Monday, May 26, 2008

The Office Birthday Party

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.


Anonymous said...

Frankly, the idea of demanding that everyone "chip in" for meals, cakes, and gifts just seems crazy to me. But not acknowledging birthdays at all seems equally bad. Isn't there a middle way (which has been the path adopted by most of the non-insane placed I've worked)? The organization pays for a cake once a month (or once a quarter for small offices) and all birthdays that fell in that time period are celebrated together. That way, "the organization" neither ignores an important personal day/event nor turns into a collection agency.

Mark Bledsoe said...

I use to work for an association with a staff of 15. Once a month we had an all day staff meeting, that involved the association buying us lunch. We would celebrate the birthdays for that month at lunch. No gifts, a card, and desert off the menu.

I now have a one person shop, me so I take myself out for my birthday.

Anonymous said...

We have 20+ employees, so we cut out B-day parties several years ago. It seemed like we had one every week. Now we recognize Bdays and employment anniversaries once a month at our "all staff" meetings. We buy bagels or other goodies and recognize (quickly) everyone. It works well.

Anonymous said...

Building Community is what it's all about....and a monthly celebratory
function does that trick really well.
But it's an inexpensive way to build that personal togetherness....

Anonymous said...

Very wise to eliminate it altogether. My office normally did not celebrate regularly, just an occasional celebration when someone felt like it. This year, however, a couple of people started doing it regularly...card signed by everyone, treats, maybe balloons. From Jan.-Aug., 5 birthdays were celebrated this way in my dept. My birthday came up in Sept., they didn't do anything except say "Happy Birthday". I'm really hurt, I thought we all liked each other & got along well. Guess they just didn't "feel like it" this time. Do it for everyone or not at all.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the forced reciprocation gets out of hand. Our company throws once-a-month cake parties, but they're as lackluster as the party in Office Space. The cakes are usually dry and not worth the calories anyway. Birthdays are personal to me, so I'd rather celebrate them with people who really care about me, not with coworkers who merely want an excuse to stuff their faces w/ cake.

Cassie said...

I'd eliminate the office birthday party completely if I could. In our office (there's about 30 of us), they regularly celebrate the birthdays of 10 staffers. They're the managers, HR people, and the close friends of the managers. They don't celebrate the birthdays of the rest of us. It's not a fancy shindig - just lots of food and everyone is expected to attend, lest you be labeled anti-social.

Even for us that don't really want a birthday party at work, though, it does make you feel kind of bad that other people get balloons and presents and cake, and you get nothing. For my last birthday, a coworker was going to take me to Disneyland (since they had that free admission on your birthday promo) but then she made last minute plans to do something else so we didn't go. She did treat me to lunch and that was nice, but I ended up getting yelled at by my boss (who didn't know it was my birthday, and yells a lot anyway), so it was a pretty miserable day.

Some places have a birthday celebration system similar to what kids do at school - if it's your birthday and you want to celebrate it, then you bring in cake and/or other food. If you don't want to celebrate, then you don't bring in anything. Nobody feels slighted - nice and simple.