5 Work Habits Worth Learning from the Germans

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Umlauts above! The Germans are unfairly tagged with a load of stereotypes: beer drinking, frankfurter eating, and masters of efficiency - they won’t hesitate to use one word when three words could do: “kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung” apparently means automobile liability insurance, for example. But there is a sense that the Germans have the better of us Brits in certain arenas, not least when it comes to work culture. According to the OECD Better Life Index, people in Germany work 1,397 hours -  less than the OECD average of 1765 hours; and still their economy is a top performer: the latest 5-year average growth (GDP) according to the Index is above the OECD average (source: OECD). Germany also has very low youth unemployment rates and is a prodigious exporter: last year, Germany’s exports were US$1.453 trillion, an increase of 28.8% from 2009.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently expressed a desire to see German work attitudes in Britain. But what are these attitudes? A few German colleagues have given me some insights.

1. Germans have an extremely strong work ethic

Work means work. You are unlikely to find Germans in the workplace Whatsapping their mates, finding friends on Facebook or trawling through Reddit – unless, of course, these activities are related to their work.  Activities not related to work are frowned upon in the workplace; such is the level of professionalism. It isn’t all work and no play, though -  the Germans are well known for ‘letting their hair down’ outside of work hours.

2. Germans are keen on rules

The Germans work well within the confines and constraints of rules, systems and procedures. This aids consistency and conformity and helps to minimise uncertainties.

3. Germans are highly task-focused

The task is king in Germany, and everything else is subordinated to that. By contrast, in other countries such as the UK, the emphasis is more on relationship-building.

4. Work and private lives are very clearly segregated

Whilst in some countries such as the UK, the expectation is to ‘go down the pub’ with a few colleagues after work, this is much less the case in Germany. The Germans will do their socialising with friends outside work, for example with friends from the many clubs which range from hiking clubs to sports clubs to singing clubs.

5. Germans are masters of direct communication

The Germans prefer communication which is ‘to the point’ and goal-oriented. There isn’t the need for pleasantries, unlike in British culture. Whereas a Brit might ask. “Would you be kind enough to bring the report to my office by 5pm?” a German would simply say, “I will expect the report by 5pm.” Rarely will you hear conversations in the workplace about the weather or the appalling way your football team played over the weekend.

The German work culture is quite different to the British work culture. Different does not necessarily mean better, of course, but many would agree the Germans’ diligence, strong work ethic and ability to separate work life from social life is a good encouragement to those of us who are faced with the challenges of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

What do you think?