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New research finds UK office workers do not want as much cake in the workplace

New research finds office workers don’t want as much cake in the workplace

Sticking to healthy New Year resolutions could be made easier for UK office workers, with new research finding they want cake at work less often than it is currently available.

Almost all (95%) of the 940 respondents in an online survey said the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less; 41% said once a month would be ideal. This is less frequent than the current availability of at least once a week for the majority (86%) of respondents.  

‘Office cake culture’ refers to the popular phenomenon where work colleagues and managers provide cake and other sweet treats for colleagues to share.

Conducted by Lou Walker as part of her MSc in Obesity & Weight Management at the University of Chester, the survey asked respondents about their own office cake habits and attitudes, and their opinions on office cake in general. It is believed to be the first academic study to explore office cake culture.

Respondents identified negative consequences of office cake such as weight gain (31% of respondents), difficulty eating healthily at work (38% of respondents) and difficulty sticking to a weight loss diet (59% of respondents). Despite this, a majority of respondents said office cake was ‘a good thing’ (61%), brought people together (81%) and cheered everyone up (83%).  

The research report, It’s time to rethink office cake, concludes office cake culture influences employee eating habits and therefore has implications for workplace health and wellbeing and public health. It also suggests the new data gives organisations a feasible opportunity to rethink office cake culture to achieve a healthier, more productive balance between its social benefits and health risks.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the UK has the highest obesity rates in Western Europe, with over two thirds of the population either overweight or obese. Obesity is one of the most common workplace health problems and is strongly linked to sickness absence. Workers spend two thirds of their waking hours at work so the workplace provides an important opportunity to improve health across socioeconomic groups, ages, ethnicities, education levels, geographies and industrial sectors.

Researcher Lou Walker said: “I hope this new evidence will prompt people to start a conversation about the cake culture in their own workplaces.  If we now know that work colleagues enjoy getting together for cake but they think once a week or once a month is enough, it will be easier for them to encourage each other to keep cake for weekly or monthly occasions. This would make office cake a treat again and reduce sugar consumption without anyone feeling deprived.

“Rethinking office cake culture could contribute to a culture of health in the workplace which research shows has several benefits for both employers and employees.  Creating a culture of health in the workplace also has implications for public health.”

The It’s time to rethink office cake report makes practical recommendations.  These focus on small changes to the workplace environment following the principles of nudge theory. Using colleague collaboration rather than policy decisions from management, the changes do not rely on individuals’ willpower to resist cake. They do not even remove unhealthy options. Instead they make the healthier options the easy options.   For example:

·         Encourage work groups to discuss how often they actually want office cake. It may not be as often as it is currently available.

·         Make cake special again. Propose that work groups have a weekly ‘cake day’ (or less often if they prefer). Birthdays and special occasions could all be celebrated on that day.

·         Encourage a conversation about whether edible treats from holidays and business trips abroad could also be saved for ‘cake day’.

·         Stop having cakes openly displayed all day – research shows this encourages people to eat whether or not they are hungry. Instead, agree a ‘cake time’. Until cake time, store cakes out of sight, ideally in opaque containers in a cupboard. This would prevent mindless grazing and enhance the benefits of coming together for a sociable break at the agreed day and time.

·         Use the out of sight, out of mind approach to workplace kitchens. Keep surfaces clear of unhealthy food. Make healthy alternatives more prominent, convenient and accessible.

·         Encourage cake providers to offer a healthier alternative as well as cake. Depending on the preferences of the people involved, this could be something savoury, fruit, nuts or vegetables and dips. In the survey, 52% of respondents said fruit would be a good alternative.

·         To get the social benefits of eating and talking together, suggest a team picnic lunch. This way the food is instead of, rather than as well as, a meal.

·         Over half the survey respondents thought meeting refreshments in their workplace did not offer enough healthy options. Consult employees (and clients) on healthier alternatives. Are food refreshments always needed?


Notes to editors

  • For further information please contact:
    Lou Walker on 07764 189516 or
  • Click here to access the It’s time to rethink office cake
  • The research study was approved by the University of Chester Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Life Sciences Research Ethics Committee, reference 1241/17/LW/CSN