Navigating the pitfalls of job etiquette

Knowing German workplace etiquette can make or break your career. Jeff Kavanagh spends a day on the job.

Navigating the pitfalls of job etiquette

Living and working in a new country has the potential to be both exciting and rewarding, but also daunting and confusing. As well as the everyday challenges of life in a foreign land, there are differences in etiquette and unfamiliar cultural expectations to navigate.

Nowhere, perhaps, is this more relevant than in the office. Misread a situation at the supermarket or a party, and it’s no big deal. Make the same mistake at work and the results could be far more significant.

With this in mind, this brief look into a day at work in a German office should help you comprehend some of the differences – both subtle and not – to avoid an unnecessary faux pas.

8:55 am You step into your company’s lift. A co-worker you’ve never met enters and says: “Guten Morgen” and then cheerily wishes you a good day as he gets out again. “What a friendly guy,” you think to yourself, unaware that being in an enclosed space will elicit greetings from normally more reserved Germans.

9:00 am Entering your office, you greet the receptionist, and ask her how she is. “Fine, thanks,” she replies. “And you?” You tell her you’re good, but tired from going to a late movie the previous evening. “Oh, okay,” she says, turning back to her computer. Small talk beyond a few social niceties tends to be reserved for colleagues regarded as “friends” in German offices, so despite knowing the receptionist quite well, you also know she’s not particularly interested in what you thought of Natalie Portman in Black Swan.

9:05 am You read your first email. It’s from a colleague who needs some information. Business correspondence is generally much more direct in Germany than somewhere such as Britain or the United States and it reads: “Please send me the information before 3:00 pm today.” As you frequently get asked for things well in advance of when they are needed, you email him back saying that you don’t have time to do it today, but will send it tomorrow before lunch. Germans, you remember, respect honesty and if you can’t do something, it’s important to say so.

9:50 am A client arrives for your 10 o’clock meeting. You slip your suit jacket on and go to meet him at the reception. Your company has a casual business dress code and employees only wear suits when they have an external or client visit. The language of business in Germany is often formal (depending on the sector, of course – media and advertising tends to be much less formal than traditional industries such as banking and insurance), so despite being approximately the same age and position, you address your visitor as Herr Weingartner, and use the formal “Sie”. He’s never offered you the possibility of using the familiar “Du”, but it makes little difference to your business relationship. Neither does his reluctance to make small talk beyond his trip to your office and the weather. You both understand he’s here to do business, not shoot the breeze.

10:00 am The meeting starts on time. German punctuality may be a stereotype, but if something is scheduled to start at certain time, it normally does. If there’s an agenda or schedule to go with it, then it’s also adhered to with few exceptions.

11:00 am The meeting seems to be going well when a colleague gets up suddenly and leaves the room without saying anything. You’ve been to enough meetings in Germany to know this isn’t a sign that he’s had enough, but that he’s probably felt the call of nature and doesn’t want to disturb the meeting. Nor do you take it personally when another colleague bluntly disagrees with your last point, and then speaks over the top of you when you try to interrupt her. Instead you wait until she’s finished and explain yourself then.

12:00 pm The meeting finishes on time.

12:30 pm In the canteen at lunchtime, you pass the man you said good morning to in the lift and he makes eye contact as you pass yet doesn’t acknowledge you in any way. Saying hello in the lift clearly does not make you best pals.

1:00 pm Being precise extends to most aspects of life in your office, and popping into the toilets after lunch you discover new, laminated signs hanging on the stall doors. They explain, with plenty of exclamation marks, that after each “big use,” the toilet needs to be flushed three or four times to avoid blockages due to the angle of the toilet pipe being insufficiently inclined. Inside the stall there’s another sign reminding you to employ multiple flushes and one more going into great detail about the purpose of a toilet brush and how to use it correctly. Don’t take it personally.

1:05 pm Getting back to your desk to find a jar of homemade jam that a colleague from another department promised to bring you in today. You call him up and thank him, saying he and his wife will have to come around to dinner some time. He says that sounds good. And then tells you they’re busy this weekend, but have time the next. You still haven’t quite got used to the fact that offers are very rarely empty gestures in Germany, and that much stock is put into the importance of doing what you say you will.

1:30 pm One of your colleagues comes back from lunch, remarks loudly that the air in the office is terrible, and then proceeds to yank open most of the windows.

1:35 pm Another colleague notes loudly that it is too noisy with the windows open and proceeds to bang them all shut, apart from one, which she leaves half open. This is a daily occurrence in your office.

3:00 pm Bumping into your boss in the kitchen, you ask him if he got the report you spent a large part of the previous weekend finishing. He says he did, and thanks you for it before wandering back to his office. You take this as a good sign. Praise isn’t something liberally handed out in most German offices, and the old adage: “No news is good news” has particular relevance at work.

5:00 pm You’ve finished your work for the day and it’s a lovely evening outside, perfect for a quick drink before you go home. You’re tempted to suggest it to a couple of colleagues, but decide better of it. There’s a clear distinction in Germany between work and personal life, and the two infrequently overlap. Instead you head for the elevator. As you leave the receptionist wishes you a “Schönen Feierabend” which loosely translates as “Have a nice evening” – but there’s more to it than that. It also conveys that the end of the working day is something to be celebrated in Germany.

Do you have any other German workplace tips? Add them to the comments section below.

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EXPLAINED: The 25 most in-demand jobs in Germany

For those considering relocating to Germany - or looking for a new profession - here are the most in-demand jobs out there, according to a study by LinkedIn.

EXPLAINED: The 25 most in-demand jobs in Germany

Germany is desperate to fill jobs. In autumn last year, authorities said there was a shortage of 390,000 skilled workers. 

The new government plans to ease red tape and overhaul immigration policies to make it easer for non-EU nationals to come to the country. 

READ ALSO: What Germany’s coalition proposals mean for citizenship and immigration

But many people already within Germany might also be thinking about a change of career, or pivoting to a related sector, especially after the Covid pandemic changed the world of work. 

For those who are curious, international job search engine LinkedIn has published a list of jobs that are in-demand in Germany. Although lots of positions in Germany require that you speak German, many companies are international and encourage English speakers to apply.

What is the list?

The so-called LinkedIn Jobs in Trend 2022 list shows the 25 occupations that have grown the most over the past five years compared to other other positions. 

The list “allows insight into how the job market is evolving and the long-term opportunities it presents – whether you’re looking to change careers, re-enter the workforce or upskill for future challenges,” said LinkedIn. 

It’s based on LinkedIn data between January 2017 and July 2021. 

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Here is the list of the top 25 positions, including the core skills required for each and the desired amount of experience for candidates according to LinkedIn.

In some of the descriptions below we haven’t translated the job name  to German – that’s because it is usually advertised in Germany with the English name.

1. Consultant for the public sector (Berater*in für den öffentlichen Sektor)

Responsibilities: Advising public and government institutions on the modernisation and digitalisation of administration and infrastructure

Most common skills: Public Policy, Management Consulting, Policy Field Analysis

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 2.8 

2. Product analyst (Produktanalyst*in)

Responsibilities: Product analysts use metrics to evaluate a company’s products to determine whether they meet current and future market needs

Most common skills: Tableau, Google BigQuery, SQL

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 3.7 

A man at his home office desk.

A man works at his ‘home office’ desk. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

3. Business development specialist or consultant (Beschäftigte in der Geschäftsentwicklung)

Responsibilities: Business development employees develop companies, enter new markets and evaluate sales opportunities

Most common skills: salesforce, account management, inside sales

Top regions hiring in: Berlin Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 3.3

4. Sustainability manager (Nachhaltigkeitsmanager*in)

Responsibilities: Sustainability management employees are based in corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and look after the social, environmental and economic aspects of a company

Most common skills: Sustainability reporting, corporate social responsibility, life cycle assessment management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Berlin and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 3.8

5. Cyber Security Specialist (Cyber Security Spezialist*in)

Responsibilities: Unlike IT security, cyber security is not limited to the environment of your own company, but also keeps an eye on wider threats from the internet in order to ward off viruses, Trojans or ransomware

Most common skills: ISO 27001, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), vulnerability assessment

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 7.1

6. Developer for machine learning (Entwickler*in für maschinelles Lernen)

Responsibilities: Machine learning developers create so-called artificial intelligence. They research and design models and algorithms that enable machines to recognise patterns in large volumes of data, among other things

Most common skills: TensorFlow, Python (programming language), Keras 

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 3.3 

READ ALSO: Working in Germany – 7 factors that can affect how much you’re paid

7. User Experience (UX) Researcher

Responsibilities: User experience researchers find out what users need and want and prepare these findings for developers, marketers, designers and others

Most common skills: Usability testing, design thinking, human-computer interaction

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 4.6

8. Real estate finance specialist (Spezialist*in für Immobilienfinanzierung)

Responsibilities: Real estate finance specialists accompany and advise clients from the initial property enquiries stage to closing the deal and agreeing on financial arrangements

Most common skills: Construction financing, finance, sales

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 5.3

9. Head of Public Affairs (Leiter*in Public Affairs)

Responsibilities: Public affairs is the strategic aim to integrate the interests of the employer into political decision-making processes. Also known as lobbying, the job description should not be confused with public relations (corporate communications)

Most common skills: Politics, international relations, strategic communication

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 7.2

10. Information security officer (Beauftragte*r für Informationssicherheit)

Responsibilities: Information Security Officers protect data in analogue and digital form. To do this, they ensure that sensitive data is only accessible to authorised persons at all times.

Most common skills: ISO 27001, Information Security Management System (ISMS), data protection management

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 10.2

11. Specialist in talent acquisition (Spezialist*in für Talentakquise)

Responsibilities: Talent acquisition specialists identify suitable job candidates and take care of the strategic development of the Talent Acquisition department

Most common skills: Employer branding, sourcing, talent management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 3.8

12. Expansion manager

Responsibilities: Expansion managers accompany the growth of companies and take care of things like the purchase or leasing of business space in optimal locations

Most common skills: Business development, marketing, strategic planning

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Düsseldorf and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 5.7

13. Test engineer (Prüfingenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Cars, wind turbines, lifts, amusement park rides and countless other technical constructions must be regularly checked for safety. This is where test engineers come into play

Most common skills: LabVIEW, Matlab, electrical engineering

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Hamburg and Tübingen areas

Average years of experience: 4 

14. Marketing (Marketingmitarbeiter*in)

Responsibilities: Marketing employees (Associates) support the planning and implementation of marketing activities for companies and organisations

Most common skills: Social media marketing, online marketing, content marketing

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Hamburg and Munich

Average years of experience: 2.7

15. Data engineer (Dateningenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Data engineers deal with the collection, processing and checking of data

Most common skills: Apache Spark, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Apache Hadoop |

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 4.8 

16. Personnel officer recruiting (Personalreferent*in Recruiting)

Responsibilities: Recruiters use job advertisements and various channels to search for suitable candidates for open positions in the company and personally recruit suitable candidates

Most common skills: Active sourcing, e-recruiting, employer branding

Top regions. hiring in: Munich, Berlin and Cologne-Bonn areas

Average years of experience: 3.3 

A woman sits at a desk.

Are you looking for a chance in career? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Finn Winkler

17. Manager in strategic partnerships (Manager*in Strategische Partnerschaften)

Job Purpose: Strategic partnerships managers are responsible for building and maintaining relationships with business partners to further the development and distribution of their own products and services

Most common skills: Business development, account management, product management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 6

18. Head of Software Development (Leiter*in Softwareentwicklung)

Responsibilities: Software Development Managers are responsible for all stages of software application development. They control and structure planning, organisation and execution

Most common skills: Agile methods, cloud computing, product management

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 12.2 


19. Data science specialist

Responsibilities: Data science experts or data scientists help companies to make data-based decisions. They build a structured database from raw data, analyse data and prepare it with business background knowledge

Most common skills: Python (programming language), R, SQL

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Hamburg areas

Average years of experience: 3

20. Robotics engineer (Robotik-Ingenieur*in)

Responsibilities: Robotics engineers develop and programme robots and other intelligent assistance systems, whether for medicine, gastronomy, or future cars.

Most common skills: Robotic Process Automation (RPA), UiPath, C++ 

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and the Hanover-Braunschweig-Göttingen-Wolfsburg areas 

Average years of experience: 3.8 

21. Investment associate (Investmentmitarbeiter*in)

Responsibilities: Which areas are worth investing in, which companies are suitable for takeover? This is checked by investment managers through market observations, financial modelling and due diligence procedures

Most common skills: Private equity, corporate finance, mergers & acquisitions (M&A)

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 2.7 years

22. Chief Information Security Officer

Responsibilities: Many companies are not only urgently looking for information security officers (see position 10), senior positions in this professional field are also in high demand

Most common skills: Information Security Management System (ISMS), ISO 27001, IT Risk Management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin areas

Average years of experience: 14.3

23. Manager in strategic sales (Manager*in im strategischen Vertrieb)

Responsibilities: Strategic Sales Managers usually look after selected target and existing customers over a longer period of time. Duties include preparing quotations and negotiating prices

Most common skills: Solution selling, business development, account management

Top regions hiring in: Munich, Stuttgart and Frankfurt areas

Average years of experience: 9.3

24. Communications manager (Kommunikationsmanager*in)

Responsibilities: Communications managers take care of PR work inside and outside a company – this includes planning communication strategies as well as implementing campaigns on social networks or organising press appointments and events

Most common skills: Strategic communication, public relations/PR, internal/external communication

Top regions hiring in: Berlin, Munich and Nuremberg areas

Average years of experience: 5.4 

25. Specialist writer for medicine (Fachautor*in Medizin)

Responsibilities: Medical writers produce documents in a medical context, such as study reports for scientific journals, texts for regulatory authorities and information sheets for medicines – but also journalistic texts for websites or magazines

Most common skills: Clinical studies, scientific writing, life sciences

Top regions hiring in: Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich areas

Average years of experience: 5.2