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Run, Run, Reindeer! Santa Claus Is Coming To.. Your Office.

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Most of us have a love/hate relationship with the whole concept of "Secret Santa" parties at work. We love getting good swag but hate having to come up with something fabulous to buy. Standing in a store during the busiest time of year and agonizing over our contribution can be distracting, to say the least.

Often we'll overspend in order to minimize the misery of deciding what to buy, or we'll opt for something cheesy just to get it over with. After all, these gifts are exchanged anonymously, so no one will ever know that the tacky serving platter or the gaudy blinking Rudolph earring and necklace set came from you, right?

These cozy corporate get-togethers can be disastrous if they're not planned properly. From political correctness to ensuring a pressure-free attendance policy, all factors must be considered. Here are 6 suggestions to help you ensure that your office holiday celebration doesn't go rogue:

1. Create an inclusive event. If you're on the planning committee, word the invitation so that it is abundantly clear that everyone is welcome to join the party. Words like "Holiday Gift Exchange" have become more common than "Christmas Present Party."
2. Make attendance optional. It's natural that some people won't want to participate, and that's okay. Their decision not to attend needs to be respected and they shouldn't have to justify it; don't needle them for an explanation.
3. Be well organized. Think of this event as a unique type of meeting, and plan ahead by having an agenda. Seriously. Your colleagues don't need to know about the timeline, but creating a schedule will help you make sure that everything runs smoothly.
4. Establish clear guidelines about what constitutes a suitable gift. Put a reasonable monetary value on gifts, keeping in mind that 'reasonable' is a subjective assessment. You may want to survey the group anonymously in advance of the party to find out what people are comfortable spending.
5. Consider suggesting a theme. Music, books or hospitality-style gifts, such as candles, coffee cards or movie passes, are great and affordable ideas. Narrowing the scope of choices is usually appreciated.
6. Keep it neutral. If you're shopping for a present and no parameters have been specified, look for something that is useful, classic and in no way offensive. Select an item that you'd appreciate receiving (or re-gifting!) yourself.

Organizing these festive business occasions is often a thankless job. To keep things fair, ask different employees to participate in the planning, preparation and execution of each event. You can avoid having the same people perform the same tasks year after year by combining volunteer activities with assigned duties. And if you enjoyed attending this year's party, don't keep your gratitude a secret. Share it by sending a thank you note to each member of the committee who gave their time and effort to make sure it was a success.