The gifts that keep on taking: Millennials feel fleeced by office whip-rounds

  • The financial strain of contributing to activities such as ‘Secret Santa’ and presents for birthdays and promotions has led 26% of young workers to dip into savings and/or overdrafts to contribute.
  • The average millennial’s whip-round is 34% more expensive, with their average contribution reaching £9 (and a total of £151 per year, compared to £7 / £99 per year for all workers).
  • 17% of Millennials have felt judged by colleagues in relation to their contributions.
  • Jobsite report reveals that almost three quarters (73%) of workers aged between 23-38 have contributed more than they could afford to an office celebration.
  • Experts call for company budgets to help de-pressurise the likes of Christmas gifts and their amounts.

Secret Santa and other office ‘whip-round’ occasions have come under the spotlight today, as new research from UK job board Jobsite found that younger workers are feeling so pressured to contribute that they are dipping into their savings or going into debt in order to chip in.

The Jobsite report revealed that three quarters (73%) of office workers aged between 23-38 have regularly contributed more than they could afford to an office celebration, compared to over half of the UK population (58%). The financial strain of contributing to activities such as ‘Secret Santa’ and presents for birthdays and promotions can be so severe that 26% of younger workers have either dipped into their savings or gone into their overdraft to contribute.


The report investigated how much and how often UK office workers are invited to ‘chip-in’ for an office celebration – ranging from birthdays and work anniversaries to engagements, promotions and even seasonal events such as ‘Secret Santa’.

On average, we spend our own money on office occasions such as birthdays, engagements and Secret Santas 15 times a year. Birthday celebrations take the largest slice of cake, with workers forking out an average of five times a year. Employees spend an average of £99 every year on gifts for our co-workers. A stunning £4,667 over the course of our careers.

Shockingly, Millennial workers see their contributions add to 34% more, with a total of £151 per year spent on 17 colleagues celebrations, which represents £7,111 over a career.


The ramifications of young workers being left out of pocket are not just financial but can also cause a rising tide of resentment amongst employees.

Just under a quarter of younger employees (22% aged 23-38) said they felt angry at the person organising the whip-round for not considering their financial situation, some are even being ‘called out’ on the amount they have contributed. 17% have also experienced allegations of stinginess relating to their contribution, resulting in a sense of shame within the workplace.

As a result, one in five (20%) workers believe that such events should not be celebrated at all in the workplace and 35% of Millennials would even like to see them banned (25% of all workers).


However, despite the financial and emotional pressures – The likes of ‘Secret Santa’ are here to stay, as the majority (61%) of UK office workers think they are good for morale, 60% believe they help build a healthy rapport amongst colleagues and a further 64% assert that gifting between employees is a sign of respect and appreciation.

Interestingly, those aged between 22-38 were more likely to acknowledge these benefits (67% vs 62% on average) – despite being more likely to be on the receiving end of some of the negative side effects of contribution. This implies that while office celebrations carry value, they are in need of a modern-day rethink – especially as two fifths (42%) of the UK workforce deems them ‘old-fashioned’.


With office celebrations carrying a number of benefits, it seems businesses should continue to support them – but look to put less burden on the individual employee.

A significant proportion of young workers feel like the business should shoulder the burden – rather than adding to the pressures of individual employees. Millennials in employement particularly agree with 24% asking for dedicated company budgets to avoid chipping in, compared to 21% across all UK workers surveyed.

Dr Ashley Weinberg, an expert in workplace psychology at the University of Salford added his thoughts on the report:

“The giving and receiving of gifts is a natural part of our make-up as social animals. In fact, the basis of most of our face-to-face communication relies on taking turns and understanding the unwritten rules which underpin it. The workplace is an obvious testing ground for our ability to negotiate, but we don’t always feel we have the power to say ‘no’ and we should.

Having the chance to share our appreciation of colleagues and to celebrate positive events is really valuable – just as long as this is done fairly. Workplace organisations can play a positive part in this, whether helping to suggest sensible parameters or even by setting the ball rolling with a contribution to collections for employees.”


“Celebrating special events for our colleagues is great for morale in the workplace. However, there can be unfortunate unintended consequences, especially in workgroups or organisations where there is an expectation to give to material gifts for colleagues.

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. 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.

As the spirit of giving is also about generosity of spirit, we argue that where Secret Santa is concerned, something ‘secret’ should probably remain so. What shouldn’t remain secret is that giving is a mindful activity and one hopefully that is designed to do something good and not to be a trigger for something worse.

Our suggestion is that workplaces operate a not-so ‘Secret Mantra’ to share good cheer and avoid any stinginess of spirit, by removing expectations and pressure on colleagues to give or conform to high amounts, when they may not be so easy.”

Alexandra Sydney, Marketing Director at Jobsite, comments: “While the act of giving and celebrating personal milestones like birthdays and weddings can bring teams together, 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.

If a set company budget for celebrations isn’t an option, the best way to approach whip-rounds is to highlight that it’s a worker’s personal choice as to how much they contribute, or whether they contribute at all. When it comes to Secret Santa, again 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.”


Jobsite survey of 4,000 UK workers in October 2019, including 1,054 Millennial workers (aged 23-38 years old).

About Jobsite:

Founded in 1995, Jobsite is an award-winning job board, serving over 120,000 jobs to 7 million candidates every month. With a mission to connect the most skilled professionals in the UK to high-level roles, its key sectors are IT, Engineering and Finance. Jobsite takes pride in being a key source of innovation and insight into the recruitment market. In May 2018, Totaljobs partnered with Jobsite to become the UK’s largest hiring platform offering employers the opportunity to advertise vacancies across both platforms from one system, and access to almost half of the UK working population.

Totaljobs and Jobsite are part of the StepStone Group, one of the world’s leading e-recruitment businesses. With a head office in London and offices in Birmingham, Havant, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Glasgow, StepStone in the UK comprises Totaljobs and Jobsite plus nine additional job boards. These include:, CatererGlobal, CWJobs, Milkround, CityJobs, RetailChoice, CareerStructure, JustEngineers and emedcareers. Together these brands provide access to over 18 million searchable candidate profiles.