I know what you are talking about. Employers tend to give those who produce more work.
In my field, there was no place to move up, so coworkers were cutting about keeping themselves in the spotlight as big "personalities" or tooting their own horns over being the best. I didn't do it, and they think you're incompetent if you don't blow a loud horn.
In my field, if you don't do the work, no matter how much, you're out. They can bring someone else in, because the field is so saturated. Believe me, there are people who will work for almost nothing to get experience.
I agree about not expecting any big reward for working hard. In this economy, the only reward is having a job, period. Having an income one can get by on.
I agree about trying to find rewards in life, I think truly, our reward is just ecking out a living. Just having a roof over our heads, food on the table, a warm place to sleep. Those are our rewards.