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Your Office Coach: How to handle workplace birthday parties

My staff seems to be having a problem with birthday celebrations. These used to be handled by a birthday committee, but that ended a couple of years ago. Since then, there has been no formal recognition of birthdays in the office. However, some people like to surprise their friends by bringing a cake to share.

I was recently advised that employees who never receive a cake are feeling left out, and it was suggested that we stop celebrating birthdays altogether. Personally, I don't see why anyone should feel excluded simply because other people get cake from their friends. After all, these goodies are shared with everyone. What's your opinion?

Since you seem to be missing the point, I'm wondering whether you were one of those kids who was chosen first for every team and always asked to prom early. The fact is that these gatherings for cake have become popularity contests in which those with good friends have their special day recognized, while others go unacknowledged.

Admittedly, this is a minor league matter about which some people may not care at all. But as a manager, you have to be concerned about any issue creating division in your group. Fortunately, this one has a simple solution, requiring neither the reinstatement of a time-wasting birthday committee nor the elimination of happy celebrations.

Inform your staff that individual birthday festivities are being replaced with a monthly event honoring everyone born during that month. Help them agree on a celebration strategy -- sharing cake, having a group lunch, or anything else you find acceptable. If friends still want to recognize a buddy's actual day, they are free to do so without fanfare.

Just be sure to draft someone with good organizational skills to keep an accurate record of birth dates. If the lack of a cake made people feel left out, being officially ignored could leave them seriously depressed.

Marie G. McIntyre, a workplace coach, is the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter officecoach.

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