Employee Satisfaction – When Pizza Isn’t Enough

Employee Satisfaction Factors

It should come as no surprise that employee satisfaction isn’t always high. Indeed many people are not at all happy in their workplace environment, and that pizza recognition might not be the end-all-be-all answer to retaining and rewarding your company’s workforce.

Many unhappy folks get up at 5 a.m., shower, throw on the suit and tie and trudge to work because they have to. But often the reward/value system in which most employee and employer relations are built on are the cause of stress, tension and unhappiness that can lead to the loss of a valuable worker. In other words, “I do this so I can pay my bills, buy what I need, support my family, etc.”

Employee Surveys Reveal Further Motivations

Conversely, many people truly enjoy what they do every day in their workplace environment, and their employee motivation is high. They bounce out of bed ready to head to work, and what’s more, they look forward to the challenges and victories of the day because they are happy where they work and with what they do.

So what makes one group simply have work and the other group want to work? Many experts today disagree with the idea that we work simply for monetary reward, that work only so we can receive compensation for what performing tasks in a successful way.

Polls Reveal Employee Motivation as Factor in Employee Satisfaction

Recently, Time magazine reported that in 2010, less than half (45% to be exact) of American workers were satisfied with their jobs. Another employee survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association found that approximately 36% of employees complained of chronic work stress with 32% saying they were so dissatisfied with their workplace to look for another job within a year. Another Gallup poll showed that up to 80% of employees do not feel engaged at work and feel little or no loyalty or passion for their job.

Dire news. Makes one wonder why companies continue to offer employee development, bonuses, motivational seminars, pizza parties and other forms of motivational tools that are clearly not having the same impact they were 20 to 30 years ago.

Workplace Environment, Shifts in Motivation

It’s because our collective personality as employees has changed. We no longer seek the monetary reward as the sole reason for work. In today’s society employees are seeking self-satisfaction and fulfillment in all areas of their life. They want to feel they are receiving a life-changing or, at least, a life-improving, journey through love, play, faith and a healthy work environment.

In his book, Punished by Rewards, author Alfie Kohn states that traditional motivation no longer works and can actually hurt a work environment. He says that as soon as a punishment or reward is removed, the motivation of an employee disappears along with it.Secondly, if you don’t constantly “up” the reward system, then motivation goes stagnant, and in the end, using punishment or rewards kills the original desire of an employee to be proactive for its own sake. So, what does work? What makes employees want to come to work every day and do the best job that they can without the old-fashioned punishment/reward system?  Or is pizza really the answer?

Employee Satisfaction Tied to Employee Development

One Harvard Business Review study says the top factor that kept employees happy and engaged was “making progress.” They reported that employees who felt they were given the employee development resources and time to excel in their position were more fulfilled and stimulated at work. In other words, they were happy.

So instead of supervisors being the source of motivation (i.e., offering raises, pizza parties and other reward events), they instead become mentors and help employees find their own source of motivation. According to a Calumet-Purdue report, employees reported that certain motivators kept them engaged and happy. The top ones were being able to challenge themselves, having a choice in what they do daily, being able to work within a team and receiving positive and true recognition for the work they did.

So, what motivates you? Think on this, because likely, the same factors that motivate you motivate your employees as well. Do the bonuses/pizza party/punishment and reward system still work? Is there still a case for it?

Share your thoughts.


Heide Brandes is a writer and content creator for Xceptional HR.  She has more than 15 years of experience as an award-winning journalist and editor who specializes in human resources, career, and recruiting topics. You can learn more about Heide, our newest contributor at HeideWrites and follow her on Twitter @heidewrite.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Prof KRG says

    Work motivation needs to be intrinsic to be long lasting. I get this type of motivation from personal relationships. I want to see that I’m making a difference in others’ lives. I also want to receive support from my supervisors to do my job. Support, in my mind, comes from autonomy, actual support (if necessary) and praise. I can buy my own pizza.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Thanks for the comment. Pizza and small incentives but at the end of the day these are not likely enough to keep an employee engaged, happy, and working at your company. Treating people like people, having conversations and being genuine are the keys to retaining your workforce. If you know what they want, you can adapt your retention strategy to work for them.

      Thanks for reading and I’m enjoying our Twitter conversations. Have a great trip and we’ll meet up for coffee when you get back in August.


  2. Sherree says

    Corporate cultures have changed with this recession. Now it’s “what do we do to stay afloat,” rather than encouraging growth for the company and in turn employees. I’m not surprised at the percentages of people that are not happy at work. It is especially true nowadays with job cuts happening left and right, and workloads increasing when those cuts are made.

    I have always felt that regardless of the economy and as a manager, you must keep your employees engaged – listen, encourage growth, and be proactive when you see that someone is not happy (when possible). When attitudes start changing at work, it is usually (not always though) the company that creates that attitude. That’s when the good people start looking elsewhere.

    Having a pizza party is not being proactive – at times it’s downright insulting. How can you celebrate when your employees are not happy? Someone is not paying attention.

    Great post.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      Thanks for commenting here. The recession made employers lazy. For a time they didn’t have to work to keep their workforce. I don’t agree with that startegy but it reminds me of dieting. It’s time for companies to commit to building relationships and going beyond the pizza party to reward, recognize and build relationships with their workforce.


  3. Amy says

    I think the recession has brought on career crisis like nothing else in a generation (or more). Even if you’re still working, you’re being asked to do more, so even if you didn’t love your job before, maybe you could go home on time and live your life. If you’re now working 10 to 12 hours a day to do what used to be done by 2 or 3 people, your previous acceptance of working an okay job in order to support the life you enjoy is no longer a reality.

    I work in a construction-related industry, and we will be facing huge retention & recruiting issues when things turn around. We’re already losing a young generation of workers in the construction/engineering/architectural fields because they hit the market at a time when every company was bleeding. When many young workers have had to switch career paths entirely just to find a job, I’m worried where that leaves us when it’s time to hire and fill the gap between Boomer employees and entry level college grads.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you bring up this point. As the economy improves, Boomers are looking again to retirement. How companies entertain, engage, and keep the attention of the younger workforce is a topic and problem that is not going to go away any time soon.


  4. Roxanne says

    Pizza parties are for teenagers in retail jobs. Things like that go a longer way with younger crowds, because during that point in their lives, they aren’t looking for much more than a “fun” job, and they are still trying to figure things out for themselves.

    Great article.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says


      I like pizza but I agree with you. It’s time for companies to grow up a little and change their strategies starting with building a relationship with the current employees.

      Thanks for the comment!


  5. Carrie says

    Interesting… I have the book, Punished by Rewards from a course I took in college and it’s one of my favorites “text books” that I’ve referred too often. I’ve also often wondered if I was too progressive in adopting this mindset so many years ago, as this is not a new book – but there are so many people that are still following the carrot philosophy instead and it baffles me.

    The thing to remember here is BALANCE. Most people DO appreciate someone who listens to them, encourages them, and yes – appreciates them… but an empty reward system based on points, or contests, or sales incentives. etc… is so disengenious and demotivating because most of the time, it lacks sincerity and is purely a numbers game or a game of chance. So what. Who cares? Most employees don’t, that’s for sure.

    Show your employees you care about what they do by recognizing their actual achievements with words of encouragement or whatever you learn, as a manager, will make that employee feel valued. Empower them to be progressive, to take risks, to feel like a valued part of the team based on their contributions.

    Well done Heide!

  6. Bruce Dodge says

    But pizza is so much easier! While creating an environment where employees motivate themselves absolutely provides a much more sustainable positive result, front line supervisors struggle with taking the time to build that environment. They often feel pressure from their superiors to deliver a quick result and under that pressure fall back to the old carrot and stick standby. We have to help them see the small victories and opportunities to celebrate success on the way to creating that great environment. True, sustainable success comes when employees know the goal and do all they can, on their own, to attain it.

    • Lisa Chidichimo says

      No offense! As a matter of fact, thanks for calling me out so that I had the chance to check out the post. Lots of thoughts bouncing around in so far as Employee Satisfaction/retention to be based on individual by individual.
      One of my best managers, while I was in the restaurant knew how to look at each person working the shift and say in one or two sentences just what they needed. I always admired that and still utilize this whenever possible. He was a more then a manager, he was a leader! We may not have always jumped out of bed ready to run in and work but we always wanted to do a good job for this manager.

  7. Susan says

    Pizza parties are fun and, hey, free pizza! But such perks shouldn’t be the only reason for employees to want to stay with a company. A company that treats them right, respects them, and gives them room to grow will make people feel more appreciated than just being shown treated to free pizza.



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