You Can’t Pizza Party Your Way to a Great Corporate Culture

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Human Resources, I-O Psychology, Workplace, Workplace Culture | 0 comments

Carefully and appropriately choose your organizational development interventions.

Picture a fall Friday morning in a downtown office. Earlier in the week, three people quit, the company terminated four others due to downsizing to eliminate an entire department, and payroll came a day late. Earlier that month, the administrative assistant informed everyone that health insurance costs would rise without additional subsidies and no one would receive holiday bonuses this year. The atmosphere of the office donned a pall of thick silence weighted by fear and confusion.

Around 10:30 a.m., the office administrator sends a company-wide email informing everyone of a pizza lunch at noon as a thank-you for their hard work. The executives, who huddled behind closed doors in the corner office, anticipated the typical buzz of energy with the promise of free pizza.

However, when the lunch arrived, few partook. Some simply didn’t eat pizza due to dietary restrictions or for health reasons. Others simply disengaged. Those who did eat demonstrated a concerned and quiet sadness while trying to remain pleasant. Subsequently, stacks of uneaten pizza remained on the break room table for hours — a stale reminder of a stale culture.

So, What’s Wrong with Pizza?

While a party or shared meal can provide a fun break from the norm, organizations cannot rely on one as a magic solution to deeper issues in your company’s culture. A great corporate culture goes beyond these occasional treats, and leaders should ensure such events have inclusivity under appropriate circumstances. For instance, some workers may feel excluded or disengaged if their desire for a healthy diet does not match what’s on the menu (Horton Dias, C et al., 2021). The artifacts of an organization’s culture — the physical and outward signs of a culture — should exude the values, practices, and daily experiences that define the workplace. What does a haphazard greasy pizza party say about how a company deals with internal and external issues?

The Misuse of Fun Perks

Before we dive into the heart of improving culture, let’s clear something up. Pizza parties (with dietary alternatives), happy hours, and office games like ping pong or video games can foster team bonding and employee engagement (Müceldili & Erdil, 2016). They offer a chance for everyone to relax and socially connect. However, they should never serve as a smokescreen for underlying company problems. Fun perks cannot serve as substitutes for dealing with poor decisions, bad news, or unethical behavior. Transparency and professionalism must always take precedence.

When organizations offer such perks in the face of adverse situations, employees can begin to distrust leadership. The personal feelings workers have for their managers and for the executive leadership of their workplace can impact organizational commitment and performance. Distrust leads to counterproductive work behaviors, increased stress, and attrition.

The Role of Events in Corporate Culture

No doubt, events like impromptu parties have their perks. They can break up the monotony of a workweek, give employees something to look forward to, and enhance team building. Research shows these events can temporarily boost morale and foster camaraderie.

But remember, when the party ends, the unresolved core issues of your corporate culture remain. Events and small rewards alone cannot fix problems like poor communication, lack of recognition, fear of job loss, or a non-inclusive environment. They provide band-aid solutions at best, and, at worst, they give employees the “heebie jeebies” about their job security.

Alternatives to Improve Corporate Culture

Running a business these days challenges business owners and executives. The uncertainty of the market, unstable cash flow, and the seemingly never-ending threat of recession may force companies to make tough decisions. Amid good times and bad times, workplaces can choose better interventions toward organizational development and motivation of employees to work hard and remain loyal to their work. Some of these strategies include:

Use Free Lunch Productively:

Forbes reported on a study of 1000 workers nationwide within workplaces offering free meals (Cording, 2022). These lunch breaks reduce stress, allow people to feel more productive, and boost mental clarity plus happiness. Offering community food can serve as a positive artifact when the intention serves to promote healthy eating and social connection.

Transparent Communication:

Start with the backbone of any great culture — communication. Encourage open dialogues, regular feedback, and transparent decision-making. This builds trust and keeps everyone on the same page.

Ensure your organization has the tools to foster open and easy communication on all relevant channels. Keep in mind how people prefer to communicate and various work situations, including remote work and in-office structures. Provide the tools and train the members of the workforce to use the best possible techniques for clear, concise, and effective transmission, reception, and translation of communications.

Motivate with Participatory Goal Setting:

When employees have SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-constrained), and when they help to set their own goals, organizations create opportunities for a positive culture. According to goal-setting theory, difficult yet attainable goals provide motivation for workers to improve performance (Locke & Latham, 2019). As workers attain goals, their self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism improve.

Employee Recognition Programs:

Make sure your team feels valued. Implement a program that acknowledges their hard work and achievements, big or small. Do not wait until the annual performance reviews. Celebrate small wins and acknowledge the contributions of workers in each department.

Professional Development Opportunities:

Invest in your team’s growth. Offering workshops, courses, and career advancement paths boosts skills and shows your investment in their future. Turn that healthy free lunch into a lunch-and-learn opportunity. Organizations that invest in growth and learning opportunities promote hope, self-efficacy, reliance, and optimism among workers (Levene, 2015).

Fostering Diversity and Inclusion:

A diverse and inclusive workplace gives an organization a powerful and productive dynamic. Embrace different backgrounds and perspectives and create policies that support equality and inclusivity. Offer variety to meet the expectations and needs of staff members.

Employee Wellness Programs:

Take care of your team’s wellbeing. Stress management workshops, flexible working options, and health initiatives show you care about them beyond their job performance. If your organization wishes to provide snacks, food, or drink, offer healthy options that satisfy dietary requirements and restrictions.

While there’s nothing wrong with a pizza party (as long as organizers realize not everyone these days eats pizza), remember you cannot use a free lunch as a cure-all for a struggling corporate culture. True cultural change requires ongoing commitment to practices that support, empower, and value your employees. Fun and games have their place in building a positive team environment, but they should complement, not replace, a foundation of transparency, ethical behavior, and professionalism. These daily efforts, not just the occasional party, create a thriving workplace where employees want to belong and perform at their best.


Cording, J. (2022). The Power Of Free Lunch. Forbes.

Horton Dias, C., Dawson, R.M., Abshire, D.A., Harris, D., & Wirth, M.D. (2021). Free Food at Work: A Concept Analysis. Workplace Health & Safety. 2021;69(6):277–289. doi:10.1177/2165079921997328

Levene, R. A. (2015). Positive psychology at work: Psychological capital and thriving as pathways to employee engagement.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2019). The development of goal setting theory: A half century retrospective. Motivation Science, 5(2), 93–105.

Müceldili, B., & Erdil, O. (2016). Finding fun in work: The effect of workplace fun on taking charge and job engagement. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 235, 304–312.

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