In (just) our team at work it has been agreed to do a "Secret Santa" this Christmas. A stipulation is that it has to be a rude gift, a "Bad" secret santa if you will. Our manager is one of those driving this.

I have been drawn to give a gift to one of the ladies in the team. Whilst her sense of humor is "bad" and would find any rude gift hilarious (and suggested this Secret Santa) I am concerned about getting into trouble with HR/others in the company. Some people in other teams are "easily offended" (whether genuine or just like complaining) and would not approve. As a man giving a gift to a woman I think this makes it even more likely that these people would take offence (or "feel they should be offended") and complain.

How do I deal with this? I could suggest we go out for a team lunch and swap gifts then, out of the office, but no doubt word about the various gifts would get out.

Has anybody had experience with this?

  • 31
    Wow. Your manager needs some lessons in professionalism. I would not be comfortable giving or receiving a rude gift from someone unless I knew them very, very well.
    – Jane S
    Nov 14, 2015 at 9:31
  • 2
    Is your worry primarily about how other employees who aren't party your team's gift-giving will react if/when they learn of it? If so, I don't think there's much cause for concern as long as there's a clear documentation (like an e-mail trail) that shows that everyone involved knew of and consented to the "rude" gift-giving exercise in advance.
    – aroth
    Nov 14, 2015 at 10:24
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    One danger is that some participants may not have consented freely, but felt pressured because the manager is driving it. That could turn into very serious trouble later, especially if there is a pattern of inappropriate workplace behavior in the team. Nov 14, 2015 at 15:11
  • 2
    @JaneS herein lies the problem. Some people are absolutely fine with it ("we are all adults here") and others may not be, as Patricia says. Nov 14, 2015 at 15:31
  • 2
    Nothing bad is going to happen to you if you give a non-rude gift-- like an amazon gift card, for example.
    – teego1967
    Nov 14, 2015 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


This is actually not too uncommon in some cultures and companies. It's main goal is to avoid overspending or competition in gift-giving. You don't have to make your gift "rude" as in insulting (you can still freely chose, remember?).

I would suggest not to jump to any conclusions and ask people for some examples and you will probably find that it's quite harmless. I have seen mostly flea market stuff like old action figures, broken toy phones and the like. Just harmless funny items. So go find out by asking.

  • 3
    A talking doll with random (but clearly untargeted) insults, if you can find one, is a great crap toy to give. Rude but the fact ta pre-programmed to insult people means there's no risk of hitting a personal nerve
    – Jon Story
    Nov 14, 2015 at 11:16
  • @JonStory great idea and I had seen one online earlier in fact and thought it would fit the bill Nov 14, 2015 at 15:34
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    @KMSTR "Rude" in this sense in UK English usually means risqué ("Naughty" in American English).
    – Eric
    Dec 8, 2015 at 14:24

Your manager has apparently not been properly trained on workplace harassment issues.

If you choose to participate, proceed with extreme caution. A "rude" gesture or gift to someone else (who may find it amusing) could be deeply offensive to someone else in your office, giving rise to a hostile work environment claim. Even if person A and person B are OK with it, person C can make a claim. And how can you be absolutely sure the recipient won't be offended?

There's nothing at all wrong with doing a voluntary "Secret Santa" type of gift exchange. You can all still have a jolly time - but by all means stay away from this risky area if you possibly can.

And it doesn't matter whether it happens within your actual office space, local pub, at a co-workers home, airport or on the road. It's the same folks you work with, and the same risks apply regardless of where you are.

  • You can see why I am cautious. If you don't participate you look bad, if you do then there is a risk even if all are agreed. Nov 14, 2015 at 15:35
  • I certainly emphathize with your dilemma. If you have a good relationship with your manager, you may be able to point out this risk privately in a "I'm just looking out for you, boss" sort of way, and shut it down before it gets out of hand.
    – mjulmer
    Nov 14, 2015 at 15:54

Something which one has to remember at any WorkPlace is:

If you are not comfortable with something, you don't do it and you also make sure you get your intention forward

As simple as that.

How do I deal with this?

You can simply walk up to your manager and tell him that you are not comfortable with the initiative.

Has anybody had experience with this?

This seem like a very strange initiative and it is highly unlikely anyone else would have experienced it before.

  • 1
    I've had experience with it - unfortunately in a small company where everyone knew where the line was. If in doubt, just go for slightly risqué rather than outright rude...
    – Jon Story
    Nov 14, 2015 at 11:14
  • @Dawny33 I wouldn't say highly unlikely, not in the UK anyway Nov 14, 2015 at 15:33
  • It seems that the OP is afraid other people will be uncomfortable rather than being uncomfortable him/herself
    – komodosp
    Feb 20, 2019 at 12:32

I agree with talking to your manager about your discomfort and potential HR fallout from the "rude gift" theme. Offer several suggestions such as going to lunch, "Ugly Elf" exchange of white elephant gifts, gift pass game, etc. Since names have been drawn, it's hard to back out without making it look like it's personal about the name you drew.

I'm "that guy" at work that hates these types of exchanges. If talking to your manager fails to result in a redirection, controlling what you can control is the next best step without being the killjoy. Redefine "rude" to mean office humor in your own gift selection. (Idea: the recipient's own coffee cup wrapped with a gift card for coffee in it.)

  • Redefining "rude" is a good idea Nov 15, 2015 at 8:24

Actually, "rude" doesn't have to be "offensive".

How about figure out how to give a gift that ends up with the receiver owing you money? I think that's pretty rude... a "worse than nothing" gift...

I initially thought of empty box, a cheque for 1 cent, a gift card with 1 cent, etc, but that's still not negative... maybe you can think of a better idea :)

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