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A new kind of office Secret Santa?

We’ve all been there, the office holiday gift exchange. You get someone’s name you barely know, find a gift that’s as inoffensive as possible if you have the time, and if you don’t, you just buy a candle. There’s maybe a festive activity of giving them out where everyone has to watch this pretty awkward gift-giving go down. And then poof, it’s passed, with only non-recyclable wrapping paper left in its wake. Why do we do this? What benefit is created within your team?


Enter my cognitive empathy-based, virtual first, new kind of Secret Santa, destined to change holiday office “gift-giving” for the better. Why?



It’s green. No physical items change hands, so there are no unwanted candles or hand cream.

Actually bonds people together. Giving them the warm fuzzies the season should be about

Lasting. What’s the one thing you might keep for years?

Communal. There are almost as many benefits to the giver as for the receiver.

The recipient will LOVE their gift!


It starts in the same fashion, with everyone drawing names out of a “hat” or virtual sorting tool. But the gift you owe that person is something really special; you owe them a thoughtful compliment. Everyone needs to write a ~ 3 sentence (or more!) work-related compliment for their chosen person; what are they great at, who did they help this year, what could you not do without them? And if you don’t know them well, you have to solicit that information from others. Studies show that talking positively about other people reflects positively on the people describing the attributes, thanks to spontaneous trait transference, which is the idea that if you communicate a specific trait about someone, it becomes associated with you. It also enables social connection and bonds the two speakers. Doubly rewarding!


The gift-giving ceremony can be public or private. Some recipients might be shy to have theirs read out loud, but you could solicit braver souls to have theirs read by the giver or create a document of all of them. Or just designate a moment for everyone to open that email at the same time while having a celebratory glass of champagne or Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider delivered to all the participants. Next level would be handwriting and mailing them, but some teams may find that a bridge too far. Real paper and handwriting do make the words seem more meaningful and lasting, though.


I’ve heard of people keeping these notes for years as a reminder of the positive things people see in them. This Christmas, let’s give everyone what they truly want. To be noticed and appreciated for what they’ve done at work.


And if not, please no candles. Maybe a lottery ticket?



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