Most offices, most days, look like the Cadbury’s warehouse. Sugary stuff gets wheeled out whatever the occasion. Someone’s birthday? Buy a cake. Won a contract? Buy a cake. Lost a contract? Gosh, well, we’d better just buy a bigger cake to cheer everyone up, hadn’t we?
‘We’re all conditioned to the idea that we celebrate with cakes and sweet treats, and the workplace is no different,’ says Kirsten Samuel from wellbeing firm Kamwell. ‘But treats are also used as a means of coping with stress and everyday pressures.’
‘On one level, of course, it’s a positive part of a working environment – a perk, something that brings everyone together. But in wellbeing terms the culture of cake is a problem.’
Yes, there’s an obesity ‘epidemic’, as illustrated by this Mail Online article on the burgeoning market for 80 inch waistbands. And given so many of us spend at least one third of our lives at work, it’s probably there where a lot of damage flab-wise is occurring.
But there’s also a swing towards healthier eating in the workplace. Pop along to most offices nowadays and there’ll be a fruit basket lurking in some communal area.
Go to the workplaces that specialise in young, beautiful employees – LinkedIn, we’re looking at you – and you’ll find the whole place is dripping with kale and nuts. Online companies are about as tolerant of sugar as they are of HMRC inspectors.
What’s the science bit, then?
‘When we’re stressed, our bodies release a hormone that tells the brain we need a boost of energy,’ Samuel explains. ‘The quick fix is to eat anything full of carbohydrates. Bad feelings like anger and frustration will seem to melt away because the sugar and new energy makes us feel better in the short-term.’
‘But it also affects our blood sugar balance, making us more susceptible to mood swings. Over time we become more reliant on sugary foods to help us deal with stress and uncomfortable situations. We become less satisfied with healthy foods alone, because we’re so reliant on sugary foods, displacing our need for more nutritious complex carbohydrates.’
So it’s a vicious cycle – the more sugary stodge you scoff, the more of it you need to function. But how can organisations change their snacking habits?
‘We’re seeing many examples now of employees complaining that lunchtime foods on offer aren’t healthy enough,’ says Samuel. ‘So in many cases you’re pushing against an open door when it comes to the treats. There’s also a perception that healthy food is more expensive than sticky buns or Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and so constitutes more of a luxury.’
‘Start the change by asking employees what they’d actually like as treats on a Friday afternoon – you’ll be surprised by the responses.’
Samuel suggests alternatives that could break the carbs and sugar cycle. Specifically, she’s a fan of sushi, protein balls and bars, fresh fruit and vegetable juices and big healthy breakfasts that set people up for the day.
She also reminds us that treats don’t necessarily have to be food-based.
‘It’s worth shaking up the norms and expectations by including routine screen breaks, encouraging a full lunch break, desk massage and group desk-ercise’ she adds.
Well, yes. But don’t forget to take organisational and sector cultural preferences into account before you take the dive into full on treat revolutions.
Walking into the storage depot, replacing the Yorkies with cucumber sticks and insisting Dave give Sven a back massage might seem a good idea – but we wouldn’t put money on your wellbeing being up to much afterwards.
Also published in HRVille