Forgotten Birthday

Question:

I work in an office with 8 other people and birthdays are celebrated with a cake or we take up money and buy a gift. My birthday was December 31st and it was not afforded the same celebration as others. My feelings are now hurt and the team has picked up with the next birthday in January.. I don’t want to appear petty and immature but my feelings are hurt. I need guidance in how to approach my supervisor about my feeling.

Signed,

Hurt


Answer:

Dear Hurt:

Before I answer your question–a valid one, and I can understand your frustration–let me make a few comments for the benefit of those reading this because they are checking on birthday policies.

The fact that birthdays are often overlooked in the rush of other holidays points out what many people maintain: Birthday celebrations where everyone participates whether they are close to the birthday person or not, are often more about taking a break from work and eating cake than they are about joy over someone’s birthday or the positive benefits of coming together as a team.

I receive many complaints from people who resent the requirement to spend money or time on a birthday celebration for someone they don’t feel close to or even like.

I’ve received complaints from those who don’t want their cubicles decorated or don’t want happy birthday played over the intercom. Some have noted the lack of equality between gifts for very popular people and those who aren’t so popular.

Bosses complain because they often have to add to the money that has been collected for a gift. I was once present when a supervisor went cubicle to cubicle saying, “Look, I know he’s a miserable person to deal with, but I’m ordering you to go in there and smile and sing happy birthday!”

Your question has been asked as well: What if one’s birthday is skipped for one reason or another? In your case, your birthday is on a day when people often take the day off or leave work early. There are treats on every desk, everyone has spent every available dime, and it seems rather superfluous to bring people together to have a cake and give a token gift.

And yet, I can see why you would want to be included in the same kind of birthday recognition that others are given. As you think about what to do, answer some questions for yourself as a way to get a clearer picture of the situation: 1. Have you been through this before in this office or was it your first time to celebrate your birthday there? 2. Do you have reason to know it was intentional on the part of one or more people, to bypass your birthday? 3. Does anyone realize your birthday was overlooked? 4. Were there other December birthdays that were remembered and only yours was not celebrated in the office? 5. Does anyone know that you care about it? Were you asked ahead of time or told that your birthday wasn’t going to be celebrated?

Those will tell you whether you should feel the incident was personally directed at cutting you out of an office birthday remembrance. If it was accidental there is no reason to be hurt, only frustrated. If it was done on purpose, behind your back, by people you thought were friends, that’s something else. Now, you need to decide what will make it right for you. You certainly don’t want a birthday celebration at the expense of losing the respect of others or having them make fun of you or resent your insistence. The birthday event only lasts an hour but you’ll be working there every day!

Will you be happy if you are included in the first January event or do you want one just for yourself? Do you want a gift or will having a cake and a get-together with those in the office be enough? Do you want the gift, but you don’t care about the cake and get-together? Would it be enough if your co-workers simply told you happy birthday and sounded sincerely happy about it?

Those are important for you to think about as you consider your own motivation as well as what you want to ask for if you talk to your supervisor.

And, by the way, it’s perfectly OK to admit that you WOULD like a gift! After all, you’ve chipped in for the gifts of others, so I don’t think that’s selfish of you.

Consider these options: 1. If you have a friend in the office, talk to him or her and say that you were wondering if it would sound silly to ask that you be included in the January birthday recognition. Get that perspective, as well as letting them know your birthday was skipped. Your friends might take some action on their own or talk to the supervisor for you. 2. Talk to your supervisor or the person in charge of the birthday events and ask if you can be included in at least the cake part of the celebration in January. Let that person decide to include you in the gift as well. If she doesn’t you will probably be better off not to push it.

3. Talk to your supervisor and say that you aren’t asking to be part of the January event, but would like to ask if next year, even though it’s a long way away, you could remind her to have your birthday event early in the month, so you could at least have ONE place where your birthday doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of holidays. That will not only set the stage for next year, but will probably prompt her to suggest you be included in the January event. If she doesn’t suggest that, you can decide if you want to ask for it.

4. If you think the situation was intentional, ask your supervisor about that as well, and ask about what else might be going on that would have caused it.

Some might tell you not say anything, but I don’t agree with that. If you are working there next year it will happen again and you’ll be hurt and frustrated again, after spending a year participating in the birthdays of others.

Be honest with the person or persons who can make a difference, and let them know you would like to be included in the January birthday event, or the first January event if there is more than one planned–if that will work for you.

You might want to use some self-deprecating humor to imply that you know it might sound funny to them, but you want a birthday celebration like everyone else gets and you will feel left out otherwise.

If you have a good working relationship with most people in your office, they will not think badly of your desire to have a birthday recognition. In fact, they will probably be anxious to make it up to you for forgetting it.

Best wishes as you decide what to do. And, a very happy birthday to you! On this date, in your birth year, you were probably getting a lot of attention as a cute three week old baby. Those were the days!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.