Here is our list of the best office gift exchange ideas.
Office gift exchange ideas are games and activities that make gift-giving more fun. Examples include Santa’s Casino, musical gifts, and cookie swaps. The purpose of these activities is to celebrate holiday gift-giving in a fun and engaging environment. These games ensure team building and foster friendly relationships among employees.
These activities are examples of holiday team building activities and office Christmas party entertainment, and are in-person equivalents of virtual Secret Santas and virtual white elephant exchanges.
This list includes:
- office Secret Santa ideas
- office white elephant ideas
- office Yankee swap ideas
Let’s get started!
Office Secret Santa ideas
In Secret Santa, participants put their names in a container. Then, each participant draws the name of a coworker. Next, participants will buy a gift for the assigned recipient. However, the gift-giver typically leaves their name off the gift tag, and the recipient must guess the origin of the present after opening. Secret Santa also has a spending limit so that each receiver gets a gift of the same value as the present bought for another coworker. Here are some great office Secret Santa ideas and games.
1. Santa’s Casino
Santa’s Casino gives players options beyond standard presents. This exercise functions as a sort of lottery. Every participant will receive a present, and some team members will win more substantial prizes.
Each participant has to bring a gift according to the spending limit in this game. However, players also bring an additional $5 or $10 to be kept in a separate jar or hat.
You will place all the gifts on a table and the money in the hat next to the gifts.
Each participant will have three options to choose from:
- Pick any gifts from the ones present on the table.
- Put their name in the jar or hat to win the total amount collected at the end.
- Put their name in another hat to win all the gifts nobody has chosen.
The first option seems the most convenient to many participants. Although the second and third options would be risky, they can result in a bigger reward. The office should contribute a few extra presents to make the leftover gift jackpot more substantial. Also, the participants whose names are not chosen from the jars still get to pick a box to unwrap.
2. Gift Auction
Gift action is a great game to play during gift exchanges. However, you will probably not use real money in this game. Instead, you can bring artificial coins and notes and distribute the same amount among all the participants.
Then, the host will pick one gift from the pile of presents and put it for auction. Every participant will bid a price from the fake money. The teammate with the highest bid will get that gift.
You will continue the game until all the gifts get distributed among the participants, and no money remains.
3. Left, Right, Left
This game requires creativity and imagination because you will need to make a story that includes the words ‘left’ and ‘right.’
In this game, the team sits in a circle and rotates one gift as one speaker reads the story. When the word ‘left’ gets spoken, you will pass the gift in that direction. Similarly, when the word’ right’ gets uttered, you move the gift to the right.
Participants get to keep the present in their possession when the story ends.
4. Sneaky Santa
The reason this game is called Sneaky Santa is that players have the option to steal a gift. This game is a mix of Secret Santa and Yankee Swaps.
Here is how you can play this game:
- Put all the gifts on the table.
- Give a piece of paper to each participant and ask them to write a number.
- The person with the number ‘one’ comes first to find their gift and open it in front of the crowd.
- Then, player number two takes their turn. These participants have the choice to open a new gift or steal the already opened gift from another person.
- If someone gets their gift stolen, they can choose another gift from the pile.
This game will continue, and the participants can open or steal gifts until all the gifts get distributed among the employees.
Wishlist is a fun game where you can choose the most favorable gift for your coworkers. In this game, you choose three easily-accessible stores. Then, each employee gets to write one thing they wish to have from each store while keeping the spending limit in mind.
Next, you write the name and the chosen gift options on a piece of paper, and all employees have to vote for one gift they would want the most. After selecting a gift for each employee through voting, you will assign names to each employee. Finally, these participants must buy that gift for their coworkers.
6. The Numbers Game
In the Numbers Game, the host will assign you a number. Then, you will write a fun fact about yourself on the same paper.
When the host has collected all the gifts, they will put the pieces of paper in a hat. Then, the host reads the fact without revealing the number or the name. The employees in the audience will guess who the fact describes. The participant who gets the correct answer will get a gift with that number.
In this game, one team member can get more than one gift, and some folks might not get any. It will only depend on how quickly you guess. If you want to ensure fair competition, then you can eliminate the person who gets the gift so that other people can guess and get their gifts too.
Keep in mind that employees will most likely not want to contribute a present and risk getting nothing in return. For this activity, it is best if the employer provides all the gifts. To ensure that everyone still gets a present, you can do this exercise in addition to your regular Secret Santa exchange.
7. The Dice Game
The dice game is the most fun game played at gift exchanges. In this game, whether you switch, steal, or unwrap a gift depends on the roll of a die.
You can designate each number on the dice with an action.
Here are some examples:
- One tells you to switch your gift with the person on the right.
- The number two means you will have to switch your gift with the person on your left.
- Three and four will mean that you can unwrap a new gift.
- Numbers five and six will indicate that you have to steal a gift.
Each teammate will get a chance to roll the dice, and they will have to act on that number. After that, keep rolling the dice and give turns until every team member receives a gift.
8. Grab Bag
Grab Bag is a fun game that may deceive you. In this game, each participant has to bring a gift wrapped in a deceiving manner. For example, you can wrap the package with several sheets or use paper to change the shape of the gift.
Then, you will put all the gifts in a large container. Each player will feel around the container or bag and pick a present based on appearance or at random.
At the end of the activity, team members open their gifts and see if they got the one they expected. Unwrapping the gifts and getting surprises is the most fun part of this game.
9. Heads Or Tails
In Heads or Tails, a coin flip will decide your gift. This game is unpredictable, and the result may be completely different from the scenario in the beginning, which makes this game even more fun and interesting for the participants.
You can associate heads and tails with an action. For example, if you toss the coin and get heads, then the participant will pick a gift from the pile of gifts. On the other hand, tails means you will have to steal a gift from another participant.
You can continue the game until every player has a gift.
10. Guess The Gifter
Secret Santa requires you to send gifts without revealing yourself. Guess The Gifter can be a great game to play in the event. When the team members bring their gifts, you can let them give the gifts anonymously. The receiver will get the present without knowing the identity of the gifter.
You can select a host and give each gift a number. Then, you will write the same number and the receiver’s name on a piece of paper with the host. Then, the host will call the number and name, the corresponding coworker will come on the stage, and the host will bring the gift.
Then, the receiver will open the gift in front of everyone and guess the giver’s name. As this game is difficult, you can reward the folks with a jackpot who guesses the right name.
Office white elephant ideas
A white elephant gift exchange usually involves some kind of stealing. The activity is similar to Yankee Swap and Secret Santa, but involves silly, impractical, or gag gifts. In a white elephant gift exchange, you can get a new gift or steal from another person. Here are some office White Elephant ideas to make this game more interesting!
1. Pick A Gift, Any Gift
This game is much like the typical white elephant gift exchange but has a twist. In this activity, every player brings one gift, and you put all of the presents on the table. You will also have to prepare cards with instructions on them.
- Swap your gift with the person sitting in the middle.
- Steal the gift of the person who comes next.
- Unwrap your gift.
- Exchange your gift with anyone.
- Switch your gift with anyone wearing black.
Each player will pick a gift. Then, participants will pick one card and read it out loud to the crowd. Players must then follow the instructions on the card.
2. Rock-Paper Switch
The Rock-Paper Switch game requires stealing, like the traditional white elephant. However, to claim another player’s gift, you must beat them at a game of rock-paper-scissors. When combined with the other rules, you can make this game even more fun by including other activities and dares.
The turn taker can pick an unopened gift or steal a gift. However, recipients can defend and keep their present by beating the thief at a game of rock-paper-scissors. You can also set rules for the challenger and challengee in case of losing and winning to make the game more interesting. For example, the challenger will steal or exchange the gift if they win. If the challenger loses, then they will give their gift to the winner.
3. Never Have I Ever
Never Have I Ever is a fun and interactive game for the office. When combined with a gift exchange, this exercise becomes more interesting.
How to play:
- Make everyone stand in a circle and place the gifts at their feet.
- Bring the box with the questions and let one person read them out. For example, never have I ever broken a bone.
- The first player to raise their hand to signal “I have” will swap positions with another player. However, the gifts will stay in the same place.
- Both of the folks can then open their gifts.
- The questions will pass on to the next person, and the same process will repeat.
The participants will keep switching their places until the game is over. Some of the participants might get opened gifts, while the other gifts may remain unopened until the game’s end.
4. Musical Gifts
Musical Gifts resembles musical chairs, except that you pass a gift in the circle.
Here is how you can play this game:
- Make the participants sit in a circle and put all the gifts together at the side.
- Randomly choose one gift and pass it to the next person as the music plays.
- When the music stops, the person holding the gift at that time will get that present
- This player will then step out of the circle after claiming the gift.
- You can resume the game by selecting the next gift from the pile.
This game will continue until every coworker gets a gift. Once every player has a box, the leader can crank up the music, and participants can open their presents.
5. Ornament Exchange
In this game, each team member will buy or make an ornament. Then, participants will bring these ornaments as wrapped gifts and play the gift exchange games.
To make this activity resemble a white elephant gift exchange, you can include an element of stealing or challenge participants to create or purchase outlandish ornaments.
We recommend that players win a rock-paper-scissors game or answer a trivia question correctly to steal the gift.
6. 12 Days Of Christmas
This game is inspired by the 12 Days Of Christmas activities. You can play this exercise to make the office environment more fun and interactive for the participants.
This game will take longer than the usual games because you will stretch this activity to the 12 days of Christmas. You can conduct small daily activities and tell the participants that they will have to bring different gifts each day while keeping the spending limit in mind.
As bringing new gifts each day for 12 days can be costly, you can tell the participants to bring homemade gifts some days and do cookie swaps and ugly sweater swaps.
7. Hot Gift Potato
A hot gift potato game is a great idea to keep your employees engaged and active. However, this game will give unpredictable results because the stopping of the timer will decide who gets a gift.
In this game, players sit at the table. Then, you will toss one gift around the table. Without looking, stop the timer. When the timer stops, the player with the gift in hand gets to keep the box.
To ensure a fair game, you can have players with presents leave the circle to ensure that every player has a gift by the end of the game.
8. Funniest Gift Wrap Contest
This game is an out-of-the-box idea because it requires you to be as creative as possible. With the funniest gift contest, the participants will focus on wrapping the gift.
The rules are simple: each participant has to bring a gift with the funniest wrapping. However, the wrapping will have nothing to do with the gift inside. You can tell the participants to be as creative as possible. For example, a participant might use printouts of funny email exchanges from the past year, create custom wrapping paper with a photo-edited picture of a coworker, or change the shape of the present by using extra and oddly-placed wrapping paper.
You can then host a contest where everyone presents their gifts, and coworkers vote for the best covering. The winner will get a prize.
Office Yankee swap ideas
Yankee swap is much similar to the white elephant gift exchange. Participants bring anonymous gifts and are assigned a number randomly. Then, each person comes and picks a gift according to their number. However, unlike the white elephant exchange, the Yankee swap requires swapping gifts instead of stealing them.
1. Trivia Gift Swap
The trivia gift swap will reward you with gifts whenever you answer the right question.
In this game, you can conduct office trivia while keeping in mind a specific theme. Although you can include a general theme, a better idea is to have a holiday-specific theme and prepare questions accordingly.
You can start the game by placing all the gifts in the middle of the room and asking questions. The player who first answers correctly will choose a gift and sit out the remaining rounds.
2. Ugly Sweater Contest
The ugly sweater contest is a famous game in Christmas celebrations. In this game, the workers get a sweater, and they have to decorate it with the ugliest possible design.
Each employee will come to the event wearing their sweater. Or, players can wear plain sweaters and create designs with felt, bows, Christmas lights, and other holiday decorations.
Then, you can conduct voting for the ugliest sweater, and the winner gets an extra prize.
A twist in the game would be to design funny sweaters and swap your sweaters with your coworkers.
Here is how to host a virtual ugly sweater party.
3. Roll The Dice
Roll the dice is a fun game with different rules in every round. The game starts with keeping your gifts with you while sitting in a circle.
Each person gets a turn to roll the dice. If your number on the dice matches another participant during the turns, you will swap your gift with them.
4. Gift Guessing
In the gift guessing game, the player who guesses the gift gets to keep that present. This game is easy to play because players get hints about what is inside the gift.
However, you will know who bought the gift in this game.
Every player will get a turn to come to the stage. The turntaker will then pick their wrapped gift and show it to everyone. The audience will start guessing what is inside the gift. The giver will give hints until a person guesses them correctly. The employee that gets the right answer gets the gift and unwraps it.
The Majority/Minority game helps you know about the interests and preferences of your coworkers while interacting with them in a fun environment.
How to play:
- Ask one player to come on the stage and give two contrasting options. For example, vanilla or chocolate, car or bike, black or white, formal or casual dressing, summer or winter, ice cream or coffee.
- The person will then circulate that paper among the audience, and each person will vote on what they would prefer.
- Then, the paper will come back to the person on the stage, and he will vote.
If their vote matches the majority, the turn-taker can steal a gift from any other. However, if their guess is incorrect, the player can pick any gift from the table and unwrap it.
6. Guess The Favorite Christmas Carol
Guess the Favorite Christmas Carol is a great game for a Christmas party. This game will also determine how much you know about the interests of your colleagues.
In this game, one participant will come at a time with their gift. Then, everyone in the crowd will guess the favorite Christmas carol of their coworker.
The player who gets the right answer will get the gift. In this way, each participant will come on the stage, and the others will guess until all the gifts are gone.
7. Cookie Swap
A cookie swap puts homemade spin on the gift exchange and makes gift-giving less costly. In this game, each participant will bring homemade cookies to the event. Less competent cookie chefs can bring treats from a bakery or shop. Each participant should pack the cookies in a clearly labeled container.
The participants will then exchange these baked treats by playing different games. For example, you can assign a number to each cookie box and mix these numbers in a hat. Each participant will pick a piece of paper, open it to see the number, and get the cookie box with the same number.
You can also ask the folks to taste the cookies and guess who baked them. This activity will make the event more engaging.
Pro tip: To avoid potential mishaps, ask participants to label potential allergens on the container.
8. Fun In A Box
Fun In A Box will consist of board games during the gift exchange. In this activity, you can make two groups of participants. Each group will bring their favorite board game to the event. The groups can also bring more than one game.
Then, both the games will exchange their board games and play.
You can also bring a twist to this activity by asking both teams to bring their favorite board games. One group will bring forward their game. Members from both groups will come to play, and the rest of the participants will be the audience. Then, the next group will present their board game, and both groups will play.
Here is a list of the best board games for teams.
How to do office gift exchanges
Here are the basic steps to do a holiday office gift exchange.
1. Collect Sign-ups
It is best to know the number of employees participating in the gift exchange beforehand, partly to ensure that no one is the odd man out.
Knowing the number of participants before the event is also necessary for the arrangements. Although each person will bring a gift, you will need to arrange event details like refreshments. Having an accurate guest count ensures you can prepare enough food, seating, and party favors.
You can ask the coworkers to fill the form if they would like to attend the event, and include gift suggestions. With this approach, no employee needs to endure the awkwardness of verbally opting out, and gift-givers who may not know their recipients well have recommendations for gifts. Filling out a form can be an excellent alternative method to identify participants.
2. Pick A Theme
Themed gift exchanges make the event fun, and the participants clearly know what gifts they should give. A specific theme also comes with rules for playing the game. You can opt for any theme among the several options for gift exchanges.
The most common options are white elephant, Secret Santa, and Yankee swaps. However, you can also use more creative themes.
- Ugly sweaters
- Thrift shop finds
- Gifts for adult kids
- Something blue
- Snack attack
These themes are a part of almost every office gift exchange. If you are doing a gift exchange for the first time at work, then choosing one of these themes can help you run a successful event. You can also conduct different activities in the theme to make the event fun and engaging for the participants. For example, if your theme is something blue, you can ask the participants to use blue colors for the wrapping paper and the gifts.
3. Set A Budget
It is better to set a budget and tell the participants about the spending limit to avoid discomfort or exclusion. For instance, no participant wants to give an inexpensive gift and receive a luxury item in return. Therefore, you should announce the budget beforehand so that all the employees buy gifts within the given price range.
Such an approach will not burden employees to buy expensive gifts while going out of their budget. Instead, a spending limit will make it easy for team members to choose appropriate gifts that their coworkers will like and avoid hard feelings. The spending limit should generally be between $20 to $30. You can also change the range according to the preference of your coworkers.
4. Generate Matches Randomly
In-person gift exchanges can use different methods to generate matches. The tactic you choose will depend on the theme you chose for the gift exchange.
Here are some methods to generate matches:
- Put names in a hat and ask each participant to pick a slip
- Allow the folks to open a new gift or steal the last gift that was opened.
- Use an online pairing generator
You can also develop new activities and make the process interesting by adding an element of surprise and curiosity to the activities. However, the method you choose for generating ideas will mainly depend on the theme of the event.
5. Exchange Gifts Among Employees
A general rule for exchanging gifts in several companies is that participants should be equal in the office hierarchy. While supervisors can be present for the exchange, they may participate in exchanges with other managers rather than subordinates. Giving gifts to your boss may seem like you are asking for extra favors and can put undue pressure on the gifter. However, if there is an important event coming up, the whole office can contribute to give one present to the boss. Collectively giving a gift may seem like a fair idea because everyone will contribute without going out of their budget. If a supervisor participates in the exchange, they should follow the same rules and budgets as other employees.
Organizations that prefer equality in the workplace should adopt this approach. To keep the activity fair and inclusive and allow maximum participation, the organizer should set a modest spending limit to avoid overburdening the employees.
6. Keep Presents Professional
Workplace ethics demand keeping events and activities professional. Gift exchanges should not violate workplace ethics.
When buying gifts for your coworkers, it is best to steer clear of gender-specific or stereotypical gifts. Also, avoid giving personal items like clothes or perfumes. Furthermore, while white elephant exchanges revolve around silly gag gifts, skip offensive items.
Here are some ideas for gifts:
- Food or bakery items
- Coffee mug warmer
- Touch lamp
- Waterproof notepad
When buying gifts for a present-stealing event like white elephant or Yankee swap, remember, it is best to get gifts with wide appeal since you do not know which coworker will ultimately wind up with your present.
Some organizations might also prefer to ditch the traditional style and opt for zany gifts. Appropriate presents depend on the event’s theme and the recipient’s personality. Be sure to tailor your choice to suit the occasion. Feel free to ask organizers or coworkers questions if you are unsure of the etiquette.
7. Create Ground Rules
Gift exchange events are fun, but you should set some rules to prevent workplace conflict. These rules will ensure a professional environment. For instance, if you do not want your employees to bring funny gifts for the event, then you should tell them beforehand.
You can also set rules about the games and activities. For example, some companies might not prefer activities that involve ‘stealing’ gifts because it discourages a fair working environment.
If your office already has a code of conduct, then you will have to follow it for the gift exchange.
Setting rules for games will not disrupt the fun. Instead, this step ensures that the event goes smoothly and you do not violate your company’s ethics.
8. Send A Reminder
Sending reminders is necessary to keep the event at the top of participants’ minds. You should also set a deadline for the gifts to ensure that every participant has a present to open at the time of the exchange.
For best results, instruct participants to get a gift by the week before the event, and remind your crew weekly. You can also send a reminder a day before the event, so that attendees come prepared.
Office gift exchanges can be more fun and engaging if you follow these steps. These ideas will be useful for offices that do not usually conduct holiday gift exchanges.
Gift exchanges are a holiday office party tradition. However, organizers can shake up the routine and get partygoers more engaged by adding different games and activities to the agenda. If you want to celebrate the holidays to the fullest with your employees, then an office gift exchange game can add fuel to the event.
These games can also enhance the friendly relationship among your employees as they exchange gifts and play games in an interactive environment.
These games and activities with a twist are an important part of every event!