Work culture clashes

17 posts in this topic

Hi all

 

Feeling extremely frustrated right now.

 

I work at a German firm in Berlin for almost two years now. I've been trying to adapt to the German work culture but not without difficulty. Not because I have no prior experience working internationally, with multidisciplinary international teams (multiple cultures, multiple languages) in a high steaks environment nor because I lack experience for my position. 

 

There's a glass ceiling there - that's clear but it's not surprising (as anywhere else). But what is really getting me now is the cultural divide which basically translates in my mind to simple prejudice. I was literally told that the company (unofficially) hates working with foreigners since one has to teach them how the 'German culture' works. Meanwhile, German colleagues with less experience and less time in the company, albeit with the exact same position, have gotten raises twice now, others have had increased responsibility (climbing up), and haven't had to succumb to the micro-managing that I (or my other international colleagues) have had. 

 

My issue is, I am finally and presently on vacation: on the first week, I got disproportionally angry calls on my personal mobile from my boss, asking me to come in for this or that and now, on the last week, I got a call again from them asking me to come back in tomorrow, despite the fact that I still should have until the end of this week for vacation - as agreed.

 

My German colleagues tell me that I should fight for my rights, this means constant discussions with managers, which to me is simply stressful and a waste of time and energy... it also doesn't bring much (for me). Also, this type of behaviour, constant arguing with bosses, is simply unprofessional as I see it. More often than not I feel that 'arguing' is just how Germans speak to one another... as in stereotype. As for my stereotype, Canadians are known for their politeness aka non-confrontational means of reaching the same results.

 

Another thought, that is coming slowly to me, is that this might not be so much about cultural differences but simply their ineffectiveness as leaders. But I can't tell... I doubt myself, maybe I'm not seeing something obvious about how they need me to communicate with them effectively.

 

In an attempt to try and better understand how Germans argument, I started watching a Youtube channel called the 'Best of Bundestag' https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkN8kMDOekn8uxxxsvwEnow - among others. It basically shows how German politicians get their point across. Politics is not my field but I found it to be informative, seeing how politicians of different countries argue... it does kind of mirror the everyday culture (see how they do it in the UK, or in Canada, or elsewhere). Or does it... well, it still doesn't directly mirror my office though... leaving me feeling stuck and frustrated.

 

I need more opinions... is this normal work culture anywhere?... am I just in a bad job situation?... have You also had difficulty fitting into the work culture here in Germany? Please tell me about it. I would love some perspective.

 

LG

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sorry you're having such a rough time.

 

To be honest, I think this is a company issue (or possibly even just a management issue). Of course there are always going to be cultural quirks that lie somewhere on a spectrum, so I don't believe German work culture can be summed up as one specific thing. There are lots of good companies in Berlin from startups to global corporations, and some will be more global in their thinking and culture than others.

 

Maybe I've been lucky with my experiences so far, but I've worked for smaller German companies and international ones and both had their moments - though nothing that shouldn't be expected when dealing with different cultures and communication barriers.

 

I've never had a boss angrily calling me during my vacation time to demand I come to work - this really raises a whole new set of issues, never mind the fact that it's probably in violation of some law, and at the very least is downright unprofessional.

 

Based on that alone, I'd be updating my CV and looking for something else if possible.

Good luck to you.

3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't think it's a matter of "German culture" vs other cultures...you work in a shitty German company, just like there are many shitty US/UK companies. I'd suggest to look for a new job, in a better company (either German or "international"), or to lawyer up...

 

You can also find glass ceilings in international companies, especially if you don't fit in the more "high-energy extroverted always enthusiast" nonsense culture of US startups.

 

And the political culture here is much more civilized than in the US.

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have never had a boss calling me on weekend or vacation time.

 

German culture is to follow the law, and by law you working on vacation time/weekends is forbidden unless they pay you for this privilege.

 

If you are uncomfortable with speaking to your boss directly, you can do the most German thing ever: do not answer the phone. Just remove the SIM card, but another one for friends and family only.

7

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
16 minutes ago, yourkeau said:

I have never had a boss calling me on weekend or vacation time.

 

German culture is to follow the law, and by law you working on vacation time/weekends is forbidden unless they pay you for this privilege.

 

If you are uncomfortable with speaking to your boss directly, you can do the most German thing ever: do not answer the phone. Just remove the SIM card, but another one for friends and family only.

Also my thoughts.

The German work culture is Work hard, play hard.

btw.: Why do they have your mobile number?

My advice: find a new job and leave the company. I don't think that your company is typical for Germany.

5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

you're being mobbed, which yes, is something that happens incredibly often in German workplaces and definitely exponentially more than in their North American counterparts.  Once you have got the stink of target on you, it is very hard to get off again--almost impossible.  Worse, it seems to be starting with (or has made its way through unseen channels up to) your boss.  I'm afraid that once your own boss has it out for you, it rarely gets better again--usually it gets worse, until you're either fired for cause or asked to resign.  Use the search function to find the multiple topics about this very issue on this very forum, and also maybe look up the simple Wikipedia page about workplace bullying and see if you think those things apply to you.

 

Why are you or others being targeted?  Hard to say and most people never find out the reason, which makes it all the more painful, confusing, and possibly even traumatizing, especially if you are qualified, gave it your best effort and really tried to get along with everybody and play by their rules  Sometimes, you are just disliked by someone who has decided they don't want to walk in every day and have to deal with you.  

 

I'm really sorry you're going through this.  I know too many people who have gone through the same and it just. sucks.  No doubt about it.

 

I agree that you should probably look for a different job.  The more time you waste trying to figure out why you're getting screwed, the longer it will mess with your head and sabotage your confidence, something that could carry over into other workplaces.  Another fucked up consequence of mobbing is that it can leave scars that are perceivable by bullies and can follow you around.  It's advisable not to let this situation sap so much of your strength, self-esteem and ambition that you find yourself in a self-perpetuating cycle or worse, end up in a doctor's office for depression, which is a real thing that happens after long-term workplace stress and aggression.  It is serious, and dangerous to your health, career, and future.

 

Try to cut your losses before you fall down a hole it will be hard to get out of... heartfelt suggestion. 

 

Sorry to be so bleak.

5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can only tell you that I had a similar experience in the US with regards to being a foreigner and not receiving a raise. I was working as a paralegal in the US so not the super qualified turbo talent. Just average. I was routinely denied a raise because my English wasn’t good enough while my American co- workers got raises even though they were new in the company. Because they were awesome while I was just a foreigner. Anyhow, I talked to my immigrant friends and lo and behold they had the same issue. Apparently being a non native speaker equals bad English equals no raise in the US.

 

That said I wasn’t bullied at the company in the US. I second what the other posters said: start looking for a new job. There are better companies.

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, MonaMon said:

My issue is, I am finally and presently on vacation: on the first week, I got disproportionally angry calls on my personal mobile from my boss, asking me to come in for this or that and now, on the last week, I got a call again from them asking me to come back in tomorrow, despite the fact that I still should have until the end of this week for vacation - as agreed.

 

Don't answer. My boss and I get along great, but she doesn't have my personal phone number. Germans (should) know that holiday time is sacred, and if they try to feed you any 'but zis is ze German way' nonsense, they are trying to take advantage of your relative naivety.

 

Quote

Also, this type of behaviour, constant arguing with bosses, is simply unprofessional as I see it. 

 

Yes, it probably is. There is certainly truth to the German cliché of bluntness, but still some people are just jerks. 

 

Quote

As for my stereotype, Canadians are known for their politeness aka non-confrontational means of reaching the same results.

 

I'm Canadian too, but the thing is, being this way in Germany will get you walked all over. If you didn't express your points or wishes, minus all the hedged and polite sugar coating we do, then it's as if they didn't exist. Silence is not polite here, but acquiescing. 

 

Quote

simply their ineffectiveness as leaders.

 

Ding ding ding. Of course I don't know what industry you're in, but as a generalization and in my own experience, I haven't found Germans to stand out as great leaders. Some were OK, my current boss is cool, but on the bad end for me it's either been fumbling technocrats with zero social skills and leadership qualities, or incompetent paper-'experts'* trying to mask that incompetence with fronting and posturing.

 

*this is what happens when a work culture ranks paperwork above the person actually sitting in front of them.

 

Quote

am I just in a bad job situation?...

 

Yes. Like others, I would suggest you find a new job. Cut your losses and move on, it's not worth the agro. It's the people and the office culture that is toxic, not German work culture per se (though I do think the way things are opens itself to certain major flaws popping up again and again).

 

I had one especially crap boss here in Germany. Mostly toothless against me personally, but incompetent in what mattered, slick but two-faced, narcissistic, often AWOL from his office, delegated/dumped everything. We'd all literally wonder and try to imagine what he did do. Every day there was something, and my wife and friends got to the point where they'd groan if I complained, because it did get to be the same old stories. But really, it was every day. More like a comedy of errors and facepalming incompetence than evil and bullying (though he was meaner to a few other employees) but it still sucked big time. Eventually I left that job (2+ years in), and a couple months later I realized what an enormous relief it was to just not have to think about all that crap. Just poof gone. 

4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi MonaMon,

 

You have my sympathy!

 

I think other posters here have given sound advice, but nobody mentioned the Gewerkschaft (trade union). You should join one for your area of work. You could also find out if there are channels of complaint, since your job is "high steaks", there ought to be a HR department and/ or a Betriebsrat.

You imply that you're the target. Could you talk to colleagues, casually mentioning that you got called in when you were on holiday?

 

My other piece of advice is: If you have been employed for more than 6 months (and therefore can't be sacked without a reason), simply answer back. Not through screaming, or even raising your voice, but by standing your ground. Being asked/ told to come in during your holiday is not the German way, as the others say, but an attempt at bullying.

 

I've been in a work situation with bullying here in Germany, and unfortunately I did not follow my own above advice.

 

The organisation was shot through with bad practise, with cheating customers and business partners and even breaking the law.

There was screaming and thumping of furniture. The screamer was the owner's spouse, so complaining could be to put one's hand into a wasps' nest.

I was emailed to come to work when I was on holiday, but I emailed back that I was unavailable.

 

My other colleague with the same job title was subjected to even worse bullying than I. And she was German.

 

I left the job after being signed off with stress. My colleague (who was also super-efficient and super-nice), was laid off after they found a younger model. In fact, the staff turn-over was so high that we were constantly interviewing prospective new employees to have on stand-by when others left.

3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, alderhill said:

Don't answer.

Once a former collegue of mine was called by our boss after hours (late at night actually) to be reprimanded for a poor job he had done, He told her to tell him that when he´s on duty again and hung up.

3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, MonaMon said:

in a high steaks environment nor because I lack experience for my position. 

Not laughing at you, but your typo just made my morning a little bit better :-) 

 

I agree with pretty much everyone else here. Crappy company, crappy boss. Unprofessional and rude - not German stereotpyical bluntness rude, just plain universal rude. 

The only way they can call you when you are on vacation is if you have essential information without which the company would lose a lot of money. Of if everyone else got sick and the couldn't run the place without you. And even then they should be cringing and apologizing for calling you during your week off. 

I might have missed it, but does your company have a Betriebsrat? They should be your first stop. If you don't have one, you could try talking to HR. But longer term, you would probably be happier elsewhere with a better working environment. 

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 30/06/2020, 12:47:42, MonaMon said:

steaks

:lol:

 

 

I just want to thank all of you for the great replies. This has been helpful!

The days following my return have been intense workwise. I agree with most of you, this is a bad job situation, toxic even.

 

Below are some replies (in sequence), I hope it's alright that I included it all in one post. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
On 30/06/2020, 15:49:24, AnswerToLife42 said:

btw.: Why do they have your mobile number?

For a while, my office mobile was broken so I shared my personal one in case of emergency.

 

 

 
 
3
 Advanced issues found
 
1
On 30/06/2020, 18:15:33, dessa_dangerous said:

you're being mobbed, which yes, is something that happens incredibly often in German workplaces and definitely exponentially more than in their North American counterparts.  Once you have got the stink of target on you, it is very hard to get off again--almost impossible. 

I agree... and even, I had forgotten that last year I actually posted here on TT asking for help (I deleted the post afterwards) - most of the replies mentioned mobbing.

The reason why I think I'm being targeted now is that I 'allow' it to happen by not effectively arguing back. This behaviour is cyclical in the company: someone is always being blamed by a manager for all that's wrong in the company. Most of these people either quit or are let go shortly after (I am preparing to quit now).

 

 

 
 
 
 
On 30/06/2020, 18:15:33, dessa_dangerous said:

It's advisable not to let this situation sap so much of your strength, self-esteem and ambition that you find yourself in a self-perpetuating cycle or worse, end up in a doctor's office for depression, which is a real thing that happens after long-term workplace stress and aggression.  It is serious, and dangerous to your health, career, and future.

It's already happening: I've been seeing a therapist to get through the worst of it. But I also noticed that when I'm on time off I slowly start returning to myself again. ...there's hope.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
2
On 30/06/2020, 21:23:17, alderhill said:

I'm Canadian too, but the thing is, being this way in Germany will get you walked all over. If you didn't express your points or wishes, minus all the hedged and polite sugar coating we do, then it's as if they didn't exist. Silence is not polite here, but acquiescing. 

I really appreciate this comment: basically, that's the core issue to overcome in general.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
2
On 30/06/2020, 21:23:17, alderhill said:

More like a comedy of errors and facepalming incompetence than evil and bullying (though he was meaner to a few other employees) but it still sucked big time. Eventually I left that job (2+ years in), and a couple months later I realized what an enormous relief it was to just not have to think about all that crap. Just poof gone. 

Yes! Very similar! Sorry you had to go through that - motivates me to get out!

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
2
On 01/07/2020, 00:59:21, JamStar said:

I think other posters here have given sound advice, but nobody mentioned the Gewerkschaft (trade union). You should join one for your area of work. You could also find out if there are channels of complaint, since your job is "high steaks", there ought to be a HR department and/ or a Betriebsrat.

I will look into it for sure.

 

__

 

 

To all: thanks again for the helpful comments and feedback. 

 

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

oh and... last update: I just found out that the company is on the process of being sold! No wonder, it's a sinking ship. ...uff 

0

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some Germans seem to have the mindset that they will try to walk all over you if they get the chance and it's your job to push back, set your boundaries and not allow yourself to be walked over, unless it's something you enjoy.  If you were to explain to such a person that they are taking advantage of you or treating you unfairly, they would probably shrug and say "you could have said no". 

 

So if your boss is bothering you on your off-time, you can tell him to stop.  Sure if they want to call you in from vacation and you are hanging out at home with nothing planned and don't actually care if you come in or not, you can do it if it earns you brownie points.  I might do that a couple of times and after that discuss a raise.  However, keep in mind that by giving in, you can also be seen as a person who lets yourself be bullied easily and your boss may try to take advantage of that in the future.

 

2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Problem is that if you Push back that person will be twisting the bigger bosses ear as soon as you are out of eyesight 

1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I used to work for german based webhosting company (based in berlin) and they would call people to come in when they had called in sick,would call people to come in during vacation if the need arrived etc.

No one from the German teams did anything but comply, the few for the international teams that stuck for themselves were branded as troublemakers etc.

 

Granted, it's call centre work so they did not have problem hiring replacements etc but they got really annoyed with the international teams.
I had already handed in my notice and was chatting with one of the team leads when the number 2 came in. She was complaining about one of the Spanish team and said 'we can easily get more staff'.
The team lead said she wasn't sure, number 2 started going off at her, she is a tam leader (but not that team) why doesn't she do something.

As I was already leaving I just pointed out that, although I couldn't speak for Spanish, there were (data from the time) around 120,000 english speakers in berlin. If we take in to account students, people there for work, people who have settled there and have work, tourists staying longer etc there is not such a big pool of people to recruit from.
I added that given that we have people hadning out leaflets with adverts for foreign speakers to apply for jobs, i'd say we are not in the position to just 'find new people'..

This all is not a german thing, it's a work culture thing set by the management. Does your company have a workers council (I've worked in two companies where they didn't and you can see the difference in how things go if there isn't one).

I'd suggest you start looking for a new job. Seems a little harsh but this type of situation doesn't usually change (even of you get something through, your manager is still going to be the same and may hold a grudge against you) and the longer you stay, the more it will affect you.
I've seen people go form confident and competent workers to utter wrecks in under a year in this kind of situation. You do not want to get to that stage.

Besides, the notice period can be hilarious. As one team leader once said to me 'if you don't improve your performance, it will negatively affect your performance rating and bonus'
'You mean the bonus and performance review that we do in march?'.
'Yes'.

'The one after October?' 
'yes, are you just trying to be funny or dumb?'.
'No, but I handed you my resignation 2 weeks ago (for October) and you were CC'd on all the communication saying I could leave in October (It should have been November)'..

 

5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now