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Ask Matt: What can I do about the birthdays culture at work?

  • June 17, 2013 - 9:21 AM

Dear Matt: I work in an office where it seems we are always celebrating birthdays. I don’t make a lot of money but I’m always asked to pitch in for gifts. It really is a burden and not enjoyable. How do I get out of this situation without ruffling feathers?

Matt says: Research published in the past few years indicates that employees are spending more hours in the office than ever before, says Michelle Beck-Howard, a senior human resource specialist for the Minneapolis office of Insperity (insperity.com), a company that provides an array of human resources and business solutions designed to help improve business performance. With so many employees putting in long workdays, companies feel it is critical to take measures to foster a positive work environment.

“Many companies allow office birthday celebrations because they can help motivate employees and boost morale,” says Beck-Howard. “However, when they aren’t planned and organized in a way that’s considerate to all employees, they can have a negative effect. Some employees may even view them as grueling and stressful.”

Chances are there are other employees who share your sentiment and view office birthday celebrations as a financial burden. There may also be employees who don’t want to participate for cultural reasons. But you do run the risk of co-workers thinking you aren’t a team player if you are the only one complaining or not participating.

Try approaching management or the company birthday committee to discuss alternative ideas such as these, says Beck-Howard:

Designate one day per month. Reserving one day to commemorate all the birthdays within a given month allows everyone to celebrate and socialize without breaking the bank. This idea also gives everyone something to look forward to each month.

Pass an envelope. Write the names of team members on an envelope and pass it around with a birthday card for everyone to sign. Ask employees to contribute whatever they can afford. Designate someone to buy a gift card with the funds donated and include it with the card. This makes celebrations less pressure-filled for those who want to participate but don’t have as much cash as others to contribute.

Give everyone a voice. Every employee should have the chance to provide suggestions on ways to celebrate office birthdays. Offer to organize a team to brainstorm ideas. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy process or take time away from daily work. There are even free websites that can be used to create surveys that gather ideas anonymously.

“Although it’s most likely not part of your job description to take these measures,” says Beck-Howard, “it does show your willingness to be a team player and offer new ideas.”

ASK MATT: jobslink@startribune.com

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