Seriously, HR? What’s all the fuss about birthdays? 

I was chatting with a friend the other day and she mentioned that she reads my blog. Yay! She went on to tell me that she’d shared my blog with the HR manager at her work. Like me, she works for a smaller organization and her HR is a department of one. Then she proceeded to explain how her HR manager does things like celebrates all employees birthdays. “To me,” she said, “HR is like the RA of an organization.” I hope I didn’t cringe as much externally as I did inside. I (gently, I hope) told her that most HR professionals work hard not to be seen in that light – that it diminishes the weight of what we really do. She nodded thoughtfully and I think she really understood.

I’ve been thinking about this interaction ever since. How is it that HR is simultaneously seen as the ‘RA’, responsible for birthday and other innocuous fun, and at the same time we are often referred to as the fun police? Neither of these descriptions is accurate, but where do they come from? And more importantly, how can we get rid of them? I wonder, did the keeper of the birthdays originate back before HR, back when there was Personnel and the functions were strictly administrative? Because as much as birthday celebrations might seem, on the surface, related to engagement, at heart it’s an administrative function. Some employees might feel cared for and appreciated to have their birthday acknowledged, but many actively don’t want that. And quite a few honestly just don’t care.  

I am not saying to stop celebrating birthdays at work! But I am saying that if birthdays are your main engagement strategy, you might want to rethink that. And if it’s a small piece of a larger strategy, then it’s back to being an administrative function. Who handles the other admin stuff in your office? If your organization is so small that HR is a slash position that also handles admin, then be clear that your birthday duties fall under your admin hat and not your HR hat. If someone else handles admin, give them the stack of birthday cards.

In some places, birthdays and the like are handled on an ad hoc basis by someone who, regardless of role, loves those kinds of celebrations. If you are doing it because you truly enjoy it, make that clear – it’s not part of your HR role, it’s one of those extras that truly engaged employees take on, and you are an engaged employee.

Organizational culture and employee engagement is so much more than remembering employee birthdays. It’s about making sure that your employees have the tools to do their job, be it training and development or policies that don’t get in the way. It’s tying every role back to the mission of the organization so that employees understand the vital role they play in the success of the company. It’s aligning your unwritten culture to your company’s stated goals and values. Birthday cake alone (and really, I’m 100% in favor of cake) won’t make that happen. When we talk about wanting HR to be taken seriously, these are things we should be working to accomplish.

Let’s make sure our work, our energy, and our focus show us to be true HR professionals.

One thought on “Seriously, HR? What’s all the fuss about birthdays? 

  1. This type of stuff was with HR when I started at my job but I passed party planning, etc to the Office Manager. I never wanted to be chief of events. I’m not there for that.


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