Office holiday gift exchanges are designed to be fun, but in the end, you often end up buying something someone else doesn't like, need, or want and receiving something you don't like, need, or want. We keep doing it in the name of "fun."

Many offices have adopted a "Secret Santa" game where all participants (and participation should always be voluntary) are assigned a co-worker and instructed not to tell that person who he or she is. Everyone buys a gift and everything is revealed at the end, and it's great fun. Except, at the end you have a gift you really don't want. (Unless it's food, in which case you probably want it, but your middle could probably do without it.)

I stumbled across a much better version of this game. It comes from a friend of a friend who tried to track down the originator of her husband's office tradition, but couldn't. They gave me permission to share this fabulous idea. Here's how it works.

Everyone who wants to be involved signs up, just like a normal Secret Santa. Then co-workers are assigned, but here's where it changes. Instead of buying a gift for your co-worker, you buy a toy that fits your co-worker's personality.

And here's what makes this the best Secret Santa ever. At the party, you unwrap (but not open) the gifts and laugh about them. Yes, Jane in accounts payable gets a toy cash register and John in marketing gets an art set, but then you put the new, unopened gifts in a box and take it to a local charity that gathers Christmas gifts for children in need.

Everybody wins here. You get the fun excitement of thinking of the perfect gift for your secret Santa's personality, you don't have to take junk home that you don't need, and a child benefits from everyone's generosity.

You can set rules around it according to the needs of your office, but the basic premise remains the same: You're doing an act of kindness for people who really would enjoy a gift. It changes the tenor of the party from something that you "have to do" to something that you want to do. You don't have to force a "thank you" for a gift you'll never use and re-gift at the first possible chance. You get the challenge of finding the "perfect" toy for your co-worker, but even if you're way off in your assessment, it doesn't matter, because the child that receives the gift will love it.

So, bookmark this for next year's party, and turn your office holiday party into a chance to share kindness.

Published on: Dec 21, 2016