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Ask an Expert: Celebrations

Should employers publicly celebrate employee milestones?

Colorful balloons are flying out of an open door.

After such a challenging year, celebrating special occasions in workers’ lives can provide a much-needed morale boost. 

Before making plans, however, it’s a good idea to ask employees what they want and decide on an overall approach. Determining that workers want to engage in such events will help ensure that celebrations are planned in a consistent manner that is fair and sensitive to all. This also can promote greater employee participation.

If employees support the idea of having celebrations, the next step is to identify what types of events the organization will recognize. These could include birthdays and baby showers, as well as work anniversaries, promotions and retirements.

Employers should be aware that employees might have differing views on how to recognize various milestones. Some might feel comfortable sharing their happy news within their departments only, while others might appreciate a companywide acknowledgment—and some might not want any acknowledgment at all. Be sure to seek employees’ approval before taking action. Whether the celebration is at the worksite or held virtually, always give the individual the choice to opt out. 

Note that birthdays are a particularly sensitive topic. Don’t announce employee birthdays on the company intranet without consent—and never post someone’s age. 

Be aware of the diversity of your workforce and consider whether individuals’ religious beliefs prohibit their involvement in certain celebrations. Ignoring such factors could negatively affect workplace morale or prompt allegations of unfair treatment or religious discrimination.

Be fair and consistent. If a group throws a baby shower for one member of its team, it should offer a similar celebration when another co-worker adopts a child. An employer might want to create a policy with guidelines for employee parties to encourage fairness and consistency across the organization. When creating the guidelines, seek employee feedback to ensure a positive outcome.

Another important consideration is how such celebrations will be funded. Will the employer budget for them? Or will employees be expected to contribute toward gifts and food for such events? If the latter, employees who can’t afford to contribute might be embarrassed and worry that their supervisor or other team members will think less of them. An employer may wish to establish a specific celebrations budget that is evenly distributed among the staff.  

Taking time to recognize and celebrate employees is important for morale and engagement, especially when many employees are working from home. Acknowledging special moments is key to maintaining positive connections.  

Lisa Frydenlund, SHRM-CP, is an HR Knowledge Advisor for SHRM.


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