Many 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.