I am often amazed at how many people send me photos of cakes. Not to me personally, but for a client’s intranet. Because the Photo Gallery is intended to acquaint people who work across North America, we have a strict no-cake photo policy, unless employees accompany it.

Still, people continue to send cake pics, often festooned with the company logo. Although many of them are tech wizards, they seem impressed  with  bakers’ ability to copy the logo. When a photo does not involve a logo cake, often they try to squeeze in a company sign.

The silliest cake photo I ever received was in honor of people who had lost considerable weight in a health and wellness contest. Perhaps the organizers felt a fruit tray or other healthier  alternative would not have embodied the congratulatory spirit. Though, even if the successful dieters were looking forward to a break from celery and tuna, I’m sure they would have chosen a treat more tantalizing than the standard white slab cake with diabetic-coma frosting. But I digress.

My point is that cakes are a powerful symbol of employee engagement. True, muffins may be substituted at breakfast meetings and chi-chi cupcakes for elite events. But slab cakes are a universal symbol of celebration. It all started at your first birthday party.

Perhaps the measurement gurus should correlate employee engagement with the number and size of cakes consumed, with bonus points for logo cakes.

After all, the cakes usually represent joyous events, thanking people for long service, congratulating them on a baby, celebrating a team success  or wishing them well in retirement. For most people, engagement with work comes from  personal fulfillment  and  social bonds. Cake captures that.

So do the signs.  Even when they overshadow  the people who should be the focus of the photo,  they  proclaim: “I’m proud to work here” or “We’re thousands of miles apart, but we’re part of the same work family.”

what does art reflect
Mary McKenzie

I thought about the power of  symbols again this week when I wrote a media pitch about an exhibit of ceramic sculptures by my friend Mary McKenzie. I’m no art expert, though I enjoy it almost as much as cake.

What fascinated me most was how the pieces reflected her intimate feelings. Although she would confide in a friend, she would not share them publicly.

Even at a time when some people bare all on reality television, most people prefer to communicate through symbols and guard the emotional details.

If I ask the employees in the photo about the feelings behind the cake or the sign, they often clam up. Still, I should keep asking. Those who are comfortable answering provide valuable insight into the engagement that lives behind those cakes, signs and other symbols.

Eat that, Carl Jung.

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Cakes and other employee engagement symbols
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