Why no one should have to work on their birthday

This story originally appeared on my blog on September 19, 2012 when I was an employee with Huge LA and it has been edited slightly for modern times. I still think it’s a great place to work.

Huge is a great place to work for a lot of reasons, but one of the best reasons is that the company gives employees their birthdays off! I have been thinking a lot about how this is not only a great idea for employees, but makes a lot of business sense as well. Let me break it down.

Conventional birthday party

At most other companies I’ve worked, when a person’s birthday comes around the following occurs…

  1. A mediocre birthday cake is ordered ($)
  2. Perhaps a card is passed around the office (this usually stresses me out and takes me a long time to come up with something to say)
  3. People gather in the kitchen (sometimes reluctantly), sing happy birthday (sometimes embarrassing the birthday boy/girl), and eat cake (fat!)

The emotional triggers of this approach range from awkward to marginally exciting at best. It’s hard to put an exact number on it, but all of this activity will probably take about 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes per person per birthday. In other words:

Hp = (n * t) * n

Where Hp is the total office hours spent partying every year, n is the number of employees, and t is the time spent for each birthday.

Paid time off for birthdays

When you have a day off of work, one person is very happy for the day and nobody else is affected. Everyone wins! The time spent is 8 hours for one person per birthday. Or:

Hv = n * 8 Hv 

being the total office hours spent vacationing every year.

Notice anything about these two functions?

The party function is exponential, O(n^2), while the vacation function is linear, O(n).That means that the more employees you have the more expensive it is to throw a party while with vacation time, you have a fixed cost per employee for birthdays.

Conventional birthday parties consume much more time when the number of employees gets larger.

HUGE LA has about 90 employees. When we compare the two formulae, we get these results:

Hp = (90 * .25) * 90 = 2025 hours 
Hv = 90 * 8 = 720 hours

Vacation time is about 1/3 as many resources as birthday parties.

Of course, for smaller numbers of employees, birthday parties are actually more efficient than days off. If we reduce the inequality:

         Hp < Hv 
n * (n * t) < n * 8
n * t < 8

The magic point where parties are cheaper than vacations is when n*t < 8. So if party time, t, is 15 minutes, that number is 32 employees, (32 * .25) = 8.

Combined birthdays

Some offices combine all the birthdays into one party for all the birthdays in a given week. This changes the equation to:

Hp <= (52 * t)

…which is also linear. However, to satisfy (52 * t) < 8 the parties have to be under 10 minutes! So you’re still better off giving vacation time. A better plan would be to have one party per month for all of the birthdays in that month:

Hp <= (12 * t)

That would give you roughly 40 minutes of uninterrupted cake-hole stuffing per party.

But regardless of the time, what adult would rather eat cake than take a day off of work!? Forward this to your boss if you agree.