Beyond punctuality: surprising German habits at the office

Lifestyle

Punctuality is very important

Although some people work on a flexible schedule, those who don't are expected to show up on time. In Germany, that would generally mean being at the workplace five minutes before the actual time you're scheduled to start. Ten minutes sooner is way too early, though – especially if you don't have access to the keys of the office.

Lifestyle

People greet each other in the elevator

People working in a multi-story office building will be familiar with this custom: Germans greet each other when they enter an elevator and they also say good-bye, or rather "Tschüss," when they leave it. The little morning ritual might get repetitive for those heading to the top floors of a high-rise, but it's still better than a complete awkward silence.

Lifestyle

Coffee machine behavior is critical

On your first day at the office, you'll be introduced to your colleagues, the work space and – most importantly – the coffee machine. If you're planning on drinking coffee regularly, get to know the coffee culture of your office first. Some rules might be unspoken, but you should still find out how it is paid for, if you should help prepare it or clean up the machine, etc.

Lifestyle

Hierarchies are generally fairly strict

Hierarchies are expressed daily through language, as German has two forms to say "you" – "du" (informal) and "Sie" (formal) – a challenge for English-speakers. It's safe to start out with "Sie" with everyone, until you're told otherwise. It's also a faux-pas to forget to inform your superiors of a problem that might seem trivial at first, but that could involve them in some way later on.

Lifestyle

Putting everything in writing is a must

Each German uses an average of 250 kilos (551 pounds) of paper every year, making the country one of the world's greatest paper consumers. Although this could certainly be reduced, keeping a written record of pretty much everything is still a very important habit in German offices. What the paper says will always rule over whatever other decision was taken without leaving a written trace.

Lifestyle

Lunch breaks are fairly short

For Mediterraneans used to a two-hour midday pause, the Germans' 30-minute lunch break is definitely too short. Still, lunch is considered a major meal in Germany. Germans also greet each other at lunchtime with the expression "Mahlzeit!" which just means "meal." That might seem strange for foreigners, but the greeting originally included a blessing; the expression was simply shortened over time.

Lifestyle

Cake is a necessity

There are many things to celebrate at a German office. Newcomers are expected to bring a cake when they start a new job, a celebration known as the "Einstand." It's a good way to get to meet your new colleagues. Germans also organize another little "celebration" when they leave a job or take a longer break. People bring a cake for their own birthday, too. Cake is always a good thing.

Lifestyle

Sparkling wine is also part of celebrations

Don't be surprised if, along with the cake, sparkling wine is served at those many celebrations at a German office – and that can happen at any time of the day.

Lifestyle

Just knock and enter

If you have a meeting at someone's office and that colleague keeps their door closed - which is often the case in Germany - you are expected to simply knock and come in immediately without waiting for the person to call you in.

Lifestyle

Excursions are part of corporate culture

Many Germans keep a clear separation between work and private life. Still, office excursions are regularly organized to allow employees to socialize and get to know each other better. Taking part in those excursions, known as the "Betriebsausflug," is a way of showing your interest in the team or the company. On those days, people should avoid discussing business topics.

Lifestyle

Offices clear out early on Fridays

The word Germans use to talk about their free time after work is "Feierabend," which literally translates as "party evening." When Germans wish each other "Schönen Feierabend!" that doesn't mean they all go to the pub to party when they're done working. Most of them simply prefer to head home early at the end of the week, and drink their beer there.

Sparkling wine and cake at work? As much as Germans are renowned for their punctuality and frequent, well-organized meetings, beyond the stereotypes, there is an unsuspected festive culture in office life in Germany.

If you arrive late at the office when you start a new job with fixed schedules in Germany, your colleagues will notice. In some cases, two minutes late is already way too late. 

Although the German cliché of punctuality still applies in many workplaces, there is something else that will not go unnoticed during your first week at the office: Did you bring cake for everyone with you? And how good was it?

Cake is key to fitting in at a new workplace. 

Beyond being a newcomer to the team, there are many reasons to celebrate in a German office, whether it's a colleague's unusual accomplishment, anyone's birthday or the two-month trip someone is taking: That all calls for cake and "Sekt," or sparkling wine.

Incidentally, the person celebrating their birthday is also the one in charge of providing the treats for the rest of the office.

Even though Germans are not renowned for small talk, those celebratory office breaks are moments where everyone manages to talk about stuff that's not related to work – most often how good the cake is and how it was made. 

And although alcohol is involved, the "party" doesn't go on forever. Once everyone is done drinking their glass of sparkling wine and eating their cake, it's time to head back to work.

Click through the gallery above to find out more about office habits foreigners might find surprising.

Learning German

Büro(kratie)

Not everyone works in an office, but if you do in Germany, it's called a "Büro." Of course, Büro is not far from "Bürokratie" (bureaucracy), and some offices in Germany certainly live up to their stereotype of putting things in boxes rather than thinking outside of them. That can lead to plenty of "Amtsschimmel," which literally means office mold, but refers to red tape. Where are the scissors?

Learning German

Chef

Every worker in Germany has a "Chef." That's their boss and no he doesn't cook for them. If the boss is female, she's called a "Chefin." The word is a challenging "false friend" for German learners of English. But wouldn't we all love to have a personal cook? That luxury is reserved for the top executives - who don't have Chefs.

Learning German

Telko

Good communication is key to getting the job done, right? But in the modern, globalized world, not everyone you need to communicate with is in your office building. For many of today's workers, telephone conferences are an everyday routine. Since the Germans love to shorten words by taking the first syllable of each part, a "Telefonkonferenz" becomes a Telko.

Learning German

Gleitzeit

"Gleitzeit" - which could literally be translated as "slipping time," is a dream for everyone who's not a morning person. It's flexi-time. While your co-workers are sipping their third coffee at 9:59 am, you can waltz into the office just as core time begins. As long as none of you co-workers scheduled an 8:00 Telko.

Learning German

Kantine

Eating a hot lunch is very important in Germany. Many workplaces offer a "Kantine," or cafeteria, where you can fill up on traditional dishes like stews, dumplings or sausage - and catch up on the latest office gossip. If you're watching your waistline, it might be a good idea to bring your own lunch. Either way, when a German sees you eating, they'll likely say: "Mahlzeit!"

Learning German

Quereinsteiger

In Germany, it's common to find a job in the field you've been trained in - and stay in that field. It can be difficult to switch, since many employers expect diplomas and certificates in their line of work, whether it's communications or IT. For those who manage to leap from one field to another, there's a special word: "Quereinsteiger" (literally, sideways boarder).

Learning German

Ausgleichstag

Been doing a lot of overtime lately? Then it's time to cash it in and take an "Ausgleichtag," or compensation day. If you've just got one day, you can only spend it at the beach if you live on the northern coast. But if you've collected two or three days off, that's plenty of time for a quick trip to a sunny place. Just leave your mobile at home.

Learning German

Betriebsrat

Fairness is a priority in the German workplace and every company is required to have a "Betriebsrat" (workers' council) comprised of one or more employee advocates. They liaise with the management to make sure things are running smoothly. Thinking of running for public office? The Betriebsrat might be a good place to start.

Learning German

Gleichstellungsbeauftragte

The term used for "equal opportunity commissioner" is much longer than the word for boss. But beyond the impressive title, it's an important part of keeping the workplace fair. These individuals sit in on job interviews and make sure women, those with disabilities and other minorities have the same chances as everyone else.

Learning German

Elternzeit

What translates as "parent time" is more like "kid time." Germany's birthrate is so low that it motivates potential parents to indeed produce future tax payers by offering them special incentives. 12-14 months of paid leave, or "Elternzeit," are available to new parents, and you are even guaranteed a job at your company up to three years after birth. Now if those aren't convincing reasons...

Learning German

Feierabend(bier)

All good things come to an end (even the work day). In Germany, that's when the party starts (even for the Chancellor). The end of your work day is called "Feierabend" - the "party evening." For night workers, "Feierabend" could start at 6:00 am. There's even a special word for the cold adult beverage enjoyed after the work day: "Feierabendbier." And what time you drink that beer is your business.

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