Everyone loves birthday cake.

No, wait.

  • Jane will only eat chocolate sheet cake from Costco.
  • Harry is gluten intolerant.
  • Stephanie is a vegan.
  • The entire accounts receivable team has gone paleo. 
  • Bonnie is a Jehovah's Witness and doesn't celebrate her birthday or other people's birthdays, but she doesn't mind if you celebrate your birthday, but please don't invite her.
  • Steve has had two facelifts and likes to pretend that he's 15 years younger than he is, and so denies having a birthday at all.
  • Helen loves a party and sees it as her business to collect money from everyone every month for a birthday party.
  • Albert is on a strict budget and doesn't want to contribute to the birthday fund. And besides, he hates chocolate cake from Costco and Jane always buys that.
  • Chris's birthday is in December and every year his birthday is ignored because of the company Christmas party. He's just mildly bitter.

Ahh, company birthday celebrations. I've gotten multiple questions this week about birthdays. One wanted to know if he should have to contribute to the quarterly birthday party fund in his birthday quarter, while another wanted to know if he could post a list of monthly birthdays (sans year). And of course, someone wanted to know how she could follow her boss's instructions to get everyone to cough up cash for a monthly cake.

Here's the thing. I love cake. I find birthdays fun. And if I could marry carbohydrates, I would. My budget is tight, but I can afford a few bucks for birthday cake every month.

But, as illustrated above, not everyone is like me. And while we should all take a lesson from Bonnie, lets others do what they want, I suspect that there are Helen's out there who will pester Bonnie to death because she's not a team player.

Here are my office birthday party rules.

The Company Pays

If you want a cake, have cake. If you want a luncheon, have a luncheon. But, the costs are part of the department budget. Or, if that's not plausible, then the department head pays out of her own pocket and doesn't brag about it. Do not go around asking people for cash. Everyone has a birthday every year (even Steve with the facelifts), so it's no gift if everyone has to contribute to every other person's birthday.

Group Celebrations (if Possible)

If your department has four people in it, then sure, everyone gets their own cake. But, if you're talking about more than that, limit birthday celebrations to quarterly or monthly. If people want more cake, that's what their paychecks are for.

No Presents.

None. And especially not for the CEO. If you are a boss that expects presents for birthdays or holidays, stop it. No. No birthday presents, and especially not for you.

Do Not Take the Intern out for Drinks for Her 21st Birthday.

Unlike you, she has friends outside the office. 

If You Ignore the First Rule

Then do not bug people for money. Do not say "only people who contributed can sign the card." If you are not collecting enough money for cake, this is a sign that people don't care as much about birthdays as you do. Stop celebrating or break out the petty cash.

Be Mindful of Dietary Restrictions

Do not get a regular cake for Harry-the-gluten-intolerant's birthday. That's rude. Try to accommodate, but focus on the restrictions for the actual birthday people. No one else wants a Paleo cake and the accounts receivable team will be onto a new fad diet before the next birthday. 

If your company has too many dietary restrictions or people are too cranky about it, then stop the cakes altogether. Birthday celebrations are supposed to be fun. If they are not fun, stop it.

Don't Forget December Birthdays

Or if your industry has a super busy season, don't forget the birthdays during this time. It's either everyone (who wants to participate) or it's no one. 

If you think I'm a bit cranky about something so simple as birthdays, you're right. Perhaps I just need some cake. But, I will buy it myself, because you can exchange money for cake any time you want. You don't have to wait for an office birthday party.

Published on: Aug 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.