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The Differences Between British and German Work Ethic

By Jon, published on 08/02/2019 Blog > Languages > German > Learning the German Mentality at Work

Germany is an anatomical oddity: it writes with its left hand and acts with its right.” – Kurt Tucholsky

Is Germany an occupational utopia for Brits? It definitely seems to be for those that live in Germany. In addition to low unemployment, according to a study in 2015, of those in work, 78% of them are “happy at work” in their home country.

Of course, they are! 73.1% of them earn over €31,000 gross/year and the national average is €20,670/year.

However, working in Germany isn’t as easy as it might seem. While the UK is still in the EU, Brits don’t currently need a residence permit, work permit, or visas to go to Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, or Munich in Bavaria. You can currently go wherever you want in Deutschland!

If you’ve got a job offer and are moving to Germany, you might think your biggest hurdles are going to be the language, German culture, dealing with the German embassy or German government, or getting health insurance but you’d be wrong.

Almost every foreigner currently living abroad in Germany, even those with advanced language skills, will mention the culture shock they were met with when it came to the German mentality regarding work. It can be difficult to integrate into the heart of a German company and anyone wanting to work or study in Germany needs to prepare themselves for the Germany philosophy when it comes to their job (and learn German Phrases, too).

Here’s everything you need to know about the German work mentality…

German Discipline: Fact or Fiction?

The idea of the disciplined German is one of the oldest clichés in the book.

From overseas, Germany is seen as a country where the people are far more disciplined, ordered, strict, and unwavering than other EU countries. Why is this image so lasting?

How do I get a job in Germany? Germans aren’t as strict as stereotypes would have you believe. (Source: pixabay.com)

For one, Germany broadcasts this image of themselves because the workers in German companies are so competitive and effective. German businesses look for diligence and consistency when it comes to their workers, making Germany 4th in terms of global economic powers and the most powerful in the European Economic Area (EEA). This also means it can be easy to find a job.

In an interview on the French show 20 minutes, Katja, a French-German living in Paris explained:

We only cross the road when the light is green and in business we respect contracts scrupulously.”

Has Germany always been the “good student” in a class? This isn’t always the case.

Even though plenty of countries think that Germans seem to sometimes be too disciplined, they also like to promote externalising feelings.

This is true in their schools, as Katja explained:

[School in Germany] promotes personal expression and debate. We don’t learn things off by heart.”

It’s this mix of diligence and assertiveness that helps the Germans be so effective in their work! If you’re considering working abroad and want to see it for yourself, why not start by learning German in a university or German school in Berlin or learn German online?

German Business Culture

What are the advantages of working and living in Germany?

We tend to think that finding a job and working in the Federal Republic of Germany won’t be so different to working in the UK since we live in an increasingly globalised world. However, it’s not true.

The cultural differences at work can end up being a roadblock when it comes to recruitment in Germany and integrating into a German workplace. In fact, studies by the Goethe Institut have shown that a large number of businesses think the differing mentalities can be a source of tension at work.

Are Germans punctual? You can’t be like the White Rabbit. You can’t be late. (Source: rawpixel.com)

In order to avoid this, don’t be duped by the illusion. Here are a few key differences between the two countries:

  • In the UK, your professional life tends to dominate your personal life ≠ In Germany, your private life is essential. Working at home is even encouraged.

  • In the UK, we prefer originality ≠ In Germany, they prefer utility and profitability.

  • In the UK, we prefer creative employees ≠ In Germany, they prefer employees who focus on the quality of the work they’ve been asked to do.

  • In the UK, we aim for a company that works well ≠ In Germany, they aim for a company that works perfectly.

  • In the UK, we encourage movement ≠ In Germany, they encourage consistency and continuity.

  • In the UK, companies love to rise to new challenges ≠ In Germany, companies like to play it safe.

Work in Germany is monochronic, too. This means that they like to complete tasks sequentially and put a focus on timeliness and avoiding delays. Germans like to be on time at all times.

German workers are also more aware of the big decisions being taken by their company. It’s the famous notion of “Wir-Gefühl” where Germans are part of the whole and are therefore involved with their company.

Before setting off on a German adventure, you need to be aware of all these differences. This means that you can start integrating into the German work ethos from the moment you sit down at your interview!

If you’re thinking about studying in Germany, you should check out the 5 best student cities in Germany!

Experience or Qualifications?

When it comes to qualifications, the UK puts far too much importance on them. We believe that our futures are made for us the second we pick up our degree certificates. We seem to believe that our entire careers are decided between the ages of 18 and 21.

While it can seem weird for somebody in the UK to go back to their studies, it’s very easy to do so in Germany. Germans can improve their work skills at any moment through theoretical and practical courses.

Where can I get a job in Germany? Speaking German is a must if you want to work in Germany. (Source: pixabay.com)

These courses give them a “plus” on their CVs without being the decisive factor when it comes to hiring them.

Being a good student in Germany isn’t enough. The candidate has to prove themselves in the professional world.

German businesses prefer:

  • Speaking German and bilingualism

  • Proactive candidates

  • The practical elements of qualifications

  • Work experience (internships, etc.)

  • Professional skills

  • References.

  • Digital skills

  • Experience “on the ground”…

In Germany “Die Elitehochschulen” or “Eliteuniversität” aren’t as important. Further education is seen important when it brings something to the workplace rather than being just an accolade. German businesses also consider older candidates. As of 2020, 40% of the German population will be seniors.

By launching the “Perspective 50+” initiatives, German companies are looking towards hiring older employees and placing greater value on their experience and knowledge rather than their training.

German philosophy is different to ours in that it doesn’t place as much focus on your academic background. Experience is more important and candidates without degrees are given a chance.

Working in Germany: Don’t Let Things Drag On

Time is money” – Benjamin Franklin

The “Zeit ist Geld” is particularly important in Germany where workers are expected to be quick and effective. You can’t procrastinate here!

The German mentality is based on profitability: German workers look for well-paid positions which you can only get if you are diligent and dedicated.

What is working in Germany like? In Germany, employees need to trust one another. (Source: Marc Mueller)

German businesses won’t give a penny to idle workers. It’s a relationship built on trust between the employer and the employee. It’s the same between colleagues.

German workers need to rely on one another in order to perfectly work together to optimise the company’s output. Every expat applicant or job seeker in Germany needs to keep this in mind.

After an interview with Superprof, Stephanie from Ravensburg, who’s been working in France for 4 years, had this to say about the work ethic:

One of the biggest differences between France and Germany is in the world of work. Since I’ve been working in France, I’ve noticed one thing. In Germany, when we say “I’ll take care of that”, we do it. Most of the time we do it immediately. For Germans, these words come with an expectation to be counted on. In France (just like the UK), sometimes these words mean nothing. People have told me they’d take care of something and they didn’t.”

If you want to last in the German job market, you have to rigorously make use of your time and complete every job on time. The same goes if you’re on an internship or an international student in a German university. If you’re studying or working in Germany, you’ve got to do as the Germans do.

With our advice, are you ready to set foot on German soil?

If you’re not sure about Germany, remember that if you’ve mastered the German language, you can also consider other German speaking countries like Austria and Switzerland, although the latter isn’t a member of the European Union.

You can also check out the best German universities

German Workers’ Rights

We’ve already discovered that German workers seemingly appear to work almost like robots, ensuring that every task they do is performed perfectly and on time. But do their rights at work reflect the effort and commitment they put into their jobs?

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits (or downfalls, as the case may be!) that German workers are entitled to.

Salary

In January 2017, the minimum wage rose to EUR 8,84 and any contract offering a cent less than this is classed as invalid by law. That said, the official minimum wage does not apply to trainees or those taking part in an apprenticeship, which is dealt with case-by-case as the employer and student see fit.

With Germans being highly involved in the running of businesses, even at lower levels, bonuses are very common. Supplemental pay, which are funds offered in excess of ordinary agreed pay, can include profit sharing commission, incentives and staff bonuses.

When it comes to sick pay, the employee is entitled to time off but must provide a doctor’s certificate after 3 consecutive days of illness.

The country’s law indicates that employees must be paid their full salary during the first six weeks of any period of absence due to sickness, which can potentially be triggered more than once in a year. After this time, statutory or private insurance sickness pay kicks in and usually amounts to more than two-thirds of their basic pay (for a maximum of 78 weeks).

Workweek

The usual working week in Germany consists of 48 hours spread across Monday to Saturday, with any given workday not exceeding eight hours in length. Work on Sundays or public holidays is not generally allowed, but exceptions can be made for certain industries so long as the day is compensated for by time off during the fortnight that follows it.

Working days of more than six, but no more than nine hours, strictly require a scheduled 30-minute rest break or two 15 minute breaks. A 45-minute break is then required after six hours of work if a working day lasts more than nine hours. At the end of the individual’s working day, there must be a rest period of at least of 11 hours.

Holiday

In Germany, workers are entitled to at least 24 working days a year as holiday, assuming they work a six-day week as set out above. Between 25 and 30 days per year is common practice for most employers.

During the vacation period, employees are paid in full and, quite often, their employer also grants a special vacation bonus.

In general, employees must take their annual holidays/vacation during the calendar year or see it forfeited. In some cases, however, like if there was a particular reason the holiday could not be used up during the previous year, unused holiday can be carried forward until the 31st of March of the next calendar year.

Self-Employment

To be self-employed in Germany it is necessary that you have some sort of residence permit. Before contemplating moving to Germany to work on a self-employed basis, it is strongly advised to consult with experts in the field of residence permits, labour, business and tax.

If you meet certain criteria, then you may find you are easily issued a residence permit for both you and your family, particularly if you can show that your business will have a positive effect on the German economy, which is ultimately determined by local authorities. These criteria would normally be related to the type of business, your qualifications and experience and whether or not the work you are proposing could be done by a German national.

Your work classification, i.e. trade or craft, is important because it could affect your tax liability and some documentation you may need to source before you start.

It is so important to get expert advice about being self-employed in Germany, as the laws, rules, regulations and procedures are always undergoing change and are very different from those in the UK.

Maternity/Paternity Pay

In Germany, the law is quite generous when it comes to maternity and paternity leave and pay.

Mothers are allowed six weeks leave at full pay ahead of giving birth, followed by eight weeks at full pay afterwards. For multiples, 12 weeks’ paid leave is granted.

The mother or father is then allowed up to three years of unpaid leave to stay at home with the child, whilst retaining job security.

Recently, the German government initiated a scheme that allows direct subsidies to new parents too, funded by the federal tax system and lasting between 12 or 14 months following the child’s birth. The amount offered is based on the after taxes income of the parent who is out of work and caring for the newborn child.

Finding A Job In Germany

If the sound of all of the above gets your heart racing and you can’t wait to get settled in work in this European country, then check out this advice on actually finding work that will suit you in Germany.

If you are already in Germany, then you may find it easier to find work through networking and attending meetings and interviews, however, you can still find work in Germany from your base in the UK. Technology has made things much easier in this sense, as you can easily apply electronically for jobs and even participate in interviews via Skype without needing to travel to the company to meet with the employer.

There are various websites that can be used to search for jobs, not just company sites but job sites dedicated to roles in Germany.

Another option is looking at ads in newspapers, on ex-pat website, or by placing a job wanted ad yourself and promoting yourself through social media. LinkedIn is a great way to reach out to contacts anywhere in the world.

You may choose to look for temporary work in Germany, which can be done by joining a temping agency based in the country. These companies supply numerous workers to many companies throughout the country and they can advise you on some of the legal requirements that you may need to consider before starting work.

If a German company is interested in you and wants to see your resume, know that they will expect a very detailed account of your experience and skills (as you’d expect!) with complete and accurate information on your education and any professional work you have done previously.

If you have any, send in references and other documents you think will impress the potential employer immediately along with a recent photograph of yourself. This will avoid them having to chase you for further information and will prove from the offset that you are diligent, reliable and thorough.

At an interview, be prepared to answer questions about your health and criminal record, if any, and dress to impress as most interviews are highly formal in German businesses.

Do I Need To Speak German To Work In Germany?

Germans have a reputation for speaking excellent English, but does this mean that we Brits can move into their country and expect to get along as if we are living and working at home?

Indeed, some businesses in Germany use English as their working language but don’t forget that it is not just about the external people you are going to be dealing with. You must consider things like relationships at work, Human Resources, tech support, etc. While the staff may speak English to a certain degree, they will expect you to have a level of understanding of their language in order to get by and to gain their respect.

It is only right to learn the local language when residing in a particular country, isn’t it?

Many locals will give you the benefit of the doubt if you are new to the country but two/three years in? They would probably expect you to have put in more effort by then to learn their way of speaking…

Aside from your day to day work, you absolutely require at least some German for other things, like basic living.

Finding a house or an apartment, setting up the Internet and home appliances, opening a bank account, going to the supermarket, making friends, being promoted… all of these will be very hard if you don’t have at least a basic or intermediate level of German language.

Are you interested in learning to speak German? Find German lessons throughout the UK and German lessons London.

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