At work we had a departmental White Elephant gift exchange during our holiday party. It was tons of fun and presents were getting stolen left and right. One co-worker ended up opening something like 15 gifts that got stolen. The guy kept joking about his job being the “Official Package Opener.” A good time was had by all.

The party and gift exchange was a way to remove the pressure of having to purchase gifts for everyone or the management team. Everybody had a spending ceiling and nobody knew who would end up with any of the gifts. It’s a great way of reducing holiday stress. Or so I thought!

Today, as I walked in to work, I immediately stopped in my tracks when I saw a box adorned with a bow featured prominently on my desk. A co-worker in my department, who was at the same holiday party I attended, brought each person in the group a small box of truffles. Crap!

I greatly appreciate their generosity and holiday spirit. It truly is the thought that counts. However, by this one small gesture, buying truffles for more than 20 people, this individual has ruined the season.

Stay with me here. What they have done by their seemingly simple act of generosity is to set off a “gift war” between co-workers. The departmental holiday party was meant to eliminate the gift escalation that is sure to come. Now, each co-worker will feel pressured to bring something for everyone else. While I don’t know how much the truffle-giver spent, I have a good idea of the price range and I’m sure everyone else does too.

Now that the seal has been broken, does everyone else have to bring a gift for all of the co-workers? Do you stand out if you don’t? I fully anticipate some of my co-workers going crazy and significantly upping the amount spent per person. Buying for 20+ people isn’t cheap at $5 per person, so how far are some of these people willing to go? One employee has already said that she’s bringing everyone a custom pair of socks. I priced those out and they’re like $10 to $15 each. For 20+ people that is a SHIT TON of money to spend.

Am I going to look like an asshole when I don’t reciprocate with gifts for all of my fellow team members? That’s really what it boils down to isn’t it? The concern that over the coming year my co-workers will give me the stink eye because I didn’t pony up and buy them a gift. I’m totally hosed, aren’t I?

WHY? Why did this coworker feel the need to upset the apple cart? We had a perfectly good, mellow holiday vibe going. We were still buzzing from the high of the holiday party. People were still joking about various gifts that were stolen or traded. Then  – BOOM – Gift War 2017 is set off.

What’s your company policy on exchanging gifts at work? We don’t have one, hence the situation we’re in.

A small piece of advice: if your company or department or team has a group gift exchange, don’t fuck up the natural balance by following that up with a gift for each person.

I know I’m going to have to go out and buy something for my co-workers, aren’t I? Any good suggestions in the $1 and under per person price range? I’m too old to learn how to bake, so homemade cookies are out. Plus, nobody ever likes the cookies someone else makes. They’re never as good as they look and we’re all locked in to the flavors from mom’s homemade treats. Oh, we’ll be polite about it, but in reality we’re all wishing they tasted like the ones mom used to make.

Happy Holidays indeed!