Q: We have a dilemma at work. Birthday parties are a controversy. How we celebrate them is a controversy if you can believe that. For some people, their cubes are decorated by co-worker, complete with photos of the employee and then a company-wide email is sent out. For others, their birthday is completely ignored. While for some special employees, a company-paid lunch is brought in and we get to sit back and take two hours to eat salty cold cuts. It seems a bit like a popularity contest. What do most companies do?
A: Birthday celebrations at work can run the gamut, from a group card which everyone signs to a Friday night celebration where some perhaps go beyond acceptable norms for behavior. I think consistency is important to avoid the perception of favoritism. More recently, most employers are becoming more aware of food allergies as well. Additionally, some employees don’t want their birthday to be recognized in the workplace. There are some who would rather stay in bed for the day rather than having a dozen balloons, each embellished with “over the hill” in several different fonts, tied to their chair for the day.
Discuss what options might be most acceptable to employees. Review the suggestion with management and/or HR. Be consistent. Avoid a big celebration for Sue and a missed celebration and a hastily signed card for Stan.
Consider selecting one day within the month and celebrating all of the birthdays within that month. Maybe serve coffee and present those celebrating birthdays with a card signed by colleagues. Make sure that the card is suitable for a workplace. Avoid having the birthday celebration linger too long. Make attendance at the birthday event voluntary. Employees should attend if they wish but not be forced to attend. Some employees may ask that their birthday be ignored at this celebration and this request should be honored.
If employees choose to continue the celebration after work hours, that is their choice. However, the birthday celebration at work should be a pleasant break during the day with employees returning work after finishing their coffee.
by Pattie Hunt Sinacole