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Throw an Awesome Office Birthday Party

Throw an Awesome Office Birthday Party

Vicki Santillano | Divine Caroline

June 18, 2010

My first glimpse of an office birthday party was via the movie Office Space, when the corporate drones stand awkwardly around the cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to their boss in monotone voices.

Flash forward seven years: the first company I worked for as a recent college grad had its monthly birthday celebration, and I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. There wasn’t anyone named Milton complaining about a lack of cake, but the fumbling attempts at small talk and the clumsy passing around of sheet-cake slices were one and the same.

Why is it that, wherever you work, office birthday gatherings have the same atmosphere of awkwardness? We see these people every day, and yet the situation feels different when we’re holding small paper plates and plastic forks. Is it the guilt that eating all that sugar and butter provokes? Is it because the personal quality of birthdays feels odd in a professional environment? Regardless of the whys, I think there are ways around the awkwardness — if you’re willing to break a few office birthday party rules, that is.

No more singing “Happy Birthday.”
Let’s be honest: does anyone really enjoy this tradition? Everyone mumbles along because no one wants his or her voice to stand out, and the person with the birthday forces a smile and looks at the ground until the song’s over. Unless your office is filled with karaoke superstars who love belting out “Happy Birthday,” perhaps it’s time to nix the song from birthday gatherings. Maybe everyone should just clap and call out their birthday wishes when the candles are blown out.

The birthday person shouldn’t have to cut the cake.
Who came up with this one? If it’s your birthday celebration, you shouldn’t be expected to do the grunt work. Plus, no matter how you cut it, the first slice is always too large for everyone and is sure to get comments like “Whoa, that’s way too big!” and “I only want half that amount!” Who wants to get criticized for cutting his own birthday cake? Have the person in charge of HR draw names out of a hat to see who gets cake-cutting duty each time, or if someone in the office volunteers to be the official cake cutter, more power to her.

Make it a cake free-for-all.
At my first office job, I was the receptionist and therefore almost always the cake cutter. It was my responsibility to hand out slices to coworkers, though I never understood why. If I simply put them on the table instead, people would be free to pick up a plate if they wanted to. This approach also eliminates the awkwardness of declining a piece and having someone ask loudly, “You don’t want cake?!” Just arrange the plates on the table, and the people will come — albeit hesitantly, since no one wants to be the first to go for cake.

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