Cake in the Office – health hazard or edible symbols of collegiality and teamwork?

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By Dr Harriet Shortt

A longer than average blog post, but it’s about cake, so it’s important…!

I am sure many of us are familiar with cake in the office – cakes to celebrate a colleague’s birthday, cake sales for fundraisers in the office canteen, exotic sweet treats brought back by co-workers returning from holiday, and office bake-offs between competitive teams.

The BBC reported last year that this ‘office cake culture was a danger to health’ and the Royal College of Surgeons argue ‘workplace cake culture’ is impacting the health of workers in the UK, citing obesity and dental problems as key issues caused by such activities. The latest report from the Royal Society for Public Health (published in August 2016) discusses the impact of rush hour commuting on our health and well-being and notes that unhealthy food and drinks that are made available by outlets in train stations during our commute is potentially adding ‘an average of 767 calories’ to our diets each week. And only in January of this year, The Telegraph reported that civil servants had been warned that ‘office cake culture could be a public health hazard’ by a blog post written by a member of the Treasury’s ‘Wellbeing Workstream’.

Whilst I am not disputing the issues raised in these reports – they highlight important timely and relevant concerns around the health of the UK workforce – I would like to raise some further questions and thoughts about what other role cake plays in our offices today. Office cake culture isn’t just about health concerns – my argument here is that food plays a vital social, cultural and political role in office life and organisations should be considerate of the relationships and interactions that are centred around food.

I have been doing some research in a large public sector organisation about the food and drink consumed in their office – or more specifically, their new open-plan office. I am exploring the interconnectedness of food, work, people and space and considering how the ‘foodscape’ (where and how people encounter food in the built environment) of the workplace influences food consumption and social interactions at work. I have been asking: In what ways does space influence where we eat, what we eat and with whom? What is the role of food in our organisational environment and how does it impact everyday spatial practices? How might formal and informal eating practices alter our everyday experiences of space at work?

To help address some of these questions, I asked the staff I worked with to take photographs of their daily interactions with food in the office. They took photographs of food in the canteen, home-made cakes on desks, tins of biscuits on locker tops, and where they made tea and coffee. They talked to me about what meanings these held and why they were important in their everyday lives.

Some of the findings show how formal, designated spaces for eating and drinking, such as the canteen and tea stations, are popular with many workers. Eating lunch in the canteen with groups of friends is a daily ritual and provides opportunities to talk about personal lives, gossip, and a time and space to share hobbies and interests. The tea stations, designed by management and the architects to provide a space in which workers could meet whilst making a hot drink, are identified as ‘nice chatting areas’. However, although the tea stations provide a space to share a few words with colleagues and allow for chance meetings with others, due to their central public location in the open-plan office conversations here are brief and inhibited by the visible and audible nature of the space. Participants noted these drinking spaces were neither suitable for private or work related discussions.

During our discussions, workers reflected on their new open-plan, hot-desking environment and told me they felt this workplace design impacted negatively on teams and working practices: ‘…we just don’t get the banter around the office…not social banter, but I mean sort of asking for advice on what we’re doing…now we’re hot-desking it can be isolating…and there are too many people around’. In amongst these feelings of isolation, what these workers really appeared to value was the informal, ad-hoc sharing of food at desks and on locker tops in walkways and corridors. It is the ability to share food across this new office space that workers identify as key to bringing people back together and reconnecting conversations. Sharing food in this way is an important catalyst in promoting work based discussions and internal networking; ‘…people come and see us when we have food! It gets people talking…’ and ‘…cake, it’s really important…it breaks up the day, gives us a treat…it impacts on morale in a big way’.

It is worth reflecting here that, as a number of researchers have noted, open-plan offices are often designed with collaboration and teamwork in mind, yet here we see the word ‘isolating’ being used to describe how this new open-plan space is experienced by its users. It is somewhat ironic that workers feel isolated with ‘…too many people around’. Nonetheless, it seems it’s the combination of both open-plan space with food that produces a collaborative working environment for these workers. Indeed, one employee describes the placement of food on locker tops as how people ‘…display their wares and encourage people to talk more’ and how this ‘…encourages passers-by to stop, talk a bit of shop, eat and move on’.

Paradoxically, despite all the talk of talk, social interactions and connecting over cake, workers also identify the inability to eat alone as problematic. The very sociality of eating poses privacy issues for some and the open-plan, hot-desking environment presents particular challenges. Some identify the canteen as a space where the ‘pressure to talk’ is unwelcome. The canteen has been designed and is used by many as a social space where bench seating and long tables promote conversation and create a setting where meals are eaten together. Yet, for example, one worker told me ‘…I just want go and sit and eat my lunch and get back to work’ and is frustrated there is no opportunity, or rather no space, in which he might dine alone. The spatial and social expectations in the canteen are such that talking over lunch is a prerequisite. Indeed, a number of workers deliberately choose to eat lunch at alternative times of the day in order to avoid eating with others.

Consequently, alternative spaces for private dining are frequently sought out. Almost half the workers I spoke to took photographs outside the office, at various locations in the nearby city centre that captured where they liked to eat, including cafes, parks, and benches by the river: ‘…I can…sit on the green and have a bit of peace and quiet and eat my sandwich’. Others talked about finding alternative meeting and eating spots in cafes so they could ‘…talk about sensitive materials…’ over lunch or ‘…have a bit of a gossip…’ As we heard, the tea stations offer a nice chatting area, but as one worker said ‘…you’ve got to be careful because obviously now we are open plan, everyone near that area can hear what you’re saying!’ It seems only certain sorts of conversations can be had over food in the office and if privacy is required, alternative eating spots are pursued.

So far, my research has unearthed a complex picture of the foodscape of work – it throws new light on the appropriation of space in the office, re-defined by workers as informal eating locations and spaces for informal munching and chatting, vital for their morale, team communications and internal networking. It has also emphasised that the boundaries of a workplace foodscape are fluid and that we don’t just eat in the office and we don’t always want to eat with others. Sometimes solace is sought and eating a sandwich alone offers workers rare moments of contemplation and reflection in an otherwise impermanent, visible, and public working world.

In this current climate of health and well-being programmes and the drive for a healthy workforce, organisations might wish to take heed of the complex meanings of food across the landscape of work before implementing such programmes or raising alarm bells that cake in the office is a public health hazard. Indeed, other discourses around health and eating at work promote messages that food should only be consumed in designated eating spaces, and not at ones desk. This comes from other health and safety perspectives where workers are encouraged to take ‘proper breaks’ and avoid working through lunch breaks as well as organisations who demand a clean and tidy office, with clear rules ‘not to eat at your desk’.

However, if organisations are serious about understanding the eating habits of their employees, they should understand that food matters at work, but not just in the canteen and not just in relation to health. If organisations wish to remove food from parts of the office, they should be mindful that they are potentially removing the very catalyst that promotes sociality at work and confiscating edible symbols of collegiately.

In addition, organisations must be wary of their disciplinary approach to eating in the office and how, perhaps, this undermines the needs of some workers and marginalises others’ food choices and behaviour. We might reflect on the lack of space in which workers are able to eat privately and consider that eating at ones desk is perhaps less about working through a lunch hour, and actually more about simply creating a personal space in which to eat alone and enjoy a moment of peace and quiet.

I hope that some of the questions I raise here, and in my research, may provide a starting point for other, future research into food, eating and the workplace – we might want to consider; what do the foodscapes of homeworkers look like and how are they experienced? How are foodscapes experienced and constructed by workers on the move or flexible workers without desks or offices? To what extent should we be concerned with ‘office cake culture’ given its social, cultural and political importance for workers? It is with these questions in mind that I end this blog and ponder over the future of food in the workplace, over a sandwich and coffee at my desk.

 

Harriet’s research will be published in a book later this year: Kingma, S., Dale K. & Wasserman, V. (Eds.). Organizational space and beyond: The significance of Henri Lefebvre for organizational studies – an edited collection. London: Routledge. Harriet will be discussing her research at the 12th Organization Studies Summer Workshop ‘Food Organizing Matters: paradoxes, problems and potentialities’ in Crete 18th -20th May 2017. Harriet is also supervising UWE Bristol Business School dissertation student Susannah Robinson, who is exploring the culture of food at work in a multinational organisation in London.

This blog has also been published by the national development organisation Work Wise UK: https://www.workwiseuk.org/blog/2017/3/15/qn3rh8777fnzlmel6y6f90i8b996bd

 

 

 

 

US – Mexico borderland communities are resilient – says Dr Hugo Gaggiotti

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Dr Hugo Gaggiotti, an academic from UWE Bristol and member of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre who has extensively studied communities on the borderlands between the US and Mexico, says these communities’ strong cross-border cultural identity and economic ties make them undaunted by the possibility of a physical wall.

Dr Gaggiotti has worked extensively with border communities such as Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, which has experienced rapid growth in youth employment in assembly plants known as maquilas, which have been set up, mostly by US carmakers, aerospace and pharmaceutical companies. Maquilas are ways for multinational, mostly American, companies to carry out labour-intensive work in Mexico, such as car dashboard wiring assembly, without having to pay import or export taxes.

Dr Gaggiotti’s research is part of a British Academy of Social Sciences-Newton Fund funded project aimed at providing support for youngsters and families in Mexican-USA borderlands.

Working with Mexican researchers, he met and interviewed 100 people living on the crossover points of El Paso-Ciudad Juárez to identify the socioeconomic needs of the working populations in this borderland region of rapid population growth.  In the maquilas, the workers are predominantly young women.  Over the last ten years, unprecedented levels of violence in particular to women and youngsters have been recorded.

Dr Gaggiotti says, “I interviewed many young (especially Mexican and Mexican-American) families as part of this research and far from being scared of a solid divide, people living on both sides of the border show no anxiety, as many believe a solid structure would indeed unite the border populations in a common claim.  People living and working in this vicinity feel that their identities are enshrined in a cross-border culture.  Many Americans living in these regions are second or third generation Mexican and many Mexican Americans feel this is part of the same country.

“The border region is defined as the land that stretches 100 kilometres either side of the frontier. People on both sides rely on each other for work and many US states on this line, like California, consider this area as a single economic region, with commuting for work taking place in both directions and several businesses in the two countries relying on this movement.

“I think a wall would simply encourage business owners on both sides to accommodate their companies to facilitate movement and would fuel their workers’ determination to continue to move across the border, for work, educational or family reasons.

“In the US, the country’s 50 States also wield power, especially where their borders are concerned. For instance the city of El Paso in Texas, which borders with Ciudad Juárez, is organised to favour transit of people and cargo from one country to the other. The University of Texas at El Paso indeed relies heavily on Mexican students, who as long as they reside within the border limits, pay the same tuition fees as Americans.  To facilitate their border crossing, it issues them with bespoke university ID cards.  If you build a wall, you immediately need a door for people to pass through.”

Dr Gaggiotti is also helping local academics to develop the robust research methods needed to observe the issues posed by these organisational structures and the social impacts on these rapidly growing bi borderland cities.

Dr Hugo Gaggiotti is an expert in Organisation Studies, Intercultural Management and Leadership in Pluri-ethnic Environments.  He is a member of the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol.

The project title for this piece of work: Organising in the borderlands: applying research to support families, children and youngsters in Mexican-USA borderlands (Ciudad Juárez, Mexico)

Press Office details: For further information, images or interviews, please contact the UWE Bristol Press Office on 0117 3282208 or pressoffice@uwe.ac.uk.

Women, dress, leadership and the 1980s

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Br Dr Harriet Shortt

Hello everyone!

Well, it’s September already and the start of a fresh new term for many of us. I hope you have had a great summer of holidays, rest, writing, teaching, planning, thinking, conference inspiration and everything else in-between!

I thought I’d kick start the new academic year with some good news…and a tiny bit of self-promotion! There’s a great new book out: “Gender, Media, and Organization: Challenging Mis(s)Representations of Women Leaders and Managers”. It is currently available to order at http://www.infoagepub.com/products/Gender-Media-and-Organization, and will be available to order on all major online retailer sites throughout the world within the next 60 days. Please see documents attached (below) for more details…and feel free to share these with your networks.

I’m really proud to say that I have a chapter included in the book: Dress and the Female Professional: A Case Study of Working Woman with my lovely colleagues Ann Rippin, University of Bristol and Samantha Warren, Cardiff University. I’m also pleased to say that the chapter is based on the analysis of the 1980s Working Woman magazine; a set of magazines that my Mum, Lesley Shortt, had kept in her study since the invention of shoulder pads and passed on to me several years ago “just in case they were useful…”. So, thank you Mum, they were…and this is what we did with them…

Abstract: Women and their clothes have always been a serious matter (Hollander, 1993). Using a visual social semiotic approach (van Leeuwen, 2005), in this chapter we undertake a “rich viewing” of 1980s cultural texts to explore the performative heritage of gender through the adoption of clothes, make-up, and accessories. This is a timely investigation because today’s 40-something women leaders and managers were socialized into their understandings of being “professional” women as a result of the proliferation of print, TV, and film images in the 1980s (see for example, Baby Boom, 1987; Working Girl, 1988). Through these images, women were instructed in the arts of tackling men’s dominance in the workplace through the adoption of shoulder pads, “big hair,” and sharp suits. They are now playing out these roles as managers in an increasingly surveillance-oriented world due to the growth of the internet, social media, and readily available digital image technologies. These media enable a (damaging) hyper-visible and obsessive focus on women professionals’ appearance; for example, politicians in the press are assessed on their fashion sense before their ministerial skills and abilities (Greenslade, 2014). At the same time, self-help texts for female professionals continue to be full of advice stressing how women should look the part if they want to succeed (Kenny and Bell, 2011).

So, anyone interested in clothes, women, leadership and 1980s fashion…enjoy!

 

WomanandLeadershipcombo4Gender, Media and Organization

 

 

 

Summer Sun and Conference Fun…

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On this boiling hot day in the South West of England (and most of the UK by the looks of things), and with the smell of sun cream and barbecue food in the air, I am reminded of the far-flung places that the Organisation Studies group might have visited (or are about to visit) over these summer months. It is conference season here, so please email me with news and views from wherever you have been. What was experienced at EGOS? Did SCOS surprise and delight? Did GWO generate new thoughts and plans? If it is a photograph, a new call for papers, or just a short piece on how you have been inspired by your travels, we would like to here about it!

 

 

Calling all Ethnography fans!

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Exciting news for ethnography fans…
Here at UWE Bristol we are gearing up to host the Ethnography Symposium: Current Developments in Ethnographic Research in the Social and Management Sciences, in association with the Journal of Organizational Ethnography, from the 24th to the 26th August. See website for details:
www.liverpool.ac.uk/management/conferences-and-events/ethnography/symposium/
AND Dr Hugo Gaggiotti (and Kostera and Krzyworzeka) have just published a fantastic paper in Culture and Organization: “More than a method? Organisational ethnography as a way of imagining the social”
Check out this link for more details: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14759551.2016.1203312
Great news, Hugo! Congratulations from all of us!
Don’t forget, if you are on Twitter, follow @Ethnography_LK for news, views, useful links and all things ethnographic!

OSColdharbourlane back online!

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The Organisation Studies blog is up and running once again! After some months ‘offline’ we are re-connecting with our online communities and hope you will ‘Follow’ us so you can receive regular updates about our FREE Leadership Seminar Series, keep up to date with news and views from our Organisation Studies team, and read about other activities at Bristol Business School.

The blog also has a new look – take a look around and find out more about our team (we have had some great new staff members join us in the last year or so!), teaching and research activities, and the latest from the Bristol Leadership Centre.

Latest event organised by the Bristol Leadership Centre in partnership with The Leadership Trust Foundation

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Bristol Leadership Centre and The Leadership Trust Foundation Research Seminar with Professor Dennis Tourish on “Complexity leadership theory: A processual, communication critique, and suggested modifications.”

Wednesday 5 November 2014

2.30pm to 4.00pm

 

Overview

Most Complexity theories stress the non-linear nature of organisational relationships. They therefore problematize attempts to identify clear causal relationships between organisational phenomena.

Consistent with this, complexity leadership theories explore how leaders can enable complexity to facilitate more innovative and creative organisational outcomes. However, Tourish will suggest that these perspectives tend to depict leaders and their actions as standing apart from the complex organisational processes that the theories describe, and assume that leaders can exercise rational, extensive and purposeful influence on them to a far greater extent than is possible.

In contrast, Tourish will argue that leadership is best thought of as an ongoing communicative process that is an integral part of complexity dynamics within organisations. The role of the individual leader is thus a social construction produced by the often conflicted communicative interactions of multiple organisational actors.

Moreover, what is deemed effective behaviour by such  individuals is a momentary accomplishment that can never be separated from multiple temporal, social and organisational contexts. Tourish will challenge ongoing tendencies towards essentialism in leadership studies, and explore how processual, communication perspectives enrich our understanding of complex leadership dynamics.

Profile

Professor Dennis Tourish is Professor of Leadership and Organisation Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is a Fellow of the Leadership Trust Foundation, a Fellow of Lancaster Leadership Centre and co-editor (with Brad Jackson) of the journal Leadership.

His most recent book is ‘The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership: A Critical Perspective’, published by Routledge in 2013. Although this book remains unavailable in all good bookshops, it has been favourably reviewed, and should be a best seller by 2050.

Register for this FREE event

Complete Seminar Programme

BLC Email: BLC@uwe.ac.uk

Leadership Trust Website: http://www.leadershiptrust.net/

Great news for OS scholars at UWE – BAM awards Researcher Development Grant!

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Press release:

The University of the West of England is pleased to announce that Eda Ulus and Inge Aben have been awarded a Researcher Development Grant from the  British Academy of Management.(BAM). BAM launched the Researcher Development Grants Scheme in 2013 with the aim of encouraging and supporting research activities, in order to advance management scholarship through empirical research. Visit BAM for more information.

Out of the 125 applications for this grant, the project by Eda Ulus and Inge Aben, titled “Silence is Golden: Learning from Introversion to Broaden Teaching and Learning Experiences in Management and Business”, was one of the 13 projects that were selected. Their project will explore individual experiences of introversion in higher education. The results will be analysed to develop themes for teaching pedagogy and management practice. For impact, the results will be shared in reports with educators and practitioners, and published in academic journals.  This is an exciting time for the University and for Eda Ulus and Inge Aben who are passionate about exploring introversion in a variety of learning and management contexts.  As one of the reviewers for this grant noted, there is a “timely need to explore the extent to which extraversion is emphasised at the expense of introversion.”

Eda Ulus is a Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol.  Her research interests include introversion, the experience of experiential learning, workplace emotions, psychoanalytic approaches, narratives, embodiment, and social justice.  Her past organisational experiences include Assistant Director of an International Student Office, Academic Counsellor, Researcher for a hospital and psychology departments, and tutor and advisor for undergraduate students in the US, Turkey, and the UK.

Inge Aben is a Lecturer in Organisation Studies in the Faculty of Business and Law at UWE Bristol and is a project manager for the Institute of Leadership and Management professional qualifications, including the Executive Coaching and Leadership Mentoring course.  She runs her own coaching, training and teaching consultancy and has years of experience supporting the development of communities, businesses and individuals in Europe and Africa. Her research interests include introversion, coaching, facilitation and work-based learning in leadership and community development.

For more details:

https://www.bam.ac.uk/news-story/7731?utm_source=march14-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter

Congratulations Eda and Inge!

 

Calling all OS-people! Organization Studies has new cfp out!

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Organization Studies Calls for Papers:

January 2014-November 2014 – please see attached word doc below for all the details!

Please note you can only submit one month prior to the submission deadline and only through SAGETrack:

http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/orgstudies 

Administrative support & general queries

Sophia Tzagaraki: osofficer@gmail.com

Jan 14 Organization-Studies-Calls-for-Papers

A warm welcome to new colleagues in the Organisation Studies team, here at UWE…

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The Organisation Studies team here at UWE is growing and we have quite a number of exciting new appointments!

We welcome Neil Sutherland, who joins us as a Lecturer in Organisation Studies. Neil has taught and studied at the University of Essex for the past six years, working on his PhD thesis, titled: ‘In search of leadership: an ethnography of meaning making in leaderless organisations’. In this research, ‘leadership’ is reconceptualised as a collective and relational socially constructed process; as something that can exist in the absence of individual leaders. He is especially interested in exploring democratic organisational and decision-making practices, and the ways in which they facilitate distributed and non-hierarchical forms of organisation.

We welcome Elton Xhetani, who also joins us as a Lecturer in Organisation Studies. Elton has been at the University of Warwick for the past 3 years, working on his PhD thesis entitled: How does organisational architecture affect teachers’ professional identity? A comparative case study based on Sixth Form Colleges.

We welcome Dr Roz Gasper. Roz was previously at the University of Glamorgan (now University of South Wales) teaching OS, management of change, some leadership and HR.  She recently completed a doctorate with Cardiff University looking at collaborative working and the citizen-led agenda with a focus on power relations, identities and critical discourse approaches.  One of her priorities is to publish and to get involved in coaching and mentoring and some of our exciting new approaches to facilitating learning.

We welcome Inge Aben. Inge is a trainer, coach and consultant with expertise in management, leadership and enterprise development in various sectors and countries. She will be focussing on our ILM provision in Coaching and Mentoring and Leadership and Management level 5 and level 7 alongside teaching and developing some of our MSc Leadership and Management postgraduate modules.

We welcome Emir Kullar. Emir is an experienced coach and development consultant and will be working on Organisational Analysis and ILM level 3 undergraduate development focusing on the graduate futures award, certificates in coaching and leadership & management. Emir is also involved as a team coach in the new Team Entrepreneurship programme working with 38 very motivated and inspirational first years. The teampreneurs will be setting up their own companies this term and are already engaged in a number of projects with Bristol businesses. Having just returned from a team building exercise with them Emir has been struck by just how much they have learned in the last four weeks and how engaged they are with the programme. It has been fascinating to be so close to the group as they come together as teams, work on forming their own identity and start to take responsibility for their own learning. Those interested in studying leadership, identity, space, self-development and reflective practice would have a field-day!

We welcome Conroy Grizzle, who is also an experienced Learning & Development Consultant, who will be teaching on a cross-section of modules and exploring opportunities for research on Race, diversity and management.

And last, but by no means least, we are delighted to welcome Professor Peter Case back to the Business School. Peter has spent the last two years at James Cook University (JCU) in Queensland, Australia. Peter will be retaining a 0.2 FTE position at JCU in order to continue working on rural development and conservation projects that he’s running in Southeast Asia and Solomons. He returns to UWE on a 0.8 basis as professor of organization studies and is looking forward to working with colleagues here, both old and new!