5 Rules: How to succeed in a German company. Impress your colleagues. And feel at home in your new workplace.
5 Easy Steps
We wanted to find out more about the workplace culture in a typical German company.
What is it actually like to work in Germany? What is it like to be a part of German business culture? What are the German workplace manners?
To learn more, we talked with Stan.
Stan is from Canada, he works in accounting and relocated to Hamburg in 2009.
Stan already worked in several German companies, both in a start-up with a flat hierarchy and a more relaxed atmosphere and in a global corporation with a conservative approach of doing business and maintaining communication.
Like many of us, Stan went to Germany without any prior experience working in a German office. He had to learn how to conduct himself within a foreign business culture from scratch:
“I was so surprised when I arrived in Hamburg, Germany in January 2019. I started my first day at work. And nothing was how I expected it to be … The office was a small place, very quiet, it was hard to say if there was any dress-code. However, the first person I talked to was super formal, serious and did not smile… And from the first second on, he spoke only with me in German…”
During our talk, Stan told us about professional communication with fellow German colleague and his own failures.
He also talked about what helped him feel comfortable and manage his daily tasks in his German workplace.
Now we want to share it with you!
Seriously – it’s so much better to learn something like that from the mistakes of others : )
So, do you want to find out what helped Stan to get along with a German team and start fully enjoying his weekdays?
Great! Then, let’s start.
Secret rules you should know before you work in a German company….
Working cultures may be different depending on the industry you work in. However, according to Stan, German communication rules are always the same.
So, if we want to be a part of a German team, we must learn these rules.
It’s for our own benefit!
“I’ve had loads of international experiences. But Germany was different. I had to learn about German ways of doing things. German manners. And I was the only one responsible for my own progress of cultural adaption”.
Sounds a bit problematic? Actually, it’s easier than meets the eye.
As our expert says, there are some rules, which may seem trivial.
But they wield major influence on your performance.
Let’s start with the beginning!
#1 Joining a German company – don’t be late ;)
First and foremost – most Germans always arrive at work 5 minutes early or on time. They expect the same from you, even if the meeting is at 8:30 am.
So, especially when you start your new job, and preferably later on too, – try to leave your apartment early and don’t challenge your boss’s temper by being late.
What does Stan say?
According to him, the most common problem for newcomers in a German working environment is that they underestimate the importance of communication rules.
What does he mean by that?
Newcomers tend to act the way they used to back in their home country. Some of them may think it is the same in Germany.
And it’s a normal impulse to do it like that.
Stan automatically did the same, too.
It’s a wrong strategy when trying to integrate with your German office.
Try to observe your colleagues. What are they like? Do they ask a lot of questions? Do they take many breaks? Do they dislike being disrupted all the time?
Watch and learn! This is particularly important because EVERY German company is different from each other, too. There is no one way of how a German business culture works.
All we are trying to do here, is tell you what Stan has learned from his own experiences. So that perhaps they help you too.
Start looking around and listening to what people are talking about from the beginning.
Find out how they behave, what topics are discussed between the colleagues, in what manner they address each other.
Stan says, “I never thought it is a problem to keep asking questions to colleagues all day. Like ‘Hey, Mark, I’ve got a small question here! And then another one there. And then someone knocks on the door. There is a lot of social exchange at work where I come from. That’s part of it. This is how you develop ideas!
Now. To my surprise, I came to realise that it may be impolite to keep disrupting your German colleagues, if you have questions.
The better way is to ask them in an email, if they could take a few minutes to answer your questions.
Or approach them in the lunchbreak. Then you can ask them, ‘hey I have a few questions about xxx and I heard that you are an expert on this. Is there any way you could help me with some questions later on?’.
In some ways Germans are very direct. But if it comes to asking questions – make sure that you show that you value your colleague’s time and do not want to burden them.
This will make your German colleagues see you are respecting their time, their competences and that you are able to adjust to the way in which they work.
#2 How to get your German colleagues to like you
We all know how hard it can be to stay emotionally stable at the workplaces. All these deadlines, complicated questions, rumors and sometimes even fights between colleagues.
How do we survive? Because no one knows us better than we do!
Being aware of our actions and reactions in various situations may help us to manage our emotional states before something critical happens.
We learn how to cope and relax. How to switch from being nervous. And how to prevent acting rough.
Germans are formal and direct, especially at the workplace.
Even if you work in a start-up and everyone seem very friendly and supportive.
This doesn’t mean you can come to work whistling your favorite tune, dancing a bit to it and greet everyone with a loud: “Ah, another Monday, right guys??”
To avoid being unintentionally offensive, try to see what topics people value during professional communication.
How do they start a dialogue?
What do they discuss during small talks at work?
How do they solve complicated issues, do they share their feelings, or they tend to be more formal at work?
Stan gave us an example: “I once started my workday with a casual “How are you?” just to try a new topic for a small-talk.
After that, someone told me, people, hardly ever do that in a German working environment. You don’t really care about their feelings – so why do you ask? It was unusual for me, but that’s how I learned it.
Now I stick to the weather-topics and make it short, not to waste time on work-unrelated conversations. Another German thing, by the way – be efficient and don’t waste time chatting.”
Be sure – they also want to learn about you, and it also takes time. But, step by step, you will definitely feel more and more confident and hack in professional communication in a German team.
#3 How good should your German be to start working in a German company?
Usually, without any German, you won’t get a job in a German company.
Sometimes, however, you may be allowed to start with an average level and get better attending a German course as a part of your professional integration.
Still, be prepared for a situation when people would expect a decent level of German from the first day.
Both written and orally.
Sounds scary? It is.
As it was in my case. I already had a B2 German level when I arrived at my first German job back in 2009.
“I was able to talk in German during my first job interview, not super fluently but I made it.
Still, I thought globalization had already arrived in small German companies and English would be spoken a little more frequently.
Also, the company was located in Berlin. And the colleagues knew I was from abroad – so I expected everyone will speak some English at work anyway!
Well. I was wrong.
From day one, most people addressed me in German and my head started to slowly explode.
So, if you are like me and not sure about your German – try to start practicing as soon as possible.”
If your language is good, but you just came from abroad and have no experience in communication with natives – go out to a bar!
Especially if you now live in a big vibrant city, such as Berlin or Hamburg. You will fight your shyness and language barrier at one go.
There are also a number of communities for newcomers, for English-speaking employees abroad, for those who are looking for new friends to practice German. You can easily find them on Facebook, for instance, typing in “Expats in(your city)” – and voila!
There is no need to be official there or being afraid of making a mistake.
Believe me, your colleagues will appreciate you trying.
The atmosphere is chilled, and everyone is in the same situation trying to help each other.
Moreover, you can share some work issues, ask people how to deal in a difficult situation.
And how to network with the right kind of people. How to climb the ladder…
#4 What is the best way to show work motivation to your German colleagues?
After language problems, another obstacle people face as newcomers is a fear to show you don’t get something about the working process.
It is more common for young workers at the beginning of their carrier, but not limited to them.
Sometimes, we are afraid to lose our job if we don’t understand something.
However, in a diverse community, it can also be a simple misunderstanding or a foreign language problem.
Believe it or not, it is always better to ask directly and straight away.
Time is valuable, and it will save time to both of you.
Don’t try to be perfect but try to be efficient and to learn fast by collecting all the information you need.
Not only during the tasks at work but also if you don’t know how to address your boss. Or you have a meeting with an important client and there are questionable issues.
…. Just ask your colleague or your manager for advice.
I’m saying it because it will sound quite impolite if you skip ‘the title talking’ when you talk to someone that’s in a higher position than you.
Usually, great results are important, so try not to fail the whole task only because of a “simple”, “stupid” or “obvious” question that you couldn’t dare to ask.
#5 Are Germans really punctual, serious and even “mean” at work?
To confirm the cliché (I mean there always is some truth to them…):
We now know that most Germans like to be accurate, punctual and don’t like to repeat twice.
They also love directness. They rather skip the small-talk.
Seriously, if you think of it, stereotyping can easily ruin a comfortable atmosphere you tried so hard to build.
Cultural and professional behavior is so different around the world, so try to feel like a part of new German working environment and don’t make a wrong impression.
For instance, saying:
“Haha, I’m sure you had a beer and Wurst for breakfast, Herr Schmidt!”
to your German colleague may not be accepted as a harmless joke.
Try to get to know the people at first, find out what they like, maybe what they do during free time, what they find funny.
And then show them both your great sense of humor and respect.
#6 Why is it so difficult to become friends with your German colleagues?
Well, it certainly is!
It can be difficult to become a part of a group of friends. Not only in a German business environment. Also privately. If you enter a new place, sometimes it may also just depend on whether there is a ‘good vibe’ or not. This also applies to Germans. There are so many Germans who are not friends with their colleagues.
So whilst being friends may make work more fun – try to be happy if you are on good terms with your colleagues. Anything on top of that is amazing, but not always the case.
In my experience, employees tend to make friendships with people who have the same cultural background. Who perhaps speak the same language.
This can be really good to: Colleagues with the same cultural background can warn you, what you should not do at work….. and teach you some basic rules of communication in your companies’ culture.
But try to get to know other colleagues, too…
The sooner you’ll become familiar with your new colleagues the better – no matter their country of origin, their native language, their area of specialisation or hair color.
Once you know everyone and see them for the person they are, you will feel more confident at work. It will even boost your motivation and make your days at work more comfortable.
However, don’t take it personally if no one asks you to go for a beer after work. Sad, but true – Germans need sufficient time to make good friends at work as they tend to separate professional and personal life.
But if they see you are a nice person, they will definitely start if you want to join for a lunch or a coffee.
Moreover, this behaviour will show your ability and willingness to be a part of the whole German working community.
That’s a really important index not only for your colleagues but also for your boss There are situations when employees with seemingly perfect skill sets are fired. Simply because they made no effort to fit in.
Colleagues simply did not like them.
It was no fun to work with them.
Which if you think about it is fair, in a way.
After all, a 40 hour work week means:
You effectively spend most of your time with your colleagues. Not your family or friends. Your colleagues!
So, you better choose them wisely…
#7 Enjoy working in Germany!
After all, a German office is not only a challenge requesting an extra-work on your emotions and behavior.
It is also a myriad of opportunities, new cool people, lots of new connections and professional experiences.
As soon as you get used to this – you’ll see you wouldn’t want to return to a workspace where there is no diversity, everyone is from the same background, same skin color, same gender, speaks the same language….
Moreover, isn’t it nice to be a part of the process when people of very different traditions and attitudes create together and have fun?
It is also proven that teams that are diverse will create much more innovation. Diversity creates the most successful ideas! Airbnb, Zalando, eBay, IKEA, Google – you name it!
I am sure, you won’t regret it.
Perhaps at the start, you might, haha.
After all, I never said this would be easy.
But it will pay off : )
It did for Stan, anyway…
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