Corporate culture in Germany

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Hello TT. I’ve been combing through the topics and I can’t find exactly what I am looking for in regards to the corporate culture in Germany. I am waiting for them to schedule an interview, I was told it would be soon but I guess that soon means very different things to the applicant and the employer. The job is as an engineering manager in aerospace; low-level manager. English is the required language, any additional languages are a plus. I speak very limited German, that will make the whole move harder; I’m a realist there.

 

As I was reading through various topics discussing the interview process I began to see things that made me feel that I am not prepared for the cultural differences within the corporations themselves. The general culture shock of moving is a whole other topic...

 

First off the bias against wearing a black suit? Is this real? If I showed up in a black suit to an interview or for a normal day of work would I automatically have marks against me? What if the color is really dark navy of grey? I just want to understand the reasoning behind it better so I can adapt.

 

Suits in general. Over here in America the corporate culture has become quite relaxed in general. WIthin the engineering community very few people wear suits any more, or even ties for that matter. The last two places I have worked even the CEOs would go without a tie. They would wear a suit but no tie. Is there a similar similar trend towards being more casual going on over there? If there is how is someone who prefers to dress more traditionally regarded? I ask because I personally don’t care for CBW Friday and all that. Wear jeans and T-shirts on your time off, dress like a professional at work. I was a machinist for many years before I moved into a job where I did not have to wash my hands before going to the bathroom, so for me it’s a privilege to wear a pair of sharply creased trousers with a clean pressed shirt paired with a conservative tie. If I dressed like this would I stand out? Would it be in a bad way? Do most people wear suits to office jobs?

 

Footwear. Look I’m not eighteen, I know flip flops don’t go over at all. But I like to wear cowboy boots. They are very comfortable when properly sized and broken in and can last forever. In Colorado and California this was never regarded as “different”. It was common enough to be an non-issue, even amongst upper echelon management, less tie of course. And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about cow-pie crusted oldies. I have a couple of pair of dark colored, cordovan red boots which I keep polished and neat. I wear the pant legs un-cuffed and they are cut to fit over the entire boot so you don’t see the shafts. Would this come across as a real oddity in Germany? Would people think I was some Texas ass looking for trouble or something? What do the majority of office workers wear? Again it’s hard to tell over here because of the overall relaxed dress code. A lot of people wear deck shoes or even tennis shoes.

 

Working hours. My initial impression of German corporate culture is that the whole “work - life balance” thing is for real and not just a buzz word. I understand some positions require set hours which is fine because that’s not what I mean. I’m just curious if that’s really how German employers really operate. Over here the inside joke is that when you hear that company XYZ offers “An environment that provides a stable balance between work and life.” it means the balance is in the corporation’s favor, i.e. you’ll have no life and it’s not going to change to your favor anytime soon.

 

Office etiquette regarding small talk/whatever. I’m not anti-social and I really don’t mind a few “Hellos” or quick “How was the weekend?” talks but I prefer to keep focused on my work. I really don’t want to spend working time listening to whatever inane things people seem to get so caught up in and then having to make up my time later. Save it for lunch or the pub, then I’ll want to listen. Most days I’m just looking to work my ass off during the normal hours and then go home and spend more quality time with my wife and children. My impression is that the German office in general operates this way. Is this true?

 

I’m not trying to be a simpleton but my overseas exposure to the European corporate world is limited to one week in Zurich on a boondoggle. It was a reward for 3 years of hard work and all I had to do was take notes with and for the other guy so he could ensure he didn’t miss anything. Mainly I dreamt about what I was going to have for dinner. Hardly comprehensive.

 

H

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You will be delighted about the lack of smalltalk. So go ahead and dress how you like.

 

The cowboy boots will be odd though.

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A black suit is very formal, if you have one in grey or navy whatever- wear this one. While black as color for jeans or shirts, coats, is ok , a black suit is what you wear for a funeral.

 

What you wear when you have job and start working isn't that formal. Depends a bit on the company , so just look around what others do and adapt in a reasonable way.

 

German attitude to work is : go there, do your work, leave. If extra hours are required you will be told , on the management level you might stay a bit longer as others, but all within reasonable limits. Time for recreation i s regarded as a must for good performance.

 

Small talk: Bigfoot is right. Cowboy boots: why not?

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This is different between men and women: a black jacket and pants are very normal office wear for women. In fact, all of my husband's female co-workers (at relatively high levels) seem to wear that as a uniform. Are you male or female?

My German spouse also has no issues with wearing a black suit to work and has one, although the majority of his suits are dark navy or dark grey/pinstriped. If you wear boots, they will just think you are from Texas. I'd hold off until after hire, then I would revel in the fact that probably no one at all will care what you wear, within reason. Btw, you can also both grow your hair long and (if female) dye it blue or purple and no one will blink an eye. Just wait until after the orientaton period.

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If you wear boots, they will just think you are from Texas.

 

No, they'll think you are an idiot.

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What kind of antisocial workplaces do you all have???

 

Plenty of smalltalk where I work and enojoyable it is, too. Nobody's asking you to spend hours gossiping after all.

 

As far as Management level "staying on a bit longer", try telling that to my Boss, who puts in a standard minimum 10 hour day as a general rule.

 

Cowboy Boots would just be plain freaky, this ain't Colorado or California, dude.

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You sound like you'd fit in just fine in a corporate environment in Germany. Except the cowboy boots. Don't wear them to an interview. Germans have unpleasant memories of a recent American president who liked to wear cowboy boots. Pull them out after you've been on the job awhile, if you like.

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Keydeck, I think you are just plain weird and intolerant. There's nothing wrong with boots and if you are in Munich, I would expect that you see quite a bit of local trachten that would be considered strange in other places.

 

Don't wear variant items during interviews. After that, wear whatever is considered reasonable and there's no problem with appropriate regional variations: Germans like interesting (but appropriate) attire just as much as anyone else. And the colors worn in Bavarian/Austrian clothing,which is perfectly acceptable at very high levels in corporate Munich (where my husband sees it daily), is amazing to a born again boring, black wearing NYer such as myself.

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Yes - Germans wear suits sometimes, they have also been spotted in jeans, and Jack Wolfskin all-weather ensembles. Sometimes they have also been known to converse.

 

Was this post really meant for the "Pleazzze help me" thread? No, really, was it? And what on Earth is a boondoggle or whatever that was?

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Oh, and in all the office environments I have seen in Munich, it's what we would call business formal. Spouse had to triple the number of suits after coming here. Not so much here in Berlin, although I still see quite a lot of suits on the U-bahn (I assume that they are the employed folks who don't work in the arts.

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Camlough,

 

That came across wrong, I should have written it differently. There’s the problem with one-sided conversations, they’re one sided.

 

Gail123,

 

Thanks for the variant items interview tip. I never considered boots variant but when in Rome…

 

cinzia,

 

Thank you for the feedback. I’ve been trying not to think at all about “W” since he left office. Very good point of reference. An indelible image. Exactly the sort of feedback I was looking for. Gives me a feel for the mindset there.

 

Coyote3000,

 

A boondoggle is a useless, unnecessary business trip. Typically to what is considered a posh location.

 

In general,

 

Perhaps this thread does belong under another subject heading but it is not a "Pleazzze help me". Life in Germany seemed to be a good fit. I have looked through this site for a few weeks and found a treasure trove of useful information. I could not, however find exactly what I was looking for with respect to this subject. That is all that I am after. Where else should I look for this kind of information, the German consulate? I’ve been there, they didn’t have it.

 

If you came to Colorado, Oklahoma or Texas, especially Texas, and said, out loud, “Hey, that guy in those boots looks like an idiot!” you would probably get your ass kicked. Someone who has lived there for some time, a native or not, could probably help you avoid this embarrassing situation if you asked them prior to your visit. Say, like a public forum. You would probably appreciate having this knowledge of the local customs and norms beforehand. It could probably save you from an expensive economics lesson on American healthcare during your trip to and the ensuing tour of the local emergency room. In a far less dramatic sense that is what cinzia and gail123 have just done.

 

I have visited this site and read enough posts to know that unless you itemize your searches there’s always someone that thinks you’re lazy. That’s okay. I was expecting it, I kind of get a kick out of it sometimes too. But then you go through something similar to the five stages of grief and finally in a moment of weakness keydeck may find a little sympathy, somewhere deep in his heart, or is it just pity?, and he sends you a link to some informational nugget. Ah, sweet acceptance.

 

 

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I am from Colorado, but I won't comment on the cowboy boots - you already know what to do there. ;) Corporate culture varies a lot, depending upon the company and the leadership. I have found most dress to be as casual as that in the U.S., but I also know some places that are hold outs for more formal attire. Interactions in the office will depend a lot on the backgrounds of the people you work with. People in Munich were friendlier and more helpful to me as a foreigner than the people in Karlsruhe.

 

BTW, you won't have to forget about George Bush, as German's enjoy reminding Americans about him, his gaffes and his wars.

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I'd advise reading a few books on the culture of Germany.

 

Susan Stern's These STrange German Ways (a bit old now).

 

One of my latest acquisitions is by Hyde Flippo: When in Germany, Do as the Germans do: The Clued-in guide to German Life, Language, and Culture. short articles about various aspects of German life. Generally one topic per page

 

then there are the Culture Shock books..

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Thanks for the variant items interview tip. I never considered boots variant but when in Rome…

I daresay they'd be considered variant in certain places in the US, particularly the Northeast.

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If you came to Colorado, Oklahoma or Texas, especially Texas, and said, out loud, “Hey, that guy in those boots looks like an idiot!” you would probably get your ass kicked.

Alright fair enough. But I second everyone else, don't wear them until after the interview, if ever. My dad always wears his and whenever he comes to visit, people generally do a double take because it is not often that you see anyone sporting them out and about. Definitely not standard office attire in Germany, but maybe once you find your niche you can pull them out again.

 

A lot of the office environments that I have seen/been a part of over here tend to be a bit less formal on everyday work days, but the suits come out for meetings or when visitors arrive. There are some black suits milling around, but you are certainly not limited to them. I have also seen people strutting around in some pretty ugly printed/colored numbers too.

 

As far as smalltalk goes, generally in Germany people tend to prioritize getting their work done ahead of mindless jibber-jabber. There usually isn't a water-cooler to stand around. Instead you will find a kaffee or tee küche. Of course people make smalltalk, but the nice thing is that if you actually have work to get done, you can let people know, and they respect that. Also many offices tend to run on a closed-door sort of system, knock before you enter (but of course there are exceptions with some offices having more "American-style" open office space). Be prepared though for more 'honest' or in-depth answers to questions and that it might take people a bit longer to warm-up to you. Usually the Christmas season and any event that involves beer and/or traditional food will provide a great opportunity to break the ice.

 

I would also recommend the Culture Shock Germany book. It is readily available on Amazon. Of course it is full of generalizations, some of which apply to lesser or greater degrees depending on what region of Germany you are in, but overall quite useful with some practical advice too.

 

Good luck!

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I would expect that you see quite a bit of local trachten that would be considered strange in other places.

Exactly..."in other places".

 

Having just returned from Texas & Oklahoma it's clear that there's nothing odd about wearing cowboy boots when you're out and about. However, you wouldn't rock up to the office in lederhosen.

 

Good advice from Coyote3000 there. One of the most important things to take from it also is that just like anywhere else you simply need to judge an office scenario on an individual basis. Different companies have different rules and cultures. Find out what the norm is in whatever company you are looking at, which is easily done, and roll with that.

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Different companies have different rules and cultures. Find out what the norm is in whatever company you are looking at, which is easily done, and roll with that.

 

Wise words. I'm in IT (not sales) & its generally formal dress when meeting with customers in-house. In the offices its generally casual (even more so in home office!). When visiting customers - it depends. First time I went out to a telco company to install a 4 M$ server I appeared in suit but after spending most of day under the floorboards followed the example of the customer - practical clothes.

 

I remember many visits to the Fuzz-Hauptquartier in Essen & the Polizeipräsidium in Munich involved in a project with my previous employer - we'd been primed NOT to turn up in a suit (the Fuzz in Munich most welcoming & helpful).

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