A guide to German work culture vs the UK

If you’re thinking about moving to Germany to work, you probably have lots of questions about German work culture… and rightly so! Moving to a new country always presents its challenges, so it’s only right that you do everything you can to familiarise yourself with German customs to help integrate into your new team. If you’re moving to Germany from the UK, you can be sure to find many stark differences between the two work cultures.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at German working life and customs to help ease your transition.

Stick to the schedule

Germans are typically known for their punctuality, and with good reason! Being on time in Germany goes a long way. Not only does the German transport system run seamlessly on time, but people do too. If you’re late to meetings or to work, this will reflect poorly on your work ethic and you may be judged for this by your peers and managers. Take your timekeeping seriously in Germany, always arriving early and keeping a strict daily planner so you don’t miss a beat.

Working in Germany without speaking German

Although there are English-speaking jobs available in Germany, businesses tend to operate under the German language. So if you’re thinking of working in Germany but don’t speak the language, your best chance of finding an English-speaking job would be in the startup market. German startups are more open to hiring non-German speakers, but you should always go in with the intention of learning as much German as possible. Not only will this make it easier to navigate day-to-day life, but you’ll also earn some extra brownie points with the locals and your colleagues.

Don’t mistake directness for rudeness

One of the notable characteristics of German work culture is how direct colleagues can be when communicating. Germans prefer a more direct style of communication and don’t tend to entertain pleasantries as people do in the UK. They like to get to the point and have efficient discussions, which foreigners can confuse for rudeness. But it’s not rude and that will become clearer in time as you immerse yourself in German culture. So, if you’re headed into a meeting, be prepared to get straight down to business, avoid being long-winded and hold back on the small talk. If you want to get to know your colleagues better, there’s a time and a place for that and it’s not during office hours!

Uphold contracts, systems and rules

Another German workplace custom is the amount of emphasis placed on contracts, rules and systems. Contracts and agreements provide the backbone of the business world and are closely adhered to. As an employee, you should take the time to familiarise yourself with any workplace structures or contracts you come into contact with as these will influence your working day. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of any contracts on you in case you need to make reference to them during a meeting.

The job market is rich

The German job market is full of opportunity. Unemployment is relatively low and the startup market in Germany is particularly buoyant, especially within the tech sector. The leading city for startups is Berlin (also commonly labelled as the Silicon Valley of Europe) with 16.8% of businesses being startups. Between 2018 and 2020 alone, there was a 55% increase in the number of startups across Germany with 415,000 people currently working in the market. The same research predicted the startup market could be home to nearly 4 million jobs by 2030! Aside from this, the automotive, engineering, chemical and electrical industries are the 4 most prominent sectors in Germany.

Early starts are popular

The average working hours in Germany tend to be between a 36 and 40 hour work week, usually operating on 8 hours per day, 5 days a week. The main difference to the UK is that it’s more common for the working day to start between 7.30am and 8.30am, as opposed to the typical 9-5 schedule. It’s also not uncommon for people to start work as early as 6.30am. 

The work/life balance is real

Germans certainly work hard during office hours, but they leave their work where it belongs: in the office. Generally speaking, they have a much better notion of work/life balance and working overtime isn’t widely encouraged. Although the German work ethic is more intensely honed in on productivity than in the UK, make no mistake that they know where to draw the line between work and play. It should be noted that after-work drinks are much less common in Germany. Free time is usually spent with family and friends outside of the office circle.

Leave your sickness at home

In the UK work culture, there’s an expectation for employees to ‘brave their illness’ and come into work. If you take a sick day in the UK, it’s presumed you must be ‘really ill.’ Unlike in the UK, employees in Germany are encouraged to stay at home at the first sign of any illness, no matter how mild your sickness may feel. So don’t feel the need to brave your winter cold and come into the office. In fact, this may even be frowned upon as you put others at risk of catching your cold!

Are you looking for a career move to Germany, or looking to discuss your international hiring needs? Here at GR4, we’re experienced in placing tech professionals into the German startup market. To discuss our available opportunities, speak with one of our advisors today.

Download a copy of our comprehensive relocation guide here.

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