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Why Germans need far less supervision at work than Americans

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Why Germans need far less supervision at work than Americans
An employee of a German engineering company. Photo: DPA
15:52 CEST+02:00
A new study has revealed that US engineering firms have one supervisor for every seven employees. In Germany the ratio is one boss for every 26 workers. What explains the difference?

The study, carried out by the Hans Böckler Foundation and released earlier in April, looked at 22 engineering firms in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US.

Each of the companies had at least 50 employees and worked with comparable technology.

The results of the research showed that on average German firms had 26 employees per supervisor. In Switzerland this ratio was 13.6 to one, in the UK it was 10.3 to one, and US firms had 7.1 workers for every superior.

And while the German firm with the most supervisors per employee had roughly 17 workers for every superior, the US firm with the thinnest management structure had a supervisor for every 13 employees.

Infografik: Die Deutschen brauchen die wenigsten Chefs | Statista“Hardly any employees think positively about continuous observation by their boss. But supervision also comes with costs for the company,” the report notes, while making the case for less supervision at work.

The study’s authors, who visited all of the companies in the report and interviewed their management, were clear about the conditions which allow for loose supervision.

“A high standard of vocational training, a high degree of internal promotion, and worker representation are all necessary for firms to be able to have fewer bosses. As soon as one of these elements is missing, the need for supervision rises considerably,” they argue.

The study concludes that German companies don’t need to supervise their employees very much because Germany is a “controlled market economy” in which co-operational work relations, effective protection against redundancy, and rigorous vocational training are the norm.

“Solid vocational training creates qualified workers who need little guidance or control. And because highly qualified employees take on challenging tasks, their level of motivation is higher,” the report notes.

The report further argues that strong legal protections of worker’s rights in Germany tie employees to companies for longer, meaning that they gain more knowledge specific to the firm and are then able to take over leadership positions.

“There is also the positive influence of employee organizations. Participation strengthens trust between management and the workforce, meaning there is less need for control.”

At the same time, the report blames the US’s “liberal market economy” for leading to close supervision of employees.

It argues that there is little cooperation between employer and employee in the US, that US employees are not protected properly against redundancy, and that investment is made primarily in academic education.

“This means that companies are compelled to predominantly rely upon hierarchy, rules and close control of the workforce.”

READ ALSO: These German cities offer the best work-life balance

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