Don't let them eat cake | New guidance urges employers to ban cake from the office

New guidance urges employers to ban cake from the office

One of the quirkier indulgences of being office-based is the frequent access to some form of junk food. Whether it be a charity bake sale, a colleague’s birthday or simply a company benefit, workers are rarely far from access to a multitude of cake or sweets.

However, whilst many may delight in taking a tea-and-treat break to get though a long afternoon, a new statement from the head of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Susan Jebb, likens this habit to smoking, in regard to its damaging impact.

The FSA, the body responsible for food safety and food hygiene in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, has thus advised businesses to banish cake and other sugary treats from the office, which has certainly garnered opinions from across the nation.

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“If nobody brought cakes into the office, I would not eat cakes in the day. But because people do bring cakes in, I eat them. Now, OK, I have made a choice, but people were making a choice to go into a smoky pub,” Jebb noted at an event recently hosted by The Times newspaper.

“With smoking, after a very long time we have got to a place where we understand that individuals have to make some effort but that we can make their efforts more successful by having a supportive environment. But we still don’t feel like that about food.”

The FSA has garnered some support for its advocacy of promoting healthier eating habits at work. Stuart Rose, ex-Chairman at Marks & Spencer and current Chairman of ASDA, recently stated his belief that companies have a “legal obligation to do something about our employees’ health”. His guidance also included reducing access to unhealthy food within the workplace. 

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Others have argued against the ruling, with Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, calling it “unreasonable and unnecessary”.

“I know that my team and I enjoy bringing in sweet treats to celebrate special occasions or as an office fundraising event as part of our charity partnership. Having that opportunity to sit down with colleagues to enjoy a brew and a slice of cake together is a great way to strengthen working relationships, and promote positive mental wellbeing, which is something that employers should be looking to prioritise.

She continues: "At the end of the day, everyone is individually responsible for what they do and don’t choose to eat. Just because there is cake in the office doesn’t mean that people are being forced to eat it.

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“Likewise, putting pressure on staff to only eat certain foods in the workplace, or shaming them for their choices could also have a negative impact, especially on those with eating disorders or other health conditions. Employers should be very careful about how and what they communicate with staff around this.

“In fact, employers who provide free snacks to employees often benefit from higher engagement and morale among their teams, so I would actually recommend that businesses look to implement perks like this,” Palmer concludes.

In a recent statement, as published in the Evening Standard, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that he was not exploring the option of creating legislation around the guidance.

“The Prime Minister believes that personal choice should be baked into our approach,” said his official spokesman. “We want to encourage healthy lifestyles and are taking action to tackle obesity. However, the way to deal with this issue is not to stop people from occasionally bringing in treats.”

The statement also confirmed that PM Rishi Sunak was, in fact, “partial to a slice of cake” himself.

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