Public Health England and Business in the Community have launched another excellent toolkit for employers: The physical activity, healthier eating and healthier weight toolkit.
The toolkit contains lots of great info and practical suggestions backed up by a rationale for why it makes sense for employers to safeguard and promote employee health and wellbeing. The investment really does translate into £££ on the bottom line.
I am particularly excited that the new toolkit mentions workplace cake culture. I researched office cake culture for my MSc in Obesity and Weight Management and the results found that office cake culture influences employee eating habits (negatively) and therefore potentially undermines organisations’ ROI on health and wellbeing spend. It is really important that employers recognise that cake culture makes it harder to eat healthily in the workplace and could result in increased employee health risk and lower workforce performance.
The toolkit recommends that employers ‘begin a conversation’ about cake culture. The good news is that my research now provides evidence to support this approach and, furthermore, suggests workplace cake consumption could be reduced in a collaborative way that would not ruffle any feathers. And it’s free.
Promoting healthier choices
The toolkit’s Healthy Eating chapter has a section called Promoting healthier choices which looks at how ‘employers can create a positive environment for food’. A checklist of positive practices features two points that struck a chord.
“Begin a conversation about how special events (birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, promotions) are marked at work. Can ‘cake days’ be shared, or healthier alternatives be provided?”
My survey of almost 1000 UK office workers found that 95% of respondents thought the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less. This is less frequent than cake was currently available for the vast majority. The research also found that fruit was considered the most popular cake alternative while the second most popular was ‘cake, but less often’. So yes, a conversation would help everyone realise having cake once a week or less might be a popular option.
“Provide healthier options at meetings and events”.
In my research, half (50.5%) the respondents thought meeting refreshments were not sufficiently healthy. In addition, the second most common reason for having cakes in the office after celebrations such as birthdays, was meeting left overs. So potentially we have a double whammy here that increases health risk and employee dissatisfaction, and pushes costs up. This has to be worth a conversation with employees (and clients?) about either ditching refreshments partially or altogether, or offering healthier alternatives.
I would also add that providing healthier eating choices and opportunity in the workplace is essential but the other crucial part of the formula is to remove the bad stuff. Providing a salad bar and free gym membership is is terrific but the effect is diminished if the rest of the office is a wall-to-wall cake fest. Removing the temptation of unhealthy (and arguably unnecessary) snacks can only enhance a wellbeing offering. And now we know that 95% think once a week or less is sufficient for office cake, getting agreement from employees to remove most of the cake for most of the time might be easier than many employers believe.
Eating together socially can be beneficial
The ‘Promoting healthier choices’ section also mentions research which highlights the importance of eating with family, friends and colleagues socially. Again, my research echoes this. 81% said office cake brings people together and 83% said office cake cheers people up. Getting together socially at work provides an opportunity for colleagues to network and build relationships which is valuable in any workplace. Reducing the frequency of office cake could therefore make it more of a special occasion to look forward to, which could enhance its social benefits even further.
I think a conversation is a great way to start. People aren’t daft – once they get talking they’ll sort out the details (eg what to do if there are three birthdays in one week!!!).
To get the conversation started, my website offers ideas including a free short questionnaire which can be circulated to find out how people think about cake in a given team, location or organisation.
If you would like to know more about the office cake research or how to help make your workplace healthier through briefings, lunch & learn sessions or workshops, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website: louwalker.com.
You can also download the research report It’s time to rethink office cake from www.louwalker.com.