This is a great team, but I don't want to give them more sugar.
February 15, 2012 8:41 PM   Subscribe

what's the right take on food/sweets as a motivator in the office? My team has had a hard week and food is a common reward but I feel uneasy about it.

I'm a project manager/interactive producer in advertising. The creative team I work with has had a particularly hard/busy few months, just TONS of work, and this week wanted to cancel an important meeting that I ended up really having to rally them to end up going through with. They put up with a lot, and end up doing great work but this week I feel like they just had a bit too much and a few things got dropped. I don't blame them at ALL for this, everyone's human, but honestly if they didn't rally in good spirits and get the work done anyway, we'd be in terrible shape with our clients, and anyone who knows client work knows that's a terrible hole to dig out of. And painful.

To my question --
I have a coworker who always has a basket of sweets at her desk. She sits literally next to me, and everyone always comes by her desk and comments on how sharp she is and how smart it is that she has this basket because everyone always stops by and she can get their status on projects and it makes them like her. She also switches out the baskets for holidays and put in extra stuff for Valentines Day. We are both project managers.

I have no problem that she does this, and she's a super smart and capable project manager, so I know people don't just like her for her candy. However, I kind of really feel gross doing this myself. I've always heard women shouldn't feel like they have to be the "mom" at work, and that's what I feel like this is about. My account director (also female) also really values buying food as a motivator, and it gives me the same squicks. She's been with us a few months and has already bought pizza, snacks, candy, etc, for just project meetings.

My problems with this are: 1) the mom factor as explained 2) I feel like it's kind of insulting to "reward" people for hard work with food when they can buy food for themselves. I just don't like the idea of doing this, and not every PM does this, just some of the people who work closest to me. I can't even do candy at my desk if I wanted to because the coworker makes such an effort with the baskets.

I do want my team to understand how much I value them and what they put in this week though. I send tons of emails and go by in person to say thank you, and I also let everyone know what a great job everyone is doing, every chance I get and NEVER badmouth the team (any member).

Once I bought dinner because people were staying late (like 11:30 late) but that was a special case.

Is it worth it to buy food for people? If you get food at work, does it make you feel like people appreciate your work that much more?

If you don't understand the role of a project manager, we are not the boss of these people, but we do manage them and the quality of their work is very important to the client's perception of the quality of ours. So it's important, but I'm not their boss so money isn't an option.

Sorry for the wall of text, I guess I have a lot of feelings about this! I don't want to buy candy and cupcakes though, if I can avoid.
posted by sweetkid to Work & Money (67 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You say that food is insulting because they can buy their own, but if money isn't an option then anything you get them is likely going to be something that they can buy themselves. Can you offer them time off? Some other perk or luxury? If not, I think food is fine. I don't think food is in itself enough to make you an "office mom." The food is a sign of appreciation and I think most people enjoy it. It is also a social thing, where your team can gather and you can congratulate them.
posted by Nightman at 8:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

My last project manager brought candy to every end-of-week meeting, and the team loved him for it. I can't imagine anyone who would be insulted by that.
posted by Jairus at 8:49 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like it's kind of insulting to "reward" people for hard work with food when they can buy food for themselves.

Food is not at all insulting unless it's presented as some kind of pavlovian training reward. Nobody ever got bent out of shape by someone just happening to bring donuts to an early morning meeting though.
posted by the jam at 8:51 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Free food is only annoying if it's intended to make up for proper pay. I personally would rather get pizzas or some other meal food brought in occasionally than eat sweets frequently, though.
posted by michaelh at 8:52 PM on February 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'd much rather have pizza, bagels, or doughnuts than candy or cupcakes. Food definitely takes the edge off things I'd rather not attend (early morning meetings, late meetings, lunch meetings, boring meetings, all-day meetings).
posted by grouse at 8:57 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

People love food. That's all there is to it, so bringing in food will always congregate people who are looking for a snack. That said, it's not expected or necessary, and can definitely be larger items less frequently - say a pizza once a month or at the end of an important project. Also, if employees are working at 11:30 pm the onus is on the company to provide dinner.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:59 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: Would non-mom-ish food be an acceptable bribe? Like maybe the morning a project's due, make a coffee/doughnut run? Or bring those in? Even Obama brings his team doughnuts!
posted by spunweb at 8:59 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're trying to avoid the "mom" image but want to give them food, perhaps take them to a really nice lunch (or order in said really nice lunch) on a Friday, give them a short spiel about how great they've been doing, and then let them go home after?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:00 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I work with mostly guys (software) and several of them do candy at their desks, many of them do donuts for meetings, or every Friday, etc. I understand the stereotype awareness though. I also think food is not always great because of people trying to avoid chocolate, etc.

Does your office have a free stationary cupboard, or do people always need more pens/sticky tape and have to go somewhere/officially make a request to get more? You could do a basket of this stuff as your regular thing. For a one-off, especially a major milestone, you could print tshirts, or on a smaller scale there are stickers, notepads, etc.
posted by jacalata at 9:01 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: let them go home after

I'm not their boss. No perks, comp days, early leaves --that's for their boss. This is typical of PMs. This is the norm across the industry.
posted by sweetkid at 9:03 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: I do want my team to understand how much I value them and what they put in this week though. I send tons of emails and go by in person to say thank you, and I also let everyone know what a great job everyone is doing, every chance I get and NEVER badmouth the team (any member).

I prefer the direct - this is great, thanks for this, nice job - only because I'm really weird about people buying things for me. Not everyone feels comfortable with people buying them things - particularly as a motivator. I am pretty weird, though.
posted by mleigh at 9:04 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does your office have a free stationary cupboard, or do people always need more pens/sticky tape and have to go somewhere/officially make a request to get more? You could do a basket of this stuff as your regular thing. For a one-off, especially a major milestone, you could print tshirts, or on a smaller scale there are stickers, notepads, etc.

posted by sweetkid at 9:05 PM on February 15, 2012

I don't think anyone is connecting their professional worth and seriously evaluating appreciation with snacks. I promise that at the end of a long day, they're not saying, "Damn, and I didn't even get fed" - they're saying "Damn, they should pay me more."

That being said, there is nothing worse than shitty food from your employer - rock hard nasty-yet-oily muffins or clammy pale "guacamole" just moldering on a desk - ugh. That's insulting.

Food is not a motivator, but good snacks make passing time - including work - more pleasant. I go through nearly a crate of clementines a day and now people come by to peel and chat. Another coworker of mine likes to try different delicious cheeses, so she'll get a block of something unusual, some crackers, and everyone can come by for a little slice of awesome. It's our cheese club. Another coworker has a serious stash of amazing teas.
posted by sestaaak at 9:08 PM on February 15, 2012 [10 favorites]

I really appreciated the guy who started a fruit basket in our office. He'd fill it each week with a selection of organic produce. It wasn't free, though - people would pay a dollar per piece into a small money jar. All the proceeds went to a local charity, and he'd update us every now and then on how much we'd raised. It was so nice to have fresh, healthy food available right there in the office. Vending machine sales went way down. I lost weight. It was fantastic! (He later abandoned the venture because someone kept stealing from the jar, but that probably doesn't happen in most offices). Anyway, he's not a close colleague, but I have to say I feel way more positively disposed towards Fruit Guy than I do towards any of the people who pass bowls of chocolates and sweets around the office.
posted by embrangled at 9:18 PM on February 15, 2012 [18 favorites]

Does your office have a free stationary cupboard, or do people always need more pens/sticky tape and have to go somewhere/officially make a request to get more? You could do a basket of this stuff as your regular thing. For a one-off, especially a major milestone, you could print tshirts, or on a smaller scale there are stickers, notepads, etc.

The t-shirts idea is kind of cool, and if you just want to be useful, then I think the post its and what not will definitely cause people to come to your desk, and I'm sure they'll be appreciative of that. But in terms of rewarding the team for its work...I mean, I expect my work to provide me with pens, you know? No one's going, "ohh, the good binder clips, they must really like me around here." To my mind, food is what you do when you can't afford to buy people booze.
posted by Diablevert at 9:51 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: Our (male) boss puts out mini chocolate bars along with glass canisters filled with trail mix of the dried-fruit-and-nut variety -- the latter is a little healthier and more "grown-up", and actually disappears quicker than the chocolates do. Quality pretzels are another option which might attract people who aren't into super-sweet stuff...
posted by vorfeed at 10:16 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: After a particularly exhaustive project I bought my team bottles of their favorite liquor/whatever. I got each member (~5-6) the thing I knew they loved most (Laphroaig, champagne, etc.). They loved it. Four years later they still talk about it - and I haven't worked there for three years.

Note that I did spend about $200 of my own money to do it - but it, and my team, was worth every penny.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 10:17 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Team snacks seem to be pretty standard in my line of work. And I have been known to bring in brownies or something I made myself - mainly because I live alone and if I do any baking I have to shift the excess somehow...bringing it into work is as good a way as any.

So why do people do that kind of stuff? Ensuring that basic human needs are met, and that does include provision of snacks, food or coffee makes a bleak long day at work more bearable. It's not about the food, the coffee or about being mum or rewarding people for their work - it's about the little things that make the difference between somebody getting to work and feeling like they'd rather be anywhere else and getting to work and thinking you might just make it through the day ok. Things like establishing some kind of weekly meeting doughnut routine also help break up the week, if it's on a Friday it signals the beginning of the weekend and helps give people a pleasant reason to attend such a meeting instead of just "wasting" an hr every week. This may sound shallow but humans are very simple and predictable creatures when it comes down to it and having our creature comforts goes a long way to elevating mood or at least minimising grumpiness.

As to your particular problem - you need to come up with some kind of way to encourage people to stop by so you can facilitate the informal frequent communication you need as project manager. You've had plenty of suggestions. And it doesn't have to be food, or even unhealthy food, but food is one way to achieve this.

Finally, your reaction to how your peer and your boss use food in the work place to facilitate team interaction seems kind of extreme and you may want to think about why you feel so strongly.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:19 PM on February 15, 2012

I do want my team to understand how much I value them and what they put in this week though. I send tons of emails and go by in person to say thank you, and I also let everyone know what a great job everyone is doing, every chance I get and NEVER badmouth the team (any member).

I personally wish that, when I work really hard or do something well, my coworkers who manage me but aren't my boss would send my actual boss an email that says, "Snarl did great work on project Z this month. She foozled the whatsit so efficiently we delivered every project at least a day early. She's really been on a roll lately." I would prefer that to them telling ME this, or other coworkers.

Obviously, you can't use this as frequently as bringing in doughnuts, pizza, etc, but I would think really highly of anyone who did this.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:29 PM on February 15, 2012 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: It's not extreme, it's a pretty common conflict for women in the workplace to feel like they are expected to bring in homebaked food or sweets constantly just to be considered a team player. Some women are fine with this, some are not. I'm not.

I said that I don't mind if they do it. I personally would like to build my professional reputation without having to buy Snickers for everyone.
posted by sweetkid at 10:29 PM on February 15, 2012

Best answer: Is it worth it to buy food for people? If you get food at work, does it make you feel like people appreciate your work that much more?

I don't like candy and sweets. I don't want to eat them often, and I don't like having them around. Having candy and sweets around doesn't make me feel like my work is valued in the slightest. Having healthy snacks around (fruit, nuts, etc) is really nice, but I don't feel more valued just because those snacks are around.

When I have to stay late, I do appreciate dinner; it doesn't really make me feel like my work is valued, but I do really appreciate it. I think it's sort of unfair to be forced to go out and buy dinner if I have to unexpectedly stay late.

If someone wants me to feel valued, I personally would appreciate a thank you, and - as mentioned above - an email to my boss saying that I worked hard/ did a good job/ etc. That really means a lot.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:34 PM on February 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: At a place where I worked over 20 years ago they used to have baskets of bagels and fruit delivered every Friday. I still remember it fondly after so much time so clearly I appreciated it, and a lot of other people seemed to as well.

Candy brought in is actually really annoying to me, because I'm trying to watch my weight and part of that involves not putting myself in the way of temptation. I find it really difficult to resist free chocolate that's just lying around, so while I'll certainly thank the person who brought it as I eat it, I secretly wish they hadn't brought it in.

Pens and the like just seem weird to me, especially given out by a project manager rather than by the company. I would just be thinking "Did you spend your own money on this? How odd..." So, yeah, healthy food, especially fruit, would be great.
posted by hazyjane at 10:42 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although I'm in a different industry (science), we often have team projects with a team manager who may not be The Boss but is still in a supervisory role. It is totally normal and for the manager (be they male or female) to reward the team for work well done - especially at times where they've put in extra effort and stayed late. Food is a typical reward, and it doesn't have to be sweets- order pizzas for a lunch meeting or bring in bagels and coffee for a breakfast meeting and everyone will love it. I like the idea of a fruit bowl as well as many people see candy and sweets in the office as an annoying temptation.

Our team occasionally does "milestone celebrations" when a major project has been completed- usually this would be going out to lunch somewhere nice and it's paid for by the company.

Personally, I wouldn't say food at work makes me feel more valued but it does make me happy and definitely seems to be a spirit lifter for the team.
posted by emd3737 at 10:48 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm neutral about food offerings during normal work hours, but I definitely appreciate the gesture of bagels or donuts for the 6am meeting, or dinner/snack for the late night efforts.

On the other hand, I *loathe* getting clothing or supplies or tchotchkes at work. Especially so when the items are branded. I'm not a "T-shirts with words" person, though, and your people might be different.

I do agree that a specific and positive note to my boss (cc'd to me) is a nice way to acknowledge my contributions, but I'm less excited about broadly distributed "yay look what this whole team did" messages.
posted by janell at 10:53 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I personally hate that there is so much candy, cakes, cookies, etc in my workplace. I have a major food control problem, and until I joined Weight Watchers I constantly pigged out at work. I would much rather that the company (or boss or PM or whatever) sprung for lunch or dinner once in a blue moon than always have sweets. And I do really like the "supplies" suggestion as well.
posted by radioamy at 10:58 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a female manager with what sounds like a similar team set-up and work pattern (projects, long hours, occasional insanity) to yours. I feel exactly the same on the "mom" thing. In most places I've worked the candy-on-the-desk person in the office has been an older, been-there-for-ever, admin staffer. Sure, everyone stops by for candy, but it doesn't give the kind of impression that I want to be giving, honestly. I sort of think it gives the vibe that you're always at your desk and you've been there since the dawn of time.

I only do food for meetings. I think it's good for a team to eat together sometimes, and sometimes it's necessary because of time pressure. I don't cook or serve the food though, I just order it or ask an admin to order it. If I were in your situation, I might order in a lunch, give extra time to eat it, and have a bit of an informal debrief/check in meeting over the food. It's not my job to keep them in snacks, and I agree it makes for a weird dynamic, I don't think you should go there.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:06 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think whether your team feels appreciated is a larger thing that can't really be managed by food. Do they have a reasonable sense of job security? Do they feel comfortable taking sick time as needed and the vacation time that they earn? Do they feel able to be comparatively sincere in the workplace, expressing [appropriately, within reason] such criticisms or or frustrations as they feel? At the one place I worked where there were definite teams, the atmosphere was really....hypocritical? Full of corporate-speak? Food was occasionally provided as a reward (horrible, cheap food) but it just felt like they were lying to us that we were important and we had to pretend to be grateful. Will your employees feel pressured to pretend to have emotions of enthusiasm, gratitude, etc that they don't really feel if you make them all eat pizza together? The sort of half-hearted way you excuse them for "dropping the ball" on a few things makes me wonder how you're feeling about this - are you secretly angry? Do you secretly feel that they need to work longer and have more 'team spirit'? Is this going to turn into one of those things where everyone hates how they have to work seventy hour weeks but also feels like they have to grovel because of the economy?

Personally, I hate branded merchandise and anything that suggests fake emotions about work. If there's an organic sense of personal connection in the group, that's one thing, but if there isn't then I just want to do my best job and have my own feelings on my own time. I don't want to feel like I have to use the pink post-its or whatever or risk being seen by my boss as a surly weirdo.

I'd go with as nice a delivery lunch as you can get - around here it would be sandwiches or salads from a local non-chain place. Ask your team what they want so that they are not (as I used to be) forced to eat food that they did not want or that actively contravened their dietary practices or risk looking like an outsider. And give your team a heads up about this - don't make them bring in their lunch from home and waste it because they find out that you're buying sandwiches at noon. And if things are really high-pressure, please remember that a lunch meeting is still a meeting - it used to be very vexing that I would be counting on 30 minutes of down time and then have to spend it in a lunch 'meeting' pretending that eating lunch with my manager was the same as sitting and reading the news at my desk, taking a little walk, etc. Lunch meeting plus some break time is a good idea.
posted by Frowner at 11:19 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

What about taking them out to a happy hour after work when things have calmed down?

I work in a different industry (government/political office) but I think it's a really meaningful gesture, and it's fun. It's a common event in our office used to thank/celebrate people. Of course that depends upon whether it's appropriate for your particular group. As someone else mentioned, bagels (a variety with different types of spreads) are also a great surprise in the morning and everyone appreciates them. It definitely doesn't feel momish.
posted by goodnight moon at 11:46 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sure I'm in the minority, but being a fat middle-aged female who is always forced to control her food intake to stay in straight sizes (ie, to stay a size 16 or under) I HATE omnipresent food at work.

Muffins, candy, bagels or other carb-y foods are problems for a lot of people; diabetics and dieters will probably eat them, because they are tasty good, but it will not ultimately make them happy.

The fruit idea is great, little gifts of booze/cheese/non-branded personal objects are great, and sincere and personal thank you notes are probably even better.
posted by jrochest at 11:57 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some of the most effective cases of food brought into work, for me, have been in the following scenarios:

1. Food, not available locally, which has been brought back for the team by the donor while on vacation or business trips.
2. The donor happens to come from a culture where they are used to making a particular kind of food. They bring some in for everybody to try.
3. The donor happens to be a great cook and they like to share what they have produced.
4. Something like a baking contest is organised within the team - everybody who is interested has a go and brings in what they have made.

- In all these cases team members are getting access to food that they would not be able to buy. I would echo those who complain about sweets without there being some kind of healthy alternative.
posted by rongorongo at 1:07 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is always too much food in my office. It has lost its currency, along with any branded merchandise under $10/head. Starbucks gift cards are still appreciated, but not by everyone.

What ALWAYS goes over well is an e-mail with targeted thanks for specific actions and accomplishments, sent to the person's manager with a CC to the person. At my workplace, those go straight into the file for employee reviews, and have a measurable positive effect on compensation. Also, the managers who get these are a lot friendlier about lending me personnel.
posted by Sallyfur at 1:52 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think emails to people's bosses (cc-ing the individual) or to the group singling out people for specific great contributions - depending on the organization - is great. Everyone appreciates being noticed as individuals for their individual contributions and strengths.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:56 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about taking them out to a happy hour after work when things have calmed down?

URGH, please no. The last thing you want to foist upon your team is feeling like they have to spend yet more time together rather than finally getting to go home and live their non-work lives.
posted by parrot_person at 4:03 AM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Part of my job is to make the office's weekly Peapod order. This is paid for by the company, but I'm the one who clicks the buttons.

When I started there, they were just getting a bunch of snacks (chips and soda and power bars). I immediately stopped that and got food-food. There's always milk and OJ, a few cereal choices, bananas, grapes, apples, carrot sticks, almonds, that sort of stuff. Occasionally things like bagels and cream cheese. This went over like gangbusters, and everybody thanks me profusely for making sure they've got real food.

My guess is that a regular grocery run is outside the realm of what you're looking for, but tue answer is: real food.

I'd start with some apples or bananas and go from there.
posted by phunniemee at 4:04 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A moment from the corporate world: sometime during a particular crazy week on the stock market, one of the big muckity-mucks sprang for big plates of petit fours to be delivered to the office. When people asked him what the occasion was, he said "because it's been a hard week, and that means we all deserve pastry."

It was devoured. No one felt insulted or anything like that. I've found people rarely feel insulted by the prospect of free food once in a while.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:17 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, forgot to mention my second example: another office I was in, they ordered pizza and beer every Friday at about 4, so people could either grab something and hang out a bit if they were leaving at 5 or they could get some kind of dinner if they were staying late. That also was well received.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 AM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: I have a majorly corporate job, and I'm a middle-aged lady, and I HATE the food-as-reward thing. I'm actually starting to feel kind of militant about it. I don't need donuts at 4 p.m. after a hard busy day, when I don't have the willpower to walk on by (and when I do, I get chided for being "so good!" or challenged about "letting myself indulge once in a while"). In an afternoon meeting, my boss will go to a vending machine and drop candy bars and chips and diet sodas in the middle of a conference table as a "treat". Uh, no thanks. I need the boss to say, Hey, let's shut everything down and get out early today -- it will all be here in the morning. By the way ... my job is healthcare related.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:31 AM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Not sure how this would work, but we have a boss who rewarded everyone with several scratch off lottery tickets at a meeting. It was kind of fun having everyone scratch at the same time to see if anyone won anything. No one gained any weight, no one felt like it was cheesy and a few people got some extra cash out of it!
posted by maxg94 at 5:31 AM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

After a particularly challenging stretch of work I got my employees some Starbucks cards, fake tattoos (of skulls and crossbones because they were all such bad-asses), some cute "appreciation gum" with each one wrapped with a silly "you're swell" type line and some gold stars.

They went over well, it was something to talk about (boy people liked the gum) and they could get their own swanky coffee drink when they wanted it. So there are other ways to reward people and thank them without a plate of food.

That said, I think most offices have some kind of food traditions. Food rituals meals is pretty much a part of any culture and a shared meal is a bonding event. We like to do the occasional potluck and long lunch in my office. And we had someone who liked to do cupcakes for birthdays. But I think of these kinds of gestures not a rewards but as opportunities to strengthen ties amongst co-workers.
posted by brookeb at 5:54 AM on February 16, 2012

I completely agree with what thinkpiece said. Not everybody likes food as a reward. We have a lady in our office that always has candy on hand and loves to order pizza for the office. As a somewhat picky eater these days, as well as someone who is focusing on a healthy way of eating, I find the pressure annoying-- at best-- when food is brought in. I would be far more appreciative of a boss that provided an occasional half day on Friday than one that loaded me up with pastries.
posted by allnamesaretaken at 6:08 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's totally not insulting. If you are unsure about food, I like the idea of a coffee run. And the PMs in my office will schedule a 4pm "meeting" and take everyone out for a beer once in a while - that's definitely non-mom!
posted by beyond_pink at 6:11 AM on February 16, 2012

Another suggestion, if the half day thing isn't an option--Why not bring in a menu from a particular restaurant and let them choose what they want?
posted by allnamesaretaken at 6:12 AM on February 16, 2012

Free food for your team is much less insulting than mandatory potluck and all the ensuing uncoordinated food items on your plate. Which is why I'll bring in donuts every now and then but I won't participate in potlucks.
posted by emelenjr at 6:15 AM on February 16, 2012

I don't think food is inherently mothery, but as some people have noted above, the basket of candy is. A plate of homemade cookies would be, and cookies from a bakery might well seem that way, too.

A box of doughnuts is less so. But if you want to avoid the sugar aspect, then a spread of bagels is unmothery and unsugary. Or sandwiches for lunch. Or ordering in thai.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:21 AM on February 16, 2012

Something that may be worth considering: Not everyone broadcasts personal beliefs or medical conditions, especially in a workplace. If I work hard and you reward me almost any food that's been named so far, including some of the "healthy" ones, I'm probably going to decline -- and possibly have to field questions. I won't think you're insensitive -- I understand I'm in a minority position. But I will *truly* appreciate anything you do that offers me a lot of autonomy over my food choices.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:53 AM on February 16, 2012

I for one would appreciate some non-carby options for food, besides the ubiquitous bagels, pizza, candy, cookies and cake. How about some dried fruits and nuts once in a while? A basket of fruit? Crudite and dip? Cheese and crackers? I can almost guarantee that there are people in your office who would appreciate an alternative to your colleague's candy baskets -- all the better if it's right next to them!
posted by peacheater at 6:58 AM on February 16, 2012

One thing that I think nobody's mentioned yet - your desk is in between those of two other project managers, who are using candy jars or snacks as rewards. If you were to start doing something along those same lines, it inevitably invites comparison (oh, little peppermint balls in platic wrappers? Jeez, I should be working for Julie, they get brownies!!) and could totally escalate into more and more expensive/elaborate things. Whatever they're doing, do something different. So if they've got candy jars, do a fruit basket, or a Friday bagel-plate, or a snack at a weekly meeting.
posted by aimedwander at 7:34 AM on February 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't have to do food. Certainly not to show people you appreciate them (with the exception of the very occasional end-of-big-project lunch for everyone, bagels for the early morning meeting, 4 p.m. happy hour which are all good for bonding and don't happen regularly). But if you wanted to, I'd suggest a big Costco-sized jar of trail mix (no M&Ms) with a large spoon.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:43 AM on February 16, 2012

Candy on your desk so I'll come talk to you more often is kind of squicky. Although, if it's good candy, like actual chocolate instead of peppermint hard candies, I'll probably still stop by. But it doesn't make me feel appreciated or rewarded, it's just kind of routine.

Unexpected bagels and coffee, or pizza lunch, do make me feel appreciated. The key is that you want it to be something that inspires people to ask, "What's the occasion?" so you can explain, "You guys have been working your socks off lately, and I want you to know that *I* know you're going above and beyond. This is my thanks."

Weekly planned bagels or pizza make the slog of work feel like marginally less of a slog, but don't really say "Thanks" or "Sorry it sucks around here lately" or "You guys are awesome." They contribute to an office culture of having a bit of fun, which is nice compared to food-free 8-5 drudgery, but once you establish such a pattern you have to do something even bigger to reward/thank people for making it through an exceptionally crazy project.

Oh, and if people are having to stay late, like past 7pm, I definitely think it's appropriate and not motherly to order in dinner. Keep a stash of delivery menus around, and at 6pm take orders from everyone. If it happens rarely, have the late-workers vote on where to order from. If it happens a lot, have a rotation of whose turn it is to pick the restaurant. People are already cutting into their free time to keep working, and they probably didn't pack a dinner to go with their lunch from home. You should supply them with food if they're still around at dinnertime.
posted by vytae at 8:43 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your office have a free stationary cupboard, or do people always need more pens/sticky tape and have to go somewhere/officially make a request to get more? You could do a basket of this stuff as your regular thing. For a one-off, especially a major milestone, you could print tshirts, or on a smaller scale there are stickers, notepads, etc.

God, I would HATE a t-shirt (I won't wear it and it's just clutter to me) and would feel totally insulted by being offered pens or stationary, that's the employer's basic responsibility. I don't not want any swag.

I do like being offered snacks and food while working extra hours and have totally done that for co-workers (I'm also female but don't feel too "mom" about that). Sure, it should be good food and not a flat of crappy muffins from Costco but even if I don't eat it, I appreciate the gesture. My boss used to have a big box of organic fruit delivered to the office every other week and that was totally awesome but budget cuts have made that impossible.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:47 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not extreme, it's a pretty common conflict for women in the workplace to feel like they are expected to bring in homebaked food or sweets constantly just to be considered a team player.

I've worked in offices for nearly ten years, sometimes in much more subordinate and corporate positions than the one I'm in, and I've never ever experienced it. Perhaps this is more of a North American thing?

In my office, we have cake on birthdays and if someone comes back from holiday/annual leave, they will bring 'cover treats' in. Sometimes they're home-made, usually they're not. I'd say the men in the office are more likely to bring in home-made stuff. I sometimes do, because I like baking but need an excuse to do so otherwise I'd just eat cake all the time. The head of my department is female and will sometimes bake a birthday cake for the people she directly manages, but again this is something she likes to do. We also have fruit delivered for general consumption twice a week which I really appreciate - it does make me feel like our company wants to give us an extra treat, plus it's nice to have an apple in the afternoon instead of some chocolate.

The only reason it would worry me is if I knew someone in the office had an allergy, an eating disorder or some other condition that made having tons of a particular food around a bad idea.
posted by mippy at 9:39 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a young male in a lead role on a SW developer team, I've brought food in (donuts or cookies b/c that's what I prefer) for morning meetings regularly b/c I notice a STRONG correlation between me doing that and team members following my advice and orders.

I don't think it makes me look like a "mom," but if I were worried about that I'd go for purchased / branded food rather than home made (though it's weird that there's any stigma either way.)
posted by oblio_one at 10:30 AM on February 16, 2012

It's not extreme, it's a pretty common conflict for women in the workplace to feel like they are expected to bring in homebaked food or sweets constantly just to be considered a team player.

This is not my experience at all.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: This question reads more like a comment -- about you, issues with food, gender roles in the workplace, etc -- and less about finding alternative rewards for your team. If you don't want to reward with food, don't do it. No one is forcing you. If your team deserves a reward, give them something that feels appropriate.

I work in the technical side of the advertising industry as a project manager for large teams. Here are some non-food ideas that I think would go over fine in our industry:
  • Go to a garden shop, buy a small flat of cute cactuses and small pots. Everyone gets a little desk plant for being a good sport on a "prickly" project.
  • Write a heartfelt thanks in a card for each team member. Follow it up with an e-mail commendation sent to each team member's supervisor, outlining their good deeds and qualities. On stressful days, take time out 1-1 to tell your team face to face how much you appreciate what they're doing. If there are intra-office awards, be sure to nominate your team members regularly. Don't forget to send internal e-mails out to all hands at your office when a major milestone or launch is completed. Internal recognition is huge.
  • Buy a set of toys for the office -- at one agency we had a fleet of cheap remote controlled helicopters that were fun. At another agency we always had a game of Jenga going on the break room table.
  • You can't authorize time off, but you can advocate for it on their behalf. When someone goes above/beyond and is near breaking point, be sure to reach out to their supervisor to suggest a vacation day reward.
  • To the best of your ability, find opportunities for your team members on bigger/better projects. As a PM you likely have some influence on who is staffed to which project, so don't be afraid to throw around your weight to ensure that your star performers get first dibs on the cool clients and fun projects.
  • Offer to "take one for the team" when it comes to going to meetings or managing difficult clients. I try to find opportunities to let my discipline leads skip out of long or tense meetings, and will take on tedious work (such as reorganizing client feedback for ease of implementation) to make their lives easier.
  • Ask your team members about how they're doing, ask them if they need help with anything. Listen for the answer and then act on it swiftly. Ask your team members if they have any ideas for how the work could be better, more efficient or rewarding -- give them the gift of your respect by asking them for their input.
  • If your company officers have big perks they use to entertain clients, such as box seats at sporting events and such, put in a request to use the perk when there's availability.
  • Don't schedule meetings early in the morning, at lunch or right at the end of the work day. Respect everyone's time, and when possible, ask the client to flex.
  • If you have a sense of humor, use it. Sometimes a good treat at work takes the form of a particularly hilarious inside joke, a funny e-mail or photo. I try to keep the nonsense to a minimum, but have to admit the power of a good group laugh really keeps everyone going when times are tough. While I find it inappropriate to make fun of a particular person or client account, it's often a great tension breaker to make fun of stereotypes in the industry. Think: Things Project Managers Say, Agile Jokes, or LOL Clients.
All that said, I firmly believe that it's the PM responsibility to facilitate meals (via the project's expense budget) in the office when teams are expected to work through lunch or after business hours. In this case, food is not a reward but a source of nourishment.
posted by cior at 12:13 PM on February 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

Also, though you aren't directly responsible for your team's professional development, do what you can to support their training goals. Cover for them when they request time away for training, and keep your eye out for good training opportunities. Find out what each team member ultimately wants to do with their career and get behind them as a peer.
posted by cior at 12:15 PM on February 16, 2012

Yeah, I dunno, I think the way you're thinking about the food is maybe making you down on it. In our team food serves two purposes:

1) Gets people stopping by a central location regularly
2) Increases teaming feeling - because no one person is responsible for snacks, everybody will grab a little something every now and then cause we're all on the same team.

Definitely nothing motherly about it.

I think there are tonnes of things you can do - outside of food - to get those same feelings. Two things at my work that are in constant demand and we don't ever have in the stationary cupboard: USB keys, and earphones for listening to video. I know you funky agency types probably all have your own sennheisers, but those are the two things people are always stopping at my desk to "borrow" (goodbye, USB keys and headphones!), followed very closely by my large selection of herbal and caffeinated teas.

But you can do food etc that doesn't have to be on tap, so to speak. We celebrate birthdays etc by bringing in a few things, sending out a morning tea invite and taking a few moments. Likewise if people are going on maternity leave, quitting etc etc.

I dunno, I work on a team dominated by women, and there's never been a matronly feeling when anyone brings something in. I mean, we're all professionals, you know? Everyone is responsible for helping each other out; solidarity for the in. And it's not like "Oh Joyce, you can always count on her for brownies!" (Note: thinking on it, maybe I'm Joyce in this scenario! I do the most homebaking! I don't think anyone feels it makes me less professional).
posted by smoke at 1:34 PM on February 16, 2012

Forgive my stream of consciousness blah up there. I guess what I'm really trying to say is that there are two ways of making teams feel good:

1) Making them feel appreciated - bringing food in can do this - this is what your colleagues have down pat.
2) Making them feel needed - this is what getting them to bring things in can do.

I think managers often forget that people want to feel needed, they want the opportunity to be good, if you give it to them, they will take it with both hands!

This is why I think things like, "It's Cheswick's 40th birthday on Friday, I thought I would bring in some biscuits, would you (or someone if it's a group communication) be able to bring in some dips? We can have a morning tea. It would be nice if we could make him feel a little bit special - I'll organise a card for us to sign, too."

That makes the circle of good feelings so much bigger - and it doesn't have to be food, either. Encouraging others to call out their colleagues for work well done is another great thing.
posted by smoke at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2012

Food in the workplace is nice but pretty common, so it doesn't feel like a grand gesture of appreciation, especially the cheap bulk snacks from Costco which is usually what shows up. Keeping the stuff at your desk seems a bit mom-ish, although setting it out in the lunch area doesn't. Food's not insulting, just ordinary.

Taking one's team out to lunch at a nice restaurant has more of a sense of occasion about it, since it's infrequent and on company time. After-hours activities are a pain in the ass since it means spending more time at work, essentially.

I find cheap swag insulting. It's one thing to hand out leftover pens and post-its from a trade show because they're leftovers, another to think your employees actually value them. I enjoy T-shirts though; in my industry it's fine to wear them to work and it's practically a tradition to make an annual company T-shirt, so you end up with quite a collection. You basically wear your resume. Just don't do what one employer did: everybody got a nice oxford shirt with an embroidered company logo, which was great until we realized that the marketing department got embroidered cashmere sweaters. Hoo boy, did that ever backfire.

The best gesture of appreciation is money. You can't give anybody a raise, but does your company give employee bonuses? Recommend your team for a bonus (but don't say anything unless/until it's approved). The next best thing is time off. If you can't give vacation time, can you cover for a little unofficial comp time? Like let each person slink off early one day and play dumb about it? "I don't know where Ellen is; I saw her this morning so I guess she's around somewhere ..." (I did that for one of my direct reports and she really appreciated it. This was after the Cashmere Sweater Incident and I was feeling a little subversive. YMMV)
posted by Quietgal at 3:07 PM on February 16, 2012

If you want people to stop by your desk without putting out food, put out some little puzzles or toys, either the type that people can fiddle with or the type that need to be solved; rotate the stock.

Or a weekly word game/riddle/brain teaser on a white board. I knew someone that put up a Word of the Week, like the word "house" and people would wander by and write phrases or draw little pictures that used that word: house party, house boat, tree house, etc.
posted by CathyG at 4:47 PM on February 16, 2012

Good grief.

On major (floral) holidays my bosses order in food. It's a perk and much appreciated.

YOU are overthinking this.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:19 PM on February 16, 2012

I think maybe I have a suggestion that could work for everyone?

I completely agree with what you're saying - I've worked with a few women who are actually moms, and they are the ones with candy at their desks. Non-mom women rarely do this, and no men I work with do this. The candy thing is definitely a mom thing in my experience, and something I've not wanted to get sucked into myself (despite suggestions from supervisors...."oh, X has candy at her desk....have you tried that?", have YOU?!)

THAT said - I think when working in a meeting food is awesome. I even disagree with the person who said they didn't like the crap food - I like when my employers go through the effort of providing crappy food than no food. I read an article saying that warm liquids cause people to connect more, which is something you want in a team.

Bagels & cofee for morning meetings or sandwiches & pop/cofee for afternoon meetings would be greatly appreciated. Here's my suggestion - if you have a weekly meeting, assign someone from your team to bring food to you next meeting. The day of the meeting remind them (and give them the money for it) and thank them during the meeting. This allows you to feed the team, and also allows each team member to feel like they're contributing to feeding the team as well. At the end of that meeting, ask someone else to get sandwiches for the next meeting. This will space out the responsibility for actually getting the food, which is most the hassle.

We actually did this in a seminar I went to and it worked out fine.

It seems silly in this day and age, but food really still brings people together.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:49 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

(And by "assign" someone to bring in food, I meant ask who would like to, or put up a rotating schedule....assigning someone to have to stop for bagels before a meeting if they've got a full am schedule would just breed resentment....) :-)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:56 AM on February 17, 2012

Even a rotating schedule could breed resentment. If you do that, you will have moved completely from the original idea of rewarding and motivating your team to adding a potentially unwanted non-business-related responsibility to these employees. Kind of a crappy "reward."
posted by grouse at 10:02 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

On major (floral) holidays my bosses order in food. It's a perk and much appreciated.

I don't think it was this kind of gesture that was the problem, actually. The OP was more concerned with baked goods, snacks, the mom-nurturer role.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

grouse - yes, a rotating schedule could breed resentment, but that is usually with people who don't want to do anything more than the bare minimum and/or those who are forced into the situation with no say of when you would be getting the food. The first kind of person will be a jerk on a team no matter what, and I doubt someone who cares about their team's performance as much as the OP seems to would force the issue.

Like I said, I've seen it done with *absolutely* no problems. Not one person ever even murmured about maybe being put out (and no - I wasn't arranging it, so it's not like they would be afraid to say it in front of me). We were all, "yay, free food!"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 5:32 PM on February 17, 2012

um, I'd resent it. I hate mornings, and I don't drive, so bringing in sandwiches would mean getting up at least a half hour earlier to get to a shop and then lug a bunch of food in on the bus to work.
posted by jacalata at 7:31 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This all seems incredibly off-topic. The question is not how to the group can get food. The question is how sweetkid can provide a reward to her team for a job well done. Telling them that they are now in charge of bringing in food themselves as an additional responsibility utterly fails at providing any sort of reward.

I have enough professional responsibilities that I could spend every waking hour working on them, and spend a ton of my time assisting my direct reports and other junior staff with their responsibilities, have near-perfect attendance at work group and department social activities (including potlucks), and have even brought in food for the whole group on my own accord from time to time. What I resent even more than the additional recurring responsibility that will take away from either fulfilling my legitimate responsibilities or my free time is the implication that because I don't want to do this, I'm someone who is trying to get away with the "bare minimum" who is "a jerk on a team no matter what." I've been in groups with this sort of rotation before, and I never complained, but that doesn't mean I would have been happier without it. Or that the other people who approached the task with a lack of enthusiasm (yet never mentioned it) did it because they wanted to rather than because of peer pressure and judgy co-workers.
posted by grouse at 7:19 AM on February 18, 2012

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