Sunday, 17 November 2019

Why You Should Scrap The Office Secret Santa

There's a famous paradox called the Abilene paradox, based on an account of a family of four adults who had taken a day out to Abilene even though none of the individuals really wanted to go. Each family member expressed an interest in going on the trip due to thinking the other three family members wanted to go, only to find out on their return that none of the four had wanted to go in the first place. They did it to keep the others happy – which is a noble gesture, even if initial honesty might have produced a better outcome.
The dreaded office-based Secret Santa is a good example of an Abiline paradox – the vast majority of people wish it didn’t exist, but act as though they are happy it does because they think they’d be the lone party pooper. They wouldn’t be: secretly most of their colleagues feel the same, but are staying equally silent on the matter.
Secret Santa is advertised as each team member buying a gift for the one person they draw out of the hat. In reality, though, it is each team member entering into an obligation to not have to buy a gift for the rest of the team that they didn’t draw out of the hat. In a team of 8 members, Secret Santa isn’t introduced for the purposes of Jack buying a gift for one person, it’s so Jack doesn’t have to buy gifts for the other six. This is understandable too – a work team of 8 members would exchange a total of 54 gifts if they all bought one for each other - and almost nobody would relish that prospect.
The total number of Secret Santa gifts purchased in a team of 8 members is 8, which makes Secret Santa fun and worthwhile on the surface. But whoever originally thought up the Secret Santa idea did so because he or she knew that things are better when all the pressure is off staff members - when they don’t have to worry about who is buying what for whom, whether there will be an imbalance in the giving-receiving ratio, and whether exchanges have price equivalence.
Secret Santa is preferable to each member buying everyone else a gift, but even more preferable to Secret Santa is having no Secret Santa at all – thereby creating a team that is saved the obligation of buying any gifts whatsoever. Ask anyone on the quiet if they’d rather we didn’t do Secret Santa in the office this year and most will happily say no. Ask a team together and most will say yes. That’s the Abilene paradox in action; everyone saying yes when they really mean no, because they think everyone else wants yes. Consequently, if you want to do your team a favour, go in the office and declare that you no longer want the team to do Secret Santa. They’ll love you for it.