I know I'm about to sound like a birthday scrooge, but one of the first things I stopped when I became CEO of my association 20 years ago is the office birthday party. When first hired into a staff position, there was a tradition of everyone chipping in a significant amount of money anytime any co-worker had a birthday (and yes, I'm considering $10-$20 or more to be significant) along with ordering cakes and/or headed out to lunch. Multiply that by multiple staff people and it was a lot of personal time and money towards co-worker birthdays. Since I was on staff before being CEO I was already aware of definite division among staff of those who couldn't wait for birthdays and those who really disliked being "forced" to participate/contribute. (And we all know office dynamics don't exactly welcome the "if you want" concept.)
Although this didn't happen at my office, something I've heard happens at other offices includes buying birthday gifts for each other (so each person gets a birthday gift from every other co-worker) or having an "anonymous" contribution (or non-anonymous contribution) to a fund to buy gifts -- and someone always keeps score whether there's an intent to keep score or not.
1. While some believe birthdays are huge reasons to celebrate, many others don't care about birthdays at all;
2. Anything that suggests or requires employees chip in their personal money for other employees - especially if seemingly directed by the organization - just doesn't feel right;
3. Anyone can give or send a gift or card "off hours" to someone else (and should if personally inclined to do so) - but once one employee hands a gift to a co-worker in front of others in the office then it's automatically going to be registered by others - my opinion best to keep that personal unless plan to give something to everyone (and then do you secretly wish/expect gifts in return?)
4. Aren't many offices sedentary enough without cakes arriving every month or few weeks too?
5. Not everyone wants to share their personal financial situation - or personal funds - with co-workers. Be sensitive that you may not know what's going on in someone's life and that money could matter to them (even if doesn't to you);
6. Hopefully people really do have an outside life with family and friends, so not having the office birthday party doesn't remotely mean they don't have a birthday celebration;
7. Some offices give half or full day personal time on birthdays; or use funds that would be spent on cakes to give a gift card (paid by the association) to an employee as an alternative to having a cake or expecting co-workers to fund parties/gifts;
8. Consider shifting the focus to better recognize their time as employees - such as significant employment anniversaries - which is more directly related to being in the office;
9. If need to celebrate birthdays, could economize on employee costs by setting aside one day a year as a birthday celebration day with employees who want to participate drawing names for gift purchases (with a price cap).
Oh - and have a happy birthday - whenever it is.