Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Keeping The Fun In Office Birthday Celebrations

Typical Office Birthday PartyMany offices have parties to celebrate birthdays. Some celebrate on the actual day while larger offices may have a party day once a month to celebrate for everyone born that month. Still others go out to lunch or do something else  in honor of the birthday person. (I tend to think the it’s mostly a way for everyone to take a cake break.)

As fun as these can sometimes be, they also can create problems that could have been avoided with a few guidelines, requirements and limitations.

1. Let employees develop the guidelines, using established criteria or with final approval by the manager.  It’s good to let employees decide about events that pertain directly to them, but the outcome is still the responsibility of the manager.

Sometimes employees aren’t thinking of the big picture or don’t have the insight to know what could be problematic. For example, a suggestion in one office was for each employee to take turns hosting an event–but that can’t be required and may not be possible for everyone. Another office wanted to do a fun “Old Folks Home” theme for an older employee. NOT a good idea. One group wanted to require a sizable monthly donation for parties.  And, I very clearly recall the disciplinary action that followed a Male Strip-O-Gram for a female employee’s birthday.

2. Keep celebrations as simple and inexpensive as possible. The more simple and the less expensive the party, the less set-up and clean-up time is involved and the less money has to be gotten from an office fund, individual contributions or the pockets of managers and supervisors.

Consider really tasty cookies, simple cupcakes, the least expensive source for the cake, a plain fruit tray or one that is made at work. Or, do as some offices do and eliminate a food event altogether, focusing instead on verbal and written birthday wishes.

3. Have equitable parties. It can be embarrassing and hurtful to have a giant party for Betty but only a few cupcakes in the break room for Barbara. Or, to take Bill to lunch but not do anything for Bob. The best way keep it even is to do about the same thing for everyone, every time. If the employee has special dietary needs, get a small serving for the honoree but the usual thing for everyone else.

There is a gorgeous office-wrapping display shown on this site (and I really like the site too!) It looks lovely and probably was fun. However, I am aware of a similar situation in which the next employee with a birthday ( a very nice person who was well-liked) arrived at work expecting something similar, only to find everyone had been too busy to do it. She shrugged it off in front if everyone, but it hurt her terribly and made the other employee feel badly too. 

4. Don’t let birthday celebrations become a reason for conflict. Many people do not like having their cubicles decorated or having similar complicated birthday activities.  Ask ahead of time if someone is OK with having the usual birthday celebration. If he or she doesn’t want the celebration assure them it won’t be a lot of hoopla. If they still don’t want it, don’t try to argue them into it. 

 I’m familiar with an office where they have a birthday bash for every employee, including the ones who don’t attend their own event–and invariably there is some negative talk about the person who didn’t want a party. 

In an office I visited not long ago the manager commented that one of the employees had taken her birthday and the day after off, knowing the weekend followed, to avoid having her cubicle decorated for her 40th birthday.  “What she doesn’t realize”, the manager said with a grin, “is that we’re just going to wait until she comes back, however long that takes.”  My response was, “Good grief! You’re concerned about conflict in your office. Why do you want to create another one for no reason?”  

5. Keep focused on the spirit of the celebration. It”s good to honor birthdays and to have a reason to smile and enjoy a break, perhaps with something good to eat.  However, like most things that are done with good intentions, birthday celebrations can create problems that outweigh the good. Keeping them simple, inexpensive, equitable and welcomed can help ensure success.

May 23rd, 2010 Posted by | Food, Fitness, Fun, Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers, Supervision and Management | 9 comments


  1. We do a monthly birthday party in our office and it works great. It’s the last Friday in every month most of the time and we all look forward to it. I guess it really is just a party for all of us, like you said….but we like it.

    We used to have cake but now we have cupcakes we get at SClub (you know!). WM ones aren’t good!! KS is OK and SW is OK. I wish we could get them from bakeries but we’re always looking for ways to save money. We all chip in $3 a month, and I think our manager pays for some of it herself….but not a lot. The thing that makes it fun is just that we know we’re going to be doing it and it isn’t a lot of work or clean-up.

    I don’t like the cubicle decorating idea myself and we all decided not to do that to anyone. It takes a lot of time, then it’s torn up in a few minutes so work can get done. The one in the picture on that website was pretty though!

    Comment by denisek | May 25, 2010

  2. Hi! I vote against birthday parties in general, but I don’t mind the monthly party that’s just a break. People feel forced into singing happy birthday to someone they don’t even get along with very well. It’s boring and time wasting. My favorite office has a ban on any celebrations to avoid religious or political complaints and expense.

    Comment by Mike | May 25, 2010

  3. Our department voted to do away with the monthly birthday cake, but the Chief always gives a card to the birthday person and we usually do cards for the birthday person within the teams.

    That wrapped cubicle certainly took a lot of time…I wonder if it was paid or unpaid! 🙂

    Comment by Jennifer | May 25, 2010

  4. We have a monthly celebration for birthdays, but we don’t have decorations or anything else for holidays. Too many complaints in the past! We do NOT allow doing something with someone’s desk or office, because we can’t take the down time while people decorate or clean up after all of that. Personally, I would rather go to lunch with a couple of friends than for everyone to feel they have to take part in something.

    Comment by C.M. | May 25, 2010

  5. Dear Tina,
    I’ll tell you what we do at my work, but I don’t think it will work for most offices. 🙂

    Sometime during the morning of someone’s birthday or the day before or after, if it’s on a weekend, I lead in gathering everyone around the honoree. Then we thank God for giving that person to us and we ask for God’s continued blessings, which will far eclipse any gift we could offer.

    There are nearly always a few tears shed by all of us, as we realize how great is the gift of life and how grateful we are for our friends and coworkers. (Admittedly some offices would not have the benefits of a wonderful team as we do.)

    I don’t know your birthdate, so I have to pray for you every day to make sure I get the right day sometime. 🙂

    Blessings on you and yours,

    Comment by Don R. | May 25, 2010

  6. I work in a large call center and there is something foody going on all the time. Some people seem to live to bring in a covered dish or dessert and some would rather not do anything. I like the idea of a monthly social time and get over the “birthday” part of it. I have noticed a lot of conflict based on who brings what and who got a bigger party, so anything that gets rid of the fighting is what I vote for.

    Comment by dispatch911 | June 7, 2010

  7. Our office is sort of divided into two groups – the regular staff and the specialized staff. For the regular staff, there’s usually a birthday party/gathering and a card is passed around for signatures. Although, I can think of one lady who has never had a birthday party at work but it might be because she doesn’t want one. None of the guys (we don’t have many) ever have a birthday celebration. Sometimes a group will go out to lunch together (if it’s one of the guys’ b-days), but that’s it.

    And then there’s the specialized staffers – nobody ever celebrates any of our birthdays. Personally, I wouldn’t want a party because it would be awkward (for me), but I know some of the specialized staffers feel slighted that no one bothered to celebrate their birthdays.

    There was an idea floated around a couple of years ago to set up a birthday club. People who wanted to join would pay $2 per month and they would celebrate the birthdays of everyone in the club. But that never formalized.

    I like the set up that my sis’s office used to have – if it was your birthday, and you wanted to celebrate it, YOU brought in food (snacks or cake/cookies). That way, you can make it as big of a deal as you want, or not at all. I think this is a great idea. Reminds me of how birthdays are celebrated in elementary schools…

    Comment by Cassie | July 10, 2010

  8. Tina says: That’s a good idea, to have the birthday person bring the treats. I’ll mention that when I am asked about it in the future.

    The birthday club idea has been tried some places that I know of, but created a few problems as well, because it became “In the club” vs. “Out of the club.”

    I received an email from a supervisor who said she eliminated the problems in her office by setting aside about fifteen dollars a month of her own money and buying frosted cookies at a good bakery–not Wal-Mart quality. She didn’t have many staff to deal with, so the last Friday of every month she would have Birthday Day and gather people around for a frosted cookie. She said that was just about the right amount of sweet for most people and gave her a chance to say happy birthday. It was worth it to her to spend that amount to eliminate the continual hassle. I think I would agree!

    Thank you very much for commenting!

    Comment by TLR | July 10, 2010

  9. I’m getting so many good ideas from this site! I’ve been asked to set up a birthday event every month and have wondered what to do. I like the cookie idea to keep it equal.That’s usually our biggest problem. You’re the best! C.

    Comment by B.A.E. | July 29, 2010

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