Expert Talk: “good employers do not burn out their employees – they nurture and enrich them!”

What can a company do to ensure that its employees enjoy coming to work and use their job as an opportunity for personal and professional development? In her role as Senior HR Business Partner, Gudrun Siefert is responsible for personnel development at Comma Soft. In this interview, she explains which measures a good employer can tweak on a regular basis and which measures have the greatest impact at Comma Soft.

Gudrun – based on your many years of experience in personnel development, what are the hallmarks of a good employer, and what do employees want?

In addition to exciting tasks and projects, employees want an employer who is genuinely interested in the people who work for them. If the focus is on individual personalities with their different skills and talents, and the employer recognizes and specifically nurtures those skills and talents, then sustained development is possible. Foosball, candy bars and fancy equipment are certainly “nice to have,” but they are not enough to satisfy employees in the long term. It takes more than that to unlock their full potential.

What should companies do instead to boost personnel development and employee satisfaction?

For one thing, there must be transparency: a good employer will reliably provide guidance on what development opportunities are available. On the other hand, well thought-out, understandable processes are needed for personnel development. This is the only way to create equal opportunities. However, this does not mean that there should only be standardized offers based on a “one size fits all” approach. It is essential to keep the individual location and goal definitions of all employees in mind. One person may want more intensive personal support, while another prefers (virtual) training courses with a high proportion of independent learning, for example. At Comma Soft, we take that into account. In addition to our standardized training programs, employees are given the opportunity to propose training courses that suit their needs and requirements. At the same time, such development must of course be in line with the company’s interests and aligned with its corporate goals. If the company’s “development map” harmonizes with its employees’ individual development goals, good personnel development “happens” almost by itself. And then both sides benefit.

Another important point is that personnel development is not a one-way street: it requires constant, critical review and, if necessary, redirection of the current location and the envisaged goals – on the part of both the company and the employees. Personnel development is not a state you reach only once. It is an ongoing process.

Some companies will say that they have good personnel development processes – and yet their employees are not satisfied. What might this come down to?

The current world of work is very demanding for everyone – employees and employers alike. We are constantly confronted with new demands, not least due to the pandemic and the latest political and economic developments. In some cases, this results in a degree of uncertainty that companies and their employees have to deal with. When companies simply go about business as usual, some employees feel left out or disconnected. Sophisticated personnel development programs are not enough by themselves. There is a need for empathy and appreciation. These are important elements of the human side of a business. However, they must not be empty words, but rather must be applied in a genuine way: by employees, by managers, and by the Executive Board. Whether or not this is rooted in the corporate culture, however, is not a “coincidence” or a “stroke of luck.” Companies can play an active role in this. Only appreciative cooperation on an equal footing creates the fertile soil into which personnel development measures can take root.

How do companies manage to ingrain this human side into their corporate culture?

By working closely with employees, noticing changes, and constantly reflecting on how they interact with each other. At Comma Soft, we have always had a close dialogue with our employees and are interested in their personal situation, mood and needs. Coaching and training in situational communication, constructive feedback, and attentive interaction with colleagues and customers underpin this interaction. In addition to such soft skills, a good corporate culture also requires organizational factors such as suitable processes and tools. At Comma Soft, we have formalized meetings of employees in their respective teams, company-wide meetings, and also small group exchanges (managers and employees). During critical times such as the coronavirus pandemic and during the flood in 2021, communication was intensified and adapted to the changed circumstances brought about by working from home. There were also additional support services that went far beyond the normal kind of benefits. For example, overtime was donated by colleagues to affected colleagues, the company management doubled this amount, and working hours and times were adjusted to suit the individual situation of those affected.

The feedback we receive – either directly or, most recently, through an anonymous survey we conducted with Great Place to Work – shows us how much our employees value the corporate culture at Comma Soft. We are very pleased with the results of the Great Place to Work survey and in many respects they give us a clear indication that Comma Soft is a really good employer for its employees. This is fantastic feedback that makes us happy and proud! At the same time, we received valuable suggestions on what we can improve further as a company. We will be very happy to embrace these suggestions.

What are you working on with your team to ensure that the company culture remains as good as it is or even gets better?

Comma Soft is a family business. The positive impacts of this become clear when you look at the culture, at the team-driven collaboration. We encourage that, as I have just described. We are also very grateful for our employees’ willingness to contribute beyond the scope of their immediate work and to see their activities not only in the context of a specific project. They want to be incorporated into the big picture. We encourage this by supporting cross-project interaction and interdisciplinary collaboration through targeted formats. Of course, continuous professional development also plays an important role. One aspect that we would like to address more intensively in the future is the issue of social responsibility. Sustainability and making a meaningful contribution to society are matters close to the hearts of our employees. This is where we as a company can provide targeted support and create space for ideas and projects. I am sure that this will have an impact on satisfaction and at the same time will have a positive effect on our customer projects.