...it would be awkward birthday gatherings. God, I hate them.
The general rule seems to be that the birthday person should provide cakes or snacks for the office community. I think this is rotten, stinking rule. Not only are you being forced to share your birthday with people you don't care about, and haven't selected to spend most of your waking hours with, but you also have to pay up and force them to "celebrate" with you. Urgh. Just so you all stand around awkwardly, as you patiently tell every person as they arrive what you did/are doing for your birthday, what presents you got and how old you are. And then... once you've run out of those topics and the cake is all but consumed... everyone inspects their fingernails to avoid eye contact, there are a few nervous smiles at nothing in particular and eventually someone mumbles something about those invoices not filing themselves and you are released from the horrific social torture.
And there is always one persistent pain-in-the-ass who insists on forcing a painful and listless "haaap-peeee-buuuuurth-day-to-yoooooooou," out of the audience. And then you all have to either sing along (I don't. I refuse point blank) or wait with a grimace until it's over.
To make the torture even worse, some offices expect co workers to put together a collection for an insincere, but well-meant, gift. Which you probably don't want, and wouldn't have chosen. In these circumstances, I feel inclined to say (and have actually done so in the past - but people thought I was joking): how about I not bring any food, and you don't buy me a present, and we just call it quits?
I sat through this actual conversation at an awkward birthday gathering. To avoid naming names, I'm going with the characters from the US Office series. Which is quite apt anyway. Sometimes I really do think I am living The Office. I wish I had a camera to pull faces at...
[To set the scene, we had just gotten to the point of awkward silence, nervous smiles and inspecting under nails to avoid eye contact]
Birthday Boy: Is it really sad that the first person to wish me happy birthday this morning was my divorce lawyer?
Phyllis: Hey, come on - cheer up. It's your birthday!
Birthday boy: It's my birthday and I'll whine it I want to. [Mild tittering. That was almost a joke... awkwardness slightly less palpable. Maybe this isn't so bad?]
Dwight: It's his birthday and he'll wank if he wants to!
End scene. What the hell do you say after that?
I can understand why corporate bigwigs and HR would think it's a lovely concept. What a motivating idea, getting to know your team mates and other departments a bit better - without out it having anything to do with expenses! But, gawd, I hate the birthday burden.... so much that I am seriously concerned that one day I am going to actually vocalise my thoughts. You know, instead of saying, "well, thank you for the cake - enjoy the rest of the day"... I'm going to say, "Well, I can't be asked to pretend to care anymore. And I hate apple crumble." Or more succinctly, simply screaming incoherently while mashing cake into my face and hair. And then running out of the room.
I know of an employer that gives staff the day off on their birthday. Now THAT is motivating. It's not disruptive, everyone else just gets on with a usual productive day without having to pretend to want someone else's cake choice. The birthday person gets to spend it how he or she actually wants to spend it, instead of having to pretend that they actually like their colleagues.
*Disclaimer: I know that there are actually environments where the birthday gathering is not an awkward affair. I have worked in such environments, where it is actually fun to get away from your desk and have a little social natter over cake and a scone. Sadly these are the exception and for the most part, I would prefer not to have to deal with birthday obligations at work.