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While the practice is not universal, some offices celebrate all employee birthdays. A coworker’s birthday may be an occasion for cake in the break room or balloons by the watercolor. Sometimes cards may be passed around the office in advance, which all employees will be expected to sign. While your contribution to a coworker’s birthday card need not be personal, it should be courteous and professional.
Share a Memory
Even the smallest moments can still be meaningful. Maybe you and your coworker once shared an especially nice coffee break together or had a laugh during a project brainstorm. If these are positive memories you have about this person, let him know how special those moments were. Write something simple like, “Dear Henry, I will never forget sipping mochas with you on that rainy December afternoon. Thank you for always being good company. Wishing you a happy birthday, Thomas.” Expressing this kind of personal -- but simple -- memory makes your birthday note more meaningful than simply scribbling, “Happy Birthday Henry. Sincerely, Thomas.”
Note Special Qualities
Think about something defining or special about this coworker that you admire. It can be a small detail. Perhaps you noticed that she has a lovely laugh or wonderful penmanship. Making a note of these qualities will help you create a meaningful message. Avoid treading into unprofessional territory: Do not comment on her age, sex, ethnicity, religion or political beliefs. An example of an appropriate thought might be, “Dear Florence, Happy birthday to the most punctual person in the office. I always admire how prompt you are and how you set a good example for the rest of us. All the best, Linda.”
Think about any small deeds this person regularly does that go unnoticed. Perhaps he waters the plants in the waiting room or always refreshes the coffee pot in the kitchen. An office birthday message is an appropriate place to tell your coworker that you notice and appreciate the small things he does. For example, you could write a message like, “Dear Joe, It is so nice that we can all celebrate your birthday. You do many things to brighten our days, but we are especially grateful that you help us all wake up by making the morning coffee! Many happy returns, Mildred.”
Make a Light Joke
If you work in a more casual environment where jokes and games are the norm, write a humorous message. Be sensitive to the office environment while making your joke, and do not write anything you would not feel comfortable hearing if the card were to be read aloud. Make a light joke like, “Hope you have more fun on your birthday than you did writing the quarterly earnings report!” Include details about her responsibilities within the organization. Be nice -- someday your coworkers will be signing birthday cards for you, too.
Fern Morris has been writing about the arts, culture, etiquette and society since 2004. She has published her work internationally in various magazines, websites, exhibition catalogues and academic journals.
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