When it comes to the workplace, America and Germany have many similarities, however, it also has many differences and it’s these cultural differences that can mean the difference between a successful career or a frustrating day at the office! So, we thought we’d try to help you make that relationship with your German colleagues that little bit better with a handy guide to the cultural differences between Germans and Americans in the workplace!
For Germans, 9:00 am means 9:00 am
Actually, it can mean 8:50 am! Germans are punctual people, so punctual in fact that they expect you never to be late, ever. If there is traffic, you should have accounted for it and still make it to work on time – no excuses people of Atlanta! If there is bad weather, you should have thought ahead and left the house extra early to avoid any delays. If you’re 1 minute late, your name will be talked about as being the ‘late shift!’ Like I said, Germans are punctual and like to be on time!
Fancy a little chat around the water cooler?
Maybe not if you’re in Germany! Germans are not big fans of idle chit chat, especially in the workplace. Hanging around the water cooler and chatting about what you ate for dinner last night just won’t cut it in Deutschland. When Germans are at work, they are there to work, not talk about what Aunt Sarah did last Tuesday or the new trick your dog has mastered!
Germans like to take time to make a decision
Are you a big fan of snap decisions? Well, you might want to put them on hold if you’re working with German colleagues. They’re big fans of doing lots of research and gathering as much information as possible, studying it for a while and then making a decision on something. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – those Germans are thorough people.
A German workplace is a formal workplace
Calling your boss by his or her’s first name is a no-go in Deutschland. The office is a formal place, unless you’re on the same level, you must always use Herr or Frau (Mr. or Ms.) followed by your colleagues surname. If you use their first name you could greatly offend them, unless they tell you to do so, that’s obviously a different matter.
Personal Calls, Text Messages and Social Media
You may as well leave your cell phone at home when you go to work in Germany. Personal calls and text messages are frowned upon in most German workplaces, like I said, in Germany you go to work to work, not carry out your social life. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are also no-go areas in a German workplace. Maybe that’s why Germans work the least hours in Europe but they’re the most productive? Germany efficiency rocks!
The boss’s door isn’t always open
You know the saying, ‘my door is always open?’ Well, that usually isn’t the case in Germany. German offices are very rarely open plan, everyone has an office, that sometimes they share with a couple of other people, but one huge room with cubicles? Hardly ever. And when it comes to your door being open and especially that of your boss, well, you’ll usually find it closed. You’ll have to knock and wait to enter too!
Once a decision is made, Germans are reluctant to change it
You know how we said that Germans like to do their research before making a decision? Well, because of this, once a decision is made, Germans are reluctant to go back on it or change it in any way. They think that they’ve already exhausted all possible avenues and this was the right way to go. Americans on the other hand, are happy to make quick decisions and change things as they encounter problems along the way.
Your boss can’t fire you so easily in Germany
A contract with a client may be over or your boss might not be happy with your performance but that doesn’t mean you will be out of a job in the next 24 hours. In Germany, it’s pretty hard to fire a worker, you have to have a very legitimate reason for it. There are lots of contractual rules to abide by before anyone gets struck off the employment list, unlike here in Georgia, a right-to-work state.
Going to college isn’t expected in Germany
The structure of the workplace in Germany is completely different to that in the U.S. In Germany, it’s commonplace to take on an apprenticeship when you leave school, learning skills on the job and preparing your for workplace life. Then you may or may not choose to go to college to get your bachelors degree. In America, a college degree is a more often than not a requirement in any workplace and apprenticeships are not really heard of. However, this is starting to change under the leadership of the German-American Chamber of Commerce as they work with educational and business leaders to create apprenticeship programs.
Germans are direct
Don’t expect a German to say ‘I like it but…’ when giving you feedback! They are very direct and to the point people, if they don’t like something, they will tell you. They don’t believe in being sympathetic to people’s feelings, that’s just wasting time. This can sometimes come across as rude to people who are not used to this style of communication. On the other side of things, Germans can get annoyed with people who don’t just get to the point and tell them what they need to know.
So there you have it, our take on the cultural differences between German and American workplaces. What do you think to the list? Would you add anything to it?
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United" (http://johnbrownnotesandessays.blogspot.com/2017/03/notes-and-references-for-discussion-e.html). Affiliated with Georgetown University (http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/jhb7/) for over ten years, he still shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."