Office White Elephant Gift Exchange Becomes Occasion for Lies, Deceit and Ruthless Strategy

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Disappointed looking woman wearing a shirt that says Sinful holds up a tiny gift bag
photo by Jeff Wright

CLEVELAND – Although last year’s White Elephant Gift Exchange was the cause of many lingering conflicts and uneasy entanglements, Smithtech office manager Jody Rawlings felt she had no choice but to continue the tradition.

The small electronics firm was once a node of banal holiday charm around this time of year. That all changed about three years back when the gift exchange was influenced by a cadre of gamer geek/programmers to make things more “interesting.” The rapid accumulation of Byzantine plots, obscure rules, light surveillance and clandestine black market all lent an air of claustrophobic anxiety to the proceedings.

It didn’t help that the winner got the rights to the best parking space in addition to the best gift. Even though the exchange was a cause of misery, the office generally agreed that the space was a sweet reward.

Rawlings explained that the event would continue even if it did so under some duress. “A couple months ago, a few of the department heads had a meeting about it. We were going to just do a low-key gift exchange with no special rules or anything.” She looked around nervously. “Well a few of us got visits from a scary guy in a mask calling himself Dirty Santa. We really don’t want to cross him.”

Though Smithtech is a well-established firm in the Cleveland tech scene, the gift exchange is playing a role in a small but steady loss of top talent. An anonymous representative from human resources described the dark side of the White Elephant.

“People just want to get a little loose, get a cheap gift and feel good about themselves. Then all this BS started up. People are getting followed, having their trash rummaged through for receipts … it’s out of hand.”

The stress of the alliances and betrayals formed during the holiday season now top the con list on Smithtech’s Glassdoor profile.