There are several differences and quirks between business culture in Germany and the US. By having started my work life in Germany, before working for 4 years in the US as an expat and afterwards relocating back to Germany, I got a good impression of the work environment in both countries. My husband on the other hand started his professional life in the US and is just now getting a glimpse of what it is like to work in Germany.
Both of us would agree that the most obvious difference, which you will notice in your first telco or meeting with a German business partner, is that Germans use your last name!
In German language there is a linguistic differentiations between Siezen (formal) and Duzen (informal). When first meeting coworkers they will introduce themselves by their last name, and they expect you to do the same. To address someone with Mr. and Ms. not only in an e-Mail exchange, but also during the lunch break is common. Especially older generations are expecting this formal way of communication as a courtesy. In my personal experience younger coworkers and superiors are more likely to offer the informal you. The general rule of thumb is, that the person higher up in a companies’ hierarchy offers the informal you – Duzen, by first name base. The informal you is offered downwards the hierarchy chain, and depending on your superior this may take time so just be Patient.
This distinction between formal and informal you (Siezen/Duzen) has a significant impact on socializing at the workplace. Germans keep the different areas of their life clearly separated. Many have different social circles outside of work and will not mix these two. Also, while in the US many companies offer a bowling or softball league you won’t see that as commonly in Germany. Again younger people are more likely to mix work and social life compared to older generations.
Another unique habit is the celebration of “Einstand”. It’s a welcome celebration to which a new employee either invites coworkers out for drinks, or brings some food for coworkers to the office. If inviting for drinks or rather providing breakfast or a cake at work highly depends on the individual office atmosphere. Either way, overall it’s a great opportunity to get to know some of the colleagues a bit better. I highly recommend doing it! In my case, I brought in cupcakes for everyone on my floor. I sent out a brief e-Mail to everyone to let them know that they can stop by throughout the day to grab a cupcake – or 2. It helped making some small talk and learning a bit more about the background of my various colleagues.
Work life balance represents another difference between the two countries business cultures. The past years, while working in the US, we were available for customers, coworkers or our superiors during evenings, weekends or even holidays. We checked e-Mails after coming home from work and replied to mails as needed outside of business hours. We assured that topics were handled and taken care of even when they weren’t directly within our scope of work. In Germany this is different, work life balance is of a high importance to many Germans. Companies advertise with flexible work hours, part-time options and home office alternatives. Most people won’t read their work mails during evenings nor reply on a weekend. Moreover they will use up their entire vacation time, in many cases 6 weeks or above. Let’s just say over the past months we adjusted to this culture happily and enjoy our weekends travelling the picturesque cities Europe has to offer 🙂
As a whole, work culture in Germany is very organized. Germans are target oriented, precious and direct. Projects have clearly defined sub projects and timelines. Responsibilities are divided and everyone within a team knows what their task is. During their 6 weeks of vacation many have a substitute who will take over any ongoing projects and topics.
There are many more quirks in both cultures which I will pick up on in my next posts!