Management Tactic #62: Secret Santa

If your company has a Secret Santa program in place, it might have a very real impact on the bottom line.

I’m here to argue that companies should actually sponsor their own Secret Santa programs to improve employee satisfaction and performance.

Leave it to Santa to make Secret Santas seem creepy.

At my previous company, we had a great time playing Secret Santa every year (it was a far more successful program than our Secret Stalker initiative, which quickly got out of hand. Trev still owes thousands on surveillance equipment). We’d draw names out of a hat, give each other little gifts throughout December, and then top it off with one larger gift.

The key to Secret Santa, I think, is that you have to learn things about your coworkers that go beyond your professional relationships. Although you could learn many of those things if the Santas weren’t secret, I think you learn more about a person than if they simply hand you a list of stuff they want. And this is coming from someone who gets very little out of gifts and isn’t particularly good at buying gifts.

Recently I read some research about a large company that led two similar initiatives and measured results. In Group A were people who were asked to spend a certain amount of money on themselves. The people in Group B, conversely, were each asked to spend money buying a gift for someone else in Group B.

Group A showed no impact on satisfaction or performance. This was your standard Christmas bonus. No impact.

Group B, however, showed significant increases in satisfaction and performance. As the study noted, “they also became more interested in their teammate and were happier to help them further in multiple other ways.”

Think about this, because this is a big deal. As a manager, you have the choice to give Christmas bonuses to each employee, or you can pair each of your employees with one another and ask them to spend X amount of money on the other person. The first leaves employees no more satisfied than before. And yet the second, albeit somewhat counterintuitive, leads to significant improvements across the board.

Which are you going to choose?

It wouldn’t be ethical for me to say what I’m going to do–nor is it even my decision in the end–but I would love to try a hybrid of the two. Say your employees usually get $100 at Christmas. Why not give them $50 for themselves and $50 to spend on a specific other coworker? They’re still getting the same $100 that they’ve come to expect (in fact, if you have some employees that get a larger Christmas bonus, pair them with each other), but half of it comes in the form of care and attention from another coworker. And at my work we even have the added bonus of knowing each other’s workplace love languages. This could be pretty awesome.