Birthday etiquette in the office

office birthday

Photo credit: Cord Woodruff via / CC BY-NC-ND

Miss Manners was recently asked a question about office birthdays, and I have some things to say about the answer.

The prompt read: “Dear Miss Manners: What is your stance on people who bring treats to work on their birthdays? Is it an attention-getting mechanism or a nice gesture?”

Miss Manners answered, “This feels like a riddle. How would they have known that it was your birthday had you not brought in food? And because sometimes your colleagues bring in food when it’s not their birthdays, does that mean people wouldn’t assume it was your birthday since you brought in food?

Miss Manners has lost track of the problem. Is it, perhaps, that you want people to remember your birthday without being prompted? Or that you do not want to appear as if you are prompting them?

She suspects the latter. But as long as your treats are not accompanied by a self-congratulatory parade with a bullhorn, she permits you to continue enjoying your birthday however you wish — and accepting the well wishes of your colleagues at face value.”

My first question regarding this office etiquette issue is why on earth the person has to bring in their own birthday treats. What kind of trolls does he/she work with? No one does anything nice for this person — taking them out to lunch? Offering coffee? Bringing in donuts? Making or buying a cake? Of course, I have discussed previously employee birthday benefits.

I also wonder about the response. What’s wrong with a self-congratulatory parade really? I too would question the bullhorn, but there are few times in our adult lives we actually stand up and say, “Yeah Me!” the birthday is one of these. Why must we quash that spirit?

Of course, I the person who once threw a “department” party — with streamers and candy at my cubicle — to highlight the non-existence of a department once it was downloaded to just me. So, clearly I am not someone to shy away from making a public spectacle of myself.

Still, that’s what I love about birthdays — the Yeah Me component — and why I love helping others to feel that joy. Happy Birthday one and all!


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