Office politics are a dicey business at the best of times. But when food gets involved, it gets serious. Who ate the last of the communal chocolate biscuits? Why did they leave the empty packaging in the cupboard, breaking the hearts of every hungry soul that goes seeking a snack after them?
And these days, in many a millennial-filled office, there’s a new battle: cake culture versus #fitspo.
It’s a diametrically opposed pairing, but one that most of us will recognise. On one hand, there’s the sort of people who proudly slam down a selection of ‘sharing’ grab bags of chocolate on the desk to perk up the rest of the team on a slow Wednesday afternoon.
On the other, there’s the group that’ll substitute the humble sandwich for a protein-packed meal replacement shake at lunch. They’ll gym before work, and cycle home - and repeat the whole thing the next day. But how do you make these crazy kids get along?
Cake Culture: the currency of cookies
There’s been a lot said about the so-called ‘cake culture’ fuelling UK workplaces. The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons spoke out about it in 2016, claiming that offices chock full of chocolate and snacks were contributing to our obesity epidemic.
With 65,000 adults being hospitalised every year for tooth decay, and the UK on its way to having the highest obesity levels in Europe, you can see where they’re coming from. But even if people are bringing in buffet-level amounts of pastries and icing-heavy snacks, why don’t people just exercise a little restraint?
Well, that’s harder than it sounds. Studies show that proximity itself is a problem, with it becoming a lot more difficult to hold off ‘till lunch if snacks are physically near you. And once you get in the cycle of snacking, it’s nigh on impossible to break out of it - as your body is tricked into thinking it needs to keep munching on Hobnobs, as part of your routine.
Though they argue it’s not always a positive thing to have a fully-stocked canteen cupboard, most people do want office cake to be a thing. A survey found 95% of people would like sweet treats just once a week, with 83% saying it cheered people up. So you can see why the cakes keep coming - they bring people together, and make a long day a little sweeter.
The clean-eating HIIT fans
It might seem peculiar that concerns around ‘office cake culture’ have been raised during what seems to be a societal health kick. Where avocados and quinoa are replacing fry ups and cheese toasties in trendy caffs, and late-night spin sessions are taking bigger numbers than club nights, there seems to be a clear movement for fitness as a whole.
The fitness sector is worth over £4.7bn per year, Instagram is filled with rippling bodies doing pull ups from anything they can find (tree branches, climbing frames, pylons…), and it’s predicted that the exercise clothing market is predicted to pull in $546,802 globally by 2024. Wow.
And it’s not just lycra and lunges that have captured the public’s imagination - a ‘clean eating’ phenomenon has swept the nation in the last five years. Courgette sales surged going into 2015, as spiralizers meant carb-free spaghetti became a thing, and John Lewis make a killing on Nutribullets the Black Friday before that.
With Instagram full of colourful bowls of mostly raw vegetables and gym selfies, it might not seem like a negative thing that health is on our minds. But as it became clear as the movement progressed, there are drawbacks to an obsessively ‘clean’ diet (which is seldom nutritionally sound) and the desire to imitate fitness regimens which may be beyond your capabilities to a dangerous level. As with everything, it’s about balance.
So in offices filled with people from both camps (and all the ones in-between), how do you make sure everyone’s satisfied and making healthy choices at the same time?
Top-Tips for Making Everyone Happy
VARIETY: it doesn’t have to be rice cakes and peanut butter or kit kats and cheese ‘n’ onion crisps! If you’re a snack-providing office, get a range of stuff that keeps everyone happy (and store it somewhere out of sight, so it’s a conscious choice to grab something… not just a impulse to it being right there).
CHEAT DAY: if scrapping cake completely is going to cause mutiny, just set aside one day a week or fortnight for the team to get together over something tasty. Go for something slightly more ‘treat worthy’ than some bog-standard biscuits, and make it an excuse to chat together for half an hour.
OTHER TREATS: rewards don’t have to be calorie-based. Arrange a bowling trip or do a monthly ‘long lunch’ film club in the boardroom so your staff feel valued, and get a chance to bond, without the pressure to chow down on sugary snacks.
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