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Turning commitment into success: how to motivate employees

It's every boss's dream: for their own staff to go to work with enthusiasm and energy instead of stubbornly following the rules. But how do you get motivated employees? We went in search of clues at a major manufacturer of power plant turbines to find out why motivated employees contribute to the company's success.

Sparks are flying, machines are roaring, the smell of metal is in the air - we are in a huge production hall in Schleswig-Holstein, just a few kilometers from Hamburg.

"600 people work here in three shifts!" shouts J├╝rgen Holtzwarth, the company founder, against the noise of the machines. "All motivated employees!". And indeed: the men and women at the machines look strained - but not stressed. They greet their boss with a smile as we walk past them.

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How important are motivated employees?

Motivated employees - that's what many people want for their company. Almost everyone now knows how important employees are for a company's success. And this has long been more than just a feeling: current studies provide tangible evidence of this:

It's not just productivity that increases when staff are happy. When employees feel happy in their company, staff turnover is also reduced by up to 65 percent - a decisive advantage in the highly competitive personnel market, as this allows companies to retain qualified employees and save themselves the laborious search for suitable replacements.

"We can also see it in absenteeism - it's down by almost a third!" exclaims Holtzwarth, showing us an app on his smartphone on which he keeps track of his employees' hours, "accidents at work have even halved!".

"It has to come from the top as well as the bottom!" exclaims Holtzwarth as we leave the factory floor. He explains what he means by this a few minutes later in his office: "As a company, you can't just say: 'Well, I want motivated employees now because it's better for my company'. You have to ask yourself: What can I give the employees? What can I do for them? What do they actually want?"

For many employees, it's no longer just about the money. Certainly, a high salary ensures a certain acceptance of the work. However, this often smacks of "compensation for pain and suffering" when employees only work for the money.

"Ideally, you create an emotional bond between employees and the company," explains Simone Unterfing, a corporate psychologist who also advises companies such as Stefan Holtzwarth's. "Only if an employee sees themselves as part of the company will they be prepared to make compromises. This means that, in case of doubt, he or she will sometimes put personal needs on the back burner - for example, if overtime is due or the company may not be able to deliver the promised pay rise in difficult economic times."

But how do you get motivated employees who can identify with the company's goals? "Of course there are various methods. As an employer, you should let your employees know that you value their work and give them the feeling that they are needed. This can often be as simple as a sincere 'thank you for your commitment' or something similar," explains Unterfing.

A good working atmosphere also plays an important role - and of course a balanced workload: employers should make sure that their staff are neither overworked nor underworked. The right work-life balance is therefore essential for motivated employees. A value system can also contribute to the company's success. "However, something like this must not just be a theoretical construct, but must really be exemplified," the psychologist points out, "otherwise it is more likely to frustrate staff than motivate them. For example, anyone who pretends to respond to the needs of their workforce and then imposes rosters on staff from above is not doing themselves any favors."

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Holtzwarth wanted to avoid precisely this mistake in his company. "It was clear to us that we wanted our staff to be actively involved. So we asked ourselves: How can we achieve this within the scope of our possibilities?"

Together with external experts, they found a way for the staff to virtually organize their own working hours: with digital shift planning. The software enabled employees to help organize their own working hours - and this in a demanding three-shift system with almost 600 employees.

What initially sounds like a relatively insignificant step quickly had a major impact: "By giving our employees the opportunity to help shape their schedules, they were not only more flexible, but also had more personal responsibility. And that in turn led to more initiative on their part, which then had an impact on other areas," says Holtzwarth with a satisfied smile.

For industrial psychologist Unterfing, this makes perfect sense: "It is precisely these steps that give staff the feeling of being part of the company. By taking on responsibility, work becomes a task - in other words, intrinsic motivation. And this is one of the main reasons why motivated employees contribute to the company's success."

Giving employees the power to make decisions about their working hours is a nightmare for many HR managers, as designing a duty roster in large companies is often a real challenge. Especially when rigid programs such as Excel are still being used. "We also had major concerns at first. And we were worried that total chaos would break out and the work would no longer get done," recalls Holtzwarth. But on the contrary, the shift planning software has led to more stability and clarity.

"And you can see the result: not just in the figures, but also in the faces!" Holtzwarth beams as we walk past the employees with him back to the exit. The conclusion: motivated employees are not only a blessing for the company's success - but also for the employer's mood.