Dr Ashley Weinberg, a psychology lecturer at the University of Salford, said offices should bring in spending limits for the ritual, which sees gifts exchanged anonymously between colleagues.
The academic explained that the game has become an increasing source of anxiety for young people who fear they will be labelled “stingy” by their colleagues.
Weinberg’s remarks follow a survey that found more than a third of millennials (35 per cent) wanted to see the festive tradition banned for good.
The study, commissioned by Jobsite, showed that young office workers (26 per cent) typically give more than they can afford on presents for co-workers, while some (17 per cent) feel judged on the level of their expenditure.
“The spirit of giving – especially at a seasonal time of exchanging gifts via Secret Santa – is something we’d hope can be expressed in many ways and it’s worth remembering that where this involves financial contributions, not all colleagues have the same disposable income,” Weinberg said in a statement.
“This can mean that an individual’s contribution or lack of one is labelled ‘stingy’ where actually they may not be in a position to contribute. Clearly this is unfair and creates stigma.”
Weinberg added that millennials are more likely to react sensitively to criticism of their gifts, with social media partly to blame.
“That very public nature of things, which again you get on social media, taps into that very basic feeling we have of how we are seen by our fellow humans,” Weinberg told the Telegraph.
“I think there’s the potential for the whole range of human emotions, right from humiliation when you give someone a gift. I think there can be a bit of that and naturally it does lead to anxiety for a lot of people.”
The psychologist concluded that “giving guidelines” could help “take the pressure off” young workers, saying: “It would make sense for people to have some guidelines, some kind of boundaries, and actually make those psychological expectations a bit lower.
“I think organisations can play a role in just saying look, here are some healthy parameters, don’t feel you have to be giving X amount – maybe you don’t have to give at all.
“I think that signal from high up in the organisation could be really quite powerful to just take the pressure off.”
According to the Jobsite survey, the financial strain of contributing to activities such as Secret Santa can be so severe that 26 per cent of younger workers have either dipped into their savings or gone into their overdraft to contribute.
However, despite the financial and emotional pressures, the majority (61 per cent) of UK office workers think that games like Secret Santa are good for morale, with 60 per cent believing they help build a healthy rapport among colleagues and a further 64 per cent asserting that gifting between employees is a sign of respect and appreciation.
Alexandra Sydney, marketing director at Jobsite, said: “Our research shows that we should be mindful in how we approach monetary contributions to these events. For those who are part of bigger teams, or who are more junior and therefore have a lower income, it may simply not be feasible to contribute to every celebration.
“When it comes to Secret Santa, this should be “opt-in” rather than a requirement, and a budget range can be agreed from the offset to avoid any awkwardness.
“The main thing to bear in mind is that bringing teams together for celebrations should act as a boost to team morale, not be something that individuals avoid as a result of feeling pressured to contribute a particular amount.”
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