I had a unique opportunity this year to go to another city and do a rotation at an agency other than my own. I learned a lot while I was there: what that agency does, how they do it, about myself, and about how to celebrate people’s personal lives at work. Many of us are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) encouraged to leave our personal selves at the door, or for those in DC, outside the beltway. How is that possible? People are getting married, having babies, retiring, achieving higher education, accepting new and exciting positions. How can anyone possibly be expected to function the exact same way at work when these exciting events are changing the focus of their lives?
I went to more office parties during that 90-day rotation than I have anywhere else in my career. My coworkers there never rolled their eyes at the prospect of a party. Hot food? Cake from that delicious bakery down the street? An hour to hang out with coworkers at work but not work? Streamers went up, music played, a slideshow came on, and a card was passed around which one person, no matter the occasion, would comically always sign, “Get well soon!”
However, sometimes people don’t want to celebrate someone, or don’t want to be celebrated themselves. The question becomes: when is it appropriate to celebrate someone’s personal life at work?
- The big three: weddings, babies, leaving the office/retirement. These life events are typically acceptable to be put in the spotlight for an hour or so. Obviously offices can choose to celebrate more than these three; I’m a believer in the more the merrier philosophy.
Tip: If you’re not really the “I like to be the center of attention” kind of person but you feel an office party in your honor coming on, suggest a group celebration; think seasonal groupings of birthdays instead of individual ones. You could even move the focus from you all together and celebrate a daily holiday, no matter how obscure. Example: September 5th is National Cheese Pizza Day so get your coupons ready!
- When people share their accomplishments with a large group. If something is common knowledge, it is probably okay to pass a card around.
- When in doubt, ask the person! If you’re not sure if someone would appreciate being in the limelight, then ask him/her before something is planned. Did this person just tell the news to one or two close coworker friends? That’s a good sign he/she doesn’t want everyone and their supervisor to know.
Once something is deemed suitable to celebrate, someone needs to step up and come up with a plan. This varies wildly by office. Some will pass around cards. Others will collect money (on a voluntary basis of course) to purchase a cake, food for a luncheon, or a group gift. Some people will have an optional after hours get together. The main thing to remember is to be inclusive. Everyone should have the option to be celebrated and to attend the celebrations of others. Don’t forget to include your supervisors. Not only so they understand why an entire shelf in the fridge is occupied by a giant box and balloons are spilling out of the break room, but so they can sign the card!
How does your office celebrate personal accomplishments?