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Working in Candy Land

Bowls of sweets may be filled with the best of intentions, but it can take a vat full of self-restraint to keep from eating that second, third or even fourth peanut butter cup.

February 14, 2013
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Related Topics: Employee Relations, Health and Wellness, Workplace Culture
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Given the dismal state of today's daily newspapers, there are still two things you can count on anytime you give one a read.

Whether you are in Bend, Bugtussle or Boston, you're destined to find a Family Circus comic and at least one advice column offering common-sense solutions to every personal malady known to mankind. Some years ago singer-songwriter John Prine's tune Dear Abby captured our constant kvetching in his classic ode to the now-departed advice columnist:

So listen up buster, and listen up good/

Stop wishin' for bad luck and knockin' on wood/

Signed, Dear Abby.

While reading the paper before a recent flight, I came across one such workplace dilemma. Amy Dickinson was asked to solve 'Candy Bowl Sparks Bitter Office Spat' in her Ask Amy column. Because I had 15 minutes before my plane boarded but mostly because chocolate and I are lifelong chums, I was curious to read Amy's remedy for this confectionary controversy.

A husband wrote on behalf of his wife whose co-worker insists on keeping a bowl of chocolates in a common area. The candy proved to be too great a temptation for the woman, and, according to the writer, "has proven detrimental to her ability to keep away excess pounds." It was signed "PO'd Husband." Translation: PO'd Husband's better half can't keep her hands off the M&M's and is getting fat.

Mrs. PO'd Husband initially asked the co-worker to put out healthier snacks to no avail. She then went to management with no better result. When that failed, she resorted to a comrades-please-join-me-in-this-battle-of-the-bulge plea that led to a big internecine sugar spat but no retreat by the keeper of the candy bowl.

To which Ask Amy told him to tell his wife that life isn't like a box of chocolates. In essence …

So listen up buster, and listen up good/

Stop wishin' for bad luck and tell your wife to practice some self-control.

Normally I side with our wizened newspaper advisers, oh, like every time. But in this case, when it comes down to self-discipline vs. a bowl of chocolates in the office … I must ask Amy to reconsider.

Publicly displayed bowls of sweets may be filled with the best of intentions, but it can take a vat full of self-restraint to keep from eating that second, third or even fourth peanut butter cup. I've worked in several offices where I had no choice but to walk past a common counter loaded with treats and snacks. Broccoli and hummus? Nope; we're talking Chips Ahoy and Hershey's Kisses. A bag of Oreos was a standing invitation to twist open a cookie and lap up that layer of white filling.

There are days when I am no match for a box of doughnuts slathered in an icy glaze. And if PO'd Husband is correct, I am not alone in facing this daily sugar rush of emotions.

Behavioral economics teaches us that the rationality of workers—in this case, a submissive, hypersweetened workforce—has its limits. We may expect workers to walk past free candy, but that's not always the case. Consider too that diabetes is at epidemic proportions, and employees are so sedentary that they set their phones to remind them to move around.

A plate of apples and oranges next to the candy dish offers a choice, but it won't solve the chocolate-covered conundrum facing me and Mrs. PO'd Husband. We can't—and shouldn't—scrub our workplaces free of all temptations, as Ask Amy puts it. Self-control in this instance indeed is a virtue.

Barring workers—and bosses—who like to treat their colleagues with sweets can sour morale. But reasonable boundaries on goodies at work could be needed. If too many treats are an issue, consider opening the sweets spigot wide during holidays—like Valentine's Day—and then dial it down to a slow drip the rest of the year.

So to Amy and Abby, your advice is well-taken. But may I suggest a twist on your counsel:

Listen up you columnists, and listen up good/

We'd be more disciplined if only we could.

Rick Bell is Workforce's managing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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