WMU student studies the effectiveness of corporate pizza parties using Reddit memes

Contact: Chris Hybels

Vanessa Hills

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Pizza parties are a common strategy used by organizations to increase employee retention, but are they effective? This was the question Vanessa Hills, a Western Michigan University organizational change leadership doctoral student and global learning specialist in the Haenicke Institute for Global Education, tried to answer when evaluating the perception among Reddit users.  

"It was just something that I observed as a cultural phenomenon and was being talked about," says Hills. "As someone who spends time online and on social media, I saw employees making these jokes about pizza parties. So the combination of both made me question, why are employers still doing something that is kind of a joke to employees?"

Reddit is a popular social media platform consisting of topical communities called "subreddits". Similar to an online forum, subreddits are made up of users interested in the topic and engage in conversation. In Hill's research, she used a qualitative textual analysis to explore six work-related subreddits with comments containing the word "pizza" during a one-year window.

Using a codebook to categorize the hundreds of comments, Hills found that organizational pizza parties are the humorous answer to "What can management do to satisfy, reward or reward employees?" 

"Essentially a lot of the initial comments or posts were genuine questions, asking how employees can be rewarded. And frequently, the answer to that question was sarcastic. Forget about pay increase; have an organizational pizza party," says Hills.


After the merger of several codes, five codes were used: childlike, sarcasm, genuine inquiry, bad reward and good reward. Below are the descriptions and example comments of each of the codes used in the study.


The post refers to organizational pizza parties as childlike or infantilizing; “A pizza party will make people feel treated like children and quite possibly angry and resentful."


The post employs sarcasm to demonstrate disapproval for organizational pizza parties; “If you weren't aware pizza parties can effectively replace all workplace woes and are super encouraging for employees. I'd take a pizza party over safe staffing and a pay raise any day.”

Genuine inquiry

The post genuinely asks how to appropriately reward and incentivize employees; “So, besides the obvious (e.g. paying a living wage, following the law, not being actively abusive towards workers and understanding of the mediocrity of a pizza party), what else could we do to make a retail job actually tolerable for our employees?”

Bad reward

The post argues that pizza is not a good reward for employees for health, inclusion or preference reasons; “Instead it is cardboard pizza and it is a slice each”

Good reward

The post supports the use of pizza parties as a means of employee reward or incentivization; “Pizza is a good kind of food to feed several people...I was in a company with about 20 people and we did occasionally get the free lunch which was nice.”


Viewed as a reward by leadership, Hills found pizza parties can create unnecessary disconnect among management and employees. Also, the public comments left by Reddit users can be damaging to an organization's image online.

"Some users called out the companies they worked for, talking about those pizza parties and the organizational culture in a negative way. This would certainly be a negative thing from a public relations and recruitment perspective for organizations," explains Hills.

Hills suggests organizations should be seeking feedback from their own employees when developing retention strategies. Adding that if the reward is intended to be something positive for the employees, then it's important that employees find it valuable.


The masters and Ph.D. program in organizational change leadership is designed to empower the next generation of change leaders and scholars to revolutionize organizations and industries. Throughout the program, students engage in a rigorous curriculum that prepares them to become scholars and practitioners in the dynamic field of organizational change and transformation. Students gain a deep knowledge of cutting-edge organizational theory, advanced applied research methods, and effective strategies to facilitate change within and across diverse organizations. By integrating theory with practical applications, students develop the skills necessary to drive meaningful and sustainable change in complex organizational environments and the perspective and disposition required to serve as leaders in their organizations and communities. For more information, visit the organizational change leadership program.

Haenicke Institute for Global Education

The Diether H. Haenicke Institute for Global Education, established by the Board of Trustees in 1998, creates and sustains an environment which facilitates the global engagement of the WMU community. The institute is responsible for international student recruitment and retention, marketing, and international student admissions for all undergraduate and graduate programs in collaboration with academic departments. The institute provides support services for international students, including counseling and orientation programs. For more information, visit the Haenicke Institute for Global Education.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.