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German Business Culture

Expatrio 2024-02-19
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Contents

Germany has the world's fourth-largest economy and is the powerhouse in the European economy, being featured as the largest in the European Union. The country is a major hub for business in Europe. Both the service and the manufacturing industries are extremely buoyant in Germany, a country respected world-over for its automotive and engineering sectors. German culture standards and values are central to doing good business. Whether you're looking to move to the Federal Republic of Germany for work or you want to trade with a German business, understanding the German business culture and other cultural standards is paramount to your success. 

Doing Business in Germany

Knowing the German business culture is important to start new endeavors

Business is taken seriously and German values such as fairness, loyalty, punctuality, professionalism, and reliability should be reciprocated. In general, German business mentality means that negotiations are fair and agreements are rarely changed or disrupted at the last minute. Transparency is also important at a German company, which means that corruption is uncommon, as is gift-giving (even if it's just a small gift) or handing out compliments in order to charm your way to a good deal. 

Ethics are central to daily German business practice, as is corporate social responsibility. Communication in business culture and meetings is formal and employees speak to each other politely but efficiently. German work ethics mean employees always turn up on time and do a full day's work, they are in turn rewarded with fair pay and good working conditions. 

Everyone in Germany wants every task, big or small, to be completed to its best, on time, and with high satisfaction for the end consumer. Germans place a strong emphasis on the quality of their products and services. Employees are generally loyal to their employers and share their desire to create high-quality products and provide dependable services. 

 

Shaking Hands

A vital feature in the German business culture

Shaking hands is a typical gesture in good German business etiquette. It is expected that you shake hands with any client, colleague, employer, or employee at the first meeting. Depending on where you work, it may even be commonplace to shake hands with customers. Examples of this may be at an estate agency or car sales showroom. 

When you shake hands in Germany, shake with your right hand but ensure your left hand is not in your pocket, which may be seen as rude. It is also important to maintain eye contact during the handshake.

It's not just in the business world or business relationships where shaking hands is common, it's also common amongst friends and even family, especially men. It is common amongst both genders when meeting someone for the first time. Unlike the more touchy-feely cultures of other European countries like Spain, France, or Italy, personal space in Germany is safeguarded. If you have ever been to Britain, for example, you will find the German shaking hands culture is very similar. 

Tip

As a newcomer to Germany, the safest thing to do is always shake the hand of any new person you meet. The German handshake is strong: so make sure yours is also a firm handshake.

 

How do you greet in a German business? 

Always greet business associates, German colleagues, and clients with a German background with a handshake and use formal titles. This is especially important the first time you meet, for example, at a new workplace. 

How can I be polite in Germany? 

German people are not aggressive or pushy. It is normal to wait for a person to finish speaking before you speak and treat everyone with respect and dignity. Maintain good eye contact when you speak, keep hands out of pockets and use a person's surname with the titles Frau or Herr (Mrs/Mr) until first name terms have been established. 

 

Business Dress Code

How to dress in the workplace

In Germany, there is a formal dress code in place in the majority of workplaces. Men generally wear dark suits and ties, whilst women wear simple trousers or skirt suits.

In young or emerging sectors companies such as PR agencies or tech start-ups, especially those located in the more cosmopolitan cities like Berlin, it is common to find people dress informally to work. 

Tip

If in doubt, however, always opt for more formal, good-quality attire. It would certainly be frowned upon to turn up for your first day in trainers and casual clothes when you should be wearing a suit.

 

Punctuality & Reliability

This German stereotype is very much true

Punctuality is very important to Germans and is especially vital in business. Always attempt to arrive early and allow plenty of time to get to where you need to be. 

If you think you may be running late for work or for a business meeting, always call as early as you can to let your manager or the person you are meeting know in advance. In Germany, punctuality is a sign of reliability and you may be judged harshly if you are late, even once. 

Tip

Whether it's a job interview at a company, an appointment for a residence permit or even an appointment with an estate agent, get in the habit of arriving early. On social occasions, it is also customary to arrive quite early.

 

Fairness & Loyalty

Other aspects of the German business culture

Germans tend to operate fairer business practices than you may experience in other countries and cultures. This sense of fairness includes equal pay, good working conditions, and fair disciplinary practices. It also means that employees are not generally expected to work more than their contracted hours. Most offices close at 5 pm Monday to Thursday and 4 pm on a Friday. One's personal life is highly valued, and there is a strict separation between people's personal lives and work life.

German businesses also reward loyalty, both to their employees and to clients. In Germany it is likely that a business chooses the same client for many years, enjoying the advantages that loyalty offers, rather than constantly looking for cheaper services elsewhere.

Germans always do business in a civilized manner, preferring to find a compromise between two parties rather than force their views on the other party in an aggressive or pushy manner. In Germany, boards tend to feature many more women than most countries (although there is still an imbalance).

In 2015 government guidelines were published to advise that non-executive boards should be at least 30% female. This improved gender balance tends to mean a more nuanced and human-centered approach to problem-solving and less pushy or domineering practices. 

Tip

Pitch close to where you want to be. Germans are not accustomed to excessive price negotiations. They want to know what a product is worth and what you want for it so they can plan.

 

How do you negotiate in Germany? 

Germans negotiate in a fair, open, and transparent manner. Claims should be backed up with data and fair prices should be offered or requested. All negotiations should be undertaken in formal language and it's important to be early for any meetings or appointments with German businesses or German colleagues. 

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