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Birthdays at the Office: 9 Ways to Celebrate Employee Birthdays

Birthdays are the perfect excuse for workplace celebrations. As you plan, however, keep in mind that getting older can be a sensitive topic for some employees. With a thoughtful, individualized approach, birthdays at the office can be both fun and respectful.

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Why celebrate employee birthdays?

Birthday celebrations are a way to honor your employees. A small treat or party lets them know you value them as individuals as well as professionals. It also helps strengthen workers’ connections to the company.

That sounds simple, but it can pay off in higher job satisfaction, improved loyalty and lower employee turnover. A 2022 McKinsey study found that when workers quit their jobs, 54% do so because they don’t feel valued; 51% say it’s because they don’t feel like they belong.

Celebrating employee birthdays can benefit the rest of the team, too. A party gives everyone an opportunity to disconnect from work and let go of the stresses of the day. As they relax and eat cake, employees naturally build the social bonds that support better collaboration and morale.

9 ideas for birthdays at the office

Here’s the great thing about workplace birthday celebrations: you can adjust the event to suit your budget, team preferences and available time. Whether your employees respond to sweet treats or special perks, these birthday office ideas can provide the inspiration for a memorable celebration.

1. Dessert of choice

Replicate the traditional birthday cake experience by allowing each employee to choose a dessert for their big day. Order the treat in advance, and put it in the break room for the whole team to enjoy. The little jolt of sugar is a welcome pick-me-up, and the individual dessert selections are a fun way to learn more about each person in the office.

2. Royalty for a day

On an employee’s birthday, make them office royalty for the day. Give them the best parking spot, and put them in charge of:

  • Selecting the day’s coffee blend
  • Choosing the team’s lunch restaurant
  • Setting the office thermostat
  • Running the team meeting
  • Prioritizing projects or tasks
  • Deciding on a team-building activity

If your team members don’t mind a little extra attention, you can mark their status with a special birthday crown. Over time, it may become a beloved office tradition.

3. Team event

Make a big deal of your employees’ birthdays by planning a team event for each one. Take the group out to lunch, head to the lake for a barbecue or host a special after-work happy hour. Customize the celebration to the individual’s preferences. If they love to sing, for example, book a private karaoke booth. This strategy works best for small businesses or individual departments.

4. Birthday month

If you have a large team, it might not be feasible to celebrate each person individually. Instead, consider hosting a monthly birthday party. Order a cake and a selection of snacks, and spend an hour hanging out together in the break room. To add an extra element of excitement, consider giving each month a different theme—then, decorate the space and choose foods around that concept. Alternatively, host a dessert buffet with a variety of sweet treats.

5. Birthday breakfast

Start your employee’s big day off right by providing breakfast. Lay out a spread of treats in the kitchen, and invite everyone to help themselves. Ideas include:

  • Muffins and pastries
  • Coffee bar
  • Build-your own breakfast sandwiches
  • Fruit and yogurt bar

Morning celebrations infuse the whole day with a positive, collegial vibe. Plus, your employees don’t need to give up their lunch break or work hours to participate.

6. Special gifts

While birthdays at the office often involve food, it’s not a requirement. In some companies, it can be challenging to provide options that suit every person’s dietary restrictions. When that’s the case, consider giving gifts instead of treats.

Work-appropriate birthday gifts can include:

  • Gift cards for local businesses
  • Credit for a food delivery service
  • Company merchandise

Does your company have perks for executives? Get employees in on the fun by offering theater tickets, spa passes or box seats at a sporting event.

7. Game day

Take a standard birthday celebration to the next level by adding a team game. For a nostalgic vibe, try childhood classics such as Simon Says, Pin the Tail on the Donkey or musical chairs. If you want to get the team laughing, go with Charades or Freeze Tag. Games provide an opportunity for everyone to loosen up and shake off the stress of the day. Even better, they can create stories your employees will laugh about for weeks.

8. Birthday treasure chest

At the beginning of every year, fill a large “treasure chest” with gifts. On an employee’s birthday, allow them to reach into the box and pull out one item. You might include physical items such as company hoodies or coffee mugs, or make the team laugh with joke gifts such as whoopie cushions or novelty socks.

You can maximize the element of surprise by including vouchers in identical envelopes. Choose options that are highly desirable—the team will love seeing what each person gets. Ideas include:

  • 4 hours of vacation time
  • Gift certificate for a new desk chair
  • Upgraded conference hotel room
  • Annual streaming service membership
  • Airport lounge passes

No matter what types of gifts you choose, make sure that everything in the box has an equal value.

9. Office decorations

Make employees feel special by decorating their workspaces. If you have a small company, you can go all out. Fill the person’s office with helium balloons, for example, or wrap their entire cubicle in colorful crepe paper. For a big company, you can keep costs in check with a small balloon bouquet or a “Happy Birthday” door sign.

Best practices for office birthdays

Birthdays aren’t the same for every employee. To make sure that your celebrations are both respectful and wanted, consider implementing a set of best practices.

Request employee input

Remember, not everyone wants to be the center of attention. Some workers may be delighted with a party; others might prefer to fly under the radar. Ask employees about their preferences in advance—that way, you can host a celebration that makes them feel comfortable.

Include remote employees

Now that remote work is standard across industries, it’s more complicated to celebrate birthdays at the office. When you’re hosting an event at the company, set up a Zoom call to include remote workers. You can even deliver treats or lunch to their homes so they can enjoy a meal with the rest of the team.

If the majority of your team is remote, consider going all-virtual with your celebrations. Alternatively, mark the occasion with a gift rather than a party.

Don’t focus on age

Age can be a sensitive subject for some people, so you might consider leaving it out of office celebrations. Employees can offer up their age if they want, but they should never feel pressured to do so.

Celebrate everyone equally

Avoid imbalances in your birthday celebrations by sticking to the same budget and parameters for each person. When every event feels similar in scale, it’s easier to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

Employee birthday FAQ

Is it appropriate to celebrate birthdays at work?

It’s appropriate to celebrate birthdays at work as long as employees are on board and the event is professional. Consider running your ideas by the HR team to make sure they’re aligned with company policies.

Are employee birthdays confidential?

Whether a birthday is confidential should be left up to the employee. Ask each person if they’d like you to announce and celebrate their dates of birth. If not, it’s a good idea to respect their privacy.

Should you give employees birthday gifts?

You can give employees birthday gifts if they’re comfortable with the practice. However, if you give one person a gift, you should do the same for everyone.

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