One of the things that’s fun about having employees and co-workers, aside from the fact that it keeps you from becoming an isolated hermit, is the occasional birthday that pops up. I know we’re party planners, so we think of birthdays a little differently than most. At Sophie’s Stress-Free Soirées, birthdays are a fun excuse for doing a little water cooler party planning. It’s pretty exciting, and everyone gets into it. Again, I know it’s a bit unfair, because we have tons of resources at our fingertips, but it doesn’t take much to celebrate someone’s day! The most important thing is that you make the person feel special in some way. It doesn’t have to be some over-the-top extravaganza. “Happy Birthday” spelled out in Post-It notes could be enough. However, you really do need to know the person. Some folks don’t want an over-the-top drawing-of-attention to their birthday, and that needs to be respected. For those folks, a simple bagel with a candle and a little card from everyone might be the way to go. But if you do want to have a little fun (and your boss says it’s okay), here are a few tips on how to do it.


Simone's decorated office|

Simone takes a photo of her birthday cubby

Figure out the place where your birthday guy or gal hangs out: their office, their desk, the break room, and add a little decor. You can use paper streamers, stars, a bouquet of balloons, flowers. Maybe decorate a special sign for their door or cubicle, so folks around the office know it’s their birthday. Anything with color can brighten up the area! You don’t have to spend a ton of money -- you can create a banner on Xerox paper! Or, you could put fun birthday wishes from co-workers on colorful Post-It notes all around their space (hide a few for discovery later in the day, like in a drawer, under a phone handle, in a cash register... Post-It notes are awesome because they are cheap, colorful, and come in different varieties. Just check out some of the fun things folks have done with them!.)

Simone's decorated desk|

All of Simone's desk buddies get into the act

In our most recent case, Simone, our web admin, has some fun toys on her desk. Freda, my sister and our artist-in-residence, made tiny party hats for each of them. Yes, yes, I know -- but what can I say? We’re a business that thrives on cute! However, the idea here is to hone in on something the person likes, and (for lack of a better word) exploit it. Does your co-worker have a special photo? Maybe take that photo*, scan it, blow it up, and put a message bubble on it wishing them a happy birthday. Do they like baseball? Maybe go to the local sports outlet, buy a baseball, and have everyone sign it. Are they into cooking? Maybe put together a mixing bowl of goodies to make their own birthday treats when they get home...

* Make sure that the photo gets put back uninjured or you could turn a happy birthday into a surly birthday!

Michelle's birthday|

Michelle, our beloved assistant, celebrates with the Fiji Mermaid (a prop for one of our parties

I come from a family that is hugely into presents. But I think for the most part, what you really want to do is celebrate the special person in a fun, creative way, without too much expense. You don’t want to make your co-worker feel uncomfortable, or make them feel like they now “owe” you something. You also don’t want to make other co-workers feel bad if they don’t give a gift (even if you are signing the card from everyone). If you do want to give a gift, I suggest doing that on your own, after hours.

Again, I think this entirely up to whomever is organizing the event, and the birthday person. Unless it’s coming from the boss, it should be done after work hours. I think this gets into a bit of a tricky area, honestly, and should be done in a very casual manner. The birthday person may have plans with other friends or family, and you don’t want them to feel obligated.

For our dear Simone, this was an easy one: she loves the cake pops at Starbucks, so I bought a dozen and stuck them into one of our centerpiece bases. It made a cute, impromptu “cake.” However, you have to be mindful of your honoree. You don’t want to buy some big, honkin’ cake when they’re on a diet -- that puts them in an incredibly awkward position! I always think that you are best off with using something you know they like: pancakes from IHOP, a donut with sprinkles, a cupcake from the local bakery, a bearclaw, even a Dannon yogurt with fruit... Something you know they actually do like.

For us, it was as much fun planning it and executing it as it was watching Simone’s face when she came in and started discovering everything. And that’s what it should be! If it’s a hassle and no fun, then don’t even go there. Nothing makes a person feel worse than feeling the irritation radiating off of the people around them. If you are not a celebrating or decorating kind of crew, then simple acknowledging the person with a friendly “Happy birthday” is the way to go. That in itself will be enough.

I’ll be completely honest with you. On my own birthday, I would forgo the big blowout for a very simple dinner at home and a movie on the DVD player...