Employee Rewards: Don't Feed To Please

Why Using Food For Employee Rewards And Recognition Is A Bad Idea

At one point in your work life, you’ve been offered food by your employer. Food is a go-to for recognizing and rewarding employees.

Whether it’s donuts in the morning, a pizza lunch, ice cream snacks or some other incarnation, food is one of the ways that many employers show appreciation for their employees. What many employers don’t realize, however, is that food as a reward backfires more often than it succeeds.

1. Food Excludes

Even in small companies, there will be employees with a myriad of food preferences and restrictions. Unless the employer is willing to provide a wide selection of food, someone is going to be left out.

Imagine how you might feel if everyone was gobbling down ice cream as a reward for their hard work, but you are lactose-intolerant or perhaps a vegan, and, therefore, can’t participate. Would you feel equally as rewarded as your peers? Would you be motivated to engage with your work when the rewards promised are unavailable to you?

2. Food Doesn’t Last

Rarely do we remember the food we’ve eaten. Unless it was an extraordinary meal, once we’ve finished swallowing the last morsel we forget all about it. The excitement is gone. For a reward to incentivise employees it needs to be something that leaves a lasting impression. In psychology terms, a reward needs to be compelling enough to trigger an employee’s internal desire to repeat an action in order to receive the reward.

So you have to ask yourself if I want my employees to hit their sales targets every week, will providing a pizza party be a big enough incentive? Can my employees get pizza any time they want or is providing pizza something extraordinary that they will want to work hard for?

3. Food Is A Habit

Eating is habitual, it’s something we do all the time. It’s expected that at some point during the day we’re going to consume food. When an employer provides the food it’s nice because we didn’t have to get the food ourselves, but some employers make a habit of bringing in donuts every Friday. In this case it’s no longer a surprise, it’s expected.

When we begin to expect something without having to do anything to earn it, it’s no longer a motivation.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bring in donuts every Friday. It’s a very benevolent gesture, and one many employees probably appreciate, however, you shouldn’t expect it to motivate employees.

Employee recognition and rewards are essential to getting your employees to engage with their work. When you effectively recognize and reward employees for their efforts you motivate them to continue the desired behavior. However, motivating through food alone won’t produce the results most employers are looking for: increased productivity, improved efficiency, and great results.  To properly motivate employees, you need to consider their internal and external drivers. Food just isn’t a strong enough incentive to motivate these drivers.

If you’re looking for some effective ways to recognize your employees, check out Top 10 Ways to Recognize Employees, by Herd Wisdom.


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