German vs British Work Culture Compared

The Germans and Brits are highly regarded globally for office and workplace efficiency. With the working world becoming more global than ever, German and British work cultures frequently crop up in the workplaces of other countries, especially the neighboring EU countries.

The biggest differences between German and British work cultures come from social norms, etiquette, and mentality. Germans tend to be more formal and factual in their approach, while Brits are usually more relaxed and social in their interactions.

Keep reading to understand more about the similarities and differences between the German and British work cultures. This article separates facts from fiction regarding both work cultures.

Differences between German and British work culture

1. Working hours

Germany

In Germany, working hours per week range between 36 and 40 hours within six days (Monday to Saturday). By law, one can only work eight to ten hours a day or 48 hours a week.

Most full-time jobs are eight hours a day for five days a week, with 30 minutes to hour lunchtime breaks which one can choose to split into two intervals. An employee working for more than nine hours must get a 45-minute rest break; they can split it into breaks of around 15 minutes.

At the end of the working day, everyone is required to have an uninterrupted rest period of 11 hours.

Britain

In Britain, a ‘working time directive’ law indicates that an employee can’t work for more than 48 hours within a week. If the employee is under 18 years, they can’t work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

Employees in Britain can work for more than 48 hours a week on average if they work in the following areas:

  • Institutions that require 24-hour staffing like hospitals
  • The police department, emergency services, or armed forces
  • Surveillance and security institutions
  • In a private household
  • As a sea-fisherman, seafarer, or employee on vessels on inland waterways
  • When holding a managing executive role where you have control over your decisions

2. Work ethics

Below are key factors that explain the work ethics in Britain and Germany: 

Hierarchy

Both Britain and German work cultures have well-defined hierarchies observed by everyone. Every person on the ranking has clear distinctions and responsibilities.

The hierarchy’s structure is based on experience and qualifications. More experienced and higher-qualified employees are at the top, and the lesser qualified are at the bottom.

Introductions

According to the German work culture, introductions are done formally using ‘Frau’ or ‘Herr.’ When speaking German, people use the formal version of ‘you’ (Sie). Shaking hands is also common during introductions.

In Britain, a firm handshake is the usual greeting for women and men in a professional relationship. Most people usually introduce themselves using their first name: indicating that they would prefer you to use their first name to address them. Individuals are to maintain eye contact when introducing themselves.

Dress code

The dress code in Germany is usually formal; women wear dark suits with a white blouse or a formal dress; men wear dark suits with a white shirt and a solid tie. Usually, in more young companies, like start-ups, you can wear casual outfits.

In the UK, different companies require different dress codes depending on the office’s culture and nature of the business. Generally, men wear suits and women either business suits or official dresses.

Punctuality 

In Britain and Germany, people adequately plan appointments and meetings and strictly start at the set times. Work culture in both countries considers lateness as rudeness and disorganization. When it comes to meetings, it’s normal for German colleagues to arrive 5-10 minutes early.

Notably, in Germany, you don’t want to be late, it’s a very bad impression. However, for the British, being on time is a nice-to-have rather than a non-negotiable.

3. Socialization

German

German work culture is pretty formal; there is a significant boundary between professional and private life. For example, it’s infrequent to find a group of colleagues in Germany having a beer together after work.

Germans describe the time when work ends for the evening as “Feierabend,” which signifies a time for family or leisure activities, not anything work-related.

Britain

Brits are known as the “work hard, play hard” kind of people. During breaks, coworkers gather for a cup of tea or a drink, increasing socialization between colleagues beyond the workplace.

Colleagues extend their professional interaction beyond the usual working hours. It’s common for colleagues to go out for a meal at lunchtime or a drink after work, especially on special occasions(such as a team member’s birthday).

4. Communication

Germans are pretty straightforward in their communication; they speak what they think without “sugar-coating,” emphasizing transparency rather than relationships and feelings. 

Besides, there isn’t much a chit-chat between the German colleagues. In Germany, you aren’t supposed to spend your working time on talks. It’s considered a waste of time.

On the other hand, the British people are more polite and less direct in communicating with others. Therefore, when interacting with the British people, a bit of restraint helps instead of speaking straight to the point.

British working culture is also more relaxed regarding non-work talks in the office.

Moreover, in a German office, it’s common for employees to address each other by their last names, whereas, in Britain, first names are generally used.

5. Lunchtime

“Mittagspause” or lunchtime is a favorite word of every German employee that they are waiting for all morning. Lunch is taken seriously in Germany, where the majority of employers offer a dedicated cafe (cafeteria) for workers.

In the UK, lunch isn’t that much of a deal. People often will have a sandwich at their desk, which is very rare in German offices. Besides, the British prefer to have lunch alone while for Germans it’s a social activity and ritual with their colleagues.

6. After-work beer

In the UK, it’s normal to finish the work day with a beer in a pub surrounded by colleagues. Some even might start opening the bottles in the office. It doesn’t have to be Friday, the British always find a perfect occasion for a pub visit.

Brits seem to compensate for a lack of socialization during the lunch break by having after-work drinks with their coworkers.

You won’t see it in Germany. Colleagues rarely spend free time together, including having after-work drinks. Though, it’s not 100% exclusive and might occasionally happen among some colleagues. Yet, generally, it’s much more of a rare case.

Thus, the after-work atmosphere is more relaxed in the UK than it’s in Germany. In the latter, everyone is rushing home immediately after the clock shows 5.

7. Holidays

Germany

Germany has a high number of public holidays compared to other European countries. Most shops, banks, and supermarkets are usually closed during the holidays, but restaurants remain open, and public transport is available. 

Many businesses are also closed on Carnival Rose Monday, New Year’s Eve, and Christmas Eve, although these are not official holidays. 

In addition, German employees enjoy a minimum vacation of 20 working days a year (for a 5-day work week). Many employers offer more days, and your annual leave entitlement increases with years of working in the company.

Legal public holidays in Germany include:

  • Christmas Day – 25th December
  • New Year’s Day – 1st January
  • Easter Monday – March/April
  • Labor Day – 1st May
  • Good Friday – March/April
  • Ascension Day – May
  • Day of German Unity – 3rd October
  • Whit (Pentecost) Monday – May
  • All Saints’ Day – 1st November
  • Stephen’s day – 26th December

In Germany, work on public holidays or Sundays is prohibited, but there are exceptions, like in the service industry. If an employee works on a Sunday, they ought to be compensated by being given time off within a fortnight.

Most German industries have collective agreements that regulate holidays and working hours. In this case, the companies operate a more extended working week but compensate their employees with additional annual holiday leave or a higher salary.

Britain

Bank or public holidays are spread throughout the year and mark special, religious, and historical events in the UK. Many shops, businesses, and attractions are open throughout the public holidays; others have reduced hours, and others don’t open. Public transport is usually available but decreased compared to regular working days.

Regarding vacation days, British employees have a right to take at least 28 paid days off. Similar to Germany, employers can choose to offer more paid leave.

The UK has the following public holidays:

Public holiday20222023
Good Friday15th April7th April
Early May bank holiday2nd May1st May
Easter Monday18th April10th April
Spring bank holiday2nd June29th May
Summer bank holiday29th August28th August
Christmas Day25th December25th December
Platinum Jubilee bank holiday3rd JuneNot applicable
Boxing Day26th December26th December
Source: projectbritain.com

8. Minimum wage

German

From October 2022, the minimum wage in Germany will be €12 per hour, €1,621 per month, and €9,452 per year in 12 payments annually. According to the law, any contract offering an amount that’s less than this is invalid. 

There are exceptions to the minimum wage for trainees or those in apprenticeship. In these cases, every case is dealt with uniquely and depends on the agreement between an employer and student.

Britain

For Brits, the minimum wage depends on the employee’s age. Below is a table summarizing the minimum wage for different age groups in Britain:

Age bracketMinimum wage per hour in 2022
23 + years( National Living Wage)£9.50
21-22 years£9.18
18-20 years£6.83
16-17 years£4.81
Under 17 years and apprenticeships£4.81
Source: gov.uk

9. Sick leave

British office workers tend to go to work even when ill. While this leads to more time in the office, it negatively impacts workers’ productivity and increases the chances of communicating illnesses between colleagues. 

In Germany, workers are encouraged to stay at home if they are sick. This mentality protects other workers and gives the person humble time to recover properly, making them fit to work and be productive within a short period. Moreover, all German employers will pay for your sick days.

10. Social insurances

In Germany, full-time employees are covered well by the state.

The German social insurance system covers people against occupational accidents, unemployment, long-term health issues, and illnesses. Moreover, you are eligible for public health insurance when employed in Germany.

The regulation body called “Sozialversicherungsträgern” or social insurance providers such as health insurance companies and employment offices determines the contribution one needs to make depending on their income.

Contributions for these insurances are automatically deducted from your gross salary; the amounts are as follows:

  1. Health insurance – 14,6% of your gross salary in total (paid half by you and half by the employer)
  2. Retirement insurance – 19,6% of gross salary (paid half by the employer and half by the employee)
  3. Church tax – between 8% and 9%
  4. Solidarity surcharge – 5,5%
  5. Unemployment insurance – 3% (paid half by you and half by the employer)

In Britain, it’s mandatory to contribute to the National Insurance(NI) if you’re above 16 years old and an employee earning above £190 a week. There are different national insurance classes depending on your employment status and the amount you make.

Generally, you pay 13.25% of your gross income for NI in the UK, which is, undoubtedly, lower than in Germany.

11. Work management

In the German work culture, workers tend to spend more time planning to ensure proper execution, and they are more patient. They believe in doing things well, even if it requires more time than going for a quick fix with the risk of suboptimal results. 

Whereas the Brits tend to be more impatient and seek short-term action and results. Individuals prefer a quick and reasonable solution to a perfect one that will only materialize after a long time.

Anna

Anna is an enthusiastic expatriate with experience of living in Germany, Austria and Greece. She shares her passion for living abroad on this website.

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