by Teresa Osmera
A whole new level of cultural shock awaited me once I entered the working world in Germany. After my internship, I took my first full time job at a University. At home I had already worked 10 years before coming to Germany and four years within the same field. Having studied anthropology back in the United States, I knew about cultural differences; however, being the only non-Germany on my team presented a whole new level of differences.
One of the strongest cultural shocks for most foreign people in Germany is Germany’s level of uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance boils down to how strongly a country (or person) tries to control their future. In Germany, this control can be seen in the country’s stereotypical love for rules and more subtly in its detail orientated planning. Both rules and detailed planning help to control and maintain a less questionable future.
Within the working world, the need for certainty amongst Germans presents a whole new level of culture shock for a foreign worker new to Germany. On a scale of 0 (most comfortable with uncertainty) to 10 (least comfortable with uncertainty), Germany ranks about a nine in its need for certainty. Other countries, such as Japan, Russia, and Turkey, have an similar or equally high need for certainty. Traditionally, uncertainty avoidant cultures prefer planned and structured schedules, attention to detail, team consensus, have a belief in and need for rules and deadlines, value time as money, are precise, and believe in the value of expert knowledge over general knowledge. On the other hand, cultures who are less uncertainty avoidant are more comfortable working in the opposite extremes.
Countries such as China (5), India (4), Poland (3), UK (2) and the USA (1) all rank under five in their need for certainty. One can imagine the differences in working styles those in lower levels countries are used to. Anyone coming to work in Germany should be aware of the differences in uncertainty avoidance from their own country.
My own personal working style, coming from the USA, was almost the exact opposite of my co-workers. I found it hard, in the beginning, to adjust to the need for detailed schedules, plans, attention to detail, precise deadlines and, in my own opinion, an over abundance of team consensus. However, with time both my co-workers and I came to a middle ground; them being a little less “German” in their working style and me being a little more. Without knowing about these cultural differences in working styles, I probably would have had a harder time adjusting to my new team. Instead, I saw them as a chance to learn and adapt my working style a bit. After all, why else would I choose to work in another country, if I did not want to learn something from it?
Of course, these differences can be affected by any number of factors in Germany. Differences in cultural working style should only be taken as a guideline for reference. If you are interested in knowing more about working differences amongst cultures, particularly in relation to Germany, I can recommend reading the GIZ Manual: Cross Cultural Management: How to do Business with Germans.