4 Tips to Transform Office Birthdays From Hassle to Happy
“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!
We do bi-monthly, we buy cupcakes (less messy than a cake), fruit or veggie platter for the non sweet eaters and celebrate either Birthdays and/or Anniversary. Each gets a $25 Amazon, Movie tickets, Starbuck Gift Cards. We also have games that we play sometimes.
I track all birthdays for 51 staff in our department. We celebrate quarterly with a themed birthday luncheon where everyone brings something in and we feast all day. Some get their cubicle decorated by their cube-mate but not all do. I’m gleaning ideas like maybe you don’t have to answer phones today (we are a call center), get each person a balloon to be sure they are recognized. I love the “Why was “name” placed on this earth? That is genius! Will definitely work on getting CEO’s involved!!! Thanks for the tips… Now I’m off to investigate handling the anniversaries!
We celebrate birthdays every month as an activity, but its so disappointing to see people not turning up for the celebration which is once in a month.
Any suggestions , how to tackle this situation? We have about 350 employees in the office
I decorate their desk usually with a cute banner and happy birthday confetti. I write a card from everyone and include a gift card for a treat like icecream, coffee or iTunes. Then I send out a company email announcing the birthday and wishes. Simple recognition and our consistency is key.
We have birthday buddies. You’re assigned a birthday buddy at the beginning of year and bring a treat for the department to share (there are 12 of us) on your buddy’s birthday. Some people also bring a small gift or decorate their birthday buddy’s desk but 1 time per year, you are responsible for the celebration.
Love this idea of a birthday buddy!
In our office of 14 people there is a click of 3. They decide not to eat the birthday cake, push the slice of cake away or not sit down during the celebration, no smiles. For the people they like, during a birthday celebration or Christmas they really exaggerate the laughter and happiness and brag about the gift someone gave them to rub it in everyone elses face. Should we even have these celebrations?
Unfortunately we do not celebrate birthdays either. That would be a huge chunk of time away from our business duties. I like the idea, but I don’t own the business either!
I understand that, and we aren’t able to do anything big for birthdays. We really have no budget. Here is what we do: We order lunch out. The birthday person chooses. Everyone who orders, pitches in a little extra money toward the birthday lunch. This doesn’t take too much time and every needs to eat lunch.
We are a small part of the larger organization, so our office is only 4 ladies at this time, so we plan to go out to lunch and this is 3 months as two of us has our birthdays 10 days a part and we usually split the difference and go in the middle. It is lunch out as we rarely go out to eat during the year, so we get a break and we try a newer restuarant when we go. Visit and talk away from the office and always say we need to just take time to go out and eat and visit. then time flies and we are ready for the next birthday.
We receive our birthday off with pay and we also receive a birthday card that everyone has signed. We all love having our special day off.
we do a monthly birthday lunch for all the birthdays in that month, since the business is mainly guys lunch food is much more welcome then cake and each person gets a personalize birthday card signed by everyone.
We have whose ever birthday it is they bring a treat
That is a terrible idea. I started in our office 2 years ago as the WOW person and they were doing the same thing. After I started asking each person how they felt about that every single person did not like it. They felt it embarrassing to have to bring in a treat that they paid for, they made and didn’t feel special at all. I also found out many were not even celebrating their birthdays because of this practice. I stopped that practice immediately. I asked my boss if he could give me a budget to spend on each birthday and he agreed without hesitation. Moral improved greatly this past year.
As you were given the budget, what was your new way of of celebrating?
We do monthly birthday parties for each person within the month. We find out everyone’s name to make it special for them as an individual.
We do Quarterly birthday cakes. More economical than monthly and covers everyone.
Monthly Ice Cream Social
We have birthdays at our staff meetings. We get a sheet cake or cookies.
The birthday girl/guy brings in a treat for everyone else to enjoy. :0
Laura, See my comment above about this practice.
We don’t have any birthday celebrations in our office
We don’t have any birthday celebrations in our office setting.
We have a birthday calendar listing birthdays by month / day. Generally teachers do something in a group; same as office we do for each other.
I love the idea of a monthly themed celebration party that covers all special events: birthdays, work anniversaries, marriages, births, etc.
My co-worker brought in cake and fruit and passed out slips of paper that asked – Why was Matthew placed on this Earth? Staff offered nice and witty replies.
This is such a unique idea, Don! Thanks for sharing :)
I have never heard of this…this is fantastic. Can’t wait wait for our next monthly birthday celebration to do this.
What do you do when you are tired of celebrating every birthday and special random occasion at work? It’s been unevenly celebrated, people get different things, sometimes anniversaries are celebrated, sometimes they are not. It’s haphazard. I don’t want to spend my time or money celebrating people that I don’t even have lunch with. I’m not against celebrating, but I liked it when it was a card a cookies. Now it’s turned into a breakfast potluck and there’s pressure to bring something in. There’s a few people on the team that feel the same way. We don’t make crazy good money to not feel brunt of celebrating 10 birthdays and other countless events a year.
Uneven celebrations definitely get tedious. In that case, the celebration organizer could try out the tip from this post about grouping events. If monthly birthdays and anniversaries still feel like too many, quarterlies could do the trick!
I buy cookies and small pies. I make a sign that says happy birthday to everyone born in that month and list their names. I send a calendar invite for cookies and milk at a certain time and we gather and celebrate.
Sending a calendar invite is a great strategy, Pia! Then, if someone opts out it isn’t a big deal (but who opts out of pie?!)
Our company has over 50k employees. We have about 110 employees from our department in which about 45 are direct reports to our Corporate office. 17 of those are based around the world. So we have the 28 that are local bring in a treat to share on their birthday. We used to make a big deal and very public with well wishes, but more and more people don’t want to be recognized in such a public way. This way the healthy conscious can avoid the treats but still give their well wishes, while others can make more of a spectacle if they choose. I also send out an email to each and every employee in our department as well.
That’s a good point to remember, Cheryl. Not everyone loves the hoopla of a birthday celebration, so your system sounds perfect for your team!
Our company reduced our celebratory birthday and anniversary lunches from individual to quarterly. I like to bake so I started baking a favorite cake for the celebrants in our immediate department. We cut the cake, drink coffee and have a social time. Not terribly original but the homemade cakes are a great hit and makes each person feel special, and isn’t that the point, to feel special for a few minutes? Though I don’t mind making them at all, my hips are starting to feel the toll. Four of us have birthdays 2 days apart in August & September – 4 cakes… lots of calories.!!
Homemade cakes cannot be beat, that’s such a considerate gesture. You’re right—the point IS to feel special ;)
We have a birthday bear that sings “Today is your birthday” by the Beatles and we dance just before we cut the cake every month. This is our justification for having cake – we are burning calories before we start.
We also sing the traditional Happy Birthday because it is good for the soul to sing. All in all a great celebration each month.
Don’t worry, we believe people don’t ever need an excuse to eat cake. That bear sounds so cool. I wonder where we can get a stuffed singing Ninja…
Since we don’t do birthdays but do things to mark important academic events (first day of class, impending days off, midterm grades due, graduation forms dues, impending days off, finals week, impending days off, new computers, and, of course, days off). This will raise those minor events to a new clebratory height. Followed by a day off because everyone thinks in education, we get so many. No, students do; we work. And HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TERESA. A handful of confetti will be flung in your honor while tooting the ceremonial birthday horn.
Hmm… you’re right! Make sure you tell us how these tips impact all those days you’re in the office.
August and September are the highest birth months. This is very timely. Thank you.
You’re very welcome! Which tip(s) do you plan to use?
Sometimes I find out what their favorite dessert (or if they have an allergy) and make sure to accomodate the monthly birthday dessert to that!
That’s a good suggestion, Chelsea, then it’s not limited to cake!
Such Great Tips! I don’t know where to start…. Thank you!
Start small and work your way up! What do you currently do?
Great timing! My birthday is tomorrow! Hmmm….
Happy birthday! Let us know what goes on in the office ;)
I track all birthdays and circulate a card for all to sign. We sometimes decorate their area and if it’s a milestone bday (50th) then we sometimes have a special team activity.
Oh, love the idea of decorating their desk/workspace! Then employees could contribute on their own time, as they come in, or as they leave the night before so that it doesn’t have to be a scheduled shindig.
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