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Workplace cake culture: a health risk or a sociable way to boost morale?

 

When I was planning my office cake research, cake-related discussions with friends and colleagues often led to the same full and frank discussion.


Some argued that if you eat too much cake or other snacks (at work or elsewhere), you risk weight gain. This carries health risks for individuals and productivity-related consequences for employers. The counter-argument was that office cake provides a valuable chance for colleagues to take a break to catch up with colleagues and cross-fertilise ideas. Obviously, I had no idea what the research would tell us.


Well, the results suggest there’s merit in both positions and, more importantly,  both provide insights that could help improve workplace health and wellbeing, physical and mental.


The research surveyed almost 1000 UK office workers about their attitudes, habits and opinions around workplace cake culture. Cake was available to most respondents (86%) at least ‘once or twice a week’.  31% said office cake had contributed to weight gain, 38% said it made it harder to eat healthily in the workplace and 59% said it made it harder to stick to a weight loss diet. Round one to the ‘office cake is bad’ camp.


But. 61% thought office cake was a good thing, 81% said it brings people together and 83% said it cheers people up. Round two to the ‘office cake is good’ camp.


So how often did the respondents think would be ideal for office cake? This is the ‘wow!’ piece of data that could make some real difference to workplace health. Almost all  respondents (95%) said the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less.  41% said once a month.


Make workplace cake special again


So, the evidence is telling us that workplace cake affects many people’s efforts to eat healthily at work and control their weight, yet it also provides a popular way to boost morale and build relationships. But however they felt about workplace cake, almost all respondents considered cake once a week or less to be often enough.


Add all this together and what have we got?


The evidence suggests we could reduce workplace health risk and enhance social benefits while having office cake just once a week.  And it seems this would be acceptable to the vast majority of employees.  


To make this work we’d need small changes to the way office cake happens at most workplaces. For example, displaying cakes all day on a table in the main working area (as happens for nearly three quarters of respondents) encourages mindless grazing and doesn’t provide the social benefits people enjoy. Instead, choose a day and time for cake every week/month/whatever people agree. Until cake time, keep the cakes out of sight (and out of mind) in opaque cake tins, in cupboards.  When cake o’clock has passed, pack the cakes away. This would make cake special again, a treat to look forward to and encourage social interaction.  More ideas can be found in the research report It’s time to rethink office cake.


Employers can have confidence


This research investigated the opinions of office workers so might not translate to other working environments. Even so, I hope it gives organisations the confidence to at least start a conversation among colleagues so they can explore their own cake culture. There is a strong chance they will realise they are all in the “office cake is great, but once a week is enough” camp. Then they might feel able to discuss ways to make this happen. Supportive management can encourage and endorse but won’t need to regulate.


Develop a culture of health in the workplace


In 2013, the World Health Organisation calculated we spend two thirds of our waking hours at work.  So a healthy working environment makes a significant contribution to overall public health. And starting a conversation about office cake culture is a giant step in a healthier direction.



Find out more about the research, how to start a conversation and what small changes can help organisations rethink office cake culture harmoniously at www.louwalker.com.

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