Step Away from the Candy Dish

Is the receptionist's jelly bean jar a workplace hazard?


The paper's "The Ethicist" columnist Randy Cohen isnot shy about inserting his left-wing politics into his columns, and this week Cohen overstuffed himself on food sanctimony when offered a question on the dietary hazards posed by office sweets, calling for a "cake-free workplace."


Q: Candy and baked goods are often left around our office for all to eat, and I've gained a few unnecessary pounds. I can usually walk by the brownies, but next week a co-worker with a vocal disdain for dieting is hosting an all-office dessert swap, and my willpower is not that strong. I will not attend. If asked why, may I lie and say that my doctor advised me to consume less sugar?


Cohen responded:

While this is a minor lie, a social lubricant unlikely to injure anyone directly, it is a needless lie, and so you should forgo it. Every lie erodes our trust in one another, and this one isn't worth the cost. Simply skip the cake-athon without explanation.

And then ask your boss to make yours a cake-free workplace. He need not ban brownies - I prefer the carrot (and the fresh fruit ) to the stick - but he could discourage the staff from putting sweets on desktop display and thus undermining the resolve of their co-workers. Snacking might be defended as a personal choice, but it's tough to stay cake-free amid a permanent exhibition of pastry. Our behavior is much affected by our surroundings. There are only so many times a day we can say no. Your boss might see this as a matter of workplace health and safety and act to spare employees the perpetual seduction of cookies calling to them from a dozen desks, "Eat me, eat me."