially can be a really expensive time of year and my biggest piece of advice would be not to feel pressured to say yes,” she previously told Yahoo UK

“It’s worth being honest if you can’t afford to get involved. It’s likely other people feel the same way but aren’t comfortable telling the truth. If the situation allows, honesty is the best policy.”

The people arranging Secret Santa could also look at changing their approach, too, to ease the pressure from people not wanting to get involved.

“By making Secret Santa opt-in only, it stops people from feeling as though they have to give money when somebody appears at their desk holding an envelope full of cash. Being sensitive of everybody’s individual situations will make for a much happier work environment.”

Watch: Woman takes 'petty' revenge on boyfriend's friend during Secret Santa gift exchange

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