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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in Germany

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2014

Work Culture

Germans have a reputation for being thorough and serious at work. This is well-deserved, as informal socialising such as chatting and taking water cooler breaks during working hours is not considered appropriate. Similarly, when in a meeting, you should stick to the topic and not deviate from it too much. Germans like to maintain a sharp distinction between work and leisure – rather than effectively continuing work by eating lunch at their desk, they leave their workplace at go somewhere to relax, so they can enjoy the break properly.

Formality is the norm in the German workplace; colleagues are addressed as Herr or Frau (Mr or Mrs) plus surname, and seniors should be addressed using the formal pronoun Sie instead of du. Dress and behaviour are generally conservative. Though this is not the case in some places, such as Berlin, it is best to err on the side of caution and dress and behave formally, at least at first. Note also that Germans are normally reserved and do not volunteer information about their private lives to work colleagues.

It is exceedingly important to be on time in Germany. Being late for a meeting or other appointment is a serious faux pas, even if it is only by five minutes. In line with the German tendency to be formal, German companies are rigidly hierarchical. The chain of command is considered very important and you should observe it as a matter of course. Hence, when introducing colleagues, you should start with the person with the most senior role first, and work your way down the hierarchy.


Labour Market

The German economy is in good shape, having generally shown modest GDP growth since 2009. Unemployment in Germany is at approximately 5%, considerably lower than the world average and the lowest it has been for two decades. This healthiness is evident in all sectors and age groups; even youth unemployment is low at around 8%, about a third of the EU average. The employment situation varies markedly in different parts of Germany, however. The affluent southern states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemburg have unemployment rates of 4%, with labour shortages in multiple sectors. On the other hand, unemployment is a considerable problem in former East Germany, which has an average rate of over 10%, with some areas up at 16%.

Most areas of work have full employment, but there are labour shortages in many skilled positions. This is due to Germany’s continuing economic success and shrinking workforce. The shortage applies to the science, technology, engineering and IT sectors. The most acute shortage is in the IT sector; it is currently estimated that a quarter of IT positions in Germany are unfilled.

Recently, German immigration policy has been narrowed to encourage skilled workers in these sectors to immigrate rather than the semi-skilled and unskilled. Those with the relevant skills who have secured a job and permission from the German Employment Agency may even be granted a residence permit before they immigrate into Germany. Many of these and other positions are filled by people from Eastern Europe and Mediterranean EU countries, due to their high unemployment rates (e.g. 25% in Spain.) Many of the moves within the EU are by intra-company transfer.

For more information on immigration procedures and working conditions in Germany, see Working for Expats.




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