Hello everyone, Sophie from the public link #LaunchAcademy here! I recently read an article entitled ‘Why Germans Work Fewer Hours But Produce More: A Study In Culture’, and it raised some interesting ideas regarding the German attitude to work and compared to that of America. This really got me thinking about how these ideas would apply to England, so I decided to write this blog post in order to talk about some of these ideas and share my insight on the topic, using both my knowledge of the English workplace culture and my experience of the work environment here at public link.
The article raises several points, but I wanted to concentrate on the two that I felt highlight the most significant contrasts between Germany and England, the first of which being the direct, goal-orientated manner in which Germans do business. According to the article, German people tend to be relatively blunt and straightforward with each other in the workplace, both between colleagues and in meetings with potential clients and partners. In this respect, a German person will not bother with icebreakers and pleasantries, but will get straight to the point of a meeting and immediately address the matter at hand.
On the one hand I can fully understand this approach – it can save time and avoid confusion. However, I would say that this approach can only be effective if both parties are on board. What I mean by this is that within Germany, where this direct, business-like attitude towards business communication is the norm, then no problems should arise as both participants in the exchange know what to expect and are prepared to behave in a similar manner. This said, I do not think that such an approach can work so consistently on an international level. This is because other countries, such as England, do not all share this approach and therefore will not interpret it as common and correct business behaviour, but rather as rudeness. In England it is normal to attempt to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for the people you are hoping to do business with, as on a cultural level there is generally greater value placed on politeness.
The second key difference highlighted in the article is the German tendency to separate their work lives from their personal and social lives. It states that in Germany it is normal to be reserved with your colleagues and that the work atmosphere is strictly focused, leaving little room for office chitchat or fostering relationships with your co-workers. This stands in relative contrast to England, where the workplace is arguably one of the main environments in which people form friendships. The article suggests that this is due to a reduced work focus and higher distraction in the office, which could be true, but I also think it is simply a cultural difference. In England the general thinking is that, as you know you are going to have to spend a great deal of time together, it will only reduce stress and improve the general mood, thus improving work ethic and productivity, if everyone in the office gets along. However, it also stands to reason that the workplace would be a good environment to meet potential friends, as in the same profession you are fairly likely to meet people with interests similar to your own! This said, it’s no doubt that a separation between work-life and personal-life does have certain benefits – according to the article, in their free time Germans tend to be more involved in things like local clubs and activities, generally playing an active role in their community. This is an idea that is often overlooked in England, as people work longer hours, so many prefer spend their free time relaxing in front of the television and seeing their families.
I must say that my personal experience here at public link does not support the points raised in the article particularly. Yes, there is an atmosphere of concentration in the office, but this is not dissimilar to that of an English firm. Also I do not feel that the people are unfriendly, we often have lunch together or have a quick chat in the kitchen and there is a general feeling of community – the proportion of our weekly team meeting devoted to arranging the Christmas party is a testament to this! However, having asked the others about their previous experiences of normal workplace behaviour, the majority seemed to agree with most of the points mentioned in the article. From this I would venture to say that perhaps public link is not a very good example of a typical German company. This could be in part due to the people of course, but also to the nature of the Public Relations business itself. In the PR sphere you obviously have a great deal of contact with international clients and partners, so it is imperative to know the behavioural norms of different countries in order to foster successful business relations. In addition I think that, as a rule, the type of people that go into PR work tend to be ‘people people’. Because of this it is to be expected that even in Germany, people in this profession are likely to be good communicators with greater interest in inter-personal relations and are therefore more likely to have an open-minded approach to workplace relationships and the potential friendships that may arise from them.
I would also mention that nothing in this post – about England or Germany – is a criticism. On the contrary, it is an analysis and a celebration of the differences that exist between two distinct countries and their unique cultures. These differences are yet another reminder of the fantastic diversity of the world we live in and, for me, an encouragement to take advantage of my current position in the #LaunchAcademy and explore further!