Thursday, August 09, 2007

Gift Giving at The Office

My birthday is Monday. Happy Birthday to me.

When I was younger, I really looked forward to my birthday. It meant friends and family would gather together and celebrate moi. There would be great food, lots of presents, and of course birthday cake.

When you get older, you start to wish these things didn’t come by every year. Aging is a natural and normal part of life. But it doesn’t mean you have to accept it and celebrate it.

I still enjoy getting together with friends and family to celebrate my birthday. Any excuse for a party among friends, is a good excuse.

Celebrating birthdays at work is another story.

Again, when I was younger, I worked for a company which had pizza and cake day on the last Friday of every month. On this day, everyone would gather in the big board room to listen to the latest developments from the company’s top brass, and then any birthdays, anniversaries, engagements or other personal developments were announced and everyone clapped and cheered. Then we had pizza and cake for lunch to celebrate.

When I was younger, I enjoyed those pizza and cake days. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to network with others in the company, and it was nice to celebrate someone’s birthday – even mine.

But as you get older and wiser, you learn the politics of office life. All offices have politics of some kind or another. The most common form of office politics I have found can be summed up in one phrase: “perception is reality.”

Now we all know, just because we see something – or “perceive it” doesn’t necessarily make it “real.” But, in an office environment, where we really don’t get to know each other as well as our close friends and family, perceptions do become realities very fast.

The office floozy, who always wears revealing clothing, too much makeup, and although she never gets anything done, she always makes more than you must be sleeping with someone in power. The whiner that is always complaining about something, but has been with the company forever and doesn’t appear to be looking for anything else will always have something to complain about that really doesn’t matter.

These are perceptions about people that may or may not be true. But we assume they are true, because although you spend eight or more hours a day, five days a week with these people, you really don’t get to know them.

Which brings us back birthdays at the office.

I don’t like celebrating birthdays at work. I think it is dangerous and may potentially wreak havoc with someone’s career.

I USED to enjoy celebrating birthday’s at the office. But then I discovered “perception is reality.”

We perceive – rightly or wrongly – certain stereotypes with age. The older a person becomes, the wiser they are supposed to be. In an office environment, the older a person becomes, the more expensive they become, because of all this added wisdom from their years of experience.

We also believe people start thinking of management roles as they get older and may eventually one day want to stop everything and retire. Some people don’t want to lead, they prefer to follow. Others may not want to retire for many years.

We may also think of those younger than us, that they are not as able or capable of doing the job we once saw them do, simply because we now know their true age.

Our perceptions can harm our relationships in the office, because of the assumptions we can make, regardless of our working history with these people.

Celebrating someone’s birthday in the office also can lead to awkward moments. Some people are very sensitive when it comes to their age. By announcing their birthday, you prompt others to ask – how old are you?

This forces some into turmoil – if they lie then Human Resources may pounce on their back for making stuff up on their employment application. If they tell the truth, then their colleagues may have differing opinions of them from there on in.

Also, what happens when someone you don’t know that well, a co-worker, suddenly gives you a birthday gift?

This can be perceived of by you – and other co-workers – in many ways – none of which are good.

If a co-worker is the opposite sex of you, other co-workers may think there is more going on in your meetings than work.

Even if the co-worker is the same sex as you, others might wonder what scheming you do with your “buddy” outside of work – they may even think you hang out at bars and both get toasted.

Celebrating birthdays at the office is wrong.

I know everyone means well. But perception is reality.

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