Beyond the Birthday Cake

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Not so long ago, celebrating birthdays in the office was the proverbial “piece of cake”: order a sheet cake from the local bakery and carve it up in the conference room for everyone to share, accompanied by the sounds of all your coworkers being forced to sing the “Happy Birthday” song.

But with more and more people giving the boot to sugar and white flour, that office tradition seems to be going the way of the rotary phone.

While there is a time and place for cake, a birthday celebration can be made of more than just sugary desserts. To help create a culture of wellness, office managers can recognize birthdays in a less sugarcoated, more creative way. Below you’ll find seven ways to celebrate that include everyone, no matter what they can or can't eat.

  1. Decorate! Blow up a few balloons and festoon your coworker’s office or cubicle with streamers or handmade Happy Birthday banner. This will show that you took the time to recognize their day.
  2. Sign a card. Create a communal card and have the entire office sign and write something nice about the person. This can be very meaningful, and while it can be saccharine, there’s no sugar involved.  
  3. Offer a personal day. While we all hope everyone loves their coworkers and wants to spend every waking moment at work, some of us would just love to spend our birthday at home. Offer an extra personal day to be used for birthdays. If someone doesn’t celebrate birthdays, they can use the extra personal day any day of the year. Can’t manage a full day? Offer an extra-long lunch.
  4. Be fruitful. Serve up birthday “cake” in the cutest way possible by slicing a watermelon in half and planting candles in it. (Make sure to stabilize the base before lighting...) Or make pretty layers of fruit in a trifle bowl, top with whipped cream (dairy-free if necessary!), and present like a birthday cake. Need fruit delivered for your fruit-related birthday ideas? The FruitGuys can provide the fruit.
  5. Research. Ask around and find out which local sandwich shop, health food store, or department store the birthday gal or guy favors —then present them with a small gift certificate.
  6. A monthly birthday bash. A monthly get-together can be a perfect way to celebrate everyone’s birthday in that month. Some ideas: a lunch outing, a potluck, or a team-building event like bowling or a softball game. Try to make it an event that melds with your work culture. This is also a good way to celebrate those birthdays that fall on weekends or holidays.
  7. Bring a bouquet. Flowers will last longer than a sugar rush and are a beautiful way to let everyone know how much the organization values its staff.

Some things to keep in mind about birthdays in the office: It’s important to get permission and buy-in from the honoree for celebrating birthdays. While some workers are really into their annual day and celebrate whole “birthday weeks,” others may not want the attention. Still others may not celebrate birthdays at all for religious or other reasons, so be sensitive to the individual.

Finally, if you’ve chosen to celebrate birthdays, be consistent. If you celebrate the IT guy’s birthday on Tuesday, you should be celebrating the social media coordinator’s day on Friday. Additionally, have a policy in place for those employees with weekend birthdays (see #6).

Being in charge of planning birthday celebrations can be tricky to navigate, but seeing coworkers’ happiness at knowing their workplace cares enough to commemorate their special day makes it all worthwhile.

Dana Lester has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.


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