06 Jan 2020

Brits spend £1,700 a year on office treats and meets

  • British office workers spend £1,715, including on nights out, coffees, birthdays and charity
  • Feelings of unhappiness and pressure occur when requests for money do the office rounds
  • A third borrow money from colleagues with more than one in ten not paying the money back
  • Eight in ten office workers socialise with colleagues; more than one in ten out 4-6 days a week

Any thoughts that the post-Christmas period may offer respite from spending should be reconsidered as new research reveals going back to work is a major drain on the nations’ finances.

A national poll1 from Nationwide Building Society shows that even after lunch and travel have been accounted for, working in an office is, on average, leaving people £1,715 out of pocket each year. The cost covers a range of office expectations, from charity sponsorship requests and nights out with colleagues to birthday and leaving contributions and office treats – coffees, teas and sweets.

Across a working lifetime of four decades, this would equate to £68,601 – more than two years’ take-home pay based on the UK average salary of £30,4202.

The cost of working in an office

Item/ reason Average amount spent per year
Drinks / parties / nights out (e.g. with colleagues after work or during seasonal festivities) £292.32
Clothes and bags £154.44
Technology (e.g. tablet, phone, mouse, calculator) £115.68
Sweets/ treats £115.44
Coffees/ teas £114.96
Birthdays (cards / presents) £108.60
Colleague leaving presents / cards £97.32
Comfort items (e.g. tissues, tablets, anti-bac, sprays) £95.16
Stationery £93.48
Retirements (e.g. cards / gifts) £92.40
Charity/ Sponsorship requests £91.20
Weddings (e.g. cards / gifts) £89.04
Births (e.g. cards / gifts) £87.24
Other equipment (e.g. pens, staplers, highlighters) £87.72
Bereavements (e.g. cards / gifts) £80.52
TOTAL £1,715.52

And when December rolls around, workers are also spending an additional £203, on average, on secret Santa gifts for colleagues.

Happy or unhappy

While most office workers appear content to keep the purse-strings loose in the office (88 per cent are happy to contribute on at least one of the items noted above), that is not always the case. One of the big sticking points is teas and coffees with nearly one in five (19%) saying they are unhappy buying a round.

When it comes to Christmas, it may not have been the season of goodwill as far as the office was concerned, with 15 per cent of workers admitting they would be unhappy buying secret Santa presents. The same percentage want to avoid shelling out for office Christmas celebrations, such as parties, lunches and dinners, altogether. However, the money saving spirit is often overtaken by peer pressure - nearly a quarter (23%) of workers admit to being strong-armed into taking part in the office secret Santa while one in five (20%) feel the same when it comes to Christmas parties, lunches and dinners.

According to the Nationwide poll of more than 2,000 office workers around the country, 15 per cent don’t like to pay out on charity requests and a further two in five (40%) are indifferent to such requests. But, perhaps common courtesy overrides actual feelings, as nearly a quarter (23%) admit they feel pressurised to financially contributing when colleagues come asking.

Perhaps more surprisingly, 15 per cent of office workers admitted they do not like to contribute financially towards, for example, buying a card or gift for a colleague who has suffered a bereavement.

On the bright side, more than half of the nation’s office workers say they are happy to put money in for a colleague’s leaving card or present (54%) or for an office birthday (54%). However, more than a quarter say they feel pressurised when it comes to contributing towards birthday and leaving presents and cards (both 26%).

Out of hours socialising

Around eight in ten (79%) office workers say they go out with colleagues after work. It is particularly prevalent amongst young people with 87 per cent of those aged 16 to 24 and 85 per cent of 25 to 34-year olds going out after work. This compares to 75 per cent of those aged 35 to 44, more than two thirds (69%) of workers aged 45 to 54 and just 67 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

Regionally, office workers in London (86%) and the North East (84%) are most likely to socialise with colleagues out of working hours. However, more than a quarter (26%) of people in the East of England say they don’t go out with work colleagues with a similar number (both 25%) in the West Midlands and South West.

For those that do go out after work, more than one in 20 (6%) admit to doing it everyday while more than one in ten (11%) go four to six days a week and 13 per cent going two to three days. Perhaps unsurprisingly, more than one in five (21%) of 16 to 24s go out four to six days a week compared to just eight per cent of those aged 35 to 44.

Workplace loans

According to the Nationwide poll, nearly a third (32%) of office workers have borrowed money from colleagues with men (38%) more likely to do so than women (28%). For more than a third (37%), they needed money to chip in for something but had no cash on them with 31 per cent running out of money before payday and more than a quarter (27%) forgetting their wallet or purse.

However, not all borrowed money is returned as more than one in ten (11%) admit to not paying the money back and this is particularly more likely to happen with those aged 16 to 24 (18%). That age group is also the most likely to borrow money in the first place (47%) followed by those aged 25 to 34 (39%).

Guy Simmonds, Head of Current Account Customer Management at Nationwide, said: “As our research shows, it’s ironic that work can be so expensive given we get paid to do it. However, on the basis we spend so much time in and out of the office with colleagues, it is perhaps unsurprising that we pay out so much on and with each other, especially those in big teams. Yet, enjoying the camaraderie of working in a team can put pressure on the purse strings throughout the year, which is why it is important not to feel pressured and only put in what you can afford. We would recommend putting some money aside each payday to ensure you have enough for yourself before you have to deal with the myriad of birthdays, charity requests, coffee rounds and nights out.”

1 Research conducted online by Censuswide between 18 and 19 December 2019 with 2,017 office workers who have colleagues.

2 Office for National Statistics: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/bulletins/annualsurveyofhoursandearnings/2019 (2. Main Point, bullet 1: Median weekly earnings of £585 x 52 = £30,420). Take home pay (after contributions and taxes and assuming no pension) is £24,223 (https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/tax-calculator/)

3 Research conducted online by Censuswide between 4 and 6 November 2019 with 2,018 UK consumers.