Birthdays and Work: Not As Easy As I Thought

by Michael Haberman on July 7, 2008 · 0 comments

Today (July 7th) is my birthday. (No need to send notes, that is not the purpose of this post. Though cash would be good…. Just joking!) Here in our office we wish each other happy birthday, and once a month we have a birthday cake and card for everyone who has a birthday that month. We are a small office, so it doesn’t really involve a lot of time or expense. But we consider it important to recognize a day that many people consider important. I have found that with friends and employees that most people like to get a little recognition on that “special day.”

However, as I was doing research on birthday celebrations at work I found that there is a wide variety of methods of recognition and some problem areas in recognizing birthdays. Here are some of the ways companies recognize a birthday:
  • The employee gets the day off (found in many union contracts)
  • The president of the company calls the employee and wishes them happy birthday
  • HR sends a card to the employee
  • Monthly celebrations for everyone with a birthday that month
  • A celebration on the person’s actual birthday that is paid for by the company
  • The boss or fellow employees take the person to lunch
  • The person’s name is posted on the intranet, company newsletter, bulletin board, etc.
  • The person having the birthday brings their own cake

Here are the problem areas associated with recognizing birthdays at work:

  • Some religions don’t celebrate birthdays, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • Some cultures don’t recognize birthdays, but do recognize things such as “naming day.”
  • Some people don’t like the attention of a birthday

As I first started to write this I was going to weigh-in on saying that I think it is important to recognize someone on their birthday (and I will continue to do so with people I know) but after reading about it I am not so sure the birthday is the best day to have some “official” recognition. Official recognition should be work related. Recognize someone for their performance.

As a boss it is important to understand the diversity of your employee group. What works as recognition, what doesn’t? As an HR department it is also very important to understand that diversity. Are we treading on thin ice with sanctioning official birthday celebrations?

What do you think? Too “politically correct” or a valid concern? What do you do?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 7, 2008 at 12:22 pm

This comment was one received from another source:
“We give a birthday gift (for example, this year it is a top of the line flashight, with battery’s) of about a $20 value. We also announce their birthday over the intercom, and publish the day in the monthly newsletter, along with their years of service. Groups such as engineering, HR, etc., go out to lunch on a voluntary basis and pay for the meal of the person having the birthday.

I guess it will work until we have someone that decides they are “offended” by what we do.”

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RutgersFan July 7, 2008 at 3:50 pm

The company I currently work at publishes the birthdays in the monthly newsletter at each location (Month/day – no age) unless an employee opts out. We had discontinued the practice but had many requests to start it back up. In addition, some departments have cake, etc on either the day of the bday or monthly.

That said, today’s also my bday and no cake (recognition expected and not received is just as bad as no recognition). No cards necessary here either. (HR always does the worst in their own department).

I think it is important to determine what your employees deem as valuable. I’ve heard several “incentive specialists” over the years recommend a short survey to determine how your employees (your direct reports) appreciate being rewarded (atta boy, gift card, lunch w/ recognition, etc).

Best case – it is something that should be considered, but on the priority list, I’m sure it doesn’t get anywhere near the top. Still something interesting to think about.

Happy Birthday!

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Michael D. Haberman, SPHR July 8, 2008 at 10:39 am

Well Happy Birthday RF! I agree, understanding what each employee values is important. To me it is a hallmark of being a good manager.

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Anonymous July 8, 2008 at 10:45 am

The following website summarizes over 300 lawsuits filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses against their Employers, incidents involving problem JW Employees, etc:

EMPLOYMENT ISSUES UNIQUE TO JEHOVAH’S WITNESS EMPLOYEES

http://jwemployees.bravehost.com

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Dan McCarthy July 13, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Michael –

Belated Happy Birthday! Hope you had a great one.

And yes… too PC.

My company “officially” celebrates bdays monthly, and “unofficially”, anything goes. In fact, we celebrate just about everything around here – birthdays, showers, holidays, service anniversary’s, and yes, work accomplishments too.

It’s part of our heritage, our culture, and part of what’s made us a “Great Place to Work” winner year after year.

At my former company, one of the stupidest things, amongst many, that I had to do as an HR manager was tell one our branches that they were no longer allowed to have Santa come to the office.

Which company would you rather work at?

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