Personnel management: What really motivates employees

A study by IU looks into the question of what motivates employees

It's not always about the money.

·      For almost 70 per cent of those surveyed, a high basic salary is one of the top 5 factors when it comes to finding their dream job.

·      Salary is a hygiene factor and the most frequently mentioned demotivator for more than a quarter of respondents. The top motivators, on the other hand, are a good working atmosphere and recognition for almost a third of respondents each.

·      A bad working atmosphere is the number one reason for quitting: almost a quarter of those who have just changed jobs have left the old job because of it.

Erfurt, 10 May 2022 - Demotivated employees cost companies money. Those who are dissatisfied in their job hardly show any commitment and, in the worst case, leave the company more quickly - a cost money pit for the economy. This makes it all the more important to retain existing staff. The study "Sustainable Work Motivation" by IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU) shows what is important here. The study is based on three overarching motivational factors of sustainable work motivation: salary, well-being and appreciation, as well as interest and a sense of purpose.

The study results show that a performance-related salary forms the basis for motivated and satisfied work: Almost 70 per cent of the respondents (69.3 per cent) see a high base salary among the top 5 in the ranking of aspects of a dream job. The second most common aspect in the top 5 ranking is "flexibility in everyday working life" with 44.1 per cent. This includes, for example, the possibility of working from home or trust-based working hours. Personal autonomy is apparently very popular with the respondents, because the item "Independent work organisation" was the third most frequently selected in the top 5, with 41.0 per cent.

According to the survey, motivated employees perceive their salary as more appropriate: one third (33.6 per cent) of respondents who would describe themselves as motivated feel their pay is "just right". Another 13.4 per cent even perceive their salary as "somewhat or much more than appropriate". In comparison, among the unmotivated respondents, only 15.9 per cent feel their salary is appropriate - and only 7.7 per cent consider it "more than appropriate".

More pay motivates - but not for long.

"Good pay is an important factor, no question. First and foremost, the pay has to be right, otherwise all other motivational measures come to nothing. After all, what good is a meaningful job and great colleagues if the salary is not enough to pay the rent?” explains Prof. Dr. Martina Lütkewitte (she/her), Professor of International Management at IU International University of Applied Sciences.

"Nevertheless, enough studies show how the motivational effect of money wears off - after a certain amount or over time. General conditions such as fair pay, a friendly boss or a pleasant working environment are taken for granted. If you don't offer these as an employer, you risk dissatisfaction and ultimately resignations," Lütkewitte continues.

And indeed: among the top 10 mentions of motivating factors, "interest in the area of responsibility" comes in first with 31.4 per cent - closely followed by "recognition/appreciation" with 31.1 per cent.

The list of feel-good factors continues. Respondents also named: "independent work autonomy" (27.5 per cent), the "feeling of doing something meaningful" (26.5 per cent) and "strong team cohesion" (25.4 per cent).

Recognition is priceless. Literally.

Too little salary is the top demotivator. For 27.2 per cent of respondents, this point is the most frequently mentioned aspect that demotivates them in their job. But that's not all: no or little recognition by superiors (27.1 per cent), bad or inappropriate behaviour by superiors (24.7 per cent), stress at work (23.6 per cent) and a negative attitude from colleagues (22.7 per cent) come in just behind salary.

"Good pay is taken for granted over time and only motivates temporarily. It has serious consequences for motivation if employees receive too little pay, no or little recognition. They store this negatively and are also more receptive to new job offers or head-hunter enquiries that woo and flatter them," explains Prof. Dr. Stefan Remhof, Professor of International Management at IU International University of Applied Sciences.

Demotivated people are more bored and tend to stay in companies for a shorter time.

The study also shows: dissatisfied or unmotivated employees feel over- or under-challenged in their work tasks more often than their satisfied counterparts. The reason, however, is much more often underchallenge than overchallenge: according to the study results, 29.1 per cent of the unmotivated feel underchallenged and 8.3 per cent even feel very underchallenged.

And finally, motivation has a direct impact on how long employees want to stay with a company. Here the study makes clear: those who are motivated and satisfied can imagine staying longer. Thus, 39.0 per cent of the motivated respondents can imagine staying with their current employer for more than 10 years.

Among the unmotivated respondents, it is just 12.3 per cent who want to stay longer than 10 years. 13.5 per cent of them are currently looking for a job. Among the motivated, just 1 per cent are looking for a new job.


About the study

Within the framework of the IU study "Sustainable Work Motivation", 2,034 people from Germany between the ages of 18 and 65 were surveyed.

The study looked into the question of how companies can motivate employees sustainably and thus retain them in the long term in order to counteract the increasing shortage of skilled workers. Among other things, the personal motivation and demotivation factors of the participants were polled.

The white paper on the study is available here.  


What counts in a dream job

Motivated employees find their salary is more appropriate

The direct working environment counts

Too little recognition and appreciation 

Bore-Out before Burn-Out

Those who are motivated and satisfied stay longer


Pictures of the speakers

Prof. Dr. Martina Lütkewitte , Professor for International Management at IU International University of Applied Sciences

Prof. Dr. Stefan Remhof , Professor for International Management at IU International University of Applied Sciences


With over 85,000 students, IU International University of Applied Sciences (IU) is the largest university in Germany. The private, state-recognised educational institution brings together more than 200 Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes under its roof, which are offered in German or English. Students can choose between on-campus study, dual study, distance learning and flexible combination models and thus shape their studies in a self-determined way. In addition, IU facilitates continuing education and promotes the idea of lifelong learning. The university's goal is to make education possible for as many people as possible. IU began operations in 2000 and is now represented in 28 German cities. It cooperates with over 10,000 companies and actively supports them in employee development. Its partners include Motel One, VW Financial Services and Deutsche Bahn. Further information at: www.iu.de/en