Secretly, we all expect to get some kind of recognition at work during our birthdays. It’s our special day, and we want to get more attention than usual and turn it into a memorable event we can remember years later.
In smaller organizations, it’s easy to recognize each individual’s accomplishments and milestones. As organizations grow or decide to switch to working remotely, this becomes more difficult—to the point that it’s increasingly easier to take employees for granted and let their important milestones pass by unnoticed.
One simple but powerful way to show your employees you care and motivate them to put their best foot forward is by celebrating their birthdays. Ignoring occasions like birthdays and work anniversaries won’t help employees feel like they’re part of the team. In fact, it will only lower their happiness at work.
Unfortunately, this approach to employee recognition (or lack thereof) seems to be the norm. Only 26% of employees feel valued at work, according to our 2019 Employee Engagement Report. This is a major problem because employee recognition and preventing turnover are tightly linked.
The good news is that improving recognition is easily accomplished. For example, even at large organizations, it’s possible to recognize each employee’s birthday in a meaningful way—especially when you divide the company by departments.
You don’t need to throw a big party to celebrate employee birthdays (although one is welcomed at any time!). Small gestures can have a big impact on employee happiness and engagement. Whatever you decide, you should do something to let your employees know that you’re aware of their special day.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at 15 office birthday ideas to make every employee’s special day count.
1. Sugar, sugar, and more goodies
In general, birthdays are an ideal time to build some camaraderie among your team. Which means they’re the perfect excuse to throw a party! And everyone deserves a treat on their birthday.
Make sure you find out what the employee likes—whether it’s chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cups, or red velvet cake. A candy bag can be a good choice because teammates can share it throughout the day. You can even send these to your employee’s home if they’re working remotely.
Alternatively, ask your team to do a bit of detective work and figure out which treats to bring in. This way everyone in the workplace can participate in making the birthday celebration an enjoyable one.
2. Decorate their desk
What better way to show employees you’re thinking about them on their birthdays than by showing up to the office early and really decorating that person’s desk?
Print out pictures of their favorite celebrities. Hang up some funny artwork along with banners and balloons. Leave a small gift or two like candy in a coffee mug or a bunch of company swag.
Go all out! Some surprise decorations are a surefire way to make each employee feel valued.
3. Redecorate the break room
Want to really take it one step further when you celebrate birthdays at work? Decorate an entire room according to the team member’s own interests. This is a time-consuming task, to be sure. But it’s one that can have huge results on the person’s morale and really make them feel super appreciated.
As an added bonus, it also shows them that you’ve been paying attention to what they’ve said over time—and that you were willing to do some research to really impress them.
Does your employee love dogs? Have every dog owner in your company bring their pooch to work on that day. Would they love to travel to Japan? Redecorate the entire room so it has a Japanese vibe.
People have all kinds of interests from succulents and crystals to cars and robots. Just ask their work friends or do some spying on their social media channels to see what they’re into.
4. Show your gratitude with a thoughtful note from the whole team
A birthday is a great time to show how much the employee means to the organization.
Instead of a generic birthday card, have colleagues write a few sentences about the employee’s contributions to the team and what they like most about working with that person.
For some ideas of recognition phrases, think of top traits you value too, like:
- Your team efforts have strengthened our bonds.
- Thank you for showing adaptability and never saying you don’t want to do something!
- Stay awesome!
These send a clear signal that the whole workplace sees and appreciates each employee’s hard work.
Our research has uncovered that peer-to-peer recognition is extremely valuable to fostering a positive workplace culture. In fact, it’s actually more important than recognition from a supervisor.
Everyone wants to work with people they respect—and it’s even better if they’re working with their friends.
5. Take them out for a meal
A birthday might be the perfect opportunity to get to know your employees better.
Suggest that you take them out for lunch or dinner at the restaurant of their choice. Bring along some coworkers, too, so that everyone can join in the fun. Having the entire team helps add on to the fun and make it seem like a real birthday party.
If you’re not feeling up for a night on the town, you could host a potluck-style lunch at the office instead. Have each member of the team bring in something special on the employee’s birthday.
Either way, eating a meal together is a great way to get people talking to one another, forming stronger bonds over time.
6. Give them a gift card
A simple, low-key way to celebrate an employee’s birthday is by giving them a gift card.
This could be a good option for more introverted employees. Even if it’s for a token amount (e.g., $25), the employee will appreciate the gesture.
For the employee whose desk is always littered with coffee cups, a Starbucks card might be the perfect gift. A Groupon gift or TINYgift card to send with a Cheers can work too.
You may also be able to get a deal on an activity that takes the employee into a new realm—like paintball, rock climbing, or an art class.
Just make sure it’s something they’re interested in first before you pull the trigger. An easy way to do that is by talking to your employees directly.
7. Donate on their behalf
Donating money to charity is a good way to show your organization’s investment in the community and in social responsibility.
To make it more meaningful, find out which charity the employee would like to make a contribution to and donate on their behalf. WWF and the Wikimedia Foundation are some of the most common choices. So try to find charities that are not as popular, too. Alternatively, you can donate to multiple NGOs.
You could also take the day to do some charitable work. For example, you could organize an event with Habitat for Humanity or another positive community organization. These kinds of opportunities can serve as a great team-building tool while also recognizing individual employees.
You probably can’t afford to do community service on everyone’s birthday, to be fair. So, you may want to consider celebrating employee birthdays once a quarter. Celebrate everyone who has a birthday in January, February, or March during your Q1 outreach event, for example.
8. Get a little help from their friends
Support from colleagues is key to employee happiness.
Our research has revealed that coworkers are the number one thing employees like about their jobs.
If you ever want to have a bona fide birthday celebration for your employees, it’s crucial that you rope their work friends into the conversation. So, have a chat with the employee’s closest colleagues and brainstorm an idea for their birthday.
This is an important step no matter what you choose to do. If your employee is on a strict diet, for example, sweets might not be the best way to go. If your employee is very shy, they may not want their birthday recognized at all.
By discussing your plans with the employee’s friends, you’ll guarantee that you’re doing something the individual will enjoy.
9. Give them the spotlight
Office birthdays could be the perfect opportunity to let the whole team get to know the employee a little better.
Either send out an email blast with a little bit of information or post something on your company’s internal network. Of course, if you’re trying to showcase your organization’s personality a little more, you can also post this content on external-facing platforms (e.g., Twitter and your blog).
These profiles could include lesser-known facts, places they’ve been, and other interesting tidbits. You could also highlight their recent work accomplishments.
Be sure that your employees are on board before choosing this option; the shier members of your team might be mortified by the idea.
10. Give them the day off
Some employees may not be interested in celebrating their birthday at work at all. They might want to be around family instead. Or your employee might just need a day off to recharge their batteries. Whatever the case, offering a personal day for this once-a-year event is something employees will no doubt appreciate.
Keep in mind, however, that you can’t force your employees to take a day off. If they don’t want to relax on their birthday, consider the extra personal day a birthday present that they can redeem at any time of the year.
11. Impress them with a one-of-a-kind gift
We’re all bored of those classic knick-knacks everyone gifts each other when Secret Santa time rolls around.
So come up with a gift idea that will be memorable and useful at the same time. From tickets to their favorite sporting events to smart backpacks, fitness trackers, and even a pair of shoes they’ve been dreaming of, there’s no shortage of thoughtful gifts you can blow their minds with.
Take it to the next level and have your team handcraft the gift themselves. Personalized products are so easy to create these days. You can order custom shirts and other wearables or just do a DIY project. Here are some handy gifts you can put together by getting your whole team to contribute:
- A huge goodie bag with snacks or exclusive gourmet ingredients for foodies
- A mini collection of potted plants for flower lovers
- Handmade soap and other natural cosmetics
- Small furniture pieces
- One-of-a-kind jewelry
- Homemade candles or other decorations
12. Hold a surprise meeting
Another way to celebrate office birthdays is to go beyond the boring Slack messages to congratulate someone in person.
Make it unexpected so it seems just like a regular meeting. Call the meeting and say it’s going to be your usual feedback session or weekly standup so they will have no idea it’s a surprise.
For remote workers, ask the rest of the team members to prepare something unique like an outfit, prop, or banner with a congratulatory message on it. Have everyone else arrive a couple of minutes earlier so that when the person whose birthday you’re celebrating enters the meeting, they’ll get a huge smile on their face instantly.
These surprise events are perfect for helping your team bond and unwind by taking their mind off work for a short while. Make sure you switch up your strategy every now and then so they won’t automatically expect a “meeting” like this on their birthdays, though.
It’s just one more trick in your toolbelt.
13. Send them Cheers and build a culture of recognition
In general, a Cheers for Peers program helps drive high employee engagement and helps you retain your top team members.
Birthdays are the perfect opportunity to go beyond simple messaging and recognize people for everything they’ve done within the team, for being an amazing colleague, or just cracking a joke whenever the overall mood needs to be improved.
One convenient tool you can use even for employee birthdays is TINYpulse.
The platform helps you facilitate mutual appreciation, give kudos, and brighten up every employee’s special day. Don’t forget to add a funny gif to your Cheers to keep everyone happy the entire day!
14. Give them a superpower for the day
We all want to be the decision-makers in our teams. With so many different people and personality types to please though, most choices are taken based on everyone’s feedback. So why not let the employees whose birthday you’re celebrating make the decisions for one day?
Allow them to choose where you’ll have lunch, what music you listen to, or when you should have the meeting for the day.
Let’s face it: Nobody really wants to work on their birthday. So make it extra fun and give them the chance to try a role they’ve always wanted in a different department, look at someone else’s workflow, or just learn new tricks from a different field.
15. Make a video for them
Gather everyone who works closely with the employee and have them think of a unique message to send out. It can be anything from cracking an inside joke, thanking them for the support, or simply sharing their honest best wishes.
Do try not to mention work too much and instead focus on their personality, hobbies, and life goals. To make sure the video is eclectic, first put together a list of questions everyone should answer, like:
- What’s your first memory of [employee name]?
- What’s the one word that defines [employee name]?
- If you had all the money in the world, what would you give to [employee name]?
Each person should record the video via their phone or personal cameras to keep it all a secret. Ask your team to do this from home so the rest of the workers can’t be influenced by a colleague’s answers.
Have the most skilled video editor on your team put together the footage and add some special effects. As a final step, it’s important to get the presentation right. Instead of just sending it to the employee, show it during a meeting so everyone can enjoy it.
Now, it’s your turn to plan the next office celebration
Birthdays are special celebrations for individuals. It’s their day. THE day.
Make your workers feel truly valued by incorporating these ideas into your employee recognition program to show your appreciation for your team’s hard work.
The keys to succeeding at surprising them and making their day one of the most memorable ones are being authentic and making it a group celebration. Stick to this habit for all team members but change the celebrations to match each individual. This will help you keep the birthday-celebrator on their toes when their special day arrives.
Not only will it make them feel valued as an employee, it will also make them feel respected as an individual.
The end result of all these office birthday ideas? A happier, healthier workforce that’s motivated to give their best performance at work and enjoy coming working with the team every single day.
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