A Nine-To-Fiver in Germany – What’s in the Bag?

What’s it like to be a nine-to-fiver in Germany? A very hard question to answer since everyone has had their very own experiences, but after a while in Germany, and more than one job in this land behind me, I feel like it could be safe to make some general comments about it. But don’t be negatively surprised if your experience is different from mine; leave a comment with your stories instead!

I will start by rejoicing over the fact I have learned tons working here because the German work dynamics and style are something very different from what I had known in the past. Also important to say is that if the nice experiences have taught me a good deal of stuff, the bad ones have been even better teachers for the kind of things you don’t get to learn in school. So far, Germany has allowed me to work part-time, freelance and full-time (not all at the same time!) and these observations are the common ground I find between my experiences so far:

  • Trusted Working Hours. I find this to be one of the coolest things ever. Do you know this situation where you’re done with your work but have to stay glued to your desk until your time’s up? Not in many places in Germany. Again I am talking about office jobs for the most part, where you are trusted to fill your work time and results quota based on your own judgment and responsibility. Some years ago I used to work at an office where even lunch times were strictly set and controlled and all employees had to check their every movement with a fingerprint scanner.
  • You really work result-oriented. Sitting there for 8 hours straight playing with your sticky notes and texting will not get you far in Germany, if your lack of results impacts someone else’s work, sooner than you can imagine you will be called in for a nice talk with the HR department. Here people will not think it twice to report you to the corresponding instances because of fear of getting a bad reputation.
  • Nobody breathes on your neck. For the most part (I have come across exceptions but then I have to say they were terribly unpopular) you will be left alone to do your job and nobody will be checking if you go to the toilet too often, if you answered a personal phone call that lasted more than 2 minutes, if you are laughing at your screen because probably you’re watching memes instead of working and so on. This has come to be a wonderful surprise for me, I have to admit.

    Nothing new. Offices are just like any other office around the world, except maybe for Google headquarters and such. Foto: LauraV

  • You have the right to be ill. This one may make you arch a brow but in Mexico, where I come from, you are expected to report yourself to work no matter how you’re feeling and if you just can’t make it, there will be consequences, both monetary and administrative. I am still amazed at how here a person gets to simply call one morning and say they’re not feeling well and that’s all it takes, no questions asked, no strings attached, nobody taking a chunk of your salary away, nobody calling you a liar. Sure if you need more than one or two days off, you need a medical prescription, but then again, Germans are big fans of home remedies, resting and hearty food to feel better rather than going to the doctor straight away.
  • You have vacations. I don’t know about you guys, but in Mexico you get 6 days of holidays for a whole year of work (and you have to work that year first!). In Germany you have a minimum of 24 days as soon as you start working. I almost cried when they told me that the first time.

    Right before the Easter holidays there was this nice surprise. Way to go HR! Foto: LauraV

  • Lunch time is sacred. Anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour are perfectly fine and it’s up to you how long you take to nurture yourself. Bonus? Most of the time you get to take it whenever you want and if you prefer, you can scarf down a couple of apples at your desk instead of going somewhere else to eat and leave an hour early at the end of the day. But not every day, please. That’s not very social.

    Courtesy of some nice birthday boy the other day. Just the pastry, the coffee came from the usual machine.  Foto: LauraV

  • Don’t miss the cork board at the common room(s). This is a nice example I like to give to the people who insist on the old clichés of Germans being cold robots or whatever. Truth is, they like sharing what happens in their lives and they do it with the cork boards. Without nagging, without forcing small talk, they simply go and share what’s important to them and wait passively for a response. Engagements, weddings, births, social events, everything will be announced on the cork board.

There is free food quite often. Every special occasion like a birthday, promotion, farewell, you name it; will be celebrated by a happy co-worker leaving cake, buns, cookies, a salad bowl and such amenities at the reunion areas, like the employees kitchen or the area surrounding the holy coffee pot. Help yourself and don’t forget to bring something yourself once in a while.

No place is paradise and sure there’s always this perception that the grass on the other side is greener, however, I am very happy to be having these experiences and learning that, without labeling it better or worse, there is always another way of doing things.