Many people are eager to celebrate their birthdays. And if someone’s birthday falls on a weekday, they’ll be spending a precious chunk of that day at work.
So the question isn’t, “Should companies celebrate their employees’ birthdays?” Rather, companies should be asking how they should celebrate employees’ birthdays. Being thoughtful about birthday celebrations—even if it’s making the decision to not throw a party for those colleagues who would rather not acknowledge their birthdays—can make a difference to how an employee thinks about their workplace.
That’s because birthdays are one of life’s epiphany moments, along with other major milestones like work anniversaries and class reunions. You might be surprised to learn that birthdays are actually one of the three days that employees are most likely to quit their jobs. With turnover at an all-time high, employers shouldn’t take birthday celebrations too lightly. These events are opportunities to better engage employees and show them they’re appreciated members of the team.
Why are birthdays epiphany moments?
Epiphany moments are dates or events that cause people to reexamine their life choices. What makes birthdays a natural time to reflect on our lives and career? For many people, adding another year to their life prompts internal reflection. It’s a day when people often take a step back and evaluate the progress of their lives—the good and the bad.
Reaching a life milestone
Many people have a rough idea of the roadmap of their lives, like being a certain age when they get married, or be promoted to a leadership role, or buy their first home. That’s what makes birthdays a great time to reflect on the previous year of their life. Did they reach their goals? What was the highest high and lowest low of the previous year? In this way, birthdays are a time to contemplate current circumstances.
Catching up with friends and family
People love to celebrate others, so birthdays are typically a time for loved ones to gather and celebrate! Playing catch up can prompt a number of questions about job status, relationships, health—you know how families get! 😉
Employees could consider whether they were venting the same work grievances last year. Did it improve or is it still the same? Since birthdays are such a milestone, these questions seem heavier—and their answers more meaningful.
Comparison with others
There always seems to be a teenage wunderkind in the media, or a new youngest billionaire ever. As we get older, it’s natural to feel anxious about your accomplishments, especially in comparison to others in the same peer-group.
Benefits of recognizing employee birthdays
So, how can you apply knowledge of how birthdays can be an epiphany moment to the workplace? The simple act of recognizing an employee’s birthday is first and foremost a nice thing to do, but also contributes to the employee experience in a number of ways.
According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, job search activities jump 12% just before birthdays. Giving an employee special attention on their birthday makes them feel valued and recognized, and employees who feel appreciated are less likely to quit their jobs.
Want to learn more ways to reduce employee turnover? Read our article 11 Easy Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover.
Enhance employee engagement
Showing appreciation on an employee’s birthday makes the individual feel rewarded and increases their emotional commitment to the company and its goals. This increase in employee engagement results in improved work motivation and dedication, positively impacting your company’s bottom line. Research shows that for every 1% increase in engagement, companies see an additional 0.6% in sales growth.
Increase happiness and productivity
Receiving a little bit of extra attention on your birthday from your employer and co-workers makes you feel cared for and part of a team. This promotes happiness, and reduces stress and burnout. According to research, happy employees are 12% to 20% more productive than their unhappy counterparts.
Characteristics of a successful employee birthday program
Since the stakes are high, employee birthdays should be celebrated with special attention to detail. The secret? Automation, combined with the right level of customization. A successful employee birthday program has the following characteristics:
Writing HAGS is fun in middle school, but now, you should really put more thought into a personal message than just “HB." Include appreciation for recent work they’ve done, a funny anecdote, or the impact their presence has made on your life to make the birthday-person feel extra special.
When celebrating birthdays in the workplace, it is important to ensure that no employee gets left out. It may be worth adding employee birthdays to a central calendar during the onboarding process instead of simply leaving the dates in your HRIS. Also, be sure to include remote workers in birthday celebrations, too. Key people, such as managers and team members, should receive notifications of upcoming birthdays. Employee reward platforms are great tools for automating birthday reminders and notifications, offloading HR managers from this responsibility.
For religious reasons, not all people celebrate birthdays. Also, some people may just not like their birthday publicly celebrated. When onboarding or getting to know your team members, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask how they like to celebrate their birthday. If they hate calling attention to themselves, a low-key birthday email might be a better idea than a decorated, scheduled event. If they have a specific birthday tradition, it may be thoughtful to bring that tradition to the workplace.
At Bonusly, we champion the idea of “voice and choice.” For a meaningful experience, employees should have the ability to choose their own rewards. When providing gift cards or organizing birthday lunches, be thoughtful about your employees likes and interests—or even ask them for exactly what they want! This way, you can be sure that they’ll enjoy their special day. Employee reward systems let the employee redeem their rewards at a store of their choice.
Not everyone likes their age to be public knowledge and sharing someone’s age without their permission could lead to workplace lawsuits. Be sure not to publicize the employee’s birth year or age when celebrating their birthday. So (although tempting) stay away from cards with “40 today!” on them and steer clear from age jokes or references... unless you know they can take it. 👵👴
Here are eight ways in which you can make employees feel special on their birthdays:
1. Decorate their workspace
Break out the balloons. 🎊🎈🎉
A simple but sure-fire way to make an employee feel celebrated is by decorating their workspace. Streamers and confetti are always fun, but again—make sure the employee is alright with the attention and potential clean up! It’s also a great idea to take the person’s interests in mind. If someone really loves dogs, plastering their desks with pictures of puppies in birthday hats sounds like an excellent idea.
2. Give employee rewards
3. Organize a team happy hour or birthday lunch
Schedule some time for fun on someone’s birthday! Eating together is a simple way to build stronger team bonds, and being able to celebrate someone at the same time is the *literal* birthday candle on top.
4. Write a note
Nothing beats receiving a personal note on your birthday. This can be a fun greeting card, but can also be an email or kudos in an employee recognition program. Remember: make it personal and meaningful!
5. Share company swag
Birthdays are great times to give out company swag, such as T-shirts, hoodies, caps, and mugs.
6. Give gift cards
Gift cards are always a good idea, especially if they’re tailored to an employee’s wishlist or interests. A week before their birthday, ask them to make a few choices from a gift card list from retail stores, local restaurants, bookstores, or movie theaters. Then—this is important—make sure to tell them, “Treat yourself.”
7. Donate to charity
Allow the employee to select the non-profit organization of their choice, and donate to it in their name for a meaningful and rewarding gift.
8. Give them the day off
Many companies with flexible schedules offer to give employees time off on their birthdays. BambooHR believes in giving their employees some “me”-time on these days, citing that it makes teams happier and more productive. As much as we love our coworkers, allowing someone to spend their special day doing what they want is a big boon to creating a great employee experience.
Any of these celebration ideas are guaranteed to make the employee feel good on their birthday. Of course, companies shouldn’t limit employee appreciation to just birthdays. To be truly successful, companies should continually recognize their employees throughout the year.
But, hey. It’s always fun to make someone’s birthday a special day! You’ll make employees feel especially valued and also reduce turnover, enhance employee engagement and increase productivity. 🤩
Need more ideas for employee birthday rewards? Check out our list of 55 Creative Employee Reward Ideas (2019 Update). Otherwise, check out more ways to engage employees with our latest guide:
What's your preferred way to celebrate your birthday at work?