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Holidays in the Workplace: Our Parties and Gifts Survey Results

Do you like office holiday parties? Does anyone?


Well, it turns out, yes! We asked our research panel about some common workplace holiday traditions and here’s what we found out:

An overwhelming percentage of respondents from all generations are fans of the office holiday party and would like to have one this year with their current coworkers:


What if the company isn’t meeting its goals – should there still be a party? Most say “Yes.” Although a majority (62%) of the youngest people in the workplace (Generation Z, those born 1990 to 2000) said “No.” The majority of those from other generations said a simple party is fine even if the company is not meeting its goals. According to one respondent, “Holiday parties are about building camaraderie, which is needed even more if business is not meeting goals.”

Among those who like holiday parties, Generation Z is on the same page with the oldest most experienced people (pre-Boomers, born before 1946). While a majority of all generations were in favor of holding them away from the workplace during non-work hours, there was a notable generational split on that question. Boomers were almost equally split on the question, whereas, the oldest and the youngest overwhelmingly prefer a holiday party off site during non work hours.


Those who don’t like office holiday parties are, not surprisingly, very vocal in their opinion that if a party is on the calendar, management should not assume everyone wants to attend. They don’t want to feel pressured to go at all or participate in any planned activities. One respondent said, “Don’t single out those who don’t want to participate. Be respectful of their decision.”

When asked about office party Dos and Don’ts, more than half of the respondents wrote warnings against mixing alcohol with business, “Do not get drunk!” and “Coworkers never forget when an employee slips and drinks too much.” A significant percentage went so far as to say alcohol should be limited by management or not served at all.

The number one office party Do was “Have fun!” So, how? Specifically mentioned again and again was to take this time to get to know people you don’t see every day and to celebrate those you do. “Do connect with somebody you normally wouldn’t talk to at the office” and “Do take time to laugh and appreciate each other” were two of the comments. And while talking business is a big nono, people would still like to have their efforts acknowledged. “Do provide some positive feedback on something, even if goals haven’t been met. Surely the team did something right.”

“Do celebrate accomplishments – there are always some.”

Holiday Gift Giving in the Workplace

A gift for the boss, gifts for your direct reports and a “secret santa” gift – if you embrace holiday gift giving at your job it can quickly become as complicated and expensive as buying for family and friends.

Shelling out your hard earned salary for the a gift for the boss is one topic where our Pre-Boomers and Gen Zers really diverge. Almost 75% of our Pre-Boomers would get something for the boss (with most suggesting they’d pay $25-$50) while only a handful of our youngest respondents would do the same. The rest of our panel is fairly evenly split on a gift for the boss.

Our Great Depression-raised Pre-Boomers and Great Recessionraised Gen Zers are both less likely to buy gifts for subordinates than their Gen Y, Gen Z and Boomer counterparts. Most of those buying gifts would spend $10-$25.


Secret Santa: love it or hate it – some gifts are better than others

If you’re like the majority of our panel (65%), “Secret Santa” is not one of your favorite holiday office traditions.

Generally speaking, if the gift is personal, you must know the receiver really really well. Otherwise, it’s on the Worst list. Same goes for quirky gifts – if you’re 100% sure your coworker will think it’s charming or funny go for it. If not, go with the gift card.


Best Secret Santa Gifts
  1. Gift cards – especially good if for a coffee shop near the office
  2. (Good) Food – either make it yourself if you’re a good cook, or buy gourmet chocolates
  3. Wine/liquor – enough said, just make sure your recipient drinks
  4. Candles – if you know the receiver well – “I just love the smell of cinnamon!”
  5. Pro-sports related items – jerseys, hats, tickets


Some of our favorite BEST gifts (quirky, but personal or funny):
  • Brian Urlacher bobble head
  • Day-Glo ceiling stars
  • Vampire sock monkey
  • Logo-wear from a competitor
  • Garden gnome
  • Zebra print snuggie
  • Worth mentioning: A paid day off


Worst Secret Santa Gifts
  1. (Bad) Food – grocery store sweets or worse, fruitcake, really
  2. Office supplies – seriously? I get post-its from supply
  3. Jewelry – you can barely buy jewelry for your spouse, don’t try it for a coworker


Some of our favorite WORST gifts (quirky but not funny):
  • Notepads with pigs on them
  • A scary plastic doll
  • Kleenex box cover that looks like a nose
  • A cracked toilet seat • Sex toys
  • Obama chia head


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The Research

Survey results based on our 2013 Holiday Survey with 4038 respondents including representative samples of all five generations currently in the workplace.


Every day we continue to collect data from our in-depth one-on-one interviews, focus groups, surveys, seminars, and management practices questionnaires with managers and non-managers from numerous client organizations in a wide range of industries. As well we continue to avail ourselves of the internal survey data from our client organizations in addition to our systematic review of publicly available published data, including leading academic research. RainmakerThining ® research has been the source of twenty books (two currently forthcoming) and hundreds of articles by Bruce Tulgan since 1993. This research has also been cited in dozens of books by outside experts and in articles by journalists in thousands of articles in publications around the world ranging from the Harvard Business Review to the New York Times.