Unfortunately, some organizations write birthday celebrations off; after all, they're a business and not a pre-school.
However, employee birthday celebrations matter. And savvy HR leaders and executives know how to channel its power to maintain employee morale and engagement.
This article contains 26 thoughtful ways to celebrate employee birthdays. You’ll find ideas that are helpful whether your employees or coworkers work from the office or remotely.
Before we talk about these fantastic employee birthday ideas, let’s consider why employee birthdays are so important.
The Problem of Employee Birthdays
Research from CEB shared in the Harvard Business Review reveals three dates with significant job hunting spikes: work anniversaries, mid-life birthdays, and high-school reunions. In addition, the research shows that job hunting sees a 12% spike on big birthdays like 40 and 50.
What is it about birthdays that make people review their life choices, especially current employment? There are three main reasons we can identify.
The New Age is a Milestone
Age is one tangible measure of just how far a person has come. Many folks have an idea of what they want their lives to look like. For example, they have an idea of what age they’d like to get married, have kids, or hold a position at work or in the community.
Therefore, they think about how far they’ve come regarding these goals when a birthday comes around.
On birthdays, employees take stock of their current circumstances and ask themselves questions about whether they’re making progress towards their age-related goals or not.
A Birthday is a Time to Interact
Birthdays are usually days where family and friends gather to celebrate the employee. While it can be loads of fun, it can also cause anxiety for the celebrant, especially when catching up with people they haven’t seen in a year or more.
On birthdays, friends and family might ask them about their job status. If they are stuck in the same roles or aren’t on an upward trajectory, they might be uncomfortable answering questions about work and might start to rethink their current employment.
Birthdays are Days for Comparison
Comparison is the thief of joy, and personal turmoil can result from employees comparing themselves to others or where they thought they’d be at this point in their career.
They might seek greener pastures if they aren’t happy with their lives when a birthday comes around, particularly regarding employment.
Why Celebrating Employee Birthdays Matters
Just 26% of employees feel valued at work, and it’s a big problem because of the tight relationship between employee recognition and employee turnover.
What can you do to make staff feel valued in your organization? Celebrate employee birthdays!
This celebration tells the employee that you care about them, and it can boost their workplace motivation.
A 2019 study revealed that a reward and recognition system is one of the most potent forces that drive workplace engagement.
In addition, having a recognition and rewards system in place, like celebrating employee birthdays, contributes to reduced turnover and higher productivity.
Due to the pandemic, though, many workers work from home or have a hybrid schedule. If this is the case in your organization, it can be a hassle celebrating employees’ birthdays.
This is why we have compiled 26 brilliant ideas on how you can make your employees feel valued by celebrating their birthdays.
5 Tips for Employee Birthdays
Since we’ve considered why staff birthdays are significant, we’ll now see some tips that your company can use to create a fantastic employee birthday program.
1. Have the date in mind
Your HR department likely has the birthdays of all employees on record. Therefore, use this knowledge to be proactive and develop a strategy.
You shouldn’t be celebrating birthdays weeks after the event. Have a calendar that has all the important dates so you can keep an eye on their birthday. There are apps that you can also use to set reminders when the birthday date approaches.
2. Have everyone join in
Your worker should hear felicitations from more than just the HR department or their manager. Since they work with other employees, make sure everyone knows about the upcoming date to chip in as well.
Nectar is a recognition and rewards tool that employees can use to call out birthdays and work anniversaries publicly.
3. Make it personal
Your recognition program should be personal and might include commendation for a recent project they handled, anecdotes, and similar individual factors. For example, a generic “Happy Birthday” might be cool, but it won’t be memorable.
4. Give equitable rewards
Don’t go overboard for one employee if you can’t go overboard for all employees. Employees talk to each other, and if they discover others received better gifts, they might feel under-appreciated.
5. Make it consistent
Your recognition and reward system should be consistent. This means that nobody is left out when it’s their birthday. Be sure to include everyone in the celebrations, even if you have remote teams and an in-office team.
An employee reward platform like Nectar is an excellent tool for automated birthday bonuses and helping HR managers watch upcoming dates for all employees.
6. Have a budget
It’s easier to have a birthday celebration and use some of the marvelous ideas we’ve provided below if you’ve budgeted for it in advance. Birthday celebrations don’t have to be elaborate and expensive affairs, as you’ll see. Instead, incorporate birthday expenses into your budget, so you don’t have to try and find the money later in the year.
7. Be considerate
Not everyone celebrates birthdays, so you shouldn’t force anyone to engage in birthday celebrations. And even some that celebrate don’t want something public. Thus, during the onboarding process, ask employees if they celebrate birthdays and how they’d like them celebrated.
If they prefer a very low-key affair, a simple email might be sufficient.
8. Be discreet
Some people are sensitive about their age, so don’t risk sharing intimate knowledge in a public space. So don’t disclose their age, unless you’re very sure that they wouldn’t mind.
9. Highlight progress
Use birthdays to acknowledge not just time but also the progress they’ve made in your organization. To this end, focus on achievements and progress they’ve made on projects.
With these nine tips in mind, you’re ready to implement the 26 great birthday ideas that we’ve curated below.
26 Thoughtful Ways to Celebrate Birthdays at Work (remote ideas included)
1. Deliver treats
Birthdays can help boost workplace morale and draw teammates closer; therefore, it’s the perfect time to throw an office party. Before you buy treats, ensure that your employee is not allergic to these treats. Find out what they like.
As these are opportunities for team-building, you could buy a bag of treats for the whole team to share. If some work remotely, use a service like Crumbl to deliver gourmet cookies directly to their homes.
You could even make it more enjoyable and cheaper by asking other colleagues to chip in and bring something they believe their co-workers would love.
2. Have a virtual party
If the celebrant works remotely, then a virtual party might be just what they need to spice up their routine! For example, you could gather for a virtual lunch, and there take a few minutes to give a birthday shoutout to the celebrant! It’d be a lovely surprise.
3. Heart attack their desk
If your worker approves of public recognition, then this is a perfect idea. The premise is pretty straightforward. Show you’re thinking about them on their birthday by coming to the office early and decorating their desk.
We’re sure they’d be stoked to see the decorations. So what can you use as props? Apart from balloons (obviously), you could also decorate their desk with pictures of their favorite people, funny artwork, and gifts. Employees surely appreciate decorations in good taste.
4. Give them rewards
An employee recognition program like Nectar can make it easy for your company to give the birthday celebrant some goodies. With Nectar, you can automatically share rewards on their birthday and invite co-workers to provide them with shoutouts on the platform.
5. All-expense paid weekend getaway
As we said earlier, not all employees want a public spectacle. Recognizing this can help you craft a birthday surprise that they’d appreciate. For example, you could arrange for them to have some time off work, perhaps on an all-expense paid weekend getaway. Such a gift shows you’re listening to your employees and proves that you value them.
The weekend getaway doesn’t have to be expensive — it could be as simple as a theme park or beach trip.
6. Leave personalized workplace messages
One of the qualities of a good employee birthday program is personalization. A personal message from coworkers can make your employee happy. If your organization has an online workplace, for example, Slack, leaving thoughtful birthday messages can make your worker feel valued and satisfied. In addition, some platforms allow messages to be scheduled in advance, so it’s the first thing your employee sees when they start work for the day.
7. Decorate the lunchroom
This next idea is great for companies whose employees are back in the office. Take your celebrations a step further by decorating the whole lunchroom for their birthday. While it’s time-consuming, the results are often great!
Furthermore, having coworkers help with decorations can be a team-building exercise that improves morale, camaraderie, and productivity.
You can add a personal touch by making your decorations themed. For example, does your employee love Paris? Then you could redecorate the whole room to have a French vibe.
8. Leave personalized notes
Birthdays are excellent opportunities to show how much you value an employee. Instead of writing a generic “Happy Birthday” card, you could have something cooler: personalized birthday cards!
To create these, have coworkers write a few words about what they love about the employee and what they like most about their working relationship.
9. Let them pick their gift
Some people have the gift for picking out the right gifts. However, if you aren’t one of such people, you can turn to the best source: the employee.
If they celebrate birthdays, you could ask them what they’d love for their birthday. While this might ruin the element of surprise, we’re pretty sure they wouldn’t mind much when they receive exactly what they want — including a personal note with the gift could also be a touching move.
10. Create a custom video
Creating a video about your team members’ unique attributes, personalities, and contributions to the workplace is a fantastic way to celebrate their birthday. You might need to be a tad tech-savvy to edit the video, but we’re sure you can manage it.
Furthermore, it doesn’t have to be done alone; you could get others to contribute to the video by shooting a few seconds of personalized messages.
11. Throw a cocktail party
Throwing a cocktail party works for all employees, whether they work from home or not — well, except they don’t drink alcohol.
If they don’t know how to make a cocktail, there are virtual classes that you can book for the whole team. An example is Virtual Cocktail Class.
You could up the ante by playing music and other games (virtual games if your team is still remote or hybrid).
12. Send birthday packages
This is another excellent idea best suited to remote celebrations. This involves sending the person celebrating their birthday a package containing their birthday gift. The content of the box depends on what you want or have discovered the celebrant likes. And it can range from food to mugs, shirts, and other items delivered right to their home.
13. Give them a shoutout on social media (LinkedIn)
Another good idea is to give them a shoutout on the company’s social media platforms. Some of what you could say includes their position, accomplishments, years of services, and similar good stuff. In the message, ensure you thank them for their hard work. We’re pretty sure your employees would be glad and appreciative.
14. Give them a surprise call
This is similar to a surprise party, only virtual. To do this, ask the birthday person to come on a call and have everyone already in the virtual room. Once they come in, have everyone wish them a happy birthday. This idea is sure to bring a smile to their face.
15. Arrange a team outing
Arranging a team outing can make the celebration feel even more special. Investigate where the birthday boy or girl would love to go and arrange for the team to take them there on their special day. While it’s cool to have it as a surprise, it’s considerate to ensure they don’t already have plans. An hour or two away from work can be significant and be loads of fun for them and the team.
16. Donate to a charity
Is your employee passionate about specific causes? What better birthday gift could you give than donating to a charity or non-profit passionate about the cause on their behalf? It’s a perfect gift that will make your employee happy and feel they are doing something meaningful on their special day.
17. Give them a day off
Like giving them an all-expense paid getaway, this idea also involves giving your workers some time off. So, offer them a free day off, which can be redeemed on their actual birthday date or some other time in the future. Making it possible for them to redeem it in the future allows them to enjoy their special day whenever they want.
18. Gift them something special
Are you looking to go wild? Then this idea offers you the perfect opportunity to do so — provided you know what they love. To this end, select gifts that are memorable, personalized, and thoughtful. While this combination sounds expensive, it doesn’t have to be so. With some thoughtfulness, you can offer them something that they’d appreciate for a long time.
19. Take them out for food
Do you want to know your staff better? Then take them out for a meal on their birthday. For this idea, have them choose the restaurant of their choice. To make the whole thing more fun, you could have other co-workers join in. When others join in, the meal will feel like a real birthday party.
If taking them out is too stressful, you could make it easier by having other team members bring in food or something edible on their special day.
20. Offer them gift cards
Even if the gift card is ‘small’ in monetary value, you can bet that your employees will appreciate it. You could also look for deals on fun activities that take the employee out of their comfort zone. For instance, some companies offer employees activities like art classes. However, before you do that, ensure your employees are going to be interested in the activity.
21. Ask their friends for ideas
There’s a strong link between employee happiness and the support they receive from their colleagues. So, if you want them to have a birthday to remember, then have their work friends help with the birthday plans.
22. Hold a surprise meeting
While celebrating a worker online via Slack or other messaging platforms is excellent, you can take it up a notch by showing up to congratulate the celebrant in person. This idea is best executed when it’s a surprise. Have co-workers arrive a few minutes before the employee comes, and congratulate them immediately when they enter the room. They’ll indeed have a smile on their faces!
23. Play online trivia
To enjoy this idea, get the team for a nice, friendly game of online trivia. This activity will improve the camaraderie within the team and will please an employee whose idea of a good time is a bit of healthy competition.
24. Have a celebrity join the party
How would you feel if your favorite celebrity showed up to wish you ‘Happy Birthday.' We're sure you’d be stoked. Cameo is a celebrity shoutout platform that allows you to hire a celebrity and have them wish your worker a happy birthday. It’s bound to be a pleasant surprise.
25. Do a local celebration
Despite social distancing (where applicable), you can still organize a local celebration. For example, you could have employees leave a box or basket by their front door and have their team members drop off birthday cards and congratulatory notes.
26. Try a different cake or dessert
The traditional frosting vanilla cake is tried and worn. So why not spice things up by celebrating with an alternative type of cake? There are loads of options you can try. For example, you could try vegetable cake for fitness-nut employees, a pie, or a delicious cobbler.
There are loads of thoughtful ways to celebrate your employees’ birthday, and we hope that the 26 ideas we have listed above can help you create a birthday celebration employees will remember for a long time. Build a company culture of recognition, and you can rest assured of increased employee engagement, productivity, and performance.