Does cake equal happiness at work?
I’ve met with a number of organisations recently where cake has been raised as something that makes people happy. It doesn’t appear to be anything to do with the size of the organisation; when I talk to people about what makes people happy at work, cake is high on their list.
It is the same at my organisation. We have discussed the role of cake in the past and as I’ve talked about in a previous blog, we have gone a step further and introduced “cake on your birthday” where people can choose what cake they want from a menu and we have a professional cake maker who makes them exactly the type of cake they want. They have the option of taking it home or sharing it amongst everyone. What people like is that it’s their cake and it’s a nice way to have their birthday celebrated at work.
However, I did recently come across an organisation where cake was perceived in a negative way. When I asked why this was the case, I was told that there were quite a few people who really liked Bake Off and had started making their own cakes and taking them to work for people to share and comment on, which had led to a “cake overload”. People said that they didn’t want to be seen to be rude by not eating the cake and so cake wasn’t seen as something that was pleasurable or made them happy.
So, can cake in any form be a force for good or ill in an organisation? One of the outcomes of implementing cake on your birthday in my organisation is that no-one brings in a cake in between birthdays; (and for a health orientated organisation that’s important) it’s like everyone is happy with the amount of cake in the organisation. The cake tends to be eaten at the start of meetings and usually involves eating while having conversations about family, friends or holidays and very rarely work.
Can it be the case that the reason why people can equate cake with happiness is that it is seen as a part of the social interaction between them? maybe it gives them a chance to do something that they find pleasurable and gives people a chance to take a break from work for a few minutes. It is relatively passive and usually combined with a cup of tea, before the meeting starts and work begins.
The other issue that is being increasingly being raised in my discussions is loneliness at work. Can a cake intervention help to reduce people’s isolation by giving them a chance to talk and interact and talk briefly on a personal level? Whilst I’m not claiming that introducing cake on your birthday will solve the problem of loneliness could it be the start of bringing people together where the agenda is just cake.
A ‘cake on your birthday’ initiative won’t work for all organisations, but it’s clear from my organisation that people like to have the time to disengage from their work even if it’s for a relatively short period of time and eating a piece of cake is a good way of doing this. I think it helps to set the culture within an organisation, it gives out a positive signal about our approach to how people carry out their work. When we next recruit staff, cake on your birthday will be on the list of organisational benefits alongside holidays and pensions, it’s part of who we are as an organisation.