Employee motivation in logistics

Employee motivation is of enormous importance in logistics, since motivated, efficient and healthy employees represent a decisive competitive advantage, especially during periods of heightened competitive pressure and crisis.

Have you ever asked yourself in detail what motivates your team to come to work every day? What keeps employees in your company? What creates a real long-term commitment from the employee to your company? What motivates employees to real performance and commitment? 

According to a Gallup Study in 2019, two-thirds (69%) of employees feel little loyalty to their employer. Only 15% of employees in Germany have an emotional bond with their employer. The remaining 16%, or almost six million employees have no emotional ties to their company and have already resigned internally. Of these, 650,000 employees are actively looking for a job. For the Gallup Engagement Index, 1,000 employees aged 18 and above were surveyed during February and March 2019. A third of employees (34%) feel that their company does not support digital training. 

According to the Gallup management consultancy, "managers must be aware that they are the ones who have a significant influence on corporate culture through their behaviour.” After all, emotional ties can be created in the immediate work environment. 

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

Regarding employee motivation, there are two basic types - extrinsic and intrinsic. With extrinsic motivation, the motivating or demotivating influences are external to the employee. Motivation is usually generated by a third party (often the employee’s direct supervisor or manager) or external incentives such as money, punishment, praise and recognition.  

Supervisors & managers want to motivate individuals and teams to adopt a certain behaviour. Often extrinsic motivational factors have a stronger, but more short-term effect on behaviour. Therefore, extrinsic motivation is more likely to be considered an option if it is not possible to make work activities sufficiently self-motivating or if the employees in the role do not bring their own self-motivation to the workplace. 

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation arises from the task itself in that it is influenced by factors that each individual considers important for themselves. Typical intrinsic factors are, for example, responsible and meaningful activities, freedom of design and decision, personal development opportunities and interesting work content. Employees in companies who demonstrate a certain behaviour out of intrinsic motivation tend to be more satisfied with their job, pursue goals more persistently, are more happy about reaching a goal and cope better with failures in comparison to extrinsically motivated employees. The task itself therefore leads to good rewarding feelings. 

Motivation theories

Psychology, coaching and management theory for companies have long been dealing with the topic of motivation in detail. Motivational psychology specially can offer interesting explanatory models. 

Generally speaking, there are content and process theories of motivation as well as behavioural theories. In content theories, assumptions are made about what influences an individual's motives and needs. The most widely known is that of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and others are the ERG theory (Alderfer), the two-factor model (Herzberg) and the theory of learned needs (McClellands).  

Process theories deal with cognitive processes and how behaviour is influenced rather that what influences it. How is behaviour generated, directed and terminated? This includes the justice theory according to Adams and the expectancy theory according to Vroom. Behavioural theories of motivation focus on how motives are learned according to how goals interact to produce a particular change in behaviour. An example is the concept of flow identified by the psychologist, Csikszentmihályi. A commonly used phrase to describe flow being “in the zone”,when a person’s skill level and task or challenge are equal. 

In industrial psychology, the X and Y theories developed by Douglas McGregor (1970) and the two-factor theory of motivation by Frederick Herzberg (1959) have important relevance. The two-factor theory in particular has had a significant influence on the development of the trend towards job enrichment. Jobs are designed in such a way that a maximum of intrinsic motivation and satisfaction is achieved. 

Douglas Murray McGregor was Professor of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he also created Theory X and Theory Y in the 1950s and 1960s, which propose to represent the natural relationship of people to their work.  

The so-called "X Theory" refers to McGregor's finding that managers in companies trust people with largely negative attitudes. According to theory X, people are fundamentally unwilling. They have an innate aversion to work and try to avoid it wherever possible. Because of their dislike for work they usually have to be forced, directed, guided and threatened with punishment in order to make a productive contribution to the achievement of organizational goals. Ambition has a low priority. The X-type of employee is therefore extrinsically motivated and usually pessimistic. Supervisors & managers adopting the X theory approach tend to be more authoritarian in their approach to work. 

McGregor rejected the X-theory approach to motivation and opposed it with his (more positive) Y-theory. This theory assumes work has a high value for people and is an important source of satisfaction because they are naturally willing to perform and intrinsically motivated from within. Their most important incentives for work are the satisfaction of ego needs such as self-esteem, recognition and the striving for self-realisation. If a company or person creates conditions that motivate the employee and especially satisfy intrinsic factors, then the employee is far more likely to perform well and display positive behaviour. Both theories can be considered as self-fulfilling prophecies and there is, in fact, a combination of the two management theories, called theory Z. 

A behavioural scientist, Herzberg, distinguishes between factors that cause satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the workplace. There are motivators that trigger satisfaction such as recognition, success, responsibility and work content. Only through these motivators can real employee satisfaction be achieved. At the same time, there are also so-called “hygiene factors” that act as demotivators and cause dissatisfaction if they are not met. Examples of hygiene factors include fair pay, the possibility of directly shaping the work, working atmosphere, status and security. It is expected that good work is also rewarded with a corresponding level of pay. However, if the salary is not at the level that the employee considers adequate, dissatisfaction and demotivation can very quickly occur. Good hygiene factors are essential, but, according to Herzberg, real employee motivation can only come about if both parts, i.e. hygiene factors and motivators, are present. 

Employee motivation in warehouse and logistics

Employee motivation is of course also of enormous importance in logistics, since highly motivated, efficient and healthy employees have a decisive competitive advantage in today's business environment. 

Motivation research project

Research into motivation was carried out on behalf of the German organisation Bundesvereinigung Logistik (BVL) and the aim of the research was to understand how to increase motivation for skilled and unskilled workers in warehouses. Through increasing motivation, it aimed to understand how to improve processes and thereby increase the efficiency and quality of warehouse throughput. Other bodies involved in the research were the Augsburg University of Applied Sciences (HSA), the Fraunhofer Working Group for Supply Chain Services (SCS) and the Chair of Psychology in Working Life (PiA). 

Within the framework of the project, various non-financial, intrinsic methods for increasing motivation and performance in companies were identified, described and evaluated. In the process, a "Method Catalogue for Employee Motivation" (2) and an online platform for operational managers in the warehouse were developed. Both of which contained methods and techniques for improving employee motivation as well as tips for managers. 

In order to achieve high levels of motivation and performance, extrinsic monetary incentives are often used. Especially in lower paid roles, a standard market pay rate combined with bonuses is seen by employees as a central prerequisite for the basic willingness to perform. Other intrinsic methods for employee motivation at the workplace can build on this. This is in line with Herzberg's two-factor theory described above. Non-monetary systems have so far been underestimated in logistics. The Miebach study on employee motivation (3) shows that employees in logistics are particularly driven by intangible and intrinsic factors - with appreciative leadership being seen as especially positive. 

Main problem areas in logistics companies

Management within logistics companies sometimes focuses too much on the operational aspects of the business in its interaction with employees. Managers are too often chosen from among the employees, sometimes with little or no preparedness for the tasks in their new role. Most of the available levers of motivation are not aimed at the operational staff and some of the personnel instruments cannot be implemented independently by team leaders. To improve levels of motivation, there is therefore a need for action in these areas. 

Motivation given by managers is extremely important and it is crucial that the new manager is properly prepared through training for the management tasks ahead. They must increasingly act as coaches and treat employees with respect. Unsuitable and unqualified managers can be highly demotivating. According to the earlier cited motivation report, "(good) managers who are responsive to their employees, know their needs, motives and goals, promote motivation, well-being, job satisfaction and even performance. For example, employees usually react gratefully when asked about their personal goals and needs". 

Successful methods of employee motivation

From the action points identified in the research, methods can be derived that will close existing gaps in motivation. The starting point for employee motivation is always the health and well-being of employees. Here, psychological factors such as stress and workload are often the cause of poor health and low employee motivation. The research project identified the following as important intrinsic methods of employee motivation, encouraging and facilitating employee feedback, goal-oriented discussions, target agreements, fair performance appraisal and targeted development, improvement of the team climate and avoidance of interruptions at work. Other methods include quality circles, role changes, role expansion and enrichment, structured induction, transparent information and communication, and employee-friendly optimized processes. 

Especially in intralogistics, a pleasant working environment and suitable functional work equipment are prerequisites for high employee motivation. Incentives, bonuses, etc. can only contribute to motivation to a limited extent and, if used incorrectly, often have the opposite effect. 

What is the effect of a high employee motivation?

High employee motivation leads to a high emotional attachment of the employees to the company and with improved motivation, up to 20% increase in performance can be achieved. Employees are often willing to organize their time flexibly and contribute to the improvement of work processes which can result in a higher added value in the company. Motivated employees are also more likely to accept personal hardship in their role if they can see it is helping the company. 

Especially during difficult periods, high employee motivation is essential for a company to survive. It is necessary, especially in a bad economic situation, that senior management optimally fulfil the necessary leadership tasks. The communication of management must not be a one-way street. It is also important to appreciate employees and to obtain feedback on the effectiveness of the motivation incentives used. Without feedback, it is possible that the well-intentioned incentives can easily lead to the result opposite to that intended. 


1 Krupp Prof. Dr. Michael, Niessen Prof. Dr. Cornelia, Buck Moike, MoLa final report, Project: Motivation increase for skilled and unskilled workers in the warehouse (MoLa), Period: 2016 -2018, Bundesvereinigung Logistik e.V. (BVL), https://www.hs-augsburg.de/Wirtschaft/Motivationssteigerung.html 

2 Krupp Prof. Dr. Michael, Isakovic Marjan, Skorupa Lea-Alina, Method Catalogue for Employee Motivation in Practice - Instruments and Techniques, Hochschule Augsburg - University of Applied Sciences, download 

3 Link, I., Müller-Dauppert B.; Jung K-P. (2012): "Motivation Study 2012 - Employee Motivation in Logistics", Miebach, Frankfurt/Main, 2012, Ralf Hoffmann (hoffmann@miebach.com) 

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