I enjoy baking, and on a number of occasions have baked cakes or other desserts for people in the office to celebrate their birthday or a work-related milestone. I've done this of my own accord, without being asked. I don't do this for every birthday or milestone, and it's usually related to me wanting to practice a recipe, or express gratitude to someone.

Last week, I overheard a co-worker saying that I'd be baking a cake for a milestone they were close to hitting. I had never said such a thing, I had no plans to do so. When he approached me to "suggest" I bake a cake for the milestone, I said no, and he responded, "But you like baking, so just bake a cake for us."

Baking is a hobby for me, but it's also time-consuming, and can get expensive for some things just with the cost of ingredients. The title is a bit misleading, as it's not so much about the free part - I don't want to do it in exchange for money. It's more about the time aspect for me - time spent baking is time not doing other things I enjoy.

How do I explain to my co-worker that I don't want to bake a cake for his milestone? I'm finding it a bit tricky as I have set a precedent of baking things in the past.

Edit 5th Oct 2023: I had forgotten about this question until now, but thought I'd give an update. I didn't end up baking a cake for the milestone. The co-worker brought it up one more time after I posted this question, and I reiterated my "No" answer with no further elaboration. I did feel a bit bad and ended up cutting down on my baking in general so as to not make him feel singled-out. We are still in good terms.

There's been a lot of turnover since then and I am no-longer known as The Baker - a reputation I am glad to have shed to avoid future encounters. Now I just leave things anonymously in the different kitchens in our office building.

  • 10
    Are you sure that the problem is that you weren't asked first? If he asked first, would you have baked it?
    – user3169
    Aug 14, 2017 at 1:20
  • 36
    @user3169 In this instance, if I was asked first, I would still have said no, as I don't have the time at the moment. In another case, I may have been more obliging if he had asked me first, but because of this, I'm now relucatant to say yes.
    – Fodder
    Aug 14, 2017 at 3:39
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    @user3169 True, the coworker might have his feelings hurt that he doesn't get a cake like "everybody else", but I think it is presumptuous, and therefore rude, to just assume that because someone voluntarily made a cake outside of the context of work for a coworker, that everyone should expect the same for each and every similar occasion. Whether or not it is rude to only give cakes to some coworkers seems like a separate question.
    – Beofett
    Aug 14, 2017 at 16:36
  • 8
    @user3169 My point is that the important part of the request (the actually making of the cake) involves the OP outside of work, and thus is outside of the context of work. If I buy a birthday card for a coworker using my own money, on my own initiative, distributing birthday cards is a social activity that happens to occur sometimes in work. It is not a work related activity. The fact that the coworker argued "but you like to bake" as justification supports this. But we're getting well beyond what is appropriate for comment discussion at this point.
    – Beofett
    Aug 14, 2017 at 17:49
  • 9
    People seem to have forgotten the art of the frosty "Excuse me!?" in immediate response to something which deserves it as much as a presumptuous "Just bake a cake for us."
    – Beanluc
    Aug 15, 2017 at 17:48

12 Answers 12


I think you already said all that really needed to be said when you said:


"No" is a complete sentence. You're not always required to justify yourself when saying "no".

I think this qualifies as one of those situations. A coworker assumed that you would be doing something that you hadn't actually agreed to do, and further overstepped by telling others that you would. When they got around to actually asking, they chose not to accept your answer and said:

But you like baking, so just bake a cake for us.

People who act like this kinda deserve to get shut down from time to time. It may even teach them to ask rather than to assume, or to obligate.

If you really feel the need to explain, be direct and be firm.

You just assumed that I was going to bake for you. I don't have the time, money, or inclination. You should have asked rather than telling people to expect a cake.

  • 59
    you may find "no thankyou" better than just no. It sounds like you're declining a generous offer. It may well make the asker think (or even say) "but I'm not offering you a favour, I'm asking for one!" And that may be quite enlightening. Aug 14, 2017 at 0:02
  • 29
    "You should have asked rather than telling people to expect a cake." There is no indication that the OP should have known the coworkers told others, the OP just "overheard" it. I think the only explanation needed is "No, I'm busy this week"
    – user17915
    Aug 14, 2017 at 3:16
  • 12
    Nice answer. I just want to add that if someone doesn't accept a "no" for an answer to a question, like the coworker did, then it wasn't a question but an order.
    – Purrrple
    Aug 14, 2017 at 7:29
  • 16
    I think the last sentence is likely to be alienating. Maybe something more like "Sometimes I feel like baking a cake for my colleagues, and there is often an event to attach the cake to - but I can't possibly bake something for every milestone". Optional (cheekily) "I could provide you with some recipes if it means so much to you?" ;-) Aug 14, 2017 at 13:46
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    @GrimmTheOpiner I think the other party's response to rejection of "but you like baking, so just bake a cake for us" is far more alienating. How out of touch with basic social interaction does one have to be to assume that something will do something without it being their job? Even in a professional setting it's always advisable to ask if someone can do something rather than assume, as you don't know what their schedule looks like and even if you do there might be a factor you've missed.
    – Cronax
    Aug 15, 2017 at 10:05

I don't think this needs to be so complicated.

If you really feel the need to explain, just tell him what you have already said here: "It is purely a hobby for me, but it is also time-consuming and I don't have time to bake you a cake (next week or whenever)"

If he persists with some kind of guilt trip about "but you baked a cake for (whoever)", just reiterate that you had time then, but you don't now. Be honest and sincere. That's it.

It really sounds like it is that simple. Don't let him badger you about this. If he can't accept this simple and honest explanation, don't get into it further. Just drop it.

  • 2
    The thing is, the OP has no obligation to excuse himself. A no is a no. Aug 14, 2017 at 16:23
  • 5
    User3115. I like your answer. You caveat this with "if you really feel the need to explain..." leaving up to OP to determine that. You encourage openness and sincerity, and yet firmness, without encouraging the OP to judge the person she is having to say no to. Nice!
    – AgapwIesu
    Aug 14, 2017 at 16:24

For me a bit of social engineering can go a long way in situations like this.

Always be kind, polite, generous with your response.

No thank you, but I appreciate you thinking of me.

Said kindly and with a smile its disarming and people do not like to disappoint or argue with someone who is treating them kindly. So even though you said no, they are put into the position of explaining why. If they do press it will likely be in a more pleading manner than the demanding tone they tried to take in the first place. And you can respond

I am sorry I just am not going to be able to bake this one.

I suspect you are a normally kind and giving person so just continue to be that even while delivering the bad news.

  • 1
    I think this a better approach than just saying "No." if this affair is happening in a wholly work-related environment. That person may be your boss someday, or a co-worker that you have to work with on a project. Expect impartiality? I wouldn't.
    – user3169
    Aug 14, 2017 at 17:29
  • Good advice, IHatePeople
    – galois
    Oct 18, 2017 at 12:43

A hobby is something you do for fun and enjoyment. The motivation is internal. Work is something you do because you have to. The motivation is external. If you're forced to bake a cake then it ceases being a hobby and becomes a job. It's not really any different than if your hobby was fishing and you occasionally brought your catches in to share, or woodworking and you gave away your latest creations... The process is your hobby, and a side-effect is the product (cake/fish/wooden knick-knack). That you choose to share any products of your hobby is great, but making sure your coworker understands that your cakes aren't tied to the milestones is important to prevent this kind of misunderstanding in the future.

Milestones are an excuse, not a cause

Let them know that Milestones are an excuse to practice your hobby, but you don't bake for every milestone, rather if you happen to have baked at the time of a milestone it's a good excuse to bring the results in and share. However, as baking is a hobby not part of your job you only do it when you have time and inclination, not for every milestone. It also would be worth mentioning that being required to do it takes some of the fun out of it, and makes you less inclined to want to do it in the first place.

If you'd asked me first I might have considered it (assuming I had the spare time) but your assumption that I have to make you a cake makes it seem like a job and takes the fun out of it. When I have the time and ingredients to do some baking I'm happy to bring in some of the product to share, and a milestone can be a great excuse, but no one is required to bring food for milestones.

  • 4
    If that's not forceful enough, point out that if you start making cakes when asked, eventually people will start assuming that you will make cakes for them without even bothering to ask first, which means they feel they can dictate how you will spend your free time (hint: this already happened)
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 14, 2017 at 18:14
  • 1
    I am not sure the OP really wants to turn this person into an adversary at work. And this response is likely to do just that Aug 16, 2017 at 21:57

Your coworker has no reason to expect you to bake for them and they are being presumptuous to assume you will always be able to make a cake for every event. The very fact that you haven't done it every time should tell them that you bake by choice, not by default.

Thank them for appreciating your baking but ask them to respect that you bake for fun, not out of any obligation. All of the things you explain here are things you should tell your coworker.

  • it's time-consuming/you are too busy right now
  • ingredients are expensive
  • you do it for fun

You probably shouldn't mention that you do it to thank people because he will likely ask why he shouldn't be thanked.

You could certainly make a recommendation of a good local bakery for them to buy a cake from instead. If they complain about the cost, you can ask why they think you should have to cover the cost for them by spending your time and money on their cake. Alternately, do you know of anyone else in the office who likes to bake? Perhaps they would be happy to take on this person's celebration.

You should also have broached the subject when you first overheard them talking about it. They may have been spreading this misinformation all over the office between when you overheard and when he approached you which might make the lack of a cake embarrassing for him... but that isn't your fault. You should be aware of it, which is why I recommend mentioning a bakery or coworker.

Whatever you do, don't give in to them. They made an error, assuming that you would bake for them. You shouldn't be punished for that. Give him an alternative and ask him to check with you first in the future.

Also, don't let it effect when you choose to bake in the future. You do it for fun, not out of obligation. Don't let the stress of his behavior diminish your enjoyment. You are not to blame. You did nothing wrong.

I have been in a similar situation. I love to bake and bring in treats. My boss wanted me to bring in hundreds of cookies/cupcakes for a party and we were able to make an agreement that I would be compensated for ingredients and time. I used it as a chance to practice baking in bulk, which I'd never done before. But, as you say, in this case it's not about money.

  • 3
    Your final paragraph has two important aspects: (a) agreement, and (b) compensation. By being compensated for both your time and the ingredients, your boss essentially asked you to take on a task for work. It's not out of line for a superior to request you perform a specific task (even if that task is performed at some location other than your normal place of work). It would almost certainly be out of line for a superior to assume that you'd perform a specific task simply out of the goodness of your heart, even if it's something that you normally enjoy doing.
    – user
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:41

"That is really a compliment that you enjoy my cakes so much. Thank you! I am sorry but I have to decline, I really have a lot going on right now."

*If you feel like contributing to the cause, you can further suggest: "Why don't we all chip in a get a nice cake from the [XXXX supermarket] bakery?"

**Use the "chip in" option with caution because if it catches on, you might be permanently off the hook for baking cakes in the future but you could be subject to being hit up for cake donations.

In my high school Journalism class, we used to chip in and order a sheet cake, pizza, chips and bottles of cola from the corner bakery to celebrate special occasions. At least I got my share out of the goodies. Then you can bring in your sweet contributions "just whenever" as a special treat. I should also suggest that you do what I do, alternate goodies in the future: be random with cakes, pies, cookies, doughnuts, sweet rolls, strudels, crisps, turnovers, empanadas and other pastries to share for special occasions and "just whenever".


How do I explain to my co-worker that I don't want to bake a cake for his milestone?

Why do you want to explain it?

You have already refused the possibility of baking a cake for him. If he/she is not asking for an explanation, I don't think there is any need for explanation. You bake out of your own free will and If there is any misconception getting cooked up, you should end it as soon as possible.

If you think he will take it personally, then if he asks again, you can clearly but humbly tell him that the gesture of baking cakes were less related to someone's milestone and more related to your own will to bake it.

  • 2
    The thing is you have to work with this person. He may not ask for a cake again, but if he takes it personally there may be some other negative consequence.
    – user3169
    Aug 14, 2017 at 6:59
  • if there is any misconception getting cooked up - love the pun. Aug 14, 2017 at 8:23
  • I would prefer to live with the consequences than being a doormat, in the present and more importantly for the future Aug 14, 2017 at 15:22
  • Definitely the consequences of not being expected to make grand gestures at your coworker's whim sound like positive, rather than negative consequences. Maybe if the coworker took it personally they will be less likely to try and inappropriately order others around, too, so it sounds like another win.
    – Darren
    Aug 14, 2017 at 16:22

To quote your comment:

In this instance, if I was asked first, I would still have said no, as I don't have the time at the moment. In another case, I may have been more obliging if he had asked me first, but because of this, I'm now reluctant to say yes.

As others have mentioned, "No" is a full sentence. Additionally, if you do feel the need to explain and don't want to offend anyone, just say what you did here: "No, sorry but I'm busy this week".

You could also add on what people who get asked to knit/crochet free stuff often say to stave off other "gimme" requests: "No, sorry I'm busy this week.... and I have baking planned for the foreseeable future/next xx months/schedule is chock-full/etc."

He/she doesn't need to know that you plan to bake imaginary cakes for yourself ;)


A strategy for the near future, to counter

I'm finding it a bit tricky as I have set a precedent of baking things in the past.

You might just bring a cake in between occasions, and maybe even omit baking for occasions for some (short) time.

They are going to ask about the occasion, and you can explain that there is none. Baking is your hobby, you just wanted to try a new recipe, and they are your guinea pigs.

Edit in response to comment: I don't suggest to change your behavior completely, just to make it slightly less predictable. The question was "How do I explain...?" This will communicate your motives by showing, and creates an opportunity to explain them.

  • 4
    Why should the OP have to change their behavior because of this person?
    – Catija
    Aug 14, 2017 at 14:40
  • @Catija: edited to address your concerns
    – user24582
    Aug 15, 2017 at 7:30
  • 2
    @Catija By bringing bake for occasions, OP have created apparent cause-and-effect relation. Not for this one person, but for everyone. Such connotations must be avoided in order to not lure people into feeling entitled to OP's cake.
    – Agent_L
    Aug 17, 2017 at 15:51
  • 1
    @Agent_L No one is ever entitled to anything like this. It is utterly different to say "I've noticed you've been baking for other people, are you thinking about doing something for me, too?" And telling people that it's a sure thing without ever asking. The coworker made an error.
    – Catija
    Aug 17, 2017 at 15:54
  • 1
    @Catija I never said they are entitled. I said they feel entitled.
    – Agent_L
    Aug 17, 2017 at 15:59

Either say "no" whilst looking them in the eye... or since this is a work-related 'milestone' (I hate how much unpaid labour is given to workplaces, personally) get the boss to encourage the employees (do their job, in other words) by paying you for your time baking - even though I know you don't want to do it for money, it's the time and respect aspect you care about. Thus, this payment doesn't have to be admitted in front of everyone. So you can benefit from the kudos and the money. Or swap it for another favour from your boss AND from the assumption-pushy co-worker, who should know better. It is kind of a compliment that people want to eat your cakes, incidentally. Turn this to your advantage, but make sure it is to your greater advantage than just "oh look s/he baked another cake, good doggy, have a bone" sort of thing. Or just say "no".

  • It's not the job of their boss to make other employees pay them for something they did without being asked because they felt like making a kind gesture. Suggesting otherwise is ridiculous. Aug 14, 2017 at 12:33

I would say, "I'll do the baking if you raise a fund to pay for materials and my time."

That would tell people that there's a cost to your doing the work.

Because you have done baking before, it's not so easy to refuse this time. But you could "price" high to make them aware of the cost. "I'll do the baking for $1 million." OK, that was a joke.

But it seems like $100 might be too little. Maybe $1000 sounds better. So offer to do the baking for $1,000 or any other price that sounds good.

If they take you up on it,you've earned a lot of money. And if the ask why, tell them you've "moved on," and need to be paid to come back.


Ugh, I despise that sort of person ...

My answer ...

First, you didn't check with me before promising other people I would do this thing. You trying to get something from me, that's a commission.

Since I've got other plans you are paying me emergency rates. Which is (double/triple) my hourly rate at work. Additionally, that's in addition to bringing me a shrubbery or all the ingredients for the cake. Alternatively I can recommend several good bakeries / confectioneries.

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