Birthdays. We all have them, once a year. What can/should/might we do to celebrate birthdays at work? Is that the role of the leader? How has this changed if the team is remote or hybrid? It is those questions (and more) that we will explore below, giving you things to consider, and possibly some things to try soon.
I write this for me as much as for anyone, because as a leader I know these four things:
- Birthdays are an important moment to recognize people – regardless of what they say, everyone remembers their birthday and want others to remember it too.
- Birthdays provide a built-in opportunity to acknowledge and recognize people (something we don’t always do enough anyway)
- Many leaders could use this day more intentionally than they do – making it a missed opportunity.
- I’m not as good at this as I could be (and I’ve already asked my team to help me apply some the ideas you are about to read).
The Culture Connection
Since culture is simply “the way we do thing around here”, how we acknowledge/celebrate birthdays at work is a part of that. If we don’t do anything, ever, it sends a message. If we do something half-heatedly, it sends a message, and if we are thoughtful about it, it sends a message too. The point isn’t to judge the message nearly as much as to realize that birthdays at work are a small place where we can choose to be intentional – and perhaps through the choices we make, change the culture in small positive ways.
Culture is revealed in the how birthdays at work are celebrated, but even in how that is decided, and who is involved in the planning/activities.
- Does the leader take it all on themselves?
- Does the leader delegate it to someone, and if so, does that person see it as important or adminstrivia?
- Are people excited about the process and result?
Your answers to these questions illuminate your culture as well.
What Leaders Can Do
While leaders can plan and implement birthday at work activities, I would suggest a more inclusive approach to that activity. You have team members who are big “birthday people” – people for whom birthdays matter more that to others – and you have people who love to plan. Find these people and ask/encourage them to take a lead here. When birthdays at work are being guided by people passionate about it, it will be more effective and successful. Beyond this there are still some things you can do as a leader individually:
- Announce the birthday to the team (at the start of the day) or on Friday for a weekend birthday.
- Send a personal email.
- Send a handwritten card to the person at home.
- Give people the day off.
- Encourage them to leave early if possible.
- Give a small, personalized gift that shows thought and intention.
Where Do We Start?
First, and most important, I recommend having one or more people as a birthday team or task force to intentionally leverage birthdays as a way to create/maintain the culture you want – whatever that is. By asking people to volunteer for such a team, you send a message of empowerment and purpose.
While your team will come up with great ideas that match your team and culture, here are some questions that might help jump start their planning.
- Cake or not? If you are virtual, it is hard to share cake. And some people may not be cake people anyway. If you can gather, perhaps let the birthday person decide what food they want to celebrate with.
- Gift or not? Do people come together to pay for it, or is that on the company? (There may be tax implications to consider here.)
- Do we gather on the day or celebrate birthdays once a month?
- If we are virtual, do we gather, and if so, make it fun?
- How can we make it meaningful for the individual and the team?
- Do we have everyone sign a card?
Other Birthday at Work Resources
I’ve written about birthdays a few other times on this blog. While we are talking about birthdays at work, I thought I would point you to these resources too.
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