people high-fiving
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You like your co-workers, right? Or, you at least appreciate them for all the hard work they’ve done over the years. In some cases, you wouldn’t even be where you are without their support, help, and positivity (especially on the rougher days).

So, don’t you want to acknowledge them when they have a small win, celebrate a birthday, or reach a big milestone?

And the thing is, celebrating someone else is actually beneficial for you, too! It makes people more likely to share your achievements, it makes you look good (you hang out with happy, successful people, so you must be as well!), and it strengthens your relationships with all your colleagues.

But the tricky thing is, most of us can’t afford to congratulate our co-workers with the gifts and free drinks. That’s why I put together 10 completely free ideas that’ll be just as good as (if not, better than) purchasing something.


1. Just Say It

So simple, yet so overlooked. But it really is that easy—nothing feels better and more personal than to hear from someone else that he or she is impressed by your work or remembered your special day. Because we tend to get glued to our screens and inboxes, we forget that there are actual people sitting near us who could use a genuine, honest boost.

So, get up out of your desk, walk over to your co-worker’s, and say “Happy Birthday!” or “Great job on that big sale!” It’s such a small gesture that you don’t even realize how powerful it is.


2. Shout it Out to the Team

A lot of times people don’t necessarily advertise their birthdays or achievements because they don’t want to sound obnoxious or self-involved—which is why it can be your job to brag for them.

Do you have a company-wide messaging app like Slack or HipChat? Tag the person and let everyone know how awesome she is with a bundle of emojis. Or, send out an email to your team (or if it’s a small company, your office) highlighting the person’s accomplishment.

Or, if you’re crafty, create a shout-out board. A what? We created a shout-out board at The Muse for people to share anonymous “good work” notes with the whole company. It lives in our kitchen and is always full of shout-outs to various teammates for hitting goals and just being all-around awesome people.


3. Send a Thoughtful Email

We all get emails every day, and most of them aren’t too exciting—so why not surprise someone with a message he or she will actually look forward to reading? And it’s not just about sending “Congrats!” and clicking send—it’s about taking the time to think about how the person’s impacted you and sharing that.

And it doesn’t need to be super serious! I celebrated a birthday over vacation once and my boss sent an email full of hilarious GIFs and a nice note. It cost her nothing to do, and it totally made my day to know my team was thinking of me.


4. Or, Write (or Draw) a Note

Email is great, but let’s take it up a notch and really personalize your letter. Are you a good artist? Draw him a picture of his favorite animal, or a funny cartoon about your office. Do you have awesome handwriting? Print out a cute card online and fill it out with kind words about her. At The Muse, co-workers’ desks are full of cards they’ve received from their colleagues—because on our rougher days, there’s no better pick-me-up than kind words from our co-workers.


5. Decorate the Desk

If you’re up for it, get artsy. Decorate the person’s desk, or hang a printable banner above her workspace, or cut out fun party hats for her, and your team, to sport throughout the day (brownie points from us if everyone actually wears them all day).


6. Give People What They Want

OK, you probably can’t guarantee your co-worker free reign on his special day (unless you’re his manager and have that authority), but there’s probably some perk you could offer him. Is there a pair of noise-cancelling headphones he’s been dying to borrow from you or a shared office snack that always get snatched up fast? If there’s a way for you to sacrifice today—like giving up a conference room that he needs—do it.


7. Offer to Help

Offering to help a colleague out is always a nice thing to do, especially if you’re not particularly swamped that day. But it’s also a great way to show your gratitude and make his special day a little less stressful.

“When I worked in a smaller office in a more administrative role, people would always do something nice on my birthday—a.k.a., take care of a few of the tasks I hated doing. It was great not to have to make the coffee on my birthday,” says Kat Boogaard, a writer at The Muse.

So give him a break from a big project you’re both working on, or answer a frustrating email if you’re both looped in and you know this person drives him crazy, or offer to attend a meeting and share notes so he can get ahead on his to-do list and leave early.


8. Share Some Free Swag

Odds are that your office and co-workers have extra swag that’s not claimed by anyone. Why not grab a cool T-shirt or hat for a co-worker when he or she hits a goal or has a birthday? Remember one person’s conference goody bag trash is another man’s treasure. So don’t overlook those free notebooks or tote bags.


9. Post on Social Media

Yes, social media is free—and it reaches an even wider audience! When your colleague’s celebrating something, share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Especially if that person is away or out of the office, it means the world to know your co-workers miss and care about you.


10. Pen a Recommendation

If someone recently got promoted or closed a big deal, a professional and supportive thing to do is write a LinkedIn recommendation. This shows that you respect this person as a colleague and want to see him or her continue to succeed. It’s also awesome because it’s something that most people feel uncomfortable asking for, but really appreciate when it’s offered unsolicited.



Congratulating someone doesn’t take money to be meaningful—if you do any, or all, of these ideas, you’ll be sure to make anyone’s day truly perfect.