I don’t know who won The Great British Bake Off last night. That’s a weird place to start a Bake Off-themed employment law blog, I know. Unfortunately, my wife dozed off in the middle of the final last night, so we have to wait to watch the rest of it online tonight!
With the popularity of the show ballooning in recent years, more and more workplaces have decided to hold ‘Bake Off’ events to raise morale and/or raise money for charity. I must admit to getting involved with such an event in my second week at a previous employer.
Just to set the background, I’d never properly baked in my life and so, obviously, thought that trying to bake a cake was the right way to win over my new colleagues. Come the morning of the competition, from the outside at least, the cake looked fantastic. The problem? Firstly, it was a rather fragile two-tier cake, so I was forced to drive to work in no higher than fourth gear (to the utter joy of the traffic behind me) and, secondly, because the judge (who no doubt had been studying the critical technique of Paul Hollywood) called my sponge ‘ultimately disappointing’ and my dreams of Bake Off-style glory evaporated in an instant!
Why am I discussing this? Well, Bake Off events in the workplace have the potential to cause workplace angst and, at very least, can cause staff tensions to rise. Let’s explore a quick example below.
‘Brilliant Banking Limited decide to raise staff morale whilst making money for their charity. To do so, they inform staff that they will be holding a ‘Bake Off event’ the next week and that ‘any cake is eligible as long as it is home-baked’.
Sue and Mel work in the same department and are very competitive. They both decide that they will win the competition and that the whole ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ philosophy is nonsense!
It comes to the day of the competition and Sue and Mel’s manager, Mary, is judging the cakes. Mary decides that Sue’s cake is the best and Mel’s cake is second. Cue an explosion from Mel in front of half of workforce in which she inaccurately accuses Sue’s cake of being ‘made by her cake-baking mother’ and (without reason) announces that Mary ‘has always liked Sue the most’.’
What would happen next in this cake-related conundrum?
Well, much of this would likely depend on Mel’s continuing behaviour. If Mel quickly calmed down and sincerely apologised to both Sue and Mary (her manager), it may be that Mary would decide that an informal warning about Mel’s conduct is sufficient. However, if this wasn’t the case, Mary is open to consider whether the unfounded nature of Mel’s comments (and the fact she made them in a loud manner in front of so many staff members) warrants an invitation to a Disciplinary Meeting.
From Mel’s side of things, whilst she could foreseeably put in a grievance about the results of the competition and/or the conduct of Mary or Sue, it is highly unlikely to be successful because her claims are unfounded. Overall, it is most likely that Mel would calm down, accept that it is ‘only’ a Bake Off event and that coming second was just how the cookie (or, more accurately, her cake) crumbled on the day…
Whilst the above scenario may seem absurd, it is far from the weirdest employment issue possible within a workplace (don’t get me started on dealing with an employee who threatened to call the police to report a ‘breach of the peace’ because a colleague was wearing headphones!)
The moral is that, sometimes, competitive employees will find the oddest things to fall out over but, despite this, appropriate and conciliatory action is normally sufficient to calm things down and help them realise, in the words of the contestant this year who carried after being knocked out, “I don’t know why I’m crying, it’s only cake!”