If Elaine’s outburst hits home, your office may be suffering from E.C.S., or Excessive Celebration Syndrome.* Some of the symptoms include eye-rolling, reduced attendance at kitchen gatherings, increased resentment and cynicism among staff, and a build-up of plastic-wrapped, crusty cake ends on the bottom shelf of the office fridge.
Like Elaine’s colleague who “thinks it’s nice,” some may wonder What’s the problem? Aren’t celebrations and cake a good thing?
Yes, of course. But, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. When celebrations happen every week, they lose their luster and start to feel more like an inconvenience or annoyance than a treat. Chances are that most people in your office are already overscheduled, which makes mandatory cake and well-wishing sessions feel like just another meeting.
But, you don’t want to go to the other extreme and strip your workplace of all joy and levity. After all, occasional celebrations boost morale and bring coworkers closer together.
So where’s the balance? Here are some ideas for getting your office’s E.C.S. under control.
This is where things can start to spiral out of control. Every employee is special, but unless you work in an office of under 10 people, celebrating each individual birthday just isn’t sustainable.
Aim for a monthly celebration where all employees with birthdays in that month are honored. Treats like cake or cupcakes are nice, but, depending on your office’s vibe, you may want to leave out the whole ritual of crowding into the kitchen and singing (unless you work at, say, an opera house or Glee-style public school). Try placing the sweets in the kitchen or a communal area before sending out an office-wide “Happy Birthday! Cake in the kitchen!” email instead. That way people can enjoy treats on their own time.
Unless it’s a big, round number (think 10, 15, 20, etc.) skip the cake. A personalized email from a senior leader thanking the employee for their hard work, contributions, and dedication is more appropriate. Once someone hits 10 years, go ahead put their name on a cake.
A promotion is, of course, a cause for celebration. But, at the risk of sounding Grinch-like, that celebration should happen on the employee’s own time. If a promotion affects the company’s structure or impacts others’ work in any way, a more senior leader should notify the employee’s colleagues. And, that announcement can certainly be congratulatory in tone. But, staging a big to-do can be awkward for the employee who may have been passed over for that same promotion.
It may be tempting to throw an engagement party or baby shower for a favorite work pal. But, remember that you’re setting a precedent. Do you have the budget, time and energy to celebrate every employee’s special life event?
It may be best to move these types of celebrations out of the office to happy hour or an off-site, non-work-sponsored lunch. By shifting these celebrations from official office events to personal gatherings, you’re not obligated to throw the same party for everyone.
Precedent-setting is a concern here as well. People leave jobs all the time, and the conditions under which they do so vary greatly. While an in-office celebration for someone who’s resigning under amicable terms can be pleasant, the same party for a sour, burnt-out employee with a handful of workplace enemies can be painful for everyone.
Your best bet is to have senior leadership publicly thank the employee for their service (by email or at an all-staff meeting) and then schedule an off-site happy hour or lunch. That way the person who’s resigning can invite only the coworkers with whom they feel comfortable celebrating.
Here’s the exception to that “personal milestone” rule. Since retirement is directly related to the retiree’s work contributions, go ahead and celebrate. Gather everyone in a common area, serve refreshments, and give everyone the opportunity to thank the employee for their service. I mean, they’ve worked for at least 40+ years. They deserve a little cake!
Keep in mind that these are just some ideas. Ultimately, you need to find the balance and celebration protocols that work best for your office’s culture. If weekly cake is keeping everyone happy and motivated, don’t mess with that sugar high!
*E.C.S. is a made-up affliction.
How do you feel about office celebrations? Fun break or annoying obligation?