‘Office cake’ is the popular phenomenon whereby workers and managers supply cakes and sweet treats for colleagues to share. Lou Walker, a speaker and consultant focusing on workplace health and wellbeing, led our Breakfast Forum in Bournemouth on 21st June 2018 looking at how 'cake culture' has evolved, the effect is has on the workplace, and how to create a healthy environment.
Thursday 21st June – a beautiful sunny morning at the Lester Aldridge LLP offices overlooking Bournemouth Beach. The perfect day for a Breakfast Forum! As our early birds arrived, ready to discuss the benefits of a healthy workplace, and were welcomed by a healthy breakfast spread of cheese& ham, natural yogurts and a selection of fresh fruit – a change from our usual box of fresh croissants and pastries!
Lou was responsible for the healthy Breakfast, as she wanted to get people thinking about their own personal ‘cake culture’. An unhealthy diet during the working day can contribute to hefty ‘afternoon lulls’ and as a result, a decrease in productivity for the business. Although Lou believes that cake can be a social moral-booster as an occasional treat, it must be in moderation. During the session, the group discussed that the occasional treat doesn’t have to be the unhealthy kind – a fresh bowl of fruit or a round of cold smoothies would be just as enjoyable. A number of people commented that it’s not necessarily the snack itself that provides the enjoyment but the social element of getting the team together for a 5 minute break from the desks.
At the end of the day, employees spend approximately 2/3rds of their day at work, and employers must take responsibility for their health and well-being, whether that’s making small influential changes such as a reduction in sweet treats in the office or even introducing walking meetings or free workout classes.
A few key take aways…
Key findings from the Office Cake Culture Survey, from 1000 UK office workers:
- Office cake changes employee eating habits
- A third of respondents said office cake had led to weight gain; over a third said it made it harder to eat healthily at work; nearly two thirds said it made it harder to stick to a diet
- Cake was available at least once or twice a week for 86% of respondents
- Fundamentally, if cake is there, people eat it
- 95% of respondents thought the ideal frequency for office cake was once a week or less. Almost half (41%) said once a month would be ideal
- Over 80% thought cake brought people together.
Implications for employers
- Because it changes employee eating habits, office cake could affect employee health and productivity, despite other health and wellbeing initiatives being in place
- It could be undermining ROI in health and wellbeing by making it harder to eat healthily in the workplace
- There is a mandate to reduce office cake consumption… if it’s handled in an employee-centric way
- Small changes to the workplace environment could improve health behaviours without the need to opt in or remove choice
- Rethinking office cake could enhance employee health, improve productivity and improve ROI on health and wellbeing, as well as contributing to public health.
Putting the research findings into practice
- Encourage a conversation around how often people actually office cake should be available. To get the conversation started, share Lou’s TEDx talk, share Lou’s short anonymous online questionnaire with colleagues to find out what they think about office cake, or download the research report (for free) from louwalker.com
- Empower and encourage employees to decide how often to have cake. This may lead to discussions about how to improve other aspects of workplace health and contribute to a culture of health
- Aim to make cake special again. Suggest teams/workgroups opt to have a weekly cake occasion (or less frequently if they prefer). Encourage discussion around how to handle multiple birthdays, treats brought back from holidays/business trips
- Discourage (stop!) having cake openly displayed for long periods. Keep cakes stored out of sight until cake time, to reduce mindless grazing and the constant need for will power
- Make healthy alternatives to cake and sweets more prominent and accessible.
- Offer alternatives to cake, according to team preferences. Fruit salad? Cheese? Strawberries and cream?
- To get the social benefits of eating together, suggest a team picnic lunch. Then the treats are instead of lunch rather than as well as lunch.
- Over half the respondents thought meeting refreshments at their workplace did not offer enough healthy options. Consult employees and clients on alternatives.