Cost-of-living Christmas: Can we do Secret Santa and gift giving better in 2023?

Secret santa cost of living

Another year has disappeared in a flash, and as we circle back to the festive season, businesses are preparing for the many ways they celebrate. One popular option for office Christmas cheer has always been Secret Santa, but with the cost of living putting so much strain on workers and many gifts ultimately being unwanted, could we do gift-giving better?

It is estimated that £167 million will be spent on Secret Santa in 2023, and £60 million will be wasted on unwanted Secret Santa gifts this year. So whether your business gives the gifts or your team gathers for a group celebration, we have some ideas on making everyone feel thought of and not out of pocket.

What do employees really want for Christmas?

We have all been the recipients of bad Christmas gifts, and we know the old saying, "It's the thought that counts", but let's face it, sometimes the thought wasn't there either, and social media has the proof. After an extensive scroll through X (formerly Twitter) searching for a laugh, it became clear that a new toilet brush was one of the more thoughtful bad gifts, mainly due to its practicality. When @SoVeryBritish asked for the worst Secret Santa gifts people had received, user @EsqHardy recalled the year he received the book 'Roundabouts of Great Britain', the comments proving this could be an excellent gift for some. Still, the giver most likely needed to do their research on Mr Hardy's basic interests.

Just for a giggle, here are a few more terrible gifts:

Choosing thoughtful gifts as an employer

Picking thoughtful gifts is a process that can be broken down into simple steps. Employers buying for the whole team should consider:

  • What is the budget?
  • Have we asked the team what they would like?
  • Can this gift be personalised in any way?
  • Is the gift useful and practical to the recipients?
  • Does the gift reflect our company culture and relationships with the recipients?
  • Is it a high-quality gift?

When selecting a present, keep in mind that gift cards or charitable donations may be preferred by some. Alternatively, consider offering bonus pay or time off from work. It may be worth consulting an accountant regarding any possible tax benefits or implications.

Gifting time off for Christmas

The secret to Secret Santa is information.

If your business opts for Secret Santa, it's worth noting that almost one-third of participants have certain coworkers they dread buying for, often because they don't know them well enough. It is no secret (or pun intended) that times have been more challenging financially, causing many people to be more conscious of waste and considerate of others in a less fortunate position. The answer is to provide the giver with better information on the recipient.

The common practice with Secret Santa is to draw a person's name out of a hat, but that's all the information you usually get. Many people don't know all of their coworkers, and certainly not to the extent they are qualified to choose a profoundly thoughtful gift.

To reduce the risk of underwhelm, waste or disappointment, create a small quiz of 5-10 questions for each team member.

With their name attached, of course, ask them:

  • Their hobbies and interests
  • Charities or causes close to their heart
  • Favourite food
  • Dietary requirements or allergies
  • Basic info like favourite colour, holiday destination, plant, flower, place to shop or eat.
  • A fun fact about them

Fold up the quiz and let each team member draw one out of a hat, as you usually would, and the giver will be armed with better information to make a thoughtful choice.


Giving gifts in the office can be a great way to bring everyone together, show appreciation for your team's hard work and allow people to connect with colleagues they don't usually have a chance to. 

The last couple of years have set some new and unusual financial challenges for many who now have to think, act and spend differently. Many are still quite happy to participate in gift-giving activities, like Secret Santa, but would prefer to do so knowing their contribution goes further. 

The millions of pounds expected to go to waste in 2023 could be heavily reduced by a slight reframe that allows the giver some insights into their recipient, so the work year ends on a high note for all.



Ché manages our marketing, communications and partnerships. She helps people find Leave Dates and make sure it is right for them. Her favourite weekly task is sending thank you messages to customers who review us.