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The Exceptional Motivational Power of Pizza

Small things make a big difference in employee engagement.

Yesterday I was reminded yet again how big a difference small things make in management. I was speaking with a young woman in a very good mood. She’d just gotten out of work – she has a temporary position at a hotel, greeting guests who are in town for conferences – and at the end of the day her supervisor had told her she was doing a fine job and gave her a small card. The young woman showed me the card. It said:

“We appreciate your outstanding service! Thank you for being so welcoming, thoughtful and friendly to our guests. Please enjoy a slice of pizza & a Pepsi for 75 cents as our thanks.” At the bottom of the card were listed several local eateries where the card could be redeemed.

I sort of wondered why she had to pay 75 cents – why weren’t the pizza and Pepsi free? But no matter. And no matter that the card’s value (let’s assume around here in round numbers a slice of pizza costs $3 and a Pepsi $1) was around $3.25. The young woman couldn’t have been more pleased. The card was the highlight of her day.

Of course the real reason she was so pleased had nothing to do with pizza or Pepsi or saving $3.25 - it was the recognition she received.

It was the simple gesture from her supervisor acknowledging that she was working diligently and doing well. The message was tangible and clearly communicated… and who doesn’t enjoy a slice of pizza?


Over the decades I was involved in more employee surveys than I can recall. But one thing I do recall is that the single issue that came up in literally all of them – a chronic source of employee frustration – was lack of recognition. Employees never felt they were getting enough of it.

This is ironic, because recognition can be so simple and inexpensive – unless you consider $3.25 a major capital outlay – and yet so often overlooked. (Always assuming the recognition is deserved, as recognition that isn’t will do nothing but erode management credibility.)

Having been in management, I well remember why this can happen: You’re busy, you’re frazzled, you have deadlines, too many balls in the air, strategic issues on your mind, and it’s easy to forget that your employees haven’t heard anything positive from you for quite a while. It’s easy to forget about the small stuff.

But when you do take the time, even a modest gesture (pizza and Pepsi, anyone?) can have a surprisingly energizing impact.

She thinks I’m doing a good job, the young woman likely thought when she went home that evening. I’ll show her. Tomorrow I’ll do an even better one.

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This article first appeared at

Victor is the author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).