Business culture in Germany
Understanding typical business practices and etiquette is essential if you want to succeed in any country. A nation’s attitude and values are the foundations of its business culture. The Germans are sensible, organised and conservative. As a result, their business culture reflects this sober structured way of thinking. They are a nation of planners. They appreciate forward thinking. Having a logically structured plan with set times and expectations gives them a sense of security. They have strict rules and regulations for everything in life. While this does not allow much room for spontaneity or flexibility, it does mean the job gets done. On time and exactly the way you expected it to. Maybe that’s why Germany is the most reliable, productive country in Europe.
Germany has some of the shortest working hours in Europe. The official regulations stipulate you can work no longer than 48 hours, but the average is usually less than 40 hrs per week. Business hours are between 09.00am and 17.30pm, with a half hour for lunch. Working at the weekend is rare and almost never on a Sunday. Work-life balance is very important to this nation, where the family is king. Vacation allowances are very high, sometimes 6 weeks per year. Germany also has more public holidays than any other country in Europe. 15 days per year! Most businesses are closed on these days, except for restaurants. Business and private times are kept strictly apart. Try not to call colleagues about business matters outside of work hours.
The Germans are a conservative bunch. Business dress tends to be formal and traditional. Men should wear suits in dark muted tones of grey or navy. Ties are still popular. Women can get away with a little more flair and colour but keep it neat and modest. Some industries such as IT have more relaxed dress codes. Keep it formal for the first meeting and then you can assess the attitude of the company.
The Germans appreciate plain speaking. They get straight down to business with very little preamble. They don’t expect you to waste time flattering them or making jokes. A firm handshake is appreciated, a weak handshake will make them feel mistrust. Eye contact is respected, especially during a handshake or a toast. The Germans like their personal space. Make sure there is always an arms-length between you. Most people will speak English well, but don’t presume. Starting with ‘Sprechen Sie Englisch’ can make people feel warmer towards you. Email communication is seen as a business letter. Use formal opening and closing salutations, unless your colleague encourages you to be more casual.
Hierarchy in German is vertically structured and strictly defined. Rank and status are based on achievement and experience. Academic titles are important. There is a clear separation between the business and personal spheres. Always address colleagues by their last name unless invited to do otherwise. When speaking German, use the formal version of you ‘Sie’ and not the informal ‘Du’, until indicated to do so.
Punctuality is seen as good manners. Be early if possible. If you’re going to be even the slightest bit late, then call ahead. When answering the phone, say your last name instead of ‘hello’. When making small talk with people you don’t know well, stick to safe subjects such as football or holidays. Delicate subjects such as World war II or the Holocaust should be avoided in strange company. When in a restaurant, the person who made the invitation usually pays the bill. Don’t offend someone by trying to force them to split the bill. Tipping is 10% or just under. The Germans expect honesty, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Say what you mean and don’t exaggerate.
Germany Business Culture – Mundialz
Who better to tell you what’s normal, than someone who has experienced German business culture personally? At Mundialz we have created a community of fellow professionals who can offer you helpful tips and trick on how to succeed in your career in Germany.