Germany Vs USA: 10 Cultural Differences – The Workplace

Germany Vs America - Workplace

When it comes to the workplace, America and Germany have many similarities, however, it also has many differences and it’s these cultural differences that can mean the difference between a successful career or a frustrating day at the office! So, we thought we’d try to help you make that relationship with your German colleagues that little bit better with a handy guide to the cultural differences between Germans and Americans in the workplace!

For Germans, 9:00 am  means 9:00 am

Actually, it can mean 8:50 am! Germans are punctual people, so punctual in fact that they expect you never to be late, ever. If there is traffic, you should have accounted for it and still make it to work on time – no excuses people of Atlanta! If there is bad weather, you should have thought ahead and left the house extra early to avoid any delays. If you’re 1 minute late, your name will be talked about as being the ‘late shift!’ Like I said, Germans are punctual and like to be on time!

Fancy a little chat around the water cooler?

Maybe not if you’re in Germany! Germans are not big fans of idle chit chat, especially in the workplace. Hanging around the water cooler and chatting about what you ate for dinner last night just won’t cut it in Deutschland. When Germans are at work, they are there to work, not talk about what Aunt Sarah did last Tuesday or the new trick your dog has mastered!

Germans like to take time to make a decision

Are you a big fan of snap decisions? Well, you might want to put them on hold if you’re working with German colleagues. They’re big fans of doing lots of research and gathering as much information as possible, studying it for a while and then making a decision on something. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail – those Germans are thorough people.

A German workplace is a formal workplace

Calling your boss by his or her’s first name is a no-go in Deutschland. The office is a formal place, unless you’re on the same level, you must always use Herr or Frau (Mr. or Ms.) followed by your colleagues surname. If you use their first name you could greatly offend them, unless they tell you to do so, that’s obviously a different matter.

Personal Calls, Text Messages and Social Media

You may as well leave your cell phone at home when you go to work in Germany. Personal calls and text messages are frowned upon in most German workplaces, like I said, in Germany you go to work to work, not carry out your social life. Social media like Facebook and Twitter are also no-go areas in a German workplace. Maybe that’s why Germans work the least hours in Europe but they’re the most productive? Germany efficiency rocks!

The boss’s door isn’t always open

You know the saying, ‘my door is always open?’ Well, that usually isn’t the case in Germany. German offices are very rarely open plan, everyone has an office, that sometimes they share with a couple of other people, but one huge room with cubicles? Hardly ever. And when it comes to your door being open and especially that of your boss, well, you’ll usually find it closed. You’ll have to knock and wait to enter too!

Once a decision is made, Germans are reluctant to change it

You know how we said that Germans like to do their research before making a decision? Well, because of this, once a decision is made, Germans are reluctant to go back on it or change it in any way. They think that they’ve already exhausted all possible avenues and this was the right way to go. Americans on the other hand, are happy to make quick decisions and change things as they encounter problems along the way.

Your boss can’t fire you so easily in Germany

A contract with a client may be over or your boss might not be happy with your performance but that doesn’t mean you will be out of a job in the next 24 hours. In Germany, it’s pretty hard to fire a worker, you have to have a very legitimate reason for it. There are lots of contractual rules to abide by before anyone gets struck off the employment list, unlike here in Georgia, a right-to-work state.

Going to college isn’t expected in Germany

The structure of the workplace in Germany is completely different to that in the U.S. In Germany, it’s commonplace to take on an apprenticeship when you leave school, learning skills on the job and preparing your for workplace life. Then you may or may not choose to go to college to get your bachelors degree. In America, a college degree is a more often than not a requirement in any workplace and apprenticeships are not really heard of. However, this is starting to change under the leadership of the German-American Chamber of Commerce as they work with educational and business leaders to create apprenticeship programs.

Germans are direct

Don’t expect a German to say ‘I like it but…’ when giving you feedback! They are very direct and to the point people, if they don’t like something, they will tell you. They don’t believe in being sympathetic to people’s feelings, that’s just wasting time. This can sometimes come across as rude to people who are not used to this style of communication. On the other side of things, Germans can get annoyed with people who don’t just get to the point and tell them what they need to know.

So there you have it, our take on the cultural differences between German and American workplaces. What do you think to the list? Would you add anything to it?


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Posted on October 8, 2015, in Germany Vs. USA and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Do you mind me reblogging this to my blog, The Flensburg Files? Very interesting guide and it would be useful, esp. for American expats working in Germany. Please let me know if this is OK with you. Thanks! JS

  2. Absolutely true! Especially about that last one. We don’t like when people beat around the bush. Stop wasting our time and get to the point!

  3. Heidi Noperi

    well, this is absolutely true, but I don’t think Americans want to hear this.

  4. for one who is now living back in Germany after living in the US for 25 years I agree with your points! It took me a while to get used to many of these. A few I would add are:
    – “mobbing”, a form of adult workplace bullying, which is very common in Germany (weird and horrible). As I remember it, the US if you have a conflict with a co-worker or boss you either try to work it out directly, it eventually fades or you take it to a higher-up authority..worst case, you change jobs. In Germany, unfortunately, people hold things in and don’t really handle these emotional struggles. Often they let it get so far that they literaly get sick, go to a doctor and are “krankgeschrieben” (given sick leave) for a week or two or longer if necessary. This can be a long and traumatic ordeal.
    – Depending of course on where you work, work and private life are kept apart. You will not see as many personal pictures at someone’s desk or hear about someone’s family etc…unless you ask (which I do), but most Germans don’t ask and respect that privacy.
    – Benefits etc… one of the things I appreciate most about working in Germany are the benefits. We pay high taxes, but everyone is insured, you can be sick for a long time without worrying (unortunately this is also abused), if you have a baby you can take up to 2 years leave with your job guaranteed if you decide to return. Should you decide to have a second child, your job is guaranteed for another 2 years or you can return part-time. You also get a certain percentage of your salary paid.
    – Best of all: paid vacation for up to 30 workdays plus holidays! And Germans take their holidays at all cost. No guilty feelings if you leave for 3 weeks at a time!
    I’m sure I can think of more…
    Thanks for sharing this!

  5. This was a great article and insightful. From my experience it depends on the workplace and levels. I have a German boss that allows us to call him by his first name und wir können uns duzen. But the C Levels? NEVER! There are also some older colleagues that do not like to be called by their first Name or spoken to in the “du” form. So I can agree with this.

    Another thing I can also say, if you work in a German company as an American, unless you’re skilled worker or work in a STEM field, you probably won’t be taken seriously. I’ve also experienced some really sexist attitudes and have pretty much been overlooked for growth opportunities, obwohl ich geschulter, routinierter, qualifizierter und überall talentierter als andere Mitarbeiter bin. Why? They look down on the American education system and additionally, I get the feeling, they feel Americans are less qualified even if they have experience and have proven results…. it almost seems like they value an Abitur over an American earned bachelor’s degree….

    It’s really made me re-strategize as far as how I will have to deal with the workplace once I move back over there.

  6. “What do you think to the list?” really had me laughing! Without a doubt, this was written by German hands 🙂

  7. I am a German living in the USA and I think this list is accurat. And it is true I get very annoyed when someone does not come to the point or make kritik in the nice way. I often dont get it. But i like here that you say to everyone the first name. Much easier.

  8. Reblogged this on THE FLENSBURG FILES and commented:
    Here’s a question for all expatriates working abroad: What rules at the workplace are different than the ones at home? Which ones did you find easy to adapt to? Which ones were the most difficult? And lastly, which ones do even the natives think should change? Working in Germany for the last 16 years, I’ve found that the workplace rules are well-structured and stringent- meaning that the work life and private/ family life are clearly divided, there are no exceptions to punctuality- sometimes being five minutes earlier is considered inappropriate, and if you don’t have the sufficient qualifications for a particular job, you can’t have it until you do. Here are the top ten workplace etiquettes people wishing to work in Germany should keep in mind, all of which I had to deal with in one way or another. Apart from what the website Goethe Does Atlanta have, what other rules should a person abide by or be aware of? Feel free to comment in the section below. Enjoy! 🙂 JS

  1. Pingback: Understanding Cultural Differences – Interpreting and Translation Blog

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