What mistakes NOT to make at your new workplace in Germany when you are an expat

accidental-slip-542551_192010 tips on how not to mess up your job

When you move to a new country, there are tons of things to consider.New language, new culture and, especially important to all of us, a new job. You will want to make the best impressions in your new job as it is most likely the only way you can afford to be an expatriate. You are dependent on making a good figure, but the German workplace is full of unwritten rules.  

Do not talk about your salary

You may have already read it in your working contract. You are not allowed to divulge howmuch money you are making and how much bonus you are earning. On one hand, this allows the employers to set themselves what they are paying the employee.

On the other hand: There is another thing that is really important in Germany though (and that is also valid for any interactions in your private life): You either have money or you don't but you never talk about it. Nobody wants to know how much money you are making, people want to appreciate you for the person you are, not for how much money you have.

TIP: if you have to indicate for some reason how much money you are making (be that in a private conversation or connected to your job), then only ever give a range (eg above 50 k, or between 50 and 60k). Give the highest possible range you can get away with. 

When you are at work, you have to work 

Germany is the country with the highest efficiency at the job in the world. The workers have one of the least working hours, the most holidays and are still one of the most productive in the world. You have a lot of free time, so when you are at work, you should work concentrated and diligently. The rule is simple: When at work, you work. When you are not at work, you can do whatever you want.

Keep the coffee breaks at a minimum, do not go onto Facebook or otherwise surf the net with something that is not related to your work. 

Do not be late for ANYTHING! 

Every stereotype that you have heard about Germans are true. On time usually means at least 30 seconds before the meeting is due to start. The "Oh, I am 3 minutes late" means that you are not on time but have stolen time from your colleague or whoever is holding the meeting. Now imagine that you are in a meeting with 20 colleagues and you are 3 minutes late. You have cost your company 1 hour in total. It sums up very fast!

The point I am trying to make here is that you cannot allow yourself the leisure to be late, you HAVE to live by the clock as every German does. Otherwise you lose your job. 

Do not charge your phone at work!

This may seem a very weird thing for an employer to object but it is considered as stealing. You would be stealing electricity (!). I have personally also really big problems in getting my head around this, but there you are... The Germans are not always understandable for expatriates.

You can only do it if your boss or your colleague says it is OK... 

The interaction with colleagues at lunch time is very important 

Employers will want to have to a working team, an efficient team. One of the main ways to judge how well you integrate yourself in a team is by looking what you do in the brief time off you have and that is the lunch time. Make an effort in order to sit with your colleagues and talk with your colleagues or at least anyone else from the company. I know this is difficult for expatriates as they have different interests to locals and have problems with the local language as well and are usually the outsiders of society but give it your best!  

Give an "Einstand" if you are new to a job/department 

This is another German tradition that very few expatriates understand. The notion behind it is quite clear though. You want to be accepted as a team member, therefore you have to get to know your team members.

There is no better way to do it then to do it by "bribing" your colleagues. Bring a cake, coffee or stuff to eat to a team meeting just after you have started at your new department or job. However, you NEED to clear this with your boss or at least someone at the company. It can be seen as inappropriate if you bring cakes etc... to a meeting without the knowledge of your boss (been there, done that…).

Some companies like to do that only once a month and then to get everyone with birthdays together with those who are celebrating their "Einstand". I personally do not understand this culture quite either but I see the necessity of following this rather peculiar "rule".

Keep to the German eating cultures 

Germans have a very "regulated" eating culture which may or may not be similar to the one from your own country. It is OK if you do not behave to the German fine eating cultures exactly as laid out in the Knigge (THE resource for etiquette in Germany) but you should at least keep to a few of them. That means no eating with your mouth open, no burping (obvious) and especially, eat as much as possible with knife and fork (seems obvious to some but I have lived in some countries where the standard was to eat with your hands BUT you are not allowed to touch the food with your left hand.).

In general you can say that the more you keep to the rules of etiquette as laid out in the Knigge, the more refined you are seen.The employer will see you more favorable the more you seem refined. 

Do not get into contact with competitors, even privately 

Normally you should never get into contact with a competitor as this may raise doubts about you selling secrets to competitors etc… Obviously, if you want to change jobs and go for interview with a competitor, that isa different thing. Your employer may still see it badly as he/she does not want to see talent go to the competitor but it is a "normal" practice. Normally go for the rule: if your employer does not know about you meeting someone from the competition, then it is best to avoid it.

Please take this with a grain of salt, as obviously you can still see your friends if they work for the competitor.My wife and I work for two competing companies, but we still talk to each other just not about confidential work related stuff. 

Notify your company in advance, if not well in advance, of any holidays you may want to take

In Germany you have a LOT of holidays, normally 30 days plus the national holidays, which are anything between 9 and 13 depending on the state you live in. Your employers want you to go on holidays because a happy and relaxed worker is a good worker. However, at the same time they will want to make sure that your absence does not impact the work that you are responsible for. Make sure therefore that your employer knows about your upcoming holidays and that you have organized someone who covers your tasks for you.

Do not be shy about asking a co-worker about covering your workload during your absence. It is a normal process and you will have to cover their workload during their absences.

The covering of your workload is also the reason why you have to notify your boss in advance over planned holidays. They are responsible for ensuring that the company runs smoothly. Any excuse that you are going for Uncle Johns birthday tomorrow is not really going to sit well with the employer since it was known that Uncle John had his birthday on that day for some time…

Another thing entirely are unplanned hospital stays, illness or the death of a relative. Simply notify your boss and it should be OK (the process is depending on your company). 

Keep to the way of addressing that is set by the company

This one may seem very weird and difficult to get used to, but the company is setting the form of address that you should keep to when you are talking to colleagues. In most international companies, you will normally use the less formal "Du" or the persons first name, but in some cases the employer may want the workers to keep to the more formal "Sie" or "Herr/Frau". You will get a lot of unnecessary trouble if you do not keep to the standards of how the employees address each other.

Also another weirdness is when you have a clash of the two styles of talking to colleagues. Some people may still wish to be called with "Sie" and "Herr/Frau", so most people will be called by their first name and the "Du" apart from a select few who will want to be called "Herr/Frau".

IMPORTANT: to the outside, you always use the more formal way "Herr/Frau" 


​It is sometimes very difficult to keep to the German customs at work. You will stand out anyway because expatriates are a minority in any country but try to follow the tips above so that you do not stand out like a sore thumb. The most important advices are to not talk about your salary, to concentrate as diligently as possible on the work when you are at work, not to be late for anything and to live by the clock AND (that one can be quite important if you are working in a very German setting) not to charge your phone at work.

Did I miss anything here? If I did, then please add them below and I will take them up into the article so that other people can profit from the knowledge of previous expats! 


Comments 1

Guest - Vichum on Tuesday, 29 January 2019 02:16


Tuesday, 31 January 2023

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