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Offensive Kris Kringles – dealing with the post-Christmas fallout

The office Christmas Party should be a happy time, where employees and their managers unwind after a busy year and celebrate a job well done.

In most offices, the Kris Kringle is an integral part of this ritual.

However, a dark side to the Kris Kringle has been revealed - as a vehicle for ongoing bullying and harassment.

 

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A former Canberra public servant has told how his career was ruined by a heartless "Secret Santa" prankster. The economic modeller says he never got over the cruel "Kris Kringle" gift he was given by an anonymous colleague at Christmas 2012.

Traumatised by a gift of a plastic reindeer that implied his economic modelling work was animal poo, he said the gift had left behind psychological scars, and slammed the anonymous nature of the exercise as it did not allow employees to sort out misunderstandings afterwards.

"I was shocked and very upset. That really spoiled the joy of the division's Christmas lunch so I quit halfway through it. I had many sleepless nights after that, and always felt heartbroken when going to work the following days."

Things got worse when colleagues told the modeller that the anonymous joker might have been one of his bosses.

"The problem is the present is from a Secret Santa so I do not know who gave it to me so that we can talk it over," the former Level 1 Executive said. "I discreetly asked people around and the only information I can get on a confidential basis is the present is from a person whose position is higher than me in the Australian Public Service hierarchy."

After a break for Christmas and New Year, he returned to work but could not shake the feeling that he had been targeted and things were never the same.

"When I returned to work, the bad feelings came back," he said. When a round of redundancies came in June 2013, the economist says he put up his hand "with a heavy heart".

"Now, 2014 Christmas is coming and ... I still cannot escape from the sad feelings that Secret Santa forced on me two years ago…”

He said his experience should act as a warning to public servants and other office workers that "harmless pranks" can have long-lasting effects on colleagues' feelings and even their careers.

While some have responded to a former Canberra public servant's revelation that he never got over a cruel "Kris Kringle" gift by suggesting he harden up, other office workers have come forward to reveal their own secret Santa horrors.

One insurance worker said she felt personally insulted by a secret Santa gift from a fellow employee. "I consider this kind of activity to be nothing short of bullying," she said, claiming that at one Christmas function employees were given gifts by management from a sex shop, including "wind up penises and plastic turds".

She called for a ban on all Kris Kringle Christmas gifts to stem the pain.

A different employee, who works at an education peak body, said she had taken part in a Kris Kringle where a staff member was given a dog chew toy and was so traumatised she subsequently took stress leave.

One other female public sector worker said the exercise also carried the danger of further marginalising those who already felt excluded at work.

"I am the only Asian person in my area," she said, "I faced similar upset [to the economic modeller’s]- a present from Secret Santa - telling me [that my] English is terrible."

And it's not just the kind of gift that can hurt. The re-gifting of a three-pack of incense bottles, one of which was half used and another missing entirely, upset one public servant who described it as their "sad story".

"I was speechless when unwrapping the present...I could hardly imagine a colleague of mine was so heartless. I felt hurt and have stopped joining in the Kris Kringle fun since that year," they wrote

iHR Australia emphasises that the office Christmas Party is still a work event and that activities such as Kris Kringles and Secret Santas are governed by the normal rules around bullying and harassment.

iHR Australia believes that anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment training can help managers and staff identify not only bullying and how to prevent it. iHR Australia’s training does more than inform about lawful behaviour – it addresses desired workplace behaviour and practices that reflect organisational values, improve culture and increase motivation and staff engagement.

 

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