Business Etiquette: Birthday and Other Office Celebrations

Working in an office includes sharing birthdays and other special events with your boss and coworkers. Joyful attitudes can quickly diminish when the office calendar becomes over-filled with  birthdays, work anniversaries, baby showers, and wedding engagements, leaving less time for critical meetings with important clients. Follow a few simple etiquette rules to help ensure the office festivities remain enjoyable breaks that foster morale and show appreciation.

Combine multiple occasions. If you work in a large office where several employees have the same birthday month, baby shower month, or other special milestone, consider having a joint baby shower, or a group birthday lunch. While acknowledging each employee is important, too many events may become distracting and feel more like an imposition.

Celebrate once a month. Ask your boss if he or she would be open to a monthly “universal celebration”. Inquire if the budget would allow for the cost of the treat. Optimally, office birthdays should not involve any financial obligation from fellow employees. In an office with a close-knit group, a baby shower for a mother or father-to-be can be fun, but no employee should feel pressured to contribute financially unless they want to bring a gift of their own. Consider having a luncheon away from work if there are coworkers who are not close, or are uncomfortable with the pressure. They may not verbalize this out loud, but use your best judgment and listen to your instincts.

Boss’ birthday. When it comes to celebrating your boss, your main obligation is to acknowledge the day, and wish him or her a friendly “Happy birthday” when you see them. You are not required to give your boss a gift – but the reality is we do enjoy honoring our fearless leaders. Good options for the boss include passing around a card to sign or pooling modest amounts of money for a gift from the entire office. A donation to a non-profit organization that is meaningful to your boss is another good idea. If you work closely with your boss, it is appropriate to get a small, impersonal gift, or bake some brownies for the entire office to enjoy.

Make money collections optional and discreet. There may be times, as mentioned above, that employees will want to take up a collection to purchase a gift. Send out an email letting employees know about the collection, and how to contribute. You might also include a modest suggested dollar amount. Be clear the request is optional and no one will be called out, or put on the spot publicly. Encourage everyone to sign the card, regardless of whether they contributed financially.

Keep outside celebrations under wraps. If you are having a party outside of work and not everyone in the office is invited, make sure invitations are given outside of work (if sent via email, only use personal email addresses, not work ones). Make sure attendees don’t talk about the party, and be cautious when posting to social media, before or after the event, to prevent hurt feelings among those not included.

Don’t be a party pooper. There will be times you are swamped, and taking the time to chit chat over a piece of cake in the middle of the busy afternoon is the last thing you want to do. Regardless of your schedule, make an effort to stop by and give the honoree a smile and sincere acknowledgement. Not attending may suggest you are not a team player, don’t like the person, or are aloof and snubbing fellow coworkers.

A large part of being a successful professional is building relationships with others, including those in your office.


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. Anonomous says

    I am seeking some advice on how to word something to our management about how one department goes out to lunch for every birthday in their department – leaving the rest of the office to cover their workload in their absence.

    Here’s a summary of why I think this is unfair:
    • No one is available to assist in the facilitation of Client Information questions during these periods.
    • Creates undue stress for other departments forced to be shorthanded and re-arrange their lunch schedules to accommodate these luncheons.
    • Creates disparities – a sense of favoritism & unfairness as other departments who cover for these luncheons and are not able to get the same coverage returned for a similar function.
    • Do these luncheons count as our federally mandated lunch break? Seems like it might be a L&I issue as they don’t appear to be voluntary?
    • Expecting employees to participate and put up cash is unfair to potential budgets of those attending.
    • There are out-of-work hour alternatives that would be more rewarding and appear to be less “mandatory”.

    Do you have any advice on how to better word this?

  2. says

    This is a topic I would suggest you discuss with your supervisor. It’s unclear if other’s are feeling obligated to go, and pay. These are too many issues to cover and far too many variables to discuss before giving you a concise answer. If it’s affecting the bottom line of the company, or company morale, I would suggest you speak to someone that can make a decision as to what, if anything, should be done. Best of luck.

  3. Audrey says

    I am a personal assistant, my bosses wife’ birthday is coming up. I am seeking some advice.

    Thank you in advance

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