When my former boss left the company to move back to his hometown last year, the department head of a larger department with whom we work closely “adopted” my little department so we wouldn’t be lost in the shuffle (the hiring process for Former Boss’s replacement took a long time). I joined my adoptive department head’s regular touchbase calls with her direct reports. This proved to be really good for actual cross-functional work, keeping up on office gossip, and socializing. It was such a good relationship that we kept it up after New Boss was eventually hired. So perhaps “foster” is the better analogy here.
Anyway, I was on one of these regular work calls with my foster department and the conversation shifted from actual work to celebrating the holidays.
Foster Dept Coworker 1: So how are we going to do our Secret Santa this year?
Foster Dept Coworker 2: We’ll have to get everyone’s addresses and mail the gifts since we’re not in the office. Then we’ll open the gifts over Teams Meeting.
Foster Dept Coworker 3: OMG [Coworker 2], I hope I get matched with you – I have the perfect gift for you!
(dissolves into discussion on gift ideas for different members of the department)
I should probably mention here that I despise Secret Santa gift-giving. Not because it’s Christmas related. I have nothing against Christmas. Heck, since everyone has off from work, my family would get together (pre-COVID of course) and enjoy a nice meal, so we’re basically celebrating it too. And I love Christmas carols, even the religious ones. Especially the religious ones, actually. (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen might be my favorite!) But I find gift-shopping and gift-giving awful in general and so much worse in a Secret Santa setting when you might barely know your recipient and everyone in the office is judging you silently.
The former coworker from a previous job I still hate (same coworker alluded to in this comment thread) started a Secret Santa tradition, and of course, this did not make me like her any better. So I sabotaged it to make her feel bad [I declined to participate and bought everyone, including her, gifts that appeared more expensive than the limit they set (they weren’t – I’m really good at discounts)] and it worked in my favor! The coworkers, including her, went in a group-guilt gift that I absolutely loved – gift card for karaoke private room with friends! So Sabotage was quite successful at Old Job.
But I actually like these coworkers at Current Job and I didn’t want to use Tactic #1: Sabotage. So I decided to try Tactic #2: Suggest A Better Alternative.
JYP: I don’t know. Mailing the gifts sounds really complicated and maybe people will be uncomfortable with sharing their addresses. How ’bout a [Foster Department] & Friends Holiday Cookbook?! [Foster Coworker 3], you could put in your Skillet Pizza recipe!
Combining Tactic #2 with Tactic #3: Flattery. (I actually haven’t tried the pizza, but she mentioned it once during a leadership training).
Foster Dept Head (waves hand dismissively): Oh, we are already doing the cookbook for Thanksgiving.
JYP: Ah, I see. You thought of everything (to myself: Dammit)
Foster Dept Head: You, [New Boss], and [Direct Report] are invited. Are you going to participate?
It was time for Tactic #4: Graciously Decline.
JYP: Thank you so much for including us. It means a lot. I will extend the invite to [New Boss] and [Direct Report] and let you know what they say. For me, I am not comfortable with sharing my mailing address, so I must respectfully decline.
This is sort of true. I don’t want to share my address. But I actually already had to share my mailing address with Foster Coworker #2 because I had to review samples so her team had to mail them to me because COVID. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember this.
Foster Dept Head: Ok then. You will organize the Secret Santa assignments. And you will host the gift-opening on Teams. So this way you are included.
No, not perfect. That was a complete lie. But I had no more tactics because truthfully, I liked that she was including me and I wanted to be a part of this. I just really do not like Secret Santa.
Updated to add that Foster Dept Head set the 2 hour Teams Meeting for the gift-opening for 3 PM on a Friday afternoon in December. That’s the only part of this Secret Santa fiasco that strikes me as mildly offensive, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt as I think this is more lack of awareness on her part as oppose to actively trying to make life difficult for the semi-observant Jew. As ambivalent as I am about keeping Shabbat, I’m not ready to give that time back to work, especially for a Secret Santa that I didn’t want to do in the first place. This is going to be a fun conversation.