should I bring in cupcakes for the staff on my first day as a manager?

A reader writes:

I am a young (25) woman who has just been promoted into a mid-level management position, managing about 25 staff. This is my first “kick at the can” in management, and while I am very confident going into the new role, I naturally have some nerves about the huge change in my career.

The team I am joining is a very tight-knit group of people, many of whom have worked together a long time. I am wondering it would be appropriate to bring in some kind of treat, say cupcakes, on the first day as a warm gesture or greeting.

This is not something I plan on doing on a regular basis unless it is appropriate, such as for a reward for achieving a goal or celebration of some kind. I would just like to do something nice for the staff coming into the role but I certainly do not want to be taken for a ‘softy’ given the first impression. What do you think?

Don’t do it.

It’s a nice thought, but there are two strong reasons not to do it:

1. First, you’re young and you’re walking into your first management role. That’s a hard spot to be in. Management is hard. Really hard. Your job right now is to establish yourself as a credible manager — not as a maternal figure or a friend. That doesn’t mean that you need to go to the other extreme and be a stony-faced martinet (in fact, you absolutely should not be; you should just be a normal person), but this staff doesn’t know you yet and you don’t want the first impression you create to be … well, fluff.

Here’s the thing: Some young women have trouble being taken seriously at work, particularly when they’re young managers walking into an already established staff. (Some men do too, but it’s especially common with young women, although certainly not nearly to the extent that it used to be.) The best way to deal with that is to do awesome work while being professional, calm, direct, and assertive.

But while you’re working on that, it’s often a good idea not to fall into stereotypically “feminine” roles within the office — always getting the coffee for meetings, doing everyone’s dishes in the office kitchen, organizing office parties, etc. Get yourself taken seriously for your skills first. Once you’re taken seriously, sure, bring in cupcakes — but get your foundation down first.

Which means that you shouldn’t muddy the waters with baking on your first day. Save it for when you’ve established yourself as a good manager.

2. Second, you risk sending another wrong signal to a staff that’s already probably somewhat apprehensive about getting a new manager: You risk creating an impression that you place more emphasis on fluff than you do on managing well. Because really, few people feel a burning need to get cupcakes from their manager. What they do want are far more important things: clear goals, useful and direct feedback, the resources they need to do their jobs well,  good pay and benefits, an understanding that they have lives outside of work, and so forth.

That’s the stuff they’re going to be watching you to see if you can offer them. Not cupcakes.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG

    Agree. But cupcakes are good, when you are ready. I just love cupcakes. If you could lose weight by eating cupcakes, I would be emaciated.

    1. Jessa

      The only reason I’d bring in cupcakes in a circumstance like this is if they have a rota of people who bring pastries and your name is on the top of it. Which would not be doing it because you’re the new manager, but because it’s your turn to do something the entire team does.

  2. AMG

    I’m all alone in here–evveryone is still on #2 from the previous post…I will check back with you all later. :)

  3. Jamie

    I cannot believe I’m on the anti-cupcake side of any dilemma – but absolutely don’t do this.

    Once you earn their respect and have solid credibility as a professional than this stuff doesn’t matter…but initially they are forming their opinions of you and those linger. This won’t help you coming in out of the gate.

  4. BCW

    This was an exact episode of modern family this season. Claire brought everyone cookies to try to make a good impression. She wasn’t young, but she was the owners daughter. It didn’t go over well, and she just ended up not being respected more than should would have been.

    1. Christina

      Well, to be fair, the staff didn’t even get the cookies because her dad told her they were a terrible idea kept them all for himself :-)

  5. Lucy

    I love everything about this. When I was first promoted to a managerial position, I thought I could keep my team happy with bagels at meetings- I learned quickly that people would much rather have a supportive boss who is willing to stand up for the team than someone who will feed them!

  6. Chocolate Teapot

    I always remember the scene in the film “Working Girl” when Harrison Ford offers Melanie Griffith a cup of coffee at the start of a meeting, and she stands up to fetch it, then sits back down again.

    1. Steve G

      One of my favorite movies! I had a similar (and late) start to my career so love it love it love it.

  7. Helen

    I agree. If someone you like at the office brings in a treat, it is awesome! If someone you don’t like (yet!) brings in a treat, it is annoying. It looks like your priorities are off and you think a cupcake will fix the fact that you are new and not yet trusted by the staff. This is just my experience and opinion, having had a new manager who tried this route. Listening to our work concerns and actually following up on them went much farther than any gestures.

    1. Bea W

      If someone I like at the office brings in a treat, it is awesome! If someone I don’t like (yet!) brings in a treat, it is awesome!

      I feel like I am the only person reading these comments who has no problem separating treats (a nice gesture) from bribes. Just because you bring cupcakes to the office, doesn’t mean I have to like you. It means you are sharing cupcakes with the office. All these hidden motivations and meanings behind office treats are perplexing to me. I don’t read anything into it when someone brings food to share into the office. I just thank and enjoy. I’ve never had any conversation with anyone that went “Why don’t you trust me? I brought you cupcakes.”

      1. Helen

        I have never thought of bringing in baked goods as a bribe before. I don’t think anyone could reasonably expect to bribe someone with a $5 cupcake. The important part to me is really the message it sends about misplaced priorities. It might not be totally fair, but I think it makes a lot of people think “really, you took the time to bake/buy those cupcakes but you haven’t taken care of xyz task yet?” Once people know you and your work ethic, it’s easier to just appreciate the gesture.

  8. Yup

    Skip the cupcakes. Instead, just concentrate on being confident and poised on your first day: learning people’s names, shaking hands and being friendly, being interested in how things work, etc. They’re probably a bit nervous about their new manager too. What will set them at ease is meeting a strong, calm, knowledgable person who genuinely wants to hear what they have to say. Meet them on a professional level first — the personal relationships will develop over time. Good luck!

  9. Jen

    If/when I ever manage a team again, I plan on borrowing from the best ‘new manager’ of my past. He sent an email asking for a copy of my resume or link to LinkedIn (to understand my level of experience), how I spend most of my time (to understand how my actual job functions – often different from a job description, especially for longer-held positions), and what I need him to help with (resources, etc.).

    Then he took me for a 1:1 coffee to get to know each other. He got to ask questions about what I’d sent over, and I got to ask any questions of him. It set up an amazing working foundation going forward.

    1. Jamie

      One on ones are a good idea for any new manager, when possible.

      It’s easier to manage people you’re trying to get to know then a room full of strangers.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        +1. Although cupcakes for all are not a good idea for the reasons Alison mentioned, lunch or coffee 1:1 with each of your direct reports is a good idea. Then it’s not about the food — it’s about you getting to know what their goals are and what they like and don’t like about how the team works currently.

    2. Anon Accountant

      +1

      I once had a manager who did this and it brought positive results from her tenure as a manager. She understood where our duties were focused and a better understanding of the department.

    3. Ann Furthermore

      The 1:1 with new direct reports is the best way to establish a rapport with your new staff. I had a boss do this once, and I really appreciated it, as did everyone else. It was an hour with each person, learning about what they did, what worked and didn’t work, and what she could do to help. She was up front about not making any promises, since she was still very new to the company, but she wanted to know what people were struggling with so she could start to think about how to remove those roadblocks.

      I’ve never had a boss that people in general took to so quickly, and I think that was a big part of the reason why.

    4. Bea W

      I had a manager who started out like this. She was awesome, and if I ever end up managing, she is one of the examples I would hope I could follow.

    5. Windchime

      My most recent manager did this (without the coffee). He also asked each of us whether we preferred achievements to be recognized publicly or quietly, since apparently people have preferences as to which method they are most comfortable with.

      I was just happy to have a manager that was talking about recognizing achievements!

  10. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady

    I agree with Alison 99.9% of the time, but here I have to roundly disagree.

    Make cupcakes for your first day of work. On your way to the office, stop at the post office and mail them to me. Seriously, you get to bake, I get to eat!

    Sorry. I love cupcakes.

    You can bring in cupcakes at a later date, though, once you’ve established yourself. Jen’s idea is super awesome.

    1. AJ-in-Memphis

      +1
      You should add chocolate chip cookies to that package as well. But by no means is it a contract for my undying loyalty though. :)

    2. Elizabeth

      Alternately, make cupcakes for your first day of work, but leave them at home. That way, when you get home exhausted from a day of new things, you have cupcakes to eat while you unwind!

  11. Seal

    AAM is right as usual – do not do this, especially on your first day. You’ll come off as young and naive, which is exactly the message you do NOT want to send on your first day, or ever. Even after you’ve established yourself as a good manager, reserve the treats for the very rare and special occasion. Your staff will be far more appreciative of the gesture if its an unexpected treat rather than a regular occurrence.

  12. Jen

    I don’t think treats are bad but usually as a reward. My current VP brings in donuts every once in a while. Usually it’s on a Friday morning after a project ends and she’ll send an e-mail saying “Everyone, thanks so much for the hard work you did on ___. There are donuts in the breakroom!”

    1. clobbered

      So that’s different, because the key thing here is the “thank you” email, and the donuts are just a gesture. There’s a big difference between “you guys are awesome, this is a small token of my appreciation” and “I brought you food! Like me!”

    2. Elizabeth

      I also appreciate small snacks at end-of-the-day meetings. I’m a teacher, and our faculty meetings are after school – so people can be a bit run down from the school day. It always perks me up when I walk into a meeting and see that my principal has brought a bag of chocolate kisses!

      Like your donuts, though, it’s kind of tied to a work task. If it were just randomly on the first day, it might have a tinge of trying to win affection with food.

      1. fposte

        Which is creepily close to trying to buy affection with presents. And since cupcakes are particularly toylike, it brings it even closer.

        1. Anonymous

          That is a great point. Cupcakes, especially homemade, are a bit little girly. If you need to bring in treats, do it as a reward for a project completion, and make it a “guy food”. Like pizza at lunch, or purchased donuts or danishes. It’s a small thing but in your new position you need to appear every inch the manager.

    3. Jazzy Red

      My boss brought in doughnuts on Bosses Day last week. He didn’t know it was Bosses Day; he just thought it was time we had doughnuts again. We had gotten fancy incredibly good cinnamon rolls for him. We had coffee and ate both treats. It was really nice, especially since we weren’t expecting *him* to bring something in.

      He is pretty fun to work for. (Sooo different from our former manager.)

    4. Nikki T

      Even if you just bring them in just for whatever, don’t make a huge deal, just send out the message “there’s donuts in the breakroom”.

      We have a higher up that does this every now and then. It’s a nice random surprise.

      1. some1

        This. I’ve had female supervisors and co-workers who took it personally if you didn’t A) eat their homemade treats or B) compliment them afterwards.

        1. fposte

          Oh, good point. That’s where the gluten-free/different diet thing would be especially relevant–don’t do it expecting people will be grateful, especially if there’s a reasonable chance some people can’t eat them.

        2. SevenSixOne

          Argh, I’ll bet at least onecame around to everyone’s desk to drop them off personally, then got all snitty if someone didn’t want to get into dietary restrictions or whatever (or was polite enough not to say NO WAY THAT LOOKS AWFUL out loud) turned it down, didn’t she?

  13. Betsy

    To add another perspective, if you want to do something nice and food-related, I’d suggest providing food for your first team meeting, instead, and something catered instead of baking at home.

    My project manager had a a catered plate of pastries, fruit, coffee, and juice brought in for our first team meeting, and it didn’t have at all the same connotations as bringing in cookies or cupcakes.

    1. Elizabeth

      Unfortunately (because I hate discouraging the creation of homemade baked goods!), I have to agree. Homemade goodies have the opposite connotation as “executive.” Not so much that managers can *never* bake, but you don’t want to lead with baking. After you’ve established yourself for a few months, I think you could bring in holiday cookies or Valentine’s cupcakes without creating unwanted associations, but you want to impress them with your managerial skills before also wowing them with your baking.

      If “catered” sounds too fancy, I think something like picking up a bunch of bagels and a box of coffee at the bagel shop falls into the same kind of low-key snack category.

  14. Liz

    I firmly believe it’s important to be able to strike the correct balance of professionalism and it can be very hard to do at our age. Drink too much with the guys at a conference and you’re the 20 something drunk girl, be too overly friendly and you can be ditzy, etc. I agree with Allison about the cupcakes, there are just too many people out there who will see you as a pushover simply because you like to bake. It shouldn’t be a problem in an ideal world but we don’t live in an ideal world.

    Also, the linked posts make me so grateful the owners of my company (my direct bosses) recognize despite being 26 I can hold my own with any CFO or CIO out there. And constantly brag to partnering companies about it. I do often get the “you look so young!” comments but those who have worked with me over the phone and have known me long enough in person think I’m older due to how I carry myself – which at this point in my career I’m taking as a compliment!

    1. fposte

      It’s not even just a pushover–it’s about what you want your opening statement to your staff to be. “I try to manage via food” is not the impression you want to give.

      The pushover thing comes in because you also don’t want your opening statement to be “I’m really nice!” It’s fine if you are nice, but that’s not what’s most important to your staff, and if you prioritize appearing nice, that’s likely to, as Liz, suggests, make you a bad manager.

      1. Jamie

        Exactly – it’s the statement it makes.

        From a new and untested boss on the first day cupcakes scream, “PLEASE LIKE ME!” At least to me, and there is no reason to go in seemingly desperate.

        1. Bea W

          To me cupcakes scream “PLEASE EAT ME!”

          I am so deep into my pro-cupcake bias that this whole thread is disturbing me on levels I did not know were possible…but…but…CUPCAKES!

        2. Chinook

          I have to agree that bringing in any food on the first day screams “please like me.” And I say this as someone who currently has Magic Bars (chocolate chips, coconut and sweetened condensed milk baked on a graham crumb crust) in the fridge earmarked for IT to make up for pestering them with various issues in hopes that they will help me quickly with future, more complicated issues.

          1. Chinook

            And I also have homemade fruitcake seasoning with rum for coworkers next month…hmmm…maybe I am trying bribe my way to a permanent job…

  15. Shelley

    Yeah, don’t do this.

    I had a team lead that did this. The promotion was contentious already since she was the youngest member of the group and with the least direct experience (she did have more leadership experience, which was why she got chosen, but it still rankled senior staff). I think she brought in cookies to try to smooth the transition, and it was well-received…but I don’t know if she ever got comfortable in her leadership role, and I think the cookies contributed.

    (Mind, it was probably more difficult than usual because her team lead position had no real authority: no hire/fire/annual review powers, and management/other people didn’t even always go through her when they wanted to talk to us. But that workplace was pretty dysfunctional.)

  16. Charlie L.

    Not to mention the health aspect of it. If you don’t know your team you don’t know how might be diabetic, just out of weight loss surgery (there are a lot of us!) or just a health nut. So if you just brought in sugary cup cakes you might end up excluding part of your team (though I hope none would take this personally). But after you get to know the people you manage and you want to bake/ provide a food reward you will know if you should provide some healthy and/or sugar free alternative along with the cup cakes!

    1. J

      That’s an excellent point. Just as you would try to learn your guests’ dietary restrictions when choosing a restaurant or throwing a dinner party, you shouldn’t bring food into work before you know your coworkers’ dietary restrictions.

      1. Jamie

        I don’t know that it’s always necessary to do that. If you are ordering a meal for a meeting sure, you want to make sure everyone can properly eat – but bringing in treats is more of a here if you want them kind of thing – no one has to partake.

        Just like people bringing in donuts or muffins…should they not do that just because I’m off sweets and so and so is gluten free, someone else is diabetic, that other guy is vegan, and someone else is training for a marathon?

        When you are infringing on people’s meal time and offering to feed them that’s one thing – you need to make sure they can eat what you provide – but when it comes to treats people can partake or not as they see fit.

        It’s nice if you know of restrictions and it’s a small close team to accommodate – but it can be really restrictive to be expected to do that.

        1. fposte

          Agreed. The “don’t bring in anything if you can’t bring in for everyone” is a schoolroom rule, not a work rule. (And I’m sure I’m not the only one going to the relevant 30 Rock episode in my head.)

          1. Bea W

            That rule is in the classroom, because young children in particular a) may not have a good understanding it is a food that could make them sick. Afterall, mom and dad keep them safe at home, and they don’t need to think about it, b) be honest with the teacher or class that they can’t eat something, and c) will get really upset when they can’t join in or feel or be singled out by classmates.

            Adults, theoretically, know better and are responsible for feeding themselves. They have opportunity to find alternatives, and have gotten passed throwing tantrums or picking on co-workers with dietary restrictions.

        2. Dana

          Totally agree here. I’m gluten/sugar free and I certainly don’t expect anybody to accommodate me when they are getting all creative in the kitchen. I still enjoy baking so I often make things that are fun to make and bring them in for my co-workers to enjoy while I live vicariously throught them. If we were sensitive to every last persons dietary restricitons treats would be pretty bland, boring and would likely be enjoyed by no one.

          1. KJR

            Another sugar/gluten free here, to agree with Dana. Enjoy your treats, doesn’t bother me in the least! And I also love to bake for other people.

        3. AMG

          I think it’s ok too, and I really try to eat healthy. But I do have a sweet tooth. Totally on me if I choose to have one, and not at all something to be upset about with the Bearer of Treats.

      2. TL

        I don’t know about that – I have crazy dietary restrictions but don’t expect others to account for them.

        But I will say if a manager brought in cupcakes on her first day, it probably wouldn’t help that everyone else got to eat cupcakes and I didn’t. (Normally, when we plan food events I bring in something delicious that I can eat so I’m focusing on that instead of what I can’t eat.)

  17. The Other Dawn

    I agree with AAM. Do not bake cupcakes until you’ve established yourself as their manager. Otherwise, it comes off as though you’re trying to buy them or compensating for some bad managerial characteristic they don’t know about yet.

  18. Tiff

    Sadly, I agree with AAM. I just can’t believe I’ve encountered a situation where I’m thinking, “cupcakes are a bad idea”.

    I have to go rethink my whole life.

  19. Jillyan

    I know you want to do something nice for them, since they are a close group and you’ll be managing them, but I can’t help but feel that you want to bring them cupcakes so they will like you. Not necessary: they don’t need to like you (although in time they will/might) but they do need to respect that you are the manager and there are certain boundaries that need to be made. I work with a close group too but if we had a new manager who brought in cupcakes on their first day we’d think it was a nice thing to do but also would be weirded out by it. It would take longer to treat them as the boss, you know? Your heart is in the right place. The holidays are coming up soon, why don’t you implement a staff potluck or something and that way you’ll do something nice within the timeframe of being new, but in a better context?

  20. Ann Furthermore

    Just chiming in to agree with everyone else here. Don’t do this, at least not on your first day, or even in your first few months. It could backfire and make it look like you’re insecure in your role, and that you’re trying to compensate for it by bribing the team with food.

    After you’ve established yourself, sure, do the cupcake thing once in awhile. I worked on a project once where the program manager would randomly show up at team meetings with baked goods. The first time it happened we all thought it was a little odd, but then she told us that she bakes when things at work get too stressful because she finds it relaxing. So we always knew when her stress levels were getting high.

  21. Anonymous

    No cupcakes, please, and while you’re at it, if I chance I happen to mention that I’ve never had some dish or dessert before, I’m really and truly not angling for you to bring me some from your house and then badger me endlessly asking if I liked it. No, I did not like it because I did not and will not eat anything you scrounge up in your kitchen. Sadly, the matzo ball soup affair leaps to mind.

    1. fposte

      That last sentence is a masterpiece of compact poignancy, and I’m going to try to work it into conversations as often as I can.

  22. Trixie

    I work on an all-male team in a male-dominated field (IT)…I resisted bringing in any sort of baked goods until about 8 months on the job, just to be safe. I definitely wanted my technical skills to speak for myself first, before my baking skills.

    This being said, my team was SO appreciative that I brought in goodies…it was the middle of a really rough week, and it was just the pick-me-up everyone needed. I loved the general reaction of “you can bake?!”

  23. New Manager

    Wow! I sure appreciate everyone’s feedback and I’m glad I asked. This has certainly given me some ‘food-for-thought’… sorry couldn’t resist.. I know I’m putting myself out there by responding that it was I who asked this question and I will follow up to read your comments. I do not bake, my idea was to have a local, very popular, baker/cake decorator design the cupcakes in the organizations colors with a word such as ‘team’ etc on them (creative side coming out). I’ll admit, I am following in the example of a previous manager I once had, who did something similar. I did perceive the gesture as a friendly, warm, welcoming not a desperate attempt or underlying tactic to get everyone to like her. However, now that I’m thinking with my head and not my heart, I realize her gesture was on valentines day and it wasn’t technically her first real day on the job, rather, a meet and greet. I think I will save the idea for another time – not my first day. I love this blog, I sincerely appreciate the response and consideration to my question and all the readers feedback! A true gift.

    1. Shelley

      Personally, I would find the cupcake in organization colours with ‘team’ emblazoned on them a little too…cutesy? I like my job, but I’m not endorsing it with every fibre of my being. Short of a specific holiday or other more dramatic occasion, dressing up (food or employees) in organization colours seems like it’s trying too hard.

      But I certainly don’t disagree with bringing treats later on (as a very occasional! treat), once you’ve settled in your position. Good luck!

      1. Jamie

        I was thinking the same – it just feels very pep squad to me.

        Although one cupcake or brownie on Sys Admin Day left for your IT is the exception to the rule. That’s the Chicago way.

      2. Bea W

        Ick yes! Though this will totally depend on your team. One team I worked with for many years was close knit and all about the logo and project themed silliness. (This is the same team where we had all those postcards Ms. Meany McMeanypants made us take down!) Note, it was project themed, not company themed. The latter would not have gone over well.

        Yes, never engage in this kind of thing without knowing your audience. Org colors may be fine, but for the love all that is right with baked goods do not put sappy words like “Team” and “Success” on them. Please please PLEASE, no!

        1. Bea W

          However, given that the World Series is now upon us, it would be acceptabke to bring cupcakes decorated like baseballs.

          GO SOX!

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Even without you baking them, my answer would stay the same. Save it for later on down the line once you’ve established yourself, for the same reasons. (Ever seen a man bring in cupcakes on his first day? I’d bet you haven’t.)

      1. Anonymous

        Who cares what men do on their first day? I am not a man and have no interested pretending to be one. This comment seems to imply that men as a group make better business decisions than women do and should therefore be slavishly emulated. Ugh.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The point is that by doing this, you’re engaging in a stereotypically feminine behavior, in a way that isn’t helpful in this particular context, when you’re a new manager who’s also a young woman.

      2. Omne

        Actually I brought in mini-muffins on my first day. Granted I was promoted out of the group so they already knew me.

  24. hcat

    ”Because really, few people feel a burning need to get cupcakes from their manager…..” Bingo! I love AAM”s advice, and 100% agree that employee’s want strong leadership, not cupcakes!

  25. Michael

    I’m around your age in a similar position, but I only have a team of 5 directly under me- more at remote locations. I’ve been with my company for 5 years but only in this position for 1, but I’m known for my baking throughout the office. Whereas I agree that you don’t want to come across as too soft, especially so soon on, I don’t see harm in using a humanistic or maternal approach to introducing yourself to your team. You are, after all, responsible for them- and a lot managing is babysitting haha. And who doesn’t love a cupcake?
    If your team is tight-knit, then they have all established a family-like relationship. That’s how they operate, and I think using that same approach is how you’re going to learn about your team more quickly. You want your team to trust you, and you should be able to trust them. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine and show your skills, and that’s going to add to your whole package.
    My team and I are pretty close, and we use that connection to look out for each other. It seems less like work and more like accomplishing something as a team.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But you’re not responsible for them as in feeding them. That’s a little too in loco parentis, I think, and risks turning people off, especially coming from a new or young manager.

      1. Michael

        It doesn’t have to be a regular thing, just a nice gesture. I enjoy doing it. And I have also never turned anyone off with a cupcake- haha. My team actually works harder and happier when I bring food in. Sometimes, a new and fresh approach will breathe more life into the team. However, I only speak from my own personal experience :)

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