Use the Birthday Technique to Show Your Employees You Care About Them
I was having a rough day at work. It was years ago, while I was living in China and my wife and family were in the U.S. vacationing for the summer. I was feeling lonely and melancholy.
I typically used these opportunities of having no familial responsibilities to dive even deeper into my work. However, on this day I was having trouble getting my mind focused on the chaos and troubles at work. I guess I was just feeling a little down.
And it was my birthday.
For those of you who have spent birthdays isolated from family and friends, you know the feeling I was experiencing: isolation, and the feeling that no one cares.
About midway through that morning, I received a simple gift that turned my day around. It was an SMS from my boss, Sean who was living almost 10,000 km away in California, and I didn't see in person very often.
Happy birthday Mitch. I hope you're having a great day. BR, Sean
While reading the SMS I was blown away. How had he known it was my birthday? Did I mentioned it was coming up in a some previous conversation?
A Simple Gift, A Big Impact
Sean and I weren't particularly good friends at the time. In fact, he hadn't my boss for that long and the transition from my previous manager had been a little rocky.
After reading his SMS, my perspective of Sean changed. He obviously cared enough about me to send me a quick note on my birthday. His was the first birthday acknowledgement I received that day. Before my wife. Before my Mother. The very first. And I remembered it.
As a student of leadership, I kept thinking about the impact his simple gesture made on me as an employee. Months later, while on a business trip together, I brought it up and asked him about it.
"Remember months ago when you sent me the 'Happy Birthday' SMS? How did you know it was my birthday? I don't think I'd ever mentioned it."
Sean stared at me with a curious expression on his face that eventually morphed into a half-smile. Finally, he answered simply, in an almost confession-like tone, "I asked my assistant to put a reminder in my calendar. I do that for all my employees."
The Birthday Technique
All it took Sean was the time to ask his assistant to put the dates into his calendar, and to send me a 65 character SMS. And the result was a large impact on my perception of him as my manager and as a person.
What an amazing management ROI!
Since then, I put the birthdays of all my direct reporting employees into my calendar or contacts database. When my computer does the hard work of remembering their birthday and reminding me, I do the simple work and tell them 'Happy Birthday' in person (if we are co-located) or sending them a message if we work in different locations.
I'll be honest, some employees don't seem to care that I remembered and took the time to wish them 'Happy Birthday', and that's okay. But more often than not, employees are pleasantly surprised. It's a small thing but the payoff can potentially be large, as was the case for me and Sean so many years ago.
I encourage all managers and leaders to take that small step and privately recognize their employee's birthdays.
The simple steps:
- Run a report from your companies employee database or ask HR for their birthday information. The year your employees were born is not important.
- Create a reminder in your email program (I happily use Microsoft Outlook) on the Mac, or put the information into their contacts card in your contacts database.
- When you are planning your day's activities, and you are reminded of their birthday, send them an SMS or tell them sincerely 'Happy Birthday' when you see them at the office. No gifts or public recognition is needed.
It couldn't be simpler.
Take care, and I'll talk to you next time.