There you are, happily going about your day’s work to dos, when, from the desk opposite, Suzy surreptitiously leans over to you. She places something on your desk. She does it softly but to you it lands like an iron anchor that chains itself to your morning positivity and sends it crashing through your desk and the floor below.
It’s the birthday card for Glen. Glen works on the other side of the office. You’ve barely said two words to Glen. The only thing you know about Glen is that Glen was the one who reheated a fish pie in the open plan kitchen. Glen!
And yet, “Happy Birthday Glen!” just won’t do. You’re better than that – or you want to be seen as more thoughtful and imaginative than that. And most importantly, though you’ll never forgive him for Fishpiegate, you still want to make him smile on his special day.
But what can you write that doesn’t repeat what the rest of the office has written and makes your message seem meaningful? The palm-sweating anxiety of it all is enough to cause your pen to slip from your hand and to smudge your colleagues kind words.
To help you avoid this nightmare future, we’ve come up with some tips for conjuring celebratory birthday messages for all the different colleagues in your office.
For colleagues you don’t really know
Keep things short and sweet – it’s as simple as that. You run the risk of coming across as fake/a little frightening if you try to be overly personal, but, equally, it’s important to fight the urge to leave a quick, mediocre message. Try to think of one thing you do know about the person that you can call out alongside your birthday note to strike the right balance between friendly, thoughtful and professional.
For example, if they speak another language, how about writing ‘Joyeux Anniversaire’ in their mother tongue? Or if they’re new to the team, add a little ‘Great to have you join us!’ or ‘Looking forward to working with you!’ – it’ll make your message all the more warm and human in an instant.
For senior members of staff
Remember senior members of staff are just people too, and they want to feel part of the team. So refrain from being too cold just because they’re above you in the ranks – stay warm and friendly. If you happen to know their birthday plans, you could mention something like ‘Enjoy Lisboa!” or just a simple “Thanks for being a great manager!” is sure to put a smile on their face.
A few what not to dos: never mention pay rises (even in jest), don’t suck up or fish for promotions and avoid the word ‘good’ – it’s just not good enough for birthdays!
For colleagues you really like
These are the people you really want to go all out for, and thankfully, because you likely know a few things about them, it’s easier to do that. So reference things you know they enjoy or things you talk about together. Do you share a love for the same tunes on the office stereo? Then write something like “Disco in the kitchen at lunchtime!” or “ABBA fabulous day!” (if you can’t write a pun in a birthday card, when can you?). Do you do a lunch crossword with them? Then make your message into a crossword for them to fill out. And references to any in-jokes you share will aways raise a smile.
If they’re not expecting anything sentimental from you and you can have more fun with them, you could always write something that doesn’t have anything to do with birthdays, like “Sorry to hear you’re leaving :( ”
Use little stickers, beads or googly eyes you could use to decorate your message. But this is very much space-dependent.
If you’re feeling particularly creative, then you could write a little poem (as long as there’s enough space) or turn their name into an acronym.
And if you’re having a secret office romance with the recipient, don’t make it too obvious. The rest of the office who are yet to sign the card don’t need to know. (Though, they probably already do.)
– Always try your hardest to write something that someone else hasn’t, even if it’s just a very slight change of wording. So rather than ‘Happy Birthday! Have a lovely day!’, mix it up with ‘HBD’, ‘Hope you get spoilt rotten’, ‘Happy [their name]day!’, ‘HB [initials]’, ’Wishing you the happiest of birthdays!’, ’Wahoo! It’s your birthday!’ or ‘Party like it’s your birthday! Because it is your birthday!’
– Think harder on milestone birthdays.
– No cursing! (Your boss and/or easily offended colleagues will see this remember!)
– Doodles are always a nice birthday surprise – balloons, cakes, stars, smiley faces, dogs, cats (if they like cats).
– Use colours – nice pens, felt tips, rainbow writing.
– Before you put pen to paper, double check who the card is for and that it is indeed a birthday card. No-one wants to read 'Happy Birthday' in their leaving card.
– When it comes to putting a kiss, it’s really up to you and your relationship with them, maybe best not with senior members, but we would say it’s always nice to share the love! For throwback points, give ‘em a hug too xoxox
Got a colleague's birthday coming up? Find a card to fill with thoughtfully written notes from you and the rest of the team.