Working in Germany

6 Things Expats Should Know Before Working in Germany

Do you want to start working in Germany and would like to know more about the German work culture? A certified career coach joins me to answer some important questions. 

Do you want to start working in Germany?

Understanding the German business culture is paramount to your success. 

Even small gestures are important to know. Proper business etiquette is vital!

Something as basic as…

Knowing whether you shake hands, bow or kiss on both cheeks when meeting people at work are important. 

Answer: In Germany you shake hands!

So, I invited the wonderful Lisa Janz, a certified job coach in Germany and former expat herself. She has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the German job market and German Work Culture. She is also very generous and shares a lot of great tips on her weekly newsletter. You won’t regret signing up.

Lisa is here to help answer some basic, but important questions, to help us get to know our German colleagues a little more.

The better we know our German colleagues and superiors, the more confident we will feel when working in Germany.

So Lisa… True or False…

(Of course not all industries or departments are alike. Nor can we fit everyone into the same category. So take these tips as general feedback.)

True or False:

1. Are Germans so productive, because they are robotic workaholics? 

It depends! In some areas or departments, YES! (Even Lisa confesses to having a boss abroad scold her for working late on a Friday evening). What makes Germans look like robotic workaholics is their intense focus on the task at hand. Distractions are not welcome nor is anything else that makes them lose a lot of time. That is why they are very direct when asking for something. There is no room for chit chat. They also like to plan things out and stick to the plan. This goes for their personal lives as well. Of course not everyone fits the stereotype. 

2. Are German workplaces very rigid with no room to joke around?

Except for Mahlzeit, where Germans celebrate this lunch break, the rest of the day leaves no room for joking. Germans transform when they are back at work. This can be hard for the atmosphere, especially for newcomers who find this transformation difficult to deal with. Also, management sets the pace, so take cues from your colleagues on what is acceptable and not. Startups and IT Companies tend to be more relaxed. 

3. Do Germans use titles and other formalities when addressing their colleagues and bosses?

It is still very true. Especially in larger, more conservative companies, where the workers are older, titles and other formalities are still expected. In particular, using the “Sie” form (formal “You”) and using last names as well (Frau Müller). If you are addressing a Dr. or Professor, it is expected you use their title. This dates back to how difficult it used to be to get a degree. So there is a lot of value and respect attached to them.

Exceptions could be Professors at Universities, who are more relaxed. The younger generations are also more laid-back about this. And in a English speaking work culture, you lose this formality. 

4. Do Germans love order? I ask, because German society is so orderly & disciplined. Does this transfer into German company culture?

Yes, it does. It is hard for Germans to accept flat hierarchies. It can work with startups. But, in general, Germans need order – especially in older more conservative companies. They love following rules. In Eastern Germany, until the late 1980s, all people knew was order! They had no choice. When they gained freedom, Germans felt a little side-tracked. Germans feel safer and more in control when there are rules and order. It’s drilled into kids from an early age… “You must have a plan for your career and you stick to this route without deviation.”

5. Are Germans being impolite when they ask: “I need this done by Monday” -versus- “I appreciate if you could handle this by Monday because …”

Lisa had her own experience of culture shock when she moved back to Germany. After living in the UK, the Germans seemed rude and impolite. Of course, this is just cultural. Germans don’t mean to be impolite. And if you ask Germans, they will say they are just very direct! Questions 1 & 2 above are related. Germans are just interested in how to be the most efficient. This can be difficult for intercultural teams though. Also Germans don’t show their appreciation for their workers or colleagues. They can even come across as angry or unhappy with your performance, but that is not the case. Approval and appreciation is not easily shown. This stems from early childhood, where even in schools, German kids are not encouraged or applauded for their school work. Your final grade is the only sign of a job well done. 

Slight Tangent…

Here we talked about how this approach to education can discourage a child from taking more risks later in life. Lisa recommends a documentary called “Go West You Geniuses”. It is about German entrepreneurs with a higher risk tolerance, who travel to the USA to fulfill their dreams. While it is true we see more and more startups in Germany, they still revolve around the engineering and automobile industry. A safer bet… until now.

Bonus Question

6. What is the best way to get to know your colleagues? During Mahlzeit (lunch break)? Would it be too weird to invite your colleagues out for “after-work drinks”?

Yes! It would be weird. Most Germans do not want to have their colleagues as friends out of the office. There might be the one colleague that is also your Badminton buddy. Otherwise, it is not normal to hang out after work for drinks with your work buddies. So it is best to use the lunch break or Mahlzeit to get to know your colleagues. Assess how friendly the others are with each other and follow their lead. Use team building events to get to know others. People tend to let their guard down at these events. 

Even though we Germans seem to be very strict and order-loving, I’d like to point out that I’m a huge supporter of new work. Personally, I prefer working with flat management structures and teams supported by coaches rather than receiving orders from top-down. To me, encouragement has a greater value than order. This is actually one of the first topics that I cover with my clients – finding out which company is the right fit for them – according to culture, values and management style, etc. I’m looking forward to more companies implementing a more relaxed atmosphere at work. At the end of the day, we spend a lot of time at work.

– Lisa Janz

Expat Tips for Meeting People in Germany: 

  • Meet people thru Facebook Groups, Meetup Groups, and Vereins (clubs). 
  • If you arrived alone in Germany, live in a Wohngemeinschaft (shared flat) at the beginning. It is a great way to meet people and get to know the German way of living. 
  • If you like drawing or painting, Art Nights might be of interest. 
  • If cooking is your thing, The Perfect Dinner or other organized dinners are available throughout Germany.

Thank you Lisa for your time, good humour & for sharing such helpful advice. To learn more about Lisa, visit her website.

Working in Germany - Lisa Janz Job Coach
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Janz

Featured Photo Courtesy of Copernico @ Unsplash

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