Work Culture in Germany: Myth or Reality?

I write this post so that all future employers who mistakenly stumble on this blog, admittedly realize that I can write about serious stuff too. And not just about techno music, pretty castles, folk stories and strange people I meet on the street.

Granted, I’m not an expert in working in Germany, since I only started a month ago. But given my small tryst with working back home, I can already find stark differences. Here are some of my observations of what is true and not true about working here:

  • Germans focus on being efficient at work and not much else : I’d say this is pretty real as far as most companies are concerned. Perhaps, this might differ in small firms or entertainment businesses, but I highly doubt that. Some times I feel that your work amounts to nothing, if you can’t produce consistent output in a timely, disciplined and efficient manner.
  • Direct and clear feedback: Much like the language in general, the language at work is often quite direct. You made a shitty one-pager? Rest assured, your managers or colleagues will say that out loud the next time you see them. On the flip-side, this means good feedback is just good feedback, no ‘just trying to make you feel better’ saga here. You’ll never be in the dark if your boss appreciates your work or not. You’ll be informed either way in as clear a manner as possible.
  • Extremely formal work environment: If you thought Germans are distant, try working with them. It would be close to impossible to know a lot about your non-team colleagues, other than their name, home town and work division unless you have maybe worked for a decade together. Germans keep their private life private, even more so at work. I highly doubt there’d be weekend drinking/dinner sessions with colleagues here, something I was quite used to back at home. Exceptions can of course exist, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be making best friends at work anytime soon.
  • Coffee break sessions, what? A favorite past time of Indians, is to take mini breaks having tea or coffee (or cigarettes), and have a gossip session about all sorts of life updates, work and otherwise. It’s extremely common place and no one would really bat an eye if you took such a break back home. Here in Germany, if you take too many breaks you might be considered in-disciplined. Of course, you can do as you please during your lunch break, but all the other seconds, minutes and hours are meant to be ‘efficient and productive’. After all, what are you getting paid for?
  • Going home already? Germans will usually not stay a minute longer at work than they need to. Most, will immediately rush back home to their family or partner. Back in India, there is this stupid norm, where the longer hours you are seen working, the more diligent your boss thinks you are. This is probably a result of intense competition and ‘RG’ (a concept my b-school friends fully understand where you make others look insincere), to get ahead and get some brownie points. No can do in Deutschland. Here, if you unnecessarily linger around at work, your colleagues will most likely think you are crazy or a sociopath.
  • If you’re new, you must extend the introduction first: Often an unsaid rule, and one I noticed pretty quick is that if you’re new, people won’t come up and talk to you first. You need to introduce yourself first, if and when need be, explain what you’re doing there and then their introduction will follow. This goes in line with the ‘no wasting time with small talk’ which is true not just at work but also elsewhere in Germany.

While I like the ‘no wasting time’ part, I do miss the warmth of working in a more open environment. Also, my last 15 months of working in a start-up have made me accustomed to a totally different culture, where it was pretty normal to discuss even financial details over a coffee break and that would be taken as seriously as if you had had a calendar meeting.

What I really enjoy, is the solid sense of work-life balance, and was one of the strongest reasons for me to move to Germany. I realized how much I craved it while working 70 hours/week back home including many weekends. So far, I really do enjoy my time here in Germany. Its a good mix of work, study, and a lot of socializing (at uni, of-course).

That is going to be all for now. Schöne Ferien, liebe Leute!

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