How to approach the weird social ritual of signing an office birthday card

Hannah Sims · 16 Aug

It's often said that a gesture as small as a simple birthday card is enough to show your team you care and to motivate them to do big things. We get it.

But has anyone ever really thought about just how much of a minefield office birthday card signing really is? Just writing, ‘Regards, Steve.’ can carry frightening undertones and be severely misinterpreted.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the three steps of birthday card signing

Step 1: The secret send-round

Can your colleagues smell a secret from a mile off? Offices with a more open culture, or open plan, will have trouble keeping it schtum. So what do you do?

Secret hand signal

Pointed stare, mime writing on hand, mime book with both hands, point at unsuspecting birthday colleague, do best fish impression (just because birthday colleague is now looking over.

The under-the-desk pass

Saunter over to your colleague. Keep cool. Feign interest in their screen. Whilst colleague looks alarmed at your sudden attentions, they’ll experience palpable relief when comically oversized card is placed on their lap.

Step 2: The signing

You’ve got it first? Now the card looms large on your desk. Why of course, it has to be big enough for everyone to sign! You’re a little bit stuck, and very overwhelmed.

What should you write? Here are some examples:

  • ‘Write whatever,’ they say – but they don’t know your imagination’s shoebox-like proportions.
  • ‘Happy birthday’: Oh, no! It’s already written in the card.
  • Arrow pointing at the pre-printed greeting: ‘What she said’ or ‘I concur!’
  • Allusion to an in-joke that never happened, baffling subsequent signers: “not the printer again, Steve! Hahaha”. N.B. this is not the time to unearth office secrets or NSFW content.
  • Take up as much space as possible: You thought it was all for you! “H to the A to the P to the P to the Y to the space to the B to the I to the R to the T to the H to the D to the A to the Y”! Still space leftover? Add their full name!
  • Heartfelt greeting: ‘Have a lovely day, wishing you happiness this year’. Unfortunately, this sincerity may be mistaken for sarcasm. Tips: references to age could be seen as discrimination so focus on the ‘lovely, lovely, exquisite day’ at hand over. Avoid references to the future or their epically-long past. Particularly avoid ‘Death is coming, you old codger”.
  • ‘Have a great day’: Difficult if they’re spending it in the office. If your company offers an extra day off, fab. Not the case? Round off with ‘… with your enchanting colleagues’.
  • Go off-piste: ‘Don’t forget that report is due in tomorrow’ is always a winner, guaranteed to go down well.
  • You’re the last to sign and there’s no space for your feelings? Go for acronyms: ‘HBD!’ Go for a challenging acronym: ‘HALD,WYHTY’ (see 5).
  • Stick one of your finest post-its on top: Looks thoughtful, adds an extra layer of colour and allows you to eclipse the colleague of your choice.

Step 3: The celebration


Tensions are dispelled when your embarrassed colleague saves the card ‘til later and you all have a celebratory slice of cake (or a kale chip or two if your office is leading the trendy healthy office eating revolution and phasing out the ‘very last year’ tradition of office cake. Inclusive after-work bonding can be good for the team, not just the recently-carded. And then there’s always your birthday to look forward to...

What’s that? It’s on the week end?

If you’d like to find out more about how Perkbox can help to engage, motivate and retain your employees, click here. We’d love to chat to you.

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