Work culture in Germany: your 10 rules guide

Marle

Updated on Nov 19 • 5 minute read

Germans are efficient and free of fun at work. That's the cliché, which, let's be honest, sprinkles a grain of truth over the work culture in Germany.

Once you dive into the work culture in Germany, you will discover a crystal-clear German workplace culture: punctuality is paramount and efficiency thrives from team spirit; everyone trusts in the drive and productivity of their colleagues.

Our guide with 10 rules on the work culture in Germany takes you straight through your new day-to-day work life in Germany.

Rule #1: time is precious

"Germans are so spontaneous!", said no one ever. Germans love long-term planning, choose security over spontaneity. In the work culture in Germany (but also in your free time!) unpunctuality is among the biggest sins. An absolute no-no!

Germans really live true to the credo that it's not your place to treat other people's time with disrespect.

Should you show up late, you waste someone else's valuable time - or even worse, the whole team's time.

So instead, the meeting room in German companies fills up five minutes before the start, work colleagues sit patiently on their chairs, take a sip of coffee and quietly prepare for the meeting.

What's more, punctuality applies to all concepts of time. Promised deadlines need to be hit, meetings start on time and end on time! Therefore, only exceed a meeting in an absolute emergency.

Rule #2: Efficiency is key

Taking a peek among the EU countries, Germany takes the upper hand when it comes to productivity, scoring 27.2 percentage points. In fact, only Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark boast employees brimming with productivity.

At the same time as its high productivity, however, Germany also comes last in one specific statistic: working hours. So in other words, the work culture in Germany allows employees to work less and more productively! Tell me, isn’t that the best of both worlds?

Wondering what's the key to high productivity with less working hours? The answer lies at hand: efficiency. And Germans love to claim this title! At work, you quickly notice that your German colleagues keep small talk to a minimum.

Particularly in meetings, everyone strives to contribute to the project as effectively as possible; any unnecessary or excessive small talk tends to leave the impression that you're simply not working.

Pro tip: Get used to getting straight to the point!

Rule #3: Strong structures

Work culture in Germany mirrors flawlessly the security aspect that Germans strive for. For Germans, being reliable and staying on the safe side come top of their priorities.

In fact, the clear structures become tangible when it comes to working hours as well: as soon as it's five o'clock, many people literally drop their pencils and leave the office. Working overtime isn't encouraged, and in case you can't escape over time, you'll need to balance it another day.

Rule #4: Work stays at work

The work culture in Germany draws a clear line between work and private life. Sure, sometimes you might meet up with colleagues for a beer after work but the conversation will focus on anything, but certainly not on work. Why? End of work is the end of work, and work stays at work; Germans like to draw a clear line here.

The same feeling will come up during your lunch break: Germans really take their half-hour to an hour of time off between working hours to heart. This means: don't snap up your latest project during your lunch break, that will have to wait until after the break.

The moment you flip your laptop shut on Friday afternoon and step your foot out of the office door, it's weekend for you. While in other cultures your manager might expect you to be on hand on Saturdays and Sundays, work culture in Germany "forces" you to switch off. Obviously same applies for your holidays!

Rule #5: There's no "I" in team

What's the linchpin of German work ethics culture? Focus on group dynamics! It's hard to believe that team spirit holds sway in the work culture in Germany, in particular, because Germans tend to be more individualists than collectivists compared to their southern neighbours in Europe.

But as soon as you set foot in the door of your first meeting, you quickly feel the sense of community that prevails in German companies.

The "we-feeling" ("Wir-Gefühl") is the core of the working culture in Germany.

So it doesn't come as a surprise that group dynamics put listening, discussions and debates at the forefront of the process in order to work out effective strategies together - and to unlock the maximum efficiency for all. Teamwork is truly one of the greatest assets in German companies!

In this way, each employee's sense of responsibility is consciously sensitised to the fact that once someone fails to perform their duties, it’s left in the hands of a colleague. An absolute no-go in the work culture in Germany shaped by collaborative efforts!

Rule #6: your manager, your mentor

High-necked suits and formal salutations easily give work culture in Germany a hierarchical flavour. But in reality, work culture in Germany shapes a similar relationship to that between a teacher and his students; with your manager, you share a "mentor-mentee" relationship, a manager that guides you rather than bosses you around or monitors you.

Oops, you can't meet your deadline as promised? Don't be afraid to talk to your manager with problems. With the "mentoring role" of your manager, your manager seeks a solution together with you instead of letting his authoritarian position get in the way. With this two-way relationship, you'll jointly decide on the objectives of projects and the deadlines for them - after all, it's up to you to assess what it takes to complete your projects on schedule.

Rule #7: Showing respect

Those expats that dived into one or two German language courses already know that formal manners are rooted in the language. Unlike in English, there's a difference in German between the formal "Sie" (you) and the informal "Du" (you), similar to Spanish.

In small to medium-sized companies, it's still the norm to address your managers with the formal "Sie" unless they offer you a change (don't get your hopes up, this rarely happens!). By the way, people with a doctorate tend to insist on being called by their title.

In young or international companies, just as in agencies, the mood looks quite different: with flat hierarchies, the formal address usually fades away.

Rule #8 on work culture in Germany: Those who are sick stay at home

A German takes 18 visits to the doctor on average (that is 1.5 times a month!). Germans run to the doctor as soon as they catch the slightest cold, because as soon as you've been sick at home for three days, you have to show your employer a medical note.

Work culture in Germany expects its employees to stay at home when they are sick. So, don't come into the office with a cold!

Rule #9: Your dress code reflects your professionalism

Ripped jeans are swapped with suit trousers, the blouse takes the place of a loose shirt and your hair gets combed in the morning: within the work culture in Germany, the dress code in a traditional German company is a symbol of professionalism; showing you have your life under control.

Rule #10 on work culture in Germany: The early bird catches the worm

Tired you stroll into the office at 10.00 am and wonder why your colleague has already sent you the first e-mail at 6.30 am?

To tell you the truth: Germans are early birds! Anyone starting work at 6.30 a.m. won't be looked at strangely. After all, those who start early are allowed to leave early, so to speak. Getting out of the office at 3 pm is therefore not a taboo (if you started early, of course!).

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