Business etiquette in Germany

86 posts in this topic

Posted

Hey,

So, I’ve been living in Germany for about a year now…and working with a small German company for about 9 months of that time. Compared to every company I’ve worked for in the U.S., this company has some very weird mindsets. So, I finally have to ask…is it GERMANY, THIS COMPANY, or just ME!?

Some examples are…

1. My desk must be absolutely clean…all day. I don’t mean, nicely organized…I mean nothing on it. More than one stack of papers is verboten. I work in IT, so this – in and of itself – is nearly impossible :-)

2. I am REQUIRED to take my lunch break away from my desk…even if I’m not eating.

3. I’m trying to improve my German, but I have been reprimanded and forbidden from studying German on my lunch break, even if it’s away from my desk. I have been told I’m “expected to socialize”.

4. I’ve called in late twice in 5 months…both with cause beyond my control. About two months later, this came up as a reprimand. Is this the normal mentality here? Of course, all the companies I’ve worked for expect timeliness…but in the U.S. if I were late only twice in 5 months, I’d get an award not a reprimand. And certainly not two months later.

5. I printed out one personal page (a letter) and got a serious ass chewing. I’m a 40 year old senior admin and manager. (Again) in the U.S., this wouldn’t even have been noticed.

So…am I a lazy advantage-taking bum, is this the norm for Germany, or is my particular boss a bit peculiar?

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Posted

5. I printed out one personal page (a letter) and got a serious ass chewing. I’m a 40 year old senior admin and manager. (Again) in the U.S., this wouldn’t even have been noticed.

Technically that's theft. As is, for example, charging your personal mobile phone at work. There was a case a year or two ago of a woman in Dortmund who was fired for eating a frikadelle that was leftover after a meeting she had organised (but wasn't attending) - it did seem like there was more to the story than just a frikadelle but they were able to use that as a valid reason to fire her (I can't remember who won the court case though).

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Posted

1. My desk must be absolutely clean…all day. I don’t mean, nicely organized…I mean nothing on it. More than one stack of papers is verboten. I work in IT, so this – in and of itself – is nearly impossible :-)

Used to work at a place that appreciated a cleanup desk (I do too) come end of day but how I organized during work nobody cared.

2. I am REQUIRED to take my lunch break away from my desk…even if I’m not eating.

Silly and in Germany I am almost sure it's even against the law to forbid/allow what someone does during their legally entitled break.

3. I’m trying to improve my German, but I have been reprimanded and forbidden from studying German on my lunch break, even if it’s away from my desk. I have been told I’m “expected to socialize”.

See above

4. I’ve called in late twice in 5 months…both with cause beyond my control. About two months later, this came up as a reprimand. Is this the normal mentality here? Of course, all the companies I’ve worked for expect timeliness…but in the U.S. if I were late only twice in 5 months, I’d get an award not a reprimand. And certainly not two months later.

Was this during your "Probezeit"? Some companys like to add pressure during this time. Beyond your control means what? German law allows for sick leave or an important appointment at a government agency as far as I know.

5. I printed out one personal page (a letter) and got a serious ass chewing. I’m a 40 year old senior admin and manager. (Again) in the U.S., this wouldn’t even have been noticed.

Odd indeed. Can be claimed as theft though as has happened in Germany (even obvious garbage or a pen).

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Posted

1. My desk must be absolutely clean…all day. I don’t mean, nicely organized…I mean nothing on it. More than one stack of papers is verboten. I work in IT, so this – in and of itself – is nearly impossible

Clean-desk policy you might think of as typically German but I had it at my previous 3 companies in the UK. It didn't mean my desk had to be clean during the day but certainly at the end. At one company (shall remain nameless) one of the duties of the night guards was to place a red sticker on your desk the next day if you had left any paperwork on it or had left your drawers unlocked and your boss received a notification. More than 2 red stickers per year and you got a formal warning.

2. I am REQUIRED to take my lunch break away from my desk…even if I’m not eating.

Also the case in companies I have worked for in the UK. Food and drink (complete prohibition at the workspace) usually gets introduced by the management after the nth time that they had to pay for a new keyboard/mouse/... that no longer worked because it was manged up by spilt coffee/tea/cream-cheese/etc.

3. I’m trying to improve my German, but I have been reprimanded and forbidden from studying German on my lunch break, even if it’s away from my desk. I have been told I’m “expected to socialize”.

Sounds stupid. Not typically German, just typically asshole.

4. I’ve called in late twice in 5 months…both with cause beyond my control. About two months later, this came up as a reprimand. Is this the normal mentality here? Of course, all the companies I’ve worked for expect timeliness…but in the U.S. if I were late only twice in 5 months, I’d get an award not a reprimand. And certainly not two months later.

Time is money but this seems overdone unless you were waaaaay late for no good reason. Did you tell them the good reason?

5. I printed out one personal page (a letter) and got a serious ass chewing. I’m a 40 year old senior admin and manager. (Again) in the U.S., this wouldn’t even have been noticed.

People have been fired (in Germany) for eating up the leftover biscuits from a customer meeting. As a previous poster said, this is technically stealing. At my company, if there are leftovers they are put out in the local 'department kitchen' where people can polish it off so it doesn't get wasted. Any company that fires you for eating a biscuit needs its management to receive extensive social competence training but if they've sunk to that stage in their emotional development it's probably way too late to bring them up from 'total bastard' to even 'minor c*nt'. I would say the 'printing out a personal letter problem' is is not typically German (since I've seen this highlighted in other countries too) but you'd probably be hard pushed to find the expulsion for eating leftover food anywhere else in the world.

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Posted

I can imagine the getting away from your desk policy is for your health. People develop a lot of complications from too much time on their asses staring at computers and using a mouse constantly.

Are all of these rule written down and followed by everyone? Seems a bit extreme.

How did you get caught printing out one page? Is someone policing the printer?

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Posted

I think it is mostly your company that behaves like that.

From the experience I have at my company (I am IT related but in a Maritime Corporation).

1. Regarding the desk. You are only supposed to pick up glasses, coffee mugs etc when you leave. Nobody cares if you have a ton of paperwork on it.

2. It is encouraged to take the lunch break with colleagues or alone. But nobody will say anything if you eat a sandwich at your desk or you eat later at the kitchen alone (if you prefer to eat later)

3. You can do whatever you want on your lunch time

4. I've been late many times for different reasons (over slept, traffic, car service, etc), I just stayed longer that day no problem at all. And I've seen germans doing the same in occasions like that. Once I was pretty late (30') and instead of saying "Guten Morgen" I said "Mahlzeit" when I entered (I am in Hamburg) on purpose and they burst into laughters and told me : "good one". We are human, shit happens. I found them also very reasonable when you ask to leave earlier on special occasions (doctor's appointment, go to the airport etc).

5. Everybody prints their own papers, uses the fax, even take a blank cd/dvd to copy something for personal use with no problems.

I guess the normal business etiquette is somewhere in between, but what you describe sounds very strict.

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Posted

I think that getting up and moving around during your lunch break is most definitely designed to keep you healthy - just stretching your legs is a good thing, but also doing something different.

If you want to study German in your break, go outside somewhere and at least enjoy some fresh air whilst studying!

Being late is not a crime in itself, but definitely not encouraged - did you offer to make up the time you were late, or anything like that? Whether it was your fault, or an act of God that made you late, time is money, and if you do not put in the time, you shouldn´t expect reimbursement for it!

As for printing out a letter, if you are relatively new to the company, and I guess you are, then you should at least have asked if it would be okay - then you would have been able to back-up and accusations of wrong-doing with, "oh, but Herr/Frau so-and-so said I could do it". As things stand, you simply went ahead and did something - maybe the bosses are asking themselves what else you might have simply allowed yourself to do, y'know?

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Posted

Where I work, there is no clean desk policy, my desk looks a mess and so do most other peoples. Nobody cares if I eat at my desk, many do. If you are late, nobody bugs you about it but they automatically round you down to the nearest half hour. Everybody uses the printer, fax etc. for personal things. However, this may not be typical for Germany either.

The reason for the reprimand is that it is hard to fire people so as long as they keep the habit of giving reprimands to everybody who does something wrong, they will have an easier time of firing them if they keep doing it.

The story about the lady who took the meatball is true. I remember this from the news. She won her case though. She was a secretary or receptionist, something like that. She had apparently been up and working since 6 am organizing a buffet for a meeting. She was starving so the stole one meatball. However, it kind of sounded like they wanted to get rid of her because she was over 50. One guy was fired for charging his cell phone at work. He also won his job back. One woman was also fired for taking home leftovers that would have been thrown away. She worked in a kitchen. However, in her case, there was a policy in place stating that staff were not allowed to take anything home so she lost her case.

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Posted

It seems to me that your employer is a control freak.

Once a cashier at a supermarket was fired, because she cashed in a receipt for deposit bottles worth €1.30. She found this near the machine. She worked there since day and age. She won in court and the supermarket had to hire her back.

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Posted

Companies I've worked for in the UK had clean desk policies - usually to make sure that you didn't leave confidential documents lying around where everyone could read them. This was when you left work and if you had to leave your desk (meetings etc.) during the day. If they're dictating what papers you can have on your desk while you're working on it, that seems a little strange. We were sometimes encouraged to have a clean desk all day policy - as the IT department we were supposed to set the lead in having a "paperless office" and saving the environment (for which read saving the company money).

Taking your lunch break away from your desk is pretty common practice these days ime. It's to make sure that (i) you actually take the time and spend it away from a computer screen and (ii) to keep the keyboard clean. I've never worked anywhere where I was required to socialise, though. Just a thought, maybe they were trying to be helpful and suggest socialising as a way to help your German?

I wouldn't have thought that being late twice in five months was a big deal, unless they doubted your reasons, or didn't agree that it was beyond your control. The two month delay before bringing it up is odd too, unless it was in the context of a scheduled review? Was it at the end of Probezeit?

Printing out a personal letter depends on company policy. I've worked at companies in the UK where that was a hanging offence and companies in Germany who were happy to let people print, photocopy, fax whatever.

They don't sound so strange to me, apart from the "you must socialise" which is a bit odd.

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Posted

I am a programmer, working for a German company. As I've related elsewhere on this forum, it's not your typical German small company (for one, they hired me); My desk is a tip, I keep every bit of paper I print out, which includes reams of manuals that I accidentally sent to the printer, and I use them for notes (I haven't worked out how to print double-sided yet).

I arrive at the office somewhere between 10:30 and 11, but nobody in our office says anything because they know I've been working from home from 6 or 7, and will be there until 7 or 8pm. There's not many of us office-based, but we do go out for lunch a lot of the time, but if, like today, I don't fancy going when my colleagues do I'll walk over to McDoof and get some stuff that I eat at my desk.

Now, the only think I tend to do only rarely is print out personal stuff, but if I did, nobody'd care. Similarly, I hardly ever make private phone calls during working times, but I'll use the office phone on birthdays etc.

Ok, extreme maybe the other way, but I work my butt off for these people, work about 1/3 for free, so I take my compensations when I can, and it's accepted. I couldn't go back to something as anal as what OP was describing.

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Posted

Hey,

So, I’ve been living in Germany for about a year now…and working with a small German company for about 9 months of that time. Compared to every company I’ve worked for in the U.S., this company has some very weird mindsets. So, I finally have to ask…is it GERMANY, THIS COMPANY, or just ME!?

Some examples are…

1. My desk must be absolutely clean…all day. I don’t mean, nicely organized…I mean nothing on it. More than one stack of papers is verboten. I work in IT, so this – in and of itself – is nearly impossible :-)

2. I am REQUIRED to take my lunch break away from my desk…even if I’m not eating.

3. I’m trying to improve my German, but I have been reprimanded and forbidden from studying German on my lunch break, even if it’s away from my desk. I have been told I’m “expected to socialize”.

4. I’ve called in late twice in 5 months…both with cause beyond my control. About two months later, this came up as a reprimand. Is this the normal mentality here? Of course, all the companies I’ve worked for expect timeliness…but in the U.S. if I were late only twice in 5 months, I’d get an award not a reprimand. And certainly not two months later.

5. I printed out one personal page (a letter) and got a serious ass chewing. I’m a 40 year old senior admin and manager. (Again) in the U.S., this wouldn’t even have been noticed.

So…am I a lazy advantage-taking bum, is this the norm for Germany, or is my particular boss a bit peculiar?

Not one of these scenarios indicate they value and respect you as an employee. They don't seem to be good for your morale.

Remember being an employee works two ways: you get to evaluate them to see if it's a good fit for you and they get to evaluate you to see if you're a good fit for them.

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Posted

I have also heard the "socialize" thing. a distant acquaintance who speaks good german was given a "friendly" reprimand because she was talking to her husband during lunch break from a personal cell phone instead of "socialising". Also at one point she was asked why she didn't make more friends at work (overlooking the obvious fact, that not everyone we work with is our friend, and she already had friends, just not everyone). but i guess it all depends on the mood of who is in charge.

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Posted

Germans (and the Swiss too) tend to be a lot more concerned with how you're doing it, rather than whether you're getting it done, while the Americans tend to be more concerned about whether you're getting it done, regardless of how you choose to perform that magic.

This had me laugh this morning. It is so true. I have to admit i have a difficult time getting used to it. Feel like I am being micromanaged and interupted in my work. There is so much focus on the process that the result is taking forever to get too :-)

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Posted

I've worked for a couple of IT shops here in Germany, and I've never experienced anything like that.

I'm not actually sure what time we're expected in the office. I come between 8 and 9:30, depending on meetings and what needs done.

I print personal stuff here. We're talking 2 pages a week.

We have to return our cups, bottles of water, and not have anything confidential on our desks.

I'd say it's your company!

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Posted

Scientologists at work? Frankly in my time in Munich I wondered if I was not working amongst some of them...

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I'm curious to know what constitutes a "serious chewing out" . Is it always done by the the same person? Are there raised voices? What sanctions were offered?

Is everyone watched over to the exact same extent or is it a case of some one person being 'on your case' all the time? In short is one person bullying you, specifically, or is this actually part of the company culture?

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Posted

I have been told I’m “expected to socialize”.

HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA

I wouldn't last a week in this job.

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Posted

You might be able to undermine the socialising idea by combining it with your German studies. March into the kitchen or wherever they're "socialising" and start practising your German on them, discussing the latest grammar points from your lesson, asking their advice on points of the language etc. That may take the shine off their urgent need for you to socialise.

Edit: Yes, I know that this is not really the point of the thread. Just being solution-oriented.

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Posted

Start looking for a new job - if you haven't already done so.

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