Orientation: Excessive and unjustifiable salaries in State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s) have captured the spotlight in recent years. Some employee motivation theorists and recent studies have shown that non monetary rewards are also important when considering the total rewards mix for employees. Research purpose: The primary aim of this study was to survey the perceptions of SOE employees’ of whether they would work harder, have increased motivation levels and remain longer in a company if compensated with higher monetary rewards. The secondary aim was to establish whether different demographic variables have an effect on employees ’perceptions of whether their motivation levels would increase with higher monetary rewards. Motivation for the study: An understanding of these perceptions would enhance knowledge when developing effective reward systems in SOE’s within the South African context.Research design, approach and method: 1000 questionnaires were distributed to SOE employees via the hand delivery and e-mail method. The results from 143 questionnaires were used in the data analyses.Main findings/results: The study found that overall the SOE employees preferred higher monetary rewards and would work harder, be more motivated and stay longer in the company as a result. However, when measured individually, certain non monetary rewards were preferred over receiving higher monetary rewards. The findings also indicate that significant differences exist for the demographic variables, age and grade. Practical/Managerial implications: SOE management can structure reward systems more effectively according to these findings without focussing primarily on money. Based on the research results, an increased understanding of SOE employee’s perception of what motivates them has been achieved. Contribution/value-add: This study has contributed to the body of existing knowledge on employee motivation and its relationship with total rewards within SOE’s in South Africa. In addition, the study has demonstrated that reward preferences differed between certain demographic groups within SOE’s. A total rewards framework, on employee preferences could be designed from the findings.