“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to whichever co-worker’s birthday it is today because there are so many I can’t manage to keep them straight, happy birthday to you!”
No, it’s not exactly the catchy birthday tune you know and love, but if you work in an office, this situation is probably all too familiar. You feel like you’re asking people to contribute $5 to the “party fund” literally every single week and your pants are getting a little snug from the seemingly endless amounts of ice cream cake (although, honestly, you can’t really complain too much about that).
Recognizing employee birthdays is important for making people feel valued and appreciated in the office. But—let’s face it—if you don’t work for a small company, the endless barrage of birthday celebrations can be more of a burden than a joy.
So, what do you do? How can you make birthdays special, without them transforming into an overwhelming undertaking for everybody involved (work still needs to get done, after all)?
We posed this very question to your fellow Ninjas and rounded up some great ideas to make birthdays special—minus the hassle.
1. Celebrate Monthly
If you have more than just a few employees in your office, chances are the birthday celebrations can quickly snowball. And if you have hundreds—or even thousands? Unless your full-time job is celebrating (wouldn’t that be nice?), there’s no way you can throw everyone and individual shindig.
Many Ninjas recommend celebrating office birthdays on a monthly basis. “I get to pick out a different cake each month,” shares Executive Assistant Corinne A. “Each person will put on a party hat and we all gather and sing ‘Happy Birthday’. We also send out surveys each month to see how they like the cakes or if they want something else, like ice cream, pie, or cookies.”
Throwing one large party saves both time and money—while still making employees feel special, and perhaps even encouraging a little more camaraderie between them. It’s a win-win!
Make it Special: Let’s face it—a monthly celebration can often feel like a generic way to get all of those birthdays out of the way in one swoop. To kick things up a notch, try to incorporate some special touches that make each month different from the next and avoid making employees feel like another cog in the wheel.
Step away from the cake at the conference room table and instead plan a fun, seasonal activity—think sledding or an outdoor concert—that everyone is welcome to participate in. It makes the monthly approach seem that much more intentional.
Or, shuffle things off your plate by having each monthly grouping plan the following month’s celebrations. For example, January birthdays arrange the celebration for February’s honorees.
2. Enlist Higher-Ups
Regardless of how you choose to celebrate birthdays in your workplace, it’s important to remember the meaning behind the gesture—to make people feel valued and appreciated by their employer. One of the best ways to do this? Have someone from upper management send along some birthday wishes. Executive Assistant Cindy B. explains,
Even with 75k employees, our CEO’s office still sends a birthday and anniversary email to every employee, every year. His team has an Excel sheet with the names and dates, and template emails that change slightly every year. His EA sends under his signature, but he personally responds to employees on his own if they reply.
This is exactly the kind of special treatment it takes to help achieve that employee appreciation goal. “It really makes a difference to the employees,” she adds. “The recognition makes them feel appreciated. It’s simple, yet effective.”
Make it Special: A note or email from the CEO will always be appreciated. But, why not see if you can take the fun up a level by getting upper management to agree to some sort of ridiculously fun birthday tradition?
Maybe he or she has to do a “happy birthday” dance in front of the entire office. From the small to the large (dunk tank, anyone?), getting the higher-ups in on the fun will only add to the entire celebration.
3. Add Some Humor
Birthdays should be fun and lighthearted—not stiff, standard corporate events that make employees feel like they’re just another number. Incorporating some humor or an office tradition that’s uniquely yours is a great way to kick the fun up a notch.
Ninja Katy F.’s office is one that has a unique birthday tradition of its own. She shares,
We have an inflatable flailing arm guy (with happy birthday written on him) and an extension cord with a motion sensor.
As silly as these antics might seem, a hilarious birthday routine can go a long way in making employees’ big days that much more special. After all, who doesn’t want to laugh on their birthday?
Even better? A routine simplifies and streamlines things for all birthdays—which means there’s less planning for you!
Make it Special: Humor is always appreciated. But, if you can find something that actually relates to your office or company, that’s even better.
Maybe this takes the form of a pinata shaped like your company logo (or your competitor’s…). Perhaps the birthday person gets to bring their pet into the office for the day. Or, maybe you give them a pass for the week on all of those things everyone in your office hates—the worst chair in the meeting room, refilling the coffee pot, or needing to stock the printer paper drawer.
Finding traditions that are fun, humorous, and customized to your specific workplace is a surefire way to make your employees feel special.
4. Get Personal
While it may not be as realistic in a larger office, adding some personal touches to the birthday celebration can be a great way to make someone feel appreciated.
This doesn’t need to be anything overly complex or involved—it can be as simple as passing around a card for everyone to sign and write a friendly message, or even letting the birthday person have some say in what treat is shared (still doable even if you’re throwing a monthly party!). Office Manager Arrikka H. elaborates,
Each person gets a card, a balloon, and a treat of their choice. I know what each employee likes, so I try to get them something that I know they will love.
These personal touches make the recognition that much more special. It feels more like a celebration—and less like an obligation.
Make it Special: It’s easy to feel like you need to maintain some sort of element of surprise when planning a birthday celebration. But why not explicitly ask that person how he or she would like to celebrate?
Maybe he’d rather have pie than your standard cake. Or perhaps she’d like to do an after-hours Hoppy Hour instead of taking everyone’s time away from work.
Never be afraid to specifically ask for a person’s opinions. You might be surprised!
With these tips, you can ensure that team members feel a bit of birthday magic without needing to exhaust everybody else in your office (and, well, yourself). Give these a try, and birthdays will quickly transform from hassle to happy!
How do you celebrate office birthdays? Let us know in the comments!