In the middle of a busy workweek there’s often nothing more welcome than having a hot drink and grabbing a piece of cake for a colleague’s birthday.
But a senior health official said allowing pies into offices “undermines people’s free will,” adding “it’s as harmful as secondhand smoke.”
The comments were made by Professor Susan Jebb, an Oxford University academic who also chairs the Food Standards Agency.
Talking with Timeshe said: “We all like to think we are rational, intelligent, educated people who make informed choices all the time and underestimate the impact of the environment.
“If no one brought pies to the office, I wouldn’t eat pies during the day, but because people bring pies, I eat them. Now, OK, I’ve made a choice, but people were making a choice to walk into a smokey pub.
It comes after years of companies pushing to make themselves more attractive to potential employees.
Content creation platform Ceros built a pub in its office to serve as a meeting and leisure space for staff.
Google’s offices are filled with cafes and snack bars offering everything from healthy home-cooked meals to a quick bar of chocolate. Other companies organize pizza days or company-wide meals.
So has the trend come full circle, as employees are called back to their desks instead of given incentives to go in on their own?
The key is balance, said Chris Preston, founder and director of British company The Culture Builders.
He explained that offices should look to have a mix of healthy snacks and treats like cake, adding: “If you have your staff sitting there stuffing their faces with cake, that’s a symptom of something worse. Employers need to ask themselves why staff lack access to education on a balanced diet or why they are unable to get their hands on healthy food.
“It could be a sign that staff are working very long hours and simply don’t have time to get their hands on anything other than a piece of cake that has been left lying around.”
Another apparent benefit of the job is having easy access to alcohol, with offices stocked with beer taps and booze-filled refrigerators. The trend has also given rise to companies like DeskBeers, which offer “business class drink delivery.”
A study by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health drew similar comparisons between alcohol and overwork.
The study, which took data from 61 different studies to create a dataset of more than 330,000 workers in 14 countries, found that those who work long hours are about 12% more likely to become heavy drinkers.
What are the benefits of having a cake at the office?
While binge drinking could be a sign of a bad office culture, having cake in the office can really bring teams together, Preston added.
“On people’s birthdays, celebrating like a cake really allows colleagues to experience those moments. The office for many people is their second home, they see it as an extension of their home life and they want to enjoy those joyful moments with friends,” she said.
“There are a couple of things employers can do if they’re worried about having a lot of stale cake lying around. One might be to introduce a “birth month” which is especially useful in a large team. It means that everyone who has a birthday in a given month is celebrated on one day, so you won’t end up with wasted food. It’s also less of a financial burden for people who bring in big cakes to feed the whole team.”
Another idea would be to take a wedding cake approach, said a spokeswoman for London-based artisan cake company Deluce Cakes. “At a wedding you don’t expect to get a huge slice of cake, they’re cut into inch-by-inch pieces. It means everyone can have a little and participate without freaking out,” the spokeswoman added.
She also said cakes that use high-quality, natural ingredients are always preferable: “The everything in moderation method applies to food. The idea of FOMO in the office environment is understandable to some extent, but adults should be trusted to have some autonomy and self-control.
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