What about people? Mastery, autonomy, purpose

In this monthly series, Marion Richter, founder of Lytz, will take us on a journey towards a more sustainable packaging industry – with a focus on people. Besides technology and innovation, we need people to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable industry. Beyond sustainable packaging, how do we create a sustainable working and living environment for our employees to excel in?

Mastery, autonomy, purpose

Mastery, autonomy, purpose

“We can claim a whole lot but our people are most important. Without people there’s no business. We want them to be happy.” These are some pretty big words. Big shoes to fill, too. An exceptional statement, because statements like these are still fairly uncommon in our industry. Yet, here it is, so publicly announced. If I may say so, it’s the best possible answer to the title of this column. That is – if what this statement says is also done well in practice.

The mantra “but our people are most important” is one used by Niverplast, a company from the little-known town of Nijverdal, the Netherlands. Niverplast is a family business that develops innovative and unique packaging solutions to protect and transport a wide range of products. Equally important, Niverplast is an expert in creating a sustainable working and living environment for their people to excel.

It’s one of those companies that actually puts people before profit, rather than just claiming they do. Since being founded over 35 years ago, the company’s owners, the Nieuwenhuis family, have made it their mission to always add to their employees happiness. They’re now doing that for over 150 staff members, with people from the very beginning still on board.

By the way, prioritizing people over profit actually has a very positive impact on said profit, but that’s for another place and time.

Motivation factors

Niverplast facilitates that every employee can get the best out of themselves. For example, anyone can put forward ideas and people are not afraid to do so. The latter might seem rather insignificant, but is actually crucial for an environment in which our industry experts can excel. People afraid of sharing ideas is what stops great ideas from coming to life. I know from a reliable source that Niverplast-founder Gerrit Jan Nieuwenhuis has been saying for over 35 years: “Go see if it works”.

Niverplast HQ

If we want underperforming burnt out employees, we should continue to use the carrot and stick method. But I see a better way. Imagine that our companies are full of smart, intrinsically motivated experts.

I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t whole heartedly choose the latter.

At Niverplast, there’s space for employees to explore, make mistakes and grow. It’s a great example of one of my favorite concepts on how to facilitate such space. It’s a concept described by Daniel Pink, best known from his book Drive. He introduces three motivation factors: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. By mastery, Pink means the feeling of getting better at things that matter. Autonomy is best explained as the feeling of being self-directed. And lastly, purpose is knowing that we are doing something that matters.

Sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging

Let’s not forget: we, the packaging industry, have a common responsibility to do better. Sustainability always starts with people. They make a better, more sustainable packaging industry a reality. As I explained in last month’s edition of this column, at Lytz we believe in the trinity of sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging. Creating a working and living environment in which our people can be brilliant, and work together on moving our industry forward in a sustainable and responsible manner. In the words of Niverplast: making sure they are happy.

The sustainable work environment that Niverplast facilitates, creates motivation and engagement by stimulating mastery, autonomy, and purpose. There’s a safe space to grow on a professional, as well as a personal level. Niverplast actively facilitates increasing employees’ knowledge and expertise, by letting them, for example, investigate ideas (mastery). As owners of their own ideas and the responsibility to work on them, without being micromanaged every step of the process (autonomy).

Why do they do this? To not just make themselves, but other people happy too (purpose). Employees, partners, customers and even Kenyan children! Since 2009, every Niverplast employee is financially supporting a child in Kenya for healthcare, food and education. The company takes care of the paperwork, so the employees can focus on the fun part: being in touch with the kid that they support.

Why is it so important to pay attention to a sustainable working and living environment? People spend a third of their day working (the other thirds are for sleep and me-time). A job is thus a big part of someone’s life. Besides, it’s not something separate that you can turn off when you get to the end of the working hours. In work time, people want to be doing things that mainly give them energy. The ideal picture, where the synergy between sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging is optimal, is when work also contributes to giving meaning to life, that people enjoy doing it and get energy from it.

Please don’t think after reading this column that every aspect of your business needs drastic change. It takes a long time to change a culture, but you can start small. Here are some examples of practically implementing Daniel Pink’s three motivation factors:


offer subject- or profession-related programs, so employees can grow as industry experts


let go of micromanagement and have faith in people, because that’s how they excel



find a charity that everyone is committed to

offer personal development related programs, beyond the scope of their work and the industry for employees to grow on a personal level

abolish the time-clock, because filling hours for the sake of filling hours is creating bore-outs

define a mission statement that includes a form of positive impact on the world

Putting people first

Of course, every employee’s needs in mastery, autonomy and purpose are different. Not just per country, but also per culture or background. So there is no ready-made canvas that can be applied everywhere. Start talking to each other and figure out in what way a sustainable working and living environment can be facilitated in your organization. This is a plea to start that conversation. Follow Niverplast’s example and begin with putting people first.

Do you have a suggestion for this column, a question, or would you like to know more about sustainable life, sustainable work, sustainable packaging? Send an email to marion@lytz.nl.