Office birthday culture is such a drag

Anna Ward
Birthday Cake
Source: Getty

Let's face it – the older you get, the more dull birthdays become. That’s unless you celebrate them at work of course.

Birthdays are like national days of observance in the workplace. In fact, there comes a time when colleagues make more of a fuss over birthdays than friends. Why? Because everyone stands to gain from an office celebration, not least employers themselves.

Recognising birthdays in the workplace is great for enhancing staff morale and company culture, to the benefit of employers and employees alike. However some customs are doing companies no favours whatsoever, and are in dire need of a rethink.

Birthday tax

It’s the pass the parcel that nobody wants to play. The not-so-subtle tinkling envelope that circulates the office, forcing everyone to rifle reluctantly through their wallets for loose change.

It’s hard not to feel stingy emptying out your coppers into a birthday kitty.

Setting a little bit of company budget aside for birthdays would spare everyone the awkwardness, and reflect a whole lot better on employers too. After all, subjecting employees to a levy every time a colleague ages by a year looks a bit mean.

Colin the Caterpillar

Nothing screams predictable like a glorified chocolate roll.

Yet despite London being home to hundreds of incredible bakeries and cake shops, we’re still fixated on mass produced party cake. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Colin as much as the next person, but he’s been doing the rounds in offices since 1990.

Isn’t it time we granted him retirement and treated employees to something a bit more thrilling?

With a tad more organisation, employers could ensure each employee gets a different freshly baked cake delivered to the office on their birthday. It’ll save the last minute dash to the nearest supermarket and the variety will add to the excitement.

Paid leave

Offering staff an extra day’s paid leave on their birthday isn’t as favourable as one might think. No one wants to feel forced to take holiday on their birthday in fear of foregoing the benefit.

And unless employees have friends willing to use a precious day of annual leave just for them, it’s most likely they’ll end up spending the day watching trash TV and anxiously monitoring emails from home. Not something to be overly grateful to your employer for.

With all things considered, the cost of granting a day’s paid leave is likely to outweigh any benefit in terms of ultimate employee satisfaction.

It’s a cost that would be far better invested in a round or two of birthday drinks – a perk for the whole office to enjoy.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

The only thing worse than a bad birthday policy, is no birthday policy at all. It’s crazy to think that some companies fail to see the business benefit and sidestep these celebrations altogether. Others assume it’s a prerogative of the workforce to organise.

However, aside from being a wasted opportunity for the employer to impress, the result of leaving birthdays up to staff to manage is some being remembered and others being forgotten.

This inconsistency will ultimately leave some employees feeling overlooked. Not great for company culture.

Celebrating birthdays is part and parcel of office culture and companies should be maximising the opportunity to make staff feel recognised and rewarded on their special day.

By taking full ownership, being more organised and doing away with outdated norms, employers can create an environment where staff want to be on their birthday, and boost the entire workforce on a regular basis.