How Duke Colleagues Build Bonds with Birthday Fun
Gestures large and small on colleagues’ birthdays can be a key ingredient to strong team culture
Whether through a team party or small gesture such as a card or email, taking a moment to acknowledge a colleague’s birthday makes a difference in helping colleagues feel valued and connected. In a study released in 2023 , roughly 74% of respondents pointed to celebrations such as birthdays as a way to boost workplace morale and employee retention.
We recently asked you to share how your team celebrates birthdays and received nearly 40 submissions. With its themed parties, the Duke Cancer Center North Durham Radiation Oncology team earns a prize from us of a birthday sheet cake for 25 people.
From email shout outs to homemade cakes, here are some ways teams across Duke show birthday love.
Duke University Hospital – Infection Prevention
In the workspace of Duke University Hospital’s Infection Prevention team, a bulletin board displays the names of every team member with a birthday that month. And once a month, the team gathers in their workspace for an informal birthday celebration featuring snacks and baked goods.
While it’s a simple formula, Infection Prevention Specialist Kayleigh Sandhu-Bajaj said the monthly gatherings celebrate the birthdays and provide a time for colleagues to spend a few minutes together and talk about subjects aside from work.
“It’s a great time to get together and build our team,” Sandhu-Bajaj said. “We feel like it’s a great time to connect, recognize each other and involve new members of our team in the building of those casual, personal connections which can be so vital in the workplace.”
Pratt School of Engineering
Pratt School of Engineering Assistant Dean Lupita Temiquel-McMillian said her team often marks birthdays by sharing boxes of donuts, bagels or cookies.
In August of 2023, however, Temiquel-McMillian got creative.
Inspired by the Barbie movie, Temiquel-McMillian made a doll-themed cake and a few colorful cupcakes for the birthday of a pair of colleagues.
“Personally, I love birthdays,” said Temiquel-McMillian. “Recognizing folks on their day says that we think you are special and we want to celebrate you.”
Duke Home Health Care
While the Duke Home Health Care team gathers for in-person celebrations occasionally, such as during the holidays, for birthdays it uses its monthly email newsletter to list team members who are having a birthday that month.
Physical Therapist Paul Evangelista said the newsletter shout outs serve as a helpful reminder to check in with colleagues he enjoys when he sees they have a birthday.
“If it’s someone I personally work with positively, I’ll send a text or even call them to wish them a happy birthday,” Evangelista said.
Duke University Hospital – 3200 Unit
For the past 18 years, Zelma Palmer, the Administrative Clerk for the 3200 Unit in Duke University Hospital’s Cardiology Department, has kept a spreadsheet of the birthdays for her team members.
Each month, she drops a birthday card and a candy bar in the mailboxes of her colleagues as their big day nears.
“It makes our employees feel like they are part of the team and that they are loved,” Palmer said.
Duke Alumni Engagement and Development
For lucky members of the Duke Alumni Engagement and Development office’s Alumni and Student Connections team, a staff meeting around their birthday means a homemade cake from Staff Assistant Mary Salvarezza. Her cakes, made from scratch, have lifted the spirits of colleagues and delighted their tastebuds.
Recently, during a stretch of rainy weather, Salvarezza brightened a colleague’s birthday with an olive oil and citrus cake.
“She drove through the rain, navigated the grocery store, waited in the long lines and drive home to bake,” said Sara Stevens, Assistant Director for Graduate and Professional School Engagement. “Her homemade cakes are one of the more meaningful ways to celebrate a colleagues’ birthday.”
Duke Primary Care Oxford
Heather Woody, a Patient Service Associate at Duke Primary Care Oxford, is part of a small group of team members who call themselves the “Birthday Committee” and, since the summer of 2023, have embraced the job of decorating the workspaces of colleagues celebrating birthdays. With streamers and balloons in birthday celebrants’ favorite colors as well as a personalized selection of sweets and snacks, the committee’s goal is to honor the individuality of each team member.
“We have made it a point to celebrate as many birthdays as possible,” Woody said. “We are now up to nearly a dozen and counting. It’s a morale booster for those of us who are decorating and for the recipients. It shows that we value them and want to help them enjoy their special day.”
Duke Clinical Research Institute
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Research Communications and Engagement Team of Duke Clinical Research Institute, which consisted of around 20 on-site members, would celebrate birthdays with monthly, in-person gatherings with cake in the team’s break room.
But in the years since the pandemic, the team – which has grown to around 60, fully remote members – has adjusted its birthday tradition. Now, a group of colleagues known as the “Birthday Club” creates online birthday profile graphics for colleagues featuring a photo and answers to fun questions which help remote team members learn about their colleagues. The profiles are shared via email, in online meetings and in a team Slack channel set aside for birthday messages.
“The birthday announcements on Slack have been a great opportunity to get to know our colleagues and facilitate connections across the team while working remotely,” said Research Communications and Engagement Specialist Alexis McCloskey.
Duke Primary Care Waverly Place
In late January, Duke Primary Care Waverly Place Certified Medical Assistant Daisy Mendoza arrived at work on her birthday to find her workspace adorned with colorful balloons and a card signed by the clinic’s entire staff. Mendoza’s colleagues Staci Irizarry, Stacey Hinman and Soumeya Benmohammed led the effort to mark Mendoza’s big day.
“They made me feel so special and loved,” Mendoza said. “I really enjoy working with my colleagues. They treat me like their own family.”
Duke Obstetrics & Gynecology
When members of Cescille Gesher’s small Education Team in Duke Obstetrics & Gynecology have birthdays to celebrate, they try to grab a bite together after work, often at restaurants that are new to the group.
“It’s a time when work titles fade away and everyone becomes a friend, sharing stories, laughter and creating a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere that extends beyond office walls. These birthday happy hours have become cherished tradition, adding an extra layer of friendship and creating memorable moments together.”
Duke Raleigh Hospital – Chaplain Services
Birthdays on the Duke Raleigh Hospital Chaplain Services team provide a chance for team members to show off their creativity. On their birthdays, colleagues often arrive to find their workspaces decorated with personalized flourishes such as photoshopped images of them playing for their favorite sports teams or as cast members on favorite TV shows.
And Program Manager Amy Canosa, a skilled baker, often supplies a homemade cake which matches her colleagues tastes.
“Decorating for the birthday person has become as much fun as receiving the surprise,” said Duke Raleigh Chaplain Services Resident Mia Hutchins-Cabibi.
Office of Graduate Medical Education
Staff members at the Office of Graduate Medical Education credit the enjoyable birthday traditions for their team to Program Coordinator Katelynne Durrant. Durrant leads the efforts to decorate office doors and circulate cards for signing in order to ensure colleagues feel special on their birthdays.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds to keep track of everyone’s birthdays on top of her normal responsibilities and hectic schedule,” said one of Durrant's colleagues. “But she makes it look effortless. She deserves a big shout-out.”