Etiquette for a Gift for a Co-worker's Birthday

Giving birthday gifts at work can be nice, but be professional about it.
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Your co-workers can be the people who you spend more of your waking hours with than anyone else. Naturally, when someone's birthday rolls around, you might be inclined to honor her with something special. While it never hurts to be thoughtful, proceed carefully when it comes to workplace gift giving.

1 To Gift or Not

If you really care about your co-worker and have a friendly relationship with her, then a gift is appropriate and will probably be appreciated. If you don't know a co-worker well, then not giving a gift is perfectly acceptable too. If you decide to give a gift, it's probably most appropriate do it outside of work. This way no one else feels awkward -- either because they didn't get her a gift or because you didn't give them gifts on their birthdays.

2 Share a Cake

An alternative gift is a birthday cake, which everyone in the office can share. Refer to your company policy to check if this is okay and make sure the person with the birthday doesn't have any food allergies. Then take a little party break and enjoy an afternoon sugar rush together.

3 Sign a Card

A birthday card is a way to show you care without being extravagant. Handmade is a nice touch. Either give one as an individual or have the whole department sign one.

4 Be Aware of Personal Preferences

Not all people enjoy a big fuss on their birthday -- in fact, if you do too much you might offend your co-worker. Perhaps he doesn't celebrate birthdays for religious reasons or he gets really embarrassed by attention. If you don't know him well, check with him first before offering a gift or throwing a party.

5 Be Considerate of Everyone

You don't want your plan to be nice to backfire. If you're doing anything for your co-worker publicly, try not to embarrass her. Some people are especially sensitive about their age, so avoid any jokes or insensitive comments. Also try to be fair -- if you do something special for some people in your workplace on their birthdays but not others, you might end up making someone feel left out or forgotten.

Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.