don’t bring cupcakes to work when you’re new on the job

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 job 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 164 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Health Insurance Nerd

    It’s a nice gesture, but a bad idea. You want to establish yourself as a leader and authority figure, not the team mom who provides baked goods to win people over. Once you’ve gotten the lay of the land and been in the role for a while, bringing in snacks occasionally would be more appropriate (and likely appreciated!).

    Reply
    1. LK

      I brought in donuts for our mail room staff and our IT team when I successfully passed my 3-month probation at my old BigLaw job…. their cooperation was probably at least 50% of why I got a good review :) but yeah on the first day…. not so great.

      Reply
      1. Health Insurance Nerd

        Baked goods as recognition and appreciation= good
        Baked goods as a means to convey to a new team “hey, look how great I am!”= bad

        Reply
        1. OtterB

          Agree. My husband, an engineer, has on occasion taken bagels for equipment operators or maintenance crew – those who are often overlooked. But, again, not what to lead with.

          Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        Yes–food is generally a thank-you. So, if this team helped you get your job done well, thanking them is appropriate.

        But on the first day, all you’re thanking people for is hiring you, and that’s not a favor they’ve done you.

        Also–there’s unfortunately a big difference between bringing in food you purchased vs. food you baked.

        Reply
    2. Koko

      Yep. And not only the tenure makes a difference, but also, providing treats as a reward for something your staff did has a different context than providing the treats essentially to celebrate something you did (start a new job). One makes you a thoughtful boss who recognizes hard work with small tokens of appreciation – everybody loves the “Congrats on a great Q1, you’ll find bagels and donuts in the conference room this morning!” email. The other makes you a boss who is appears to be craving her staff’s approval – not a good look.

      Reply
      1. OwnedByTheCat

        This comment is well timed because my boss just ordered us all cookies, just because it’s summer and she thinks we needed cookies delivered. Made my day :)

        Reply
    3. MCMonkeyBean

      During our busy seasons (about 5 months out of the year) our managers take turns bringing in breakfast for everyone. It’s super appreciated!

      Reply
  2. Lauren

    I knew a candidate that sent cupcakes with her ‘thank you for interviewing me’ letter. It felt like she was buying her job. The sexist jerk of a boss totally loved the ‘effort and enthusiasm’, but everyone judged her when she was first hired. She was awesome and once we got to know her – our opinion changed, but it was too odd and off-putting for the rest of us who struggled against that stuff with our boss and wanted to be only about our work vs. how much we laughed at his jokes / bribed him with food and ego stroking praise.

    Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      When I worked in college admissions, I had a rejected student stop by the office (!) with a dozen doughnuts and an additional letter of recommendation. My coworkers ate those doughnuts, but personally I wasn’t too keen to take the risk.

      Reply
        1. DaniCalifornia

          Does he really? I’ve read 2 or 3 of his books but did not know he endorses that. I would think someone with his experience (and influence) would know better than to recommend that.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Dave Ramsey is of the Mr. Gumption style in general, though, and while his debt-eradication advice is generally solid (if not original) a lot of his money advice is not.

            Reply
            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Dave has some good advice about some things but a lot of really, really bad advice about other things.

              Reply
          2. AnotherAlison

            I listen to his show & I have never heard him recommend that (I love a good train wreck). I HAVE heard him recommend the 48 Days book for job hunters, which does recommend gumption-oriented job hunting tactics. So maybe Dave is guilty by association. . .

            While he certainly hasn’t been a job seeker, he does hire a lot of people. I think a hand-carried resume with donuts may work in their company culture, based on what I hear on the show (there is a bakery in the office lobby fwiw). I mean, I don’t think it would get you hired if you weren’t qualified but I think people there might appreciate it, instead of getting shooed out of the building like everywhere else.

            Reply
        2. Artemesia

          I think Ramsey’s entire work experience is in very small family business settings. And he has quite a reputation for mixing personal judgment with business. He has some good advice about family budgeting especially for people digging themselves out of debt on a small income, but his job seeking advice is probably about like that you would get from Grandpa.

          Reply
      1. Lemon Zinger

        Lol! I work in admissions at a university and this is a new one. Students do a lot of bargaining, but I’ve never known one to bring in treats to butter up the admissions staff!

        Reply
    2. Ann Cognito

      We had a candidate once who sent a bunch of flowers to the hiring manager as a “thank you for interviewing me” gesture. It was every bit as weird as you always read it is. She wasn’t a strong candidate in any case, but this definitely left a lasting impression of the wrong kind, and we still talk about it occasionally in a “remember when that candidate…” kind of a way!

      Reply
      1. Koko

        Yeesh, there’s something about it being flowers that makes it even more cringey. They’re such a public display. Any gift would be in poor judgment but at least a gourmet chocolate bar isn’t going to be spotted and asked about by everyone who walks by the desk!

        Reply
  3. Stephanie

    Yeah, I just got in this debate with another intern at my summer job. She was bringing in muffins for her team like “Oh, then people will be willing to do favors for me!” I was like “Eh, but you want to be known for being good at teapot marketing, not your chocolate chip muffin recipe.”

    I definitely made this mistake early on in my career (in my second job). People liked my baked goods…but this did not stop me from ending up on a PAP at that job.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      You bring up a good point (be known for your job, not side stuff), but there’s also sexism. If she’s a woman, lots of men (and women, too?) may consciously or subconsciously just think that’s what she does and not necessarily think “Oh, I’d better reciprocate.” See how many men in companies think it’s okay for women who are not executive assistants, receptionists, or admin assistants to take notes during meetings, and also don’t think “Oh, she took notes last time—maybe I’d better do it this time.”

      Reply
      1. Stephanie

        Yeah, working in an overly male dominated field (engineering–and I’ve worked in heavily male parts of engineering like trucking operations, automotive, and manufacturing), I’m extra cautious about doing anything too gendered. It sucks because I’m a fantastic baker, but it’s way too easy to become the Team Mom. I just limit it to “approved” events like an office potluck (and even then…).

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth H.

          I work in a female dominated field (higher ed administration, and almost all my deans/managers/etc. have been women) but I still don’t bring in food or cook or bake or anything. I don’t even do that all that much with my friends. When there is a legitimate occasion for it like a potluck or party or something I do drinks/trash bags/paper towels.

          Reply
        2. Lora

          I did once – just once – at OldJob. They had an apple tree in the front of the building and nobody ever picked the apples, so they would drop all over the ground and make a mess. I asked, can I pick them? Facilities guys scratched their heads and asked why. I said, because they are apples! I can make cider, sauce, apple butter… They said, well OK but I don’t think they are the edible kind. They were indeed the edible kind, they were delicious, and I made apple cake for the office to prove it.

          They cut the tree down the next year anyways. I was already all set with that place for other reasons, but that was sort of the coup de grace.

          Reply
        3. oranges & lemons

          Yeah, one of the nice things about my current office is that it’s female-dominated (publishing), everyone bakes and everyone appreciates baked goods, so it’s good testing ground for recipes. When I worked for a telecom company and there were only 10 women in the building (vs. something like 500 men) I did not do this.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Absolutely this. I love baking, I bake often, I’m totally happy to share baked goods. I do not bring in baked goods the first day of work (oftentimes, I don’t bring them in the first year of working someplace). In part because it’s gendered, in part because once you start bringing stuff, people don’t do you favors or think well of you—they start asking why you didn’t bring in muffins for the most recent quarterly meeting when you did at the last quarterly meeting.

        Once you’ve established a track record, redistribute your cupcakes as you wish, but don’t do it to buy/curry favor. It looks insecure not thoughtful, and if you’re a woman, it plays on implicit stereotypes. And if you don’t bake normally, don’t start baking just to provide people a treat!

        Reply
    2. Rinnie

      I don’t think I’ve ever thought I owed someone a favor who brought me food. The only thing I “owed” them was perhaps some food in return – like if my coworker pays the lunch tab one day, I’ll pay it the next time. But I’m certainly not going to do any work related favors just because I got some treats!

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        Yeah, there’s that, too. If a co-worker catsits for me, I may catsit for the co-worker, but I’m not going to do her quarterly reports for her!

        Reply
    3. Koko

      Yeah, a good way to get people eager to do favors for you is to thank them *after* they’ve done the favor, not butter them up in advance. An even better way to get people who are eager to do favors for you is to make yourself useful to them in ways that directly help them to be more successful in their job. Mutual benefit makes a strong bond.

      Reply
  4. Amber Rose

    The best ‘nice thing’ you can do as a new manager of an existing group is ease their worries about you by appearing confident and competent and having a rough plan for your first day, and first couple weeks. Cupcakes are probably going to make them wonder where your priorities lie.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      Yeah, everyone gets nervous about new managers. Will the manager be competent? Will the manager be fair? Will my manager advocate for me? Will the manager be a micro-manager or actually trust me to do my job?

      No one breathes a sigh of relief and says “Oh! I was worried my manager wouldn’t be a good one, but she brought cupcakes. Now I know everything will be okay.”

      Reply
    2. ArtK

      Very much so. Come ready to listen and understand how they do their jobs now. Don’t jump in and upset everything in the first week because you want to be the “new broom.” Be transparent about what you’re doing and why. This kind of thing is especially necessary when the team wasn’t involved in the hiring process. There’s little worse than having a manager dumped on you who says (in effect) “I don’t know you or how you work or relate to each other, but from now on it’s my way or the highway.”

      Be confident, not arrogant. “I know better than you people who have been doing this job a long time,” will not win anyone’s support. Even if you do know better.

      Anecdote: Had a new manager who, in the first meeting, said “You make me look good and I’ll make you look good.” Then “If you need drugs, see me.” He didn’t last very long.

      Reply
    3. Artemesia

      Cupcakes read both young and girlish or if older as ‘Mom’ — none of the things you want to be viewed as as a new manager.

      Reply
  5. Coming Up Milhouse

    NOPE.

    I did this many moons ago as a brand new team lead and lost any authority I ever would have had. I was then seen as the “buddy buddy” team lead who would let anything go and then when I tried to do anything performance related, it would blow up and escalate.

    Bringing in cupcakes as a younger manager screams “I’m not confident in my job” and trust me, the sharks can smell blood in the water.

    Reply
    1. AlsoAnon

      Yep. Absolutely. And to some extent, I think that’s ok? Women don’t have to be the same as men to perform effectively at the same jobs. But I think there are lots of great reasons (that AAM gave) why it’s just a bad idea in this instance.

      Reply
    2. Stephanie

      Same. Probably because women in authority are socialized that they have to be nice (or nicer than their male counterparts) lest people label them difficult to work with (i.e., a word that rhymes with witch). It can be a hard thing to unlearn.

      Reply
    3. MashaKasha

      To Alison’s point #2, though, I can totally envision a new male manager starting with an awesome team-building activity on his first day. Laser tag for everyone! And I’d have the exact reaction Alison describes: that this manager is putting fluff before work, and that we may not be able to count on him if we need him to have our back in a work-related situation. Cupcakes definitely do add another dimension to it (item #1).

      Reply
    4. Nerdgal

      I have known a number of men who do this! The man who trained me Told me to do it, and did it himself.

      Reply
      1. paul

        I’ve brought in stuff–not baked goods because I suck at baking–but it’s rareish and sure as hell I didn’t do it on my first day. Some queso or biscuits and gravy or cheese stuffed peppers after a hellacious week where everything goes wrong though…

        note, I’m not a manager and that impacts the dynamic.

        Reply
      2. Leatherwings

        I’m sure there are exceptions, but generally this kind of thing is something women are far more likely to do than men.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        On the first day? Because I haven’t met any men who do that. (I have met men who bake and bring stuff in, but not on their first day.)

        Reply
      4. MashaKasha

        Yes, without a doubt, there are male managers who bake and bring baked goods in. But not on their first day, and certainly not as a warm gesture of greeting to their team.

        Reply
    5. Trout 'Waver

      I like Alison’s response because avoids the ‘But some men do bring cupcakes’ follow-up. Which is beside the point. Even if you strip gender and institutional sexism out of the equation (which is impossible), the advice would still hold.

      Reply
      1. Katie the Fed

        I can’t read Alison’s response yet – it’s block at work for me for some reason. Will have to when I get home.

        Reply
    6. Ramona Flowers

      My male grandboss brought cakes one day. But also pastries and fruit. It was the morning after the Christmas party and we were all hanging. It was not day one or even day 100 or 1,000.

      Reply
    7. Sarah

      Interesting, in my office the two big bakers who bring in home-baked things are both men (one a manager, one an administrative assistant). But maybe my office is just weird (AND AWESOME!).

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I don’t think Katie is saying “men don’t bake.” She’s saying that, in a supermajority of situations, men do not ask if they should bring cupcakes to their first day of work.

        Reply
    8. Nye

      I worked in a lab where we had a few terrific male bakers over the years! But that was definitely unusual, and I think had a lot to do with the fact that we were a genetic​s lab. (With few exceptions, regardless of gender, people who are good at wet genetics are also talented cooks / bakers.)

      Reply
    1. Catalyst

      I had the same thought! Lucky for me, we are having a potluck later and I may actually get one or something equivalent. :)

      Reply
    2. Bolt

      This has made me want to bring cupcakes in when I become a manager… but then eat them all in front of my minions to make them wish I liked them enough to share my cupcakes…

      Reply
      1. Health Insurance Nerd

        I think you may have discovered the one instance where it IS appropriate to bring in cupcakes on the first day!

        Reply
    3. Amber Rose

      There’s a place near here called Cravings that sells gourmet cupcakes and I’m trying so hard to resist going there for lunch.

      Reply
  6. DaniCalifornia

    This reminds me of the Modern Family episode when Claire returns to work and brings cookies. Lol. Just say no.

    Reply
  7. hbc

    Is it crazy that I started thinking up a hierarchy of food items and the relative impression they’d give of a new manager?

    Like, bagels are about the only things you might get away with on the first day. (They’re simple, relatively cheap, and everyone assumes you took 3 minutes to get them tossed in a bag.) If we’re talking end of first week, then doughnuts>muffins>cookies>cupcakes. Homemade undermines you more than store-bought. Generally sweeter looks less professional/more of a buy-off, but the prevalence of doughnuts makes them slightly preferred over muffins. But you can’t swing into non-bakery without looking really strange.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, agreed. Maybe bagels. The disconnect is bringing in a bunch of homemade baked goods like you the team’s Boy Scout troop mom, when everyone is a professional adult. It feels too much like you’re trying to curry favor. Homemade buttercream frosting won’t make up for micromanaging.

      Reply
    2. AnotherAlison

      I think it’s weird that anyone would bring anything on the first day. I work in a big company, but you don’t even go to your desk on Day 1. It’s all onboarding in a training room somewhere. But even on Day 2, you don’t know the norms or what is going to happen. You could bring food and find out your team in participating in a wellness challenge!

      I also don’t bring my lunch or a bunch of stuff for my desk until I’ve been there at least a day. You have to get the lay of the land.

      Also: Reward the team with baked goods? No. Reward them with money. Bring in baked goods once you are established only because you like to bake and share what you make.

      Reply
      1. Another Lauren

        yes! Aside from all other relevant points about needing to be taken seriously, you don’t know the culture yet. Maybe they’re all health-conscious, or maybe they’re still recovering from the time a tanker truck full of buttercream crashed into the side of the building and gave the entire accounts payable team a spontaneous case of diabetes. Best to wait until you know the ins and outs of the company.

        Reply
    3. AndersonDarling

      Yep, I was thinking bagels may be OK, especially if you were planning a sitdown meeting first thing in the morning to discuss the transition with your team.
      And I agree that cupcakes would be at the very bottom of the acceptable hierarchy. It could only be worse if the cupcakes had cartoon characters on them or everyone had a personalized cupcake with their initials. Eeek.

      Reply
    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I think it’s more normal for a manager to bring bagels for an employee’s first day, or for their training/orientation, but not for the manager’s first day. And I definitely would find it weird for a non-management employee to bring bagels on their first day. Unless, of course, they bought a bunch and then told everyone it was their food supply for the week, which would be slightly odd but hilarious if done with the right tone.

      Reply
  8. Nerdgal

    Nobody said the OP had to bake the cupcakes herself! You have to know the culture, but I have definitely worked places where it’s routine for employees of both genders to bring in treats for almost every occasion. Almost always purchased at a local shop.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      It doesn’t matter if she bakes them, and you’re talking about a different situation. The OP is talking about bringing treats in her first day as a manager. It’s a bad idea no matter who makes the cupcakes. If you’ve got a treats-in-the-office culture, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be connected to your start in management.

      Reply
      1. paul

        Yeah, the first day thing is, at least to me, kind of the biggest issue.

        Our boss occasionally brings cupcakes; everyone here *occasionally* brings food for the office (I want to bring some queso con carne now, ugh). But on the first day it seems…IDK, ingratiating? And that’s not what you want for peers, let alone your reports right?

        Reply
        1. JJ

          Yeah. I am known for my baking at work – but my baking is around ‘who is bringing treats for x social event’ or ‘we launched the project on time COOKIES FOR EVERYONE’.

          First day is the eeek factor in this to me. Establish yourself as awesome, with baking being a reward thing not a PLEASE LOVE ME thing.

          Reply
      2. Hedgehog

        And store bought cupcakes are either nasty if they’re from the grocery store or overfrosted ones from a bakery that could come off as even more “girly” than homemade ones.

        Reply
        1. paul

          hey, our local grocery store makes some damn fine fluffy cupcakes. Frosting’s still kind of sweet though.

          the times I’ve tried my cupcakes turned out dense as a brick :/

          Reply
      3. motherofdragons

        If the culture is we-bring-in-treats-for-special-occasions, I would think that the team would be the ones bringing in the cupcakes to celebrate the new manager’s arrival, not the manager herself.

        Reply
  9. Abby

    Can I just add that I hate when people bring treats like this to work in general? I am very health conscious and I always feel like I have to eat some so I don’t look ungrateful.

    Reply
    1. Tableau Wizard

      I generally love it, but when I’m being health conscious or otherwise don’t want some, I definitely don’t feel obligated to partake.

      Reply
    2. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian

      I say no to treats all the time when they’re brought in, for all kinds of reasons (most often: ‘Don’t like it’). I just tell the person who brought stuff in “Thanks for thinking of us!” and leave it at that. There are plenty of others that will finish off all the goodies.

      Reply
    3. Shadow

      You hate when someone tries to do something nice for staff even when it’s a bit misguided or doesn’t meet your preferences?

      Reply
      1. Hedgehog

        If she feels pressured to eat it (whether by coworkers or her own sweet tooth), I can see being frustrated by it.

        Reply
    4. Cookie

      I agree. I’d be thrilled if our boss would bring in coffee in addition to donuts on Fridays (we have a keurig in the office, but it’s byo kcup). Or something that isn’t high in sugar. Literally just now he brought out a lemon cake his wife made – and she works in our office too (on a different team), so there’s definitely some pressure to have a slice.

      Reply
      1. all aboard the anon train

        This is not the case in some offices. In my current office, people just leave the food out in one of the kitchen with a note about any allergens, but most of the time you never know who left it or who takes some.

        In my last office, there would be people who baked and went around to everyone’s desk and MADE you take a slice. It got to the point where people would take it and trash it just so they didn’t feel guilty about not eating what someone brought in.

        (Also this doesn’t even get into all the issues about people who are nosy or judgmental about what coworkers eat for lunch, etc.)

        Reply
    5. AndersonDarling

      And you can’t really cut a cupcake in half and only take a piece. You can get away with cutting a donut or a bagel and taking half, but the cupcake has some unspoken norm that it must be eaten by the one who touches it.

      Reply
    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I don’t mean to be rude, but why not just say “no”? I have a food allergy and cannot eat 90% of what people bring in as treats. But I’m not mad that they brought treats or that I can’t eat them, and I wouldn’t encourage people to stop bringing something that makes others happy when I can opt out.

      Honestly, this is a “return to awkward” situation, imo. If you don’t want to eat the treats, don’t eat them! And if someone gets pushy about trying to make me try a piece, I very kindly/warmly thank them and decline. If they continue to push, I get more firm/no-nonsense about declining. And if someone is overly interested in why you won’t eat their baked goods, feel free to ask them why they’re concerned. You don’t have to eat their food, and most people don’t think of you as “ungrateful” for opting out.

      Reply
    7. MCMonkeyBean

      I doubt anyone pays attention to who eats what. If you don’t want any, don’t eat any. Other people in the office are probably glad for it.

      Reply
    8. Super Anon for This

      I agree generally. We’re in a really small office, so everybody sees who is eating and who isn’t, and the person who bakes them asks how you liked it. It would be a huge faux pas in my office to refuse and cause issues with coworkers.

      Reply
    9. oranges & lemons

      The way my office does it works well–we just leave them in the kitchen and send a note around that they’re available.

      Reply
    10. MashaKasha

      I see how it can be a temptation, but I love it when people bring treats in. 9 times out of 10, I say no to the treats. Never had any issues because of it. Most people are watching their food intake in some fashion, and are not offended to hear that I do too.

      Reply
  10. animaniactoo

    When you need to be seen as an authority figure – even one who can be compassionate and approachable, you need to establish your authority in persona first, and do anything else second.

    My sister is a 5′ 2″, MAYBE 20-years-old appearing high school teacher. Her rule of thumb every year is not to crack a smile for the first month. After her position in the hierarchy is firmly established, she has no issues joking around with her students. Just not before she feels confident that when she tells them it’s time to stop and get back to focusing on the lesson/whatever, they’ll listen and follow direction.

    So… will bringing in cupcakes help you establish authority? Could it hurt? That’s the evaluation you need to make with any other ideas you have for welcoming your team and setting up relationships with them.

    Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      My boss at my first post-college job was the same way. He had taught US history at the local high school before coming to our office, and his rule was not to smile before Christmas. It definitely carried over into how he managed us, which was occasionally a problem because 1) we weren’t high schoolers, 2) it made him seem terrifying and difficult to approach, so new staff were reticent to come to him when they had a problem. In my case, he brought up that I seemed quite reserved during my 90-day check-in, and I didn’t want to make a bad impression by pointing out that he was intimidating.

      Reply
    2. Kate 2

      As a fellow short person (5 feet) and one who gets mistaken for a teenager (I’m almost 30 darn it!) I think your sister is brilliant. People who look their age and/or are tall will never get how much extra work we have to do to be taken seriously.

      When I need to make a major appliance purchase, or have an important meeting at the bank or whatever, I have a full on “adult outfit” which includes makeup, hair, shoes, purse, even nail polish and jewelry are planned.

      It’s absolutely necessary. When I try to shop at the mall even, dressed like an average person (think nice t-shirt and jeans), store owners dismiss me and talk down to me. I can’t even get a haircut without my adult outfit.

      Reply
  11. Shadow

    I say you can do it without it negatively affecting you. Food as a tool to build relationships is underrated. i would do it as part of a meeting to tell them how I operate and what I’ll be focusing on now that I’m new to this role. If you establish yourself as a results driven manager and show them you have high standards you won’t come across as mom even if you bring in food all the time.

    You don’t have to do it, its not for everybody, and it probably wouldn’t work in a male dominated environment, but if this is who you are use it to your advantage. Food is a quick and easy way to get conversations started with your staff.

    Reply
    1. Nerdgal

      I am a female who has worked in a male dominated industry for 40 years. It would absolutely work. It’s done often.
      In case you are interested, I work at petrochemical plants, primarily but not exclusively in the southern USA. I agree 100% with Shadow. Love the meeting idea too.

      Reply
    2. ArtK

      As Alison points out, there are a lot of negatives to doing this early on, no matter what the culture may be. It makes a young woman look less managerial by falling into stereotypical roles. She needs to establish herself as a manager first.

      Besides, she doesn’t truly know the culture yet. This could be a major faux pas on the first day. She needs to learn the culture before doing anything like this.

      Reply
      1. Shadow

        She called them a tight knit group which probably means she knows the culture. The only way I wouldn’t do it is if there are other signs that she might be viewed less. Absent that I think it’s a bit pessimistic to be so risk averse.

        Reply
        1. Leatherwings

          But people can’t possibly know the ins and outs of the culture – maybe she has a sense of the type of culture but that’s not what people mean. Maybe there’s a dieting culture, or generally weird attitude towards women who do homemaking things, or one person is allergic to gluten so there are unspoken rules around shared food.

          In both of those scenarios it could be really really weird to show up with homemade brownies or whatever.

          I think being really risk averse in life might not be great. But one should absolutely be risk averse on their first day at a new job.

          Reply
            1. N.J.

              We don’t need to attempt to be nice in general at work. We need to be competent, reasonably pleasant and always professional. All the rest is wonderful and can really deepen team relationships over time, but why should the goal be “to be nice”? I’ve struggled with this for years, as my default is Nice squared, but it really does impact your perception and effectiveness in a lot of environments.

              Reply
            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              Hmmm, I’d say that’s really not true. In a work context, and especially as a brand-new manager, you need to think about what impressions you’re creating, discomfort you might cause for others, and all the other considerations I wrote about in the article. Niceness is … well, nice, but it’s not such an end-all, be-all that it trumps that stuff.

              And really, no one is going to be upset that their manager didn’t bring in cupcakes on her first day. There’s not any harm in choosing not to.

              Reply
              1. Shadow

                And it’s no ones really going to say “you’re not doing a good job and it’s because of those cupcakes you brought in”

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Of course that’s not how it happens. It’s about the impressions that people form of you, often unconsciously.

                  I don’t know if you’re a woman who’s had to deal with sexism from stupid crap like this, but plenty of us have.

                2. Shadow

                  if I stopped doing nice things every time someone took it the wrong way I’d be a miserable person.

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I think that’s a logical fallacy though. You can be perfectly lovely and nice to people and still apply critical thinking to your decisions.

                4. Stephanie

                  Having been there*, it’s less that and more “We enjoy having you around [perhaps because of the cupcakes], but your performance isn’t meeting these standards and needs to be improved or you’re at risk of being terminated.” No amount of cupcakes can make up for a performance that isn’t meeting standards (at least in a sane office) or a crappy manager. It can look like you’re trying to curry favor, when most people would be perfectly happy with reasonable, attentive manager.

                  What most people are getting at is that the optics of it don’t look great, especially for a manager, especially on her first day. Offices differ about their acceptance of baked goods, but too much of it can make it seem like one’s missing the point that you’re in a professional office, not a family holiday gathering.

                  *Not so much baking, but being the struggling employee who people generally liked

                5. Shadow

                  I get what you’re saying and yes people forming negative impressions from cupcakes is a possibility (and probably likely with some), but how you operate as a manager is going to matter far far more than whether you brought in free food. That’s why I wouldn’t do it without showing employees that you also mean business. And I also think that if you like to do this kind of thing do it, just be sure people know where it falls in the scheme of things. Because I absolutely agree that if you’re known more for food than as a good manager that’s a problem.

                6. Candi

                  How you operate as a manager is going to be overshadowed by being known as Cupcake Mom in almost every environment. It’s not fair, it’s not right, we need to work to change it, but right now, that’s what it is.

            3. Toph

              I don’t think that’s the reason not to do it. To me, any out-of-the-ordinary gesture on one’s first day is a bad idea, from the new person and from the company. First days weird because they’re full of onboarding, but to whatever extent possible, I think it’s best to immediately establish “this is what normal is here”, from both parties. I’ts not about being extra nice, or not being extra nice, or anything to do with niceness at all. The New Boss shouldn’t bring cupcakes on the first day, and New Employee’s Manager shouldn’t take New Employee out to lunch on the company on the first day. Both are abnormal “treats” that normally wouldn’t happen, unless some big accomplishment happened. You don’t need to treat the day as a special occasion. It should be about getting used to what this is. If, for example, this person were planning to bring or bagels, or muffins, or donuts, or whatever, every single week on Mondays, and they did so on Day 1, then ok fine maybe I can see that, because they’re establishing the pattern of “I bring X on Mondays”. But if that’s not a thing you’d do on a fairly regular basis anyway, don’t do it Day 1. Even if it were a thing they planned to do regularly, I still probably wouldn’t do it Day 1, because no matter what impression you got during the interview process, you still really need to be there a little while to have an actual sense of the real culture. Read a room first, as it were. But I can see it being less weird/potentially detrimental doing it day 1 if it were intentionally the start of an overall pattern. But even that assumes you want to establish yourself as Person Who Brings Baked Goods, which maybe some do? But if you don’t, don’t.

              Reply
              1. Naruto

                I love this point. Day 1 absolutely should be about establishing “this is what is normal here,” from both parties!

                Alison’s points about being a new manager, and particularly a young and female one, are well taken, but I just love this idea that’s more generally applicable — everyone should start off a new relationship by trying to demonstrate what normal will be.

                Reply
      2. Super Anon for This

        Right! The stereotype is real and very hard to fight against.

        I am a woman who practices very traditional hobbies. Think baking and crocheting lace doilies, and many more such activities. As soon as people find out that I do, I get taken down a notch in their opinion. You can see it in their eyes and faces and the way they talk to me. Suddenly rather than being described as “efficient” and “excellent” I am “sweet” and “kind”. To my face.

        I try my best to hide my hobbies, but they are such a huge part of my life it is hard to do. Since I am already unable to hide and suffering the consequences, I like to think of it as helping to forge a path for the women after me. The looks on people’s faces when they find out I love motorcycles (wish I owned one!) and action movies! You’d think I was an alien.

        TL;DR Don’t ever do this OP! If you must, do it after a year at least and only bring in obviously store bought goodies. And not cupcakes! Doughnuts at the most.

        Reply
    3. AnotherAlison

      That may be fine for your culture, but I don’t think the OP should brand herself that way if it doesn’t fit with the culture of her company. I work in the EPC industry, and bringing food to a potluck would be fine. Bringing homemade food to a meeting would be weird. Store bought cookies or catered food would not come off as weird and would be a nice gesture for a team meeting, though. I think the culture at my company is that you aren’t supposed to have time for hobbies. (joking not joking)

      Reply
    4. kittymommy

      I’m pretty ride or die on Team Cupcake, but I fyi think the first day is too soon. Maybe a week or two our might work, but it just seems like a lot the first day. However if anyone wants to being me cupcakes I’ll send you my address!

      Reply
      1. Candi

        Read the archives here, including the comments. Baking and bringing in treats working against women is a very real thing.

        Personal favorite: A commentator, female user name, used to bring in treats for a office she once work at. Then work and life did a double round of crazy on her, and she didn’t have time to bake.

        A coworker stopped by her desk and whined she hadn’t brought in anything lately. Up to her elbows in work, doing the job she’s paid for, and all he could think about was the treats that she brought as a gift to her coworkers.

        She never brought in treats again.

        Reply
  12. Liz2

    I agree, and first day/week is already too hectic, don’t add to it!

    After a month or so, you can do a team lunch or happy hour as a way to connect and celebrate. People will still get free food thanks to you but for a specific purpose without the tension.

    Reply
  13. Nicotene

    Sadly I have to say – and I don’t love this about the world – that I try to picture a Jack-Donague style silver haired fox business man when I’m trying to make career choices. And I ask myself, “would he bring cupcakes on his first day?” The answer is NO.

    I don’t really want to conform to masculine stereotypes all day – and Jack was a jerk – but I’m trying to claw my way up from the admin heap here, and have to catch as catch can. All my bosses so far – the people whose careers I’m trying to emulate – have had way more in common with Jack than Liz. (sorry for the 30 rock references for those who haven’t seen the show).

    Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      I have something similar! I call it “What Would Chad Do?” Chad is Chad Chaddington III, my stereotypical white dudebro and low-key workplace guide. Generally, I ask myself what Chad would do, and whether it’s a bad idea because Chad is an idiot, or simply something I’ve been socialized to believe only the Chads of this world are allowed to do. If it’s the latter, I try to do it.

      Reply
      1. Coming Up Milhouse

        Do you work for a health insurer by any chance? I just left a company that had a cartoon Chad Chaddington.

        Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Why? What “advantage” do cupcakes and gender stereotypes provide in this context?

        Reply
        1. Shadow

          most employees appreciate free food at work or even just the gesture of it when they don’t eat it. If I like to do it and can use it to build better relationships that’s to my advantage.

          Reply
          1. Rusty Shackelford

            and can use it to build better relationships

            Well, there’s the issue. Not everybody agrees that bringing cupcakes on your first day is going to help you build better relationships.

            Reply
            1. Shadow

              You’ve got a pretty negative outlook if you don’t see a new manager bringing free food as a positive gesture.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                It’s not that it’s a negative gesture. It’s that it’s a problematic gesture for all the reasons that have been described here. I feel like people have explained that pretty clearly, even if you don’t agree with them.

                Reply
              2. Shadow

                Oh I get that it CAN be problematic but you guys are making it sound like she probably works with a bunch of unappreciative, cynical misogynists and it’s inevitable that it will be.

                Reply
                1. animaniactoo

                  Not that it’s inevitable… simply that the risk of it happening at even a *middlin* level and a gesture like this pushing them over one side of the line instead of the other is likely enough that it is not worth it for the much less likely potential benefit. It’s all about risk analysis here and choosing a path which is most likely to give optimal results against a wide array of potential situations.

                2. Naruto

                  It may not be inevitable, but it seems almost inherent in the gesture to me that this is a move that screams “please accept me as one of you,” rather than “I am your boss, let’s get to work.”

          2. Kate 2

            I agree with Rusty. Additionally don’t you think it is a better idea to build good relationships with time, and getting to know each other and not food?

            Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I’m asking because you’ve noted that this works in your industry/field, and I’m trying to understand how—for a young, female manager—it builds better relationships to bring in cupcakes (not just any kind of food) on your first day. In my experience, it has had the exact opposite effect; it undermined the manager and put the focus on her being cute or mom-ish, and it seemed a little desperate.

            But I believe it’s possible and could be different in other fields! I’m just trying to understand the link you’re making between cupcakes and relationships in this specific context (first day on the job as a 25 y/o woman).

            Reply
              1. Shadow

                The only times I’ve ever seen free food become an issue is when people are unhappy about something else, its valued inappropriately or someone feels left out bc of dietary/medical issues. If you’re treated decently at work most reasonable people appreciate it

                Reply
          4. hbc

            Shadow, you’re hearing from a *lot* of people who don’t appreciate the gesture, often because they see that you’re trying to use it to relationship-build. What does it harm you to wait a week to see if this is the kind of group or office culture where this will fly?

            I mean, if you’re walking into an environment where the last couple of managers gave silly little perks to paper over bad management, or the company launched a Wellness initiative the week before, or your group loves treats but *your* new boss fired the last person for being too much of a Group Mom and not enough of a manager, you’re making your job harder. Whoever can be bought off with treats will still be able to be bought later.

            Reply
    2. Kate 2

      This is brilliant and I am going to do it from now on! I think it is similar to “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. Or “Dress for one level up from your job.” Bosses and especially CEOs almost never bring in treats.

      Reply
  14. Ramona Flowers

    My idea of a nice gesture from a new manager: talk to me about my background and how we’re going to work together, get to know me and have my back.

    Reply
  15. sam

    I bring in baked goods once in a while, but only after I’m well-established and for targeted events. The first time I did it at my current office, it was actually in connection with a charity event the office was holding – we have a bake sale/competition every year, where everyone is encouraged to bring something in, and it gets…very competitive.

    I’ve won the past two years in a row.

    I will sometimes then bring in an “extra” apple pie for my group the following week because they sometimes don’t all make it down in time for the actual competition.

    I’ll also bake cookies around the holidays – usually just if I’m already baking some for, say, a friends holiday party that I’m going to after work, I’ll make an extra batch for the office so that I don’t look like a jerk who brings cookies to the office but then doesn’t actually give any out.

    But other than that, I actually try to limit it, specifically because even with just the once-yearly competition, people outside of my department see me and refer to me as “the apple pie lady” (seriously – my apple pies are AMAZING).

    Reply
    1. sam

      Oh, and because of the competition, we’ve discovered some SERIOUS bakers among the guys in our office as well. One of the guys (who has been here longer) now also offers up his wares for other charity-related events we have at the office (like our silent auction).

      Reply
  16. NicoleK

    There’s a lot going on for the first day. Maybe provide cupcakes at your first team meeting if you want to show appreciation.

    Reply
    1. Betty (the other Betty)

      I disagree. Maybe bring treats for the SECOND team meeting. Not the first, for the same reasons as “not on the first day.” I’d even say hold off for a month or two.

      Plus, if you provide treats at the first meeting, people might expect you to provide them at every meeting. Better to provide “thank you” treats for for occasional, specific reasons.

      Reply
  17. Dealtwiththis

    A former manager of mine brought in extravagant donuts on her second day for the whole office (huge donuts from some specialty shop with themes like s’mores, fruity pebbles, cap’n crunch. They had to be extremely expensive and she brought in one for each person which was at least 25). It was seen as trying way too hard and being way over the top. By the time I left a year later, she was still trying way too hard and was way over the top. She never quite fit in.

    Reply
  18. Lora

    Here is what you want to do, maybe not your first day but when you are first getting your bearings:
    -Set up one on one meetings and chat with folks for an hour or so to ask about their background and how they got there, what they are working on right now and what they want to do with their careers and things of that nature
    -Figure out what administrative type support you really have: does Security get people their badges right away or do you have to harangue them about it? Is HR good at setting up people’s insurance paperwork or do you need to remind them for months on end? It’s a real disappointment when your support staff sucks.
    -Walk around watching how people work. Not so much in an office because that’s creepy, but if there’s a work flow that runs through a manufacturing shop or a retail distribution center or something like that, get a firsthand look.
    -Do not change anything until you thoroughly understand the current system. People often rush in to change things without understanding, and even if the current way sucks out loud, the people who created the current method will be all butthurt that you said their baby was ugly, sort of thing.

    There are no cupcakes in any of these things.

    Reply
  19. Geneva

    Nooooooo cupcakes! You’ll completely undermine your authority. In fact, avoid doing any office “cheerleader” tasks like planning parties, answering phones, greeting visitors, etc. There’s this book called “101 mistakes women should avoid to get ahead” or something like that and bringing food is one of them. From one young corporate woman to another, I highly recommend it.

    I’ll also add, quit caring about being liked. Focus on doing the job and doing it well. I’d much rather have a competent boss than a cupcake.

    Reply
  20. MechE31

    When I started at a small company on the leadership team, I bought a catered lunch for the normal monthly potluck. It was about 3 weeks after I started. I think it kind of signaled a change in leadership from the previous team lead who had no concern for other departments.

    Reply
  21. Essie

    Even aside from the excellent arguments about impressions, gendering, and the like, imagine how this would actually play out. You’re nervous and sweating your way through a suit, fumbling with your belongings, and uncertain about the set-up of the areas in which you’ll spend the day. Why would you want to also be juggling an armload of perishable food, with no idea where to put it or how to communicate its availability? It’s just a huge awkward hassle on top of a monumentally difficult day.

    Reply
    1. LS

      My thoughts exactly, and then you come across as someone who couldn’t anticipate any of this… not a good first impression.

      Reply
  22. Recovering Adjunct

    This is tangential, but my spouse just started a new job and on the first day, they put a big box of treats from a bakery that’s a local obsession at his desk, then sent out an email to the office telling them there was Portos on the new person’s desk and to go over, grab a treat and introduce themselves. It made for an awesome first day!

    Reply
  23. Former Computer Professional

    At a former job, when a new person started, no matter their role (even for upper management!), work bought bagels and donuts for each kitchen.

    It was tradition to go to the office of the new coworker and say, “Welcome, and thanks for the bagels and donuts!” Even if they were company-bought, it was a way for the newbie to meet folks, although they often didn’t get much done that first day. :-)

    Reply
  24. Hiring Mgr

    I think we can all agree if the OP were to bring in crepes rather than cupcakes the reactions would be FAR different.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS