Ask LH: How Can I Avoid Office Birthday Celebrations?

Ask LH: How Can I Avoid Office Birthday Celebrations?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently joined a company where every team member’s birthday is celebrated with cake and the singing of Happy Birthday. I hate celebrating my birthday at work as it feels like nothing more than a HR tick-a-box requirement for managers and to be honest I find it cringe-worthy. How do I tactfully tell my manager I don’t want to celebrate my birthday without looking grumpy? Cheers, Cakehole Shut

Office party picture from Shutterstock

Dear CS,

To put it bluntly, you do seem a bit grumpy. You’re basically willing to deny everyone a miniature party due to a personal bugbear — is it really too much for you to endure for the sake of your colleagues? Even if the whole exercise is as cynical as you claim, there’s no reason why you can’t focus on the positives; namely free cake and a few minutes of socialising on company time.

That said, if you’re flat-out against celebrating your birthday at work, a friendly email to your manager a week or so beforehand should be all that’s required. The trick is to keep the explanation brief and casual. Alternatively, you could always take the day off and throw a proper celebration!

If any readers have suggestions of their own, let CS know in the comments section below.


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  • You could tell everyone that you’re a Jehovis Witness! We had a woman who would leave the room for any celebration based on her religion. Besides that, she was also a grumpy bitch but whatever 🙂

  • I work with a Jehovah’s Witness, a very nice, easy-going person who never tries to force her religion on her co-workers. But she has explained that her beliefs do not allow her to celebrate birthdays. So, if you are OK with lying, you could try that excuse, perhaps?

  • Stop being a grumblebum! Your workplace gives you free cake on your birthday and you’re complaining!?

      • So you’d rather a workplace that forces you to work the 15 minutes when you’ll normally be celebrating a birthday

        • What? How did you get that out of what I said? Please stop strawmanning people’s arguments, you’re just making a fool of yourself.

          • That’s what you did say. “So everyone has to enjoy the same things you do? Who’s being selfish now?” to someone that wanted a party. If they don’t throw a party, you obviously need to work. If they do, you don’t need to eat cake. You just don’t work those 15 minutes

          • Now you’re reversing the burden and the situation. The original poster simply didn’t want one thrown for themself. That’s all. Lots of people chimed in calling them selfish and a grumblebum.

            Well, not everyone likes being the centre of attention, in fact some actively dislike it. Forcing someone else who doesn’t like being the centre of attention is quite a selfish and rude thing to do. If the birthday is being thrown for you it’s quite awkward to not turn up yourself.

            The original writer was never talking about stopping others from having cake etc for their birthdays, just didn’t want it for themself.

  • I’m lucky enough to be a member of a very small team, so it’s not something we currently do (celebrate birthdays) – however I am very “anti-my-own-birthday” (I have nothing against celebrating other people’s birthday, just not my own) and that goes doubly so for the workplace.

    So as a matter of principle, and since I rarely ever take time off at any other time, I just make it a habit to always take a week of annual leave when my birthday rolls around. Then I don’t have to do anything at work about it.

  • I have kept my birthday a secret in my office (its happening next week but shhhhhh; no one knows) precisely because they have a morning tea that you have to pay for. I don’t want to cater for other people on my birthday; especially people who don’t really care about me

  • All I can say is, why would anyone say “no” to cake? 🙁

    Your loss, more cake for me mwahahahahaha

  • I take the day off work for my birthday to avoid the “celebrations”. Grumpy? Maybe, but there’s reasons behind me disliking my birthday, and just labeling someone as “grumpy” is a bit offensive, especially when you have no idea on the reasoning behind it (for example, my grandfather dies on my dad’s birthday, how do you think he feels “celebrating” a birthday?).

  • The article flips it on the questioner, asking how *they* can deny *everyone else* a celebration.

    Isn’t it their birthday?! If they don’t want to celebrate it at work, that’s their prerogative. OH NO people will have to go WITHOUT CAKE for AN ENTIRE DAY.

  • I generally take a few weeks off over christmas and new year, which convieniently covers my birthday

    I have nothing against celebrating birthdays etc at work, but what really annoys me is the fact that it’s all cake, cookies, biscuits etc…. someone bring in a platter of fruit or something… There’s at least 50 people in the team I work in, that’s a lot of cake in one year

  • The thing is, it’s this person’s birthday. If they want it ignored, then I think they have the right to have it so. That said… it looks like most people would be intolerant of your wishes. If they want to do cake and stuff, maybe suggest that they celebrate some fictitious holiday. Better yet, raise awareness of a real cause… Get them to donate a dollar to a charity instead of a cake. Maybe try to turn it into a constructive thing.

  • I’m with CS, there’s little more annoying than forcing you to be the centre of attention when you don’t want it, especially if it’s accompanied by that fucking song.

    I’d recommend rigging up some kind of automatic fire tennis ball gun and shooting it into everyone’s mouths when they open them to sing.

    That or taking the day off, that’d be good too

  • I used to work in Human Resources and one of the first questions my new boss asked me is “how do you like to celebrate your birthdays?” I explained to her that I appear to be very extroverted, however, when it comes to my birthday I would prefer to fly under the radar. I think this is a wonderful question for any boss to ask their employee.
    Fast forward two years later, I am in another department. I love my job and love my coworkers. I asked my coworkers who sit around me specifically to please not have an office celebration for my birthday. My department actually consists of only three people (though the floor has 50 or 60 people on it and these are the coworkers who aren’t in my group but often initiate bday celebrations) . I wanted to only celebrate with a simple lunch with my Vice President boss. That’s it. Low key.
    The girls on my floor totally ignored me. They bought me cupcakes and put me in the center of attention spot even though I specifically asked not to be.
    Bottom line, it’s my birthday. Respect my bday wishes please.
    When I worked in HR I recall some people would have their name taken off the monthly birthday distribution list where people can see when each other’s birthdays are.
    Think I will try to do this next year.
    Apparently I am having a hard time making myself clear.
    ……one last thing – if you’re going to buy cake or cupcakes for a coworker on their bday ask for their preference. On top of it all, I felt obligated to eat a chocolate cupcake. I get horrible heartburn from chocolate but ate it anyway. Went out to my bday dinner with friends and family that night with heartburn.

  • I asked for the day off and an obnoxious coworker brought it up anyways. She proposed celebrating on an alternate day. I either had to be the grump and ask them to forget it or go along. I went along and am now kicking myself for not being grumpy.

    • First of all, in the 30 yrs I’ve worked, cake was never free. An enelope is passed around, and a manager makes up the difference.

      Secondly, I (and the original poster) have nothing against celebrating others birthdays, just ours. Why is that so hard for people to comprehend?

      None of my coworkers get a straight answer for my birthdate (“June 31”) and so they’ve stopped asking. Fine by me.

  • For everyone who doesn’t understand this, the cake they serve is the cheapest thing you can buy. I eat well prepared food and have my whole life. So, no, I do not want to eat a piece of garbage cake every time its shoved in my face. Now, if you go about getting a well made cake that costs more than $10 then I may be interested. But, again, most of these cakes are just icing sugar and preservatives. I keep my weight under control because I opt out of cake eating around the office. I’m not going to ask that others stop, I just choose to opt out. Sorry if that offends anyone, it doesn’t offend me and I’m the only one it should affect… Worry about yourselves.

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