The benefits of saying "Bon anniversaire!"
One of the most important things you can do for your employees is show them that they are valued members of the team – and recognising employee milestones is a great way to do this.
Birthday celebrations can make staff members feel valued in a way that's independent of performance targets, showing employees that they’re still a key part of the team even if they’ve had the occasional bad month. It also creates a more positive working culture, with more chances for staff to connect and get to know each other.
However, celebrating staff birthdays isn’t always as straightforward as buying the standard card and cake. Here are our tips on employee birthdays, to make sure you do it the right way.
Getting birthday rewards right
The basics for staff birthdays, as suggested by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), are mostly focused around working out whether employees actually want their birthdays acknowledged or not.
Some people may not be comfortable with their birthday being public knowledge around the office, or may have religious reasons for not celebrating a birthday. SHRM recommends the following:
- Don’t assume. Ask new hires if they want to have their birthday announced.
- Don’t expect. Some people may not be able to make contributions to buy gifts.
- Don’t specify. Only use the day and month, not the year, to avoid revealing someone’s age without their permission.
So, a light touch is clearly in order – no big inflatable “40 today!” balloons, no surprises. Make sure employees are comfortable with having their birthday recognised, and adjust accordingly.
Asking permission is particularly important, as releasing personal info about an employee without their consent – even just their birthday – is technically a breach of the Data Protection Act. It sounds like a bit of an overreaction, but it’s true.
The festive period
As you may expect, at least one in 12 people are born in December. It’s far from the most common month for new births – which is usually September or October – but it’s also not the least common. It seems pretty likely, then, that some of your staff will be celebrating their birthdays over the festive period, when there’s plenty of other celebrations going on around the workplace.
Unfortunately, December birthdays are all-too-easily forgotten, or simply just rolled into Christmas. One in six people born in December are unhappy with their birthdays, with one survey claiming that December 16th is the most rubbish day to have your birthday.
Whether the 16th really is any worse than the 15th or 17th is up for debate – but late December birthdays are beset by ill health, bad weather, everyone being too busy or broke to come to your birthday party, and the dreaded combined gift. So don’t forget staff birthdays because you’re planning festive events and rewards.
Suggestions that folks born in December have it bad enough already aside, neglecting some staff birthdays while marking others is a sure-fire way to hurt morale and motivation.
How can you mark the occasion?
Sending a card round and buying a cake is usually the standard, minimum-requirement (above doing nothing) workplace birthday marker, but it can feel a bit impersonal.
Also, with office cake culture labelled “a danger to health” by the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, it might be time to think of some different options.
A day off
Many organisations offer an extra day off work as a birthday gift. This is a gesture that will have a relatively small impact to staffing levels, but will nonetheless be very warmly received by your employees – who doesn’t love a day off?
Providing an extra day off could actually improve productivity. With a four-month gap leading up to the Christmas period with no bank holidays, around half of the UK’s workforce feel unproductive thanks to the lack of time off.
As already mentioned, September and October are the months with the highest rate of birthdays, so a good deal of your employees could be getting a much-appreciated day off when they need it most.
Vouchers and gift cards
Vouchers and pre-paid gift cards make excellent employee gifts. Presentation can be as personal or subtle as staff are comfortable with – particularly if you use digital rewards that send discount codes direct to an email desktop. Nosy desk neighbours will never know.
When a birthday is coming up, you could ask the employee in question’s team members which retailers or restaurants they are most interested in to provide something personal, or use multistore or Amazon vouchers across the board to ensure everyone has the option to buy something they really want.
Automated systems are also available, which automatically send personalised vouchers to those with birthdays each day – ideal for larger organisations with hundreds, or even thousands, of employees.
If your organisation is big enough that there’s a birthday almost every day, or if you have plenty of staff that don’t like being the centre of attention, then a combined celebration at the end of the month for everyone who went up a number in age in the past 30 or so days could be the answer. Not least because one round of cake per month is better for everyone’s health, and one distracting celebration per month is better for everyone’s productivity.
Replace birthdays with work anniversaries
Maybe birthdays aren’t the best idea after all? A lot of people like to keep their personal and professional lives separate, or will likely be planning a celebration with work friends themselves if they want the occasion marked around the office. If this is usually the case among your team, then you could replace birthday celebrations with work anniversaries.
Many organisations will mark the five, ten (and multiples thereof) milestones, but the idea of a job for life is increasingly on the way out.
The average employee now spends less than five years at each job, with the vast majority of younger workers intending to stay in each role for less than three – so even one or two years is an achievement in the modern workplace!