Wurst, Bier, Fußball, Volkswagen, Michael Schumacher and Angela Merkel — the Federal Republic of Germany is all these things and so much more. Known for their keen eye for detail through engineering and their incredible capacity for hard work, it’s no surprise that companies from all over the world are looking to pick up talent from this Central European country.
If you’re one of those companies that are keen on obtaining global talent from Germany, then you should pay very close attention to what we have to say here. Over recent decades, Germany has made it paramount to protect its workforce and, as such, has solidified many issues pertaining to employment into federal law — with working hours and workweeks, in particular. So, companies looking to expand their reach into Germany or simply seeking to add a few Germans to their workforce will also fall under the jurisdiction of these laws.
However, it’s not as scary as it might seem at first! While teaming up with a global expansion partner can help take the load off in terms of compliance, it will also be extremely beneficial for you as an employer to understand what a typical workweek is like in Germany. In this article, we’ll cover all about the legal definition of a workweek in Germany and provide you with some insight into German working culture so you’ll be prepared for anything!
Typical work hours in Germany
It might come as a surprise to many, but despite the stereotype of the “hardworking German”, Germany is one of four countries in Europe with an average work week of fewer than 35 hours — 34.2 hours as of 2020, to be exact. Just for context, the average working week in the UK is 42.9 hours, which is one of the highest in Europe!
In recent years, there have been an increasing number of talks from senior members of the German Ministry of Labour regarding Germany potentially decreasing the work week to just four days a week. While those discussions are still being made, let’s take a quick look at the current legislature for what is considered part-time or full-time work in Germany.
Statutory part-time working hours
If you’re considering hiring from Germany, you should be aware that a "part-time" worker is legally defined as someone who works fewer than 30 hours a week. After working for the organisation for six months, employees are eligible to request a reduction in their weekly work hours (as long as the company employs more than 15 people).
As the popularity of freelancing and job-sharing grows, so does the popularity of part-time work. The German parental allowance is very significant and can be easily combined with part-time employment.
Statutory full-time working hours
In Germany, a typical workweek consists of 36-40 hours. The majority of full-time occupations in Germany are seven or eight hours a day, five days a week, with an hour or 30 minutes break at lunchtime. Working without a break for more than six hours is illegal in Germany! Typically, companies are not allowed to work their employees for longer than 48 hours at the maximum — which then goes into “overtime” territory.
However, it all boils down to the terms of the contract signed between an employee and their employer. Sometimes in exchange for a longer workweek, some employers may offer their employees a greater income (namely, overtime pay) or more paid time off during the year. People who are self-employed in Germany typically put in more than 40 hours per week, but that’s the same in the majority of cases!
Legal limits to working hours in Germany
Workday restrictions in Germany are limited by law to eight hours. Employees are not allowed to put in more than 48 hours of work between the legally defined work week of Monday and Saturday. If the average daily work time does not go over eight hours for a period of six months (or 24 weeks), then this can be increased to 10 hours.
Generally speaking, only service industry workers (including healthcare and rescue workers) are allowed to put in time on Sundays and public holidays — according to the Working Hours Act, or “Arbeitszeitgesetz”. Otherwise, for the most part, it’s expressly prohibited for workers in any other industry to work on a Sunday. Any Sunday shifts that must be worked must be made up for with time off sometime over the following two weeks. This rule also applies to federal holidays — which we’ll get into later.
Workers who put in six to nine hours a day are eligible for a 30-minute break, which can be broken up into two 15-minute breaks. Employees who put in more than nine hours in a day are eligible for a 45-minute break after six hours of work. A minimum of 12 hours must elapse between shifts for rest and recuperation in order to prevent worker burnout.
German working culture insights
Despite Germans being very open to shorter work weeks, that doesn’t mean that the hardworking stereotype doesn’t hold! Rather, the German workforce has developed a mindset that places importance on one’s quality of work over quantity. As we all may or may not know, especially if you’ve ever owned a German car, efficiency is key.
When strategically planning an international workforce, understanding the ins and outs of each employee's unique work culture is crucial — regardless of where in the world you (or they) are from! With that said, here are some of the most important things you need to know about German working culture:
1. National holidays
Unlike working or hiring in the UK, companies don’t have to worry about “replacing” any national holidays that happen to fall on a weekend. While it’s most definitely written into law that working on national holidays, much like Sundays, is strictly forbidden, there isn’t any legislature that says that public holidays that fall on a weekend need to be replaced. With that said, there are only 15 national holidays in Germany, with more than of them with varied dates that change from year to year.
Here is a complete list of national holidays in Germany, alongside their dates:
- New Year (January 1st)
- Epiphany (January 6th)
- Good Friday (varied, the Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday)
- Easter Monday (varied, the Sunday immediately following Easter Sunday)
- Labour Day (May 1st)
- Ascension (varied, 39 days after Easter Sunday)
- Whit Monday (varied, 50 days after Easter Sunday)
- Corpus Christi (varied, 60 days after Easter Sunday)
- Assumption Day (August 15th)
- Day of German Unity (October 3rd)
- Reformation Day (October 31st)
- All Saints’ Day (November 1st)
- Penance Day (varied, the last Wednesday before November 23)
- Christmas (December 25th)
- St. Stephen’s Day (December 26th)
2. Punctuality is king
The Germans prefer predictability and stability to the uncertainty of the moment. Not only is being late to work considered rude in Germany but being unpunctual is also frowned upon in everyday life. It's not on you to waste other people's time, and the Germans take that belief to heart. So much so that it’s deeply engrained within their work culture.
Last-minute meetings or late arrivals to meetings (without ample warning) is a surefire way to annoy a German employee. Communication is absolutely key to Germans, so if you know that you’ll be 15 minutes late to a meeting, you better inform your German staff as soon as possible!
3. Maximum overtime hours
While work is immediately considered “overtime” after working for 48 hours a week, the German federal government has also written into law a maximum amount of overtime allowed per worker. Yes, that’s right: Germany also has a cap on the number of overtime hours that can be worked.
In Germany, a worker's total weekly hours, including overtime, cannot go above 60 hours. Also, over the course of a 6-month period, employees must not work more than 48 hours per week, on average. So to easily keep your company compliant with German labour laws by making sure that you don’t work your staff for more than the necessary 40 hours per week!
4. Work hours are for work
The stereotype of German efficiency is founded on reality. As a whole, Europeans work fewer hours per week but produce more than their American counterparts. Germans want you to treat your job seriously no matter what field you're in.
There’s a reason why Germany is one of the most productive nations in the world. The German working mindset is that Arbeitzeit (work time) is strictly for work — and this is also reflected within their language. At least, when speaking in German, anyway, with “Herr” (Mr) and “Frau” (Mrs/Ms) being commonplace, and the formal “Sie” is used more often when personally addressing someone than “du”. The workplace is strictly formal, and casual language isn’t generally used (although that culture is slowly changing!).
Germany can be a cultural shock if you're used to a more collaborative workplace culture. While the German people are known for their friendliness, business and pleasure are kept apart. Time spent chatting around the water cooler or making small talk with coworkers should be reserved for breaks and lunches, not the office.
5. Holidays are for holidays
On the flip side, Germans take holidays very seriously. When the workday is over, the workday is over, and the work stays at the office; the Germans like to make this distinction clear. It’s super rare for you to come across a German on holiday who is still glued to their phone, reading work emails. In fact, that’s highly frowned upon within German working culture! So, if you find that your German employee doesn’t respond while they’ve taken a day off, this is exactly why.
Just remember: “Dienst ist Dienst und Schnaps ist Schnaps” — literally translating into “Duty is duty, and booze is booze”. Don’t mix the two when employing Germans, and you’ll be fine!
4 tips on working with Germans
Ready to integrate some Germans into your global workforce? That’s great news! Before they get started with their first day, prepare yourself for German work culture by following these four easy tips:
#1 Always be prepared
Earlier, we mentioned Germans liking to plan ahead, and this attitude shines through their work — and they will expect the same of you. Make sure you've done your research before heading into a presentation or meeting. Ideas that have been thoroughly mulled over are highly valued in Germany. They place a high priority on meetings and conversations, especially when it comes to preparing for something. Just “winging it” is absolutely not something you can bring to a German workplace!
#2 Focus on direct language
No one likes it when you beat around the bush, and Germans even more so. It’s one of the main reasons why Germans are so direct! While it may seem quite rude or blunt at first, Germans are far from being impolite people. They simply don’t believe in “reading between the lines”. Germans are very goal-oriented, and this may account for their frankness.
Critique from a German in a meeting is not intended as a personal assault but rather as a means of enhancing the final product. Germans, like most people, value honesty and openness in interpersonal relationships. As you can expect, this has the obvious benefit of keeping you informed at all times. There's no need to play any kind of guessing game with a German; they'll make it perfectly clear where they stand at all times. So, just tell a German what you want them to do. There is an added benefit of avoiding any initial small talk.
#3 Teamwork makes the dream work
To what do Germans attribute their country's exemplary work ethic? Think about the dynamics of the group! Germans are often more individualists than collectivists, making it hard to imagine that team spirit retains weight in the German work culture, in particular when compared to the work cultures of southern Europe.
In order to come up with effective plans together - and to unlock the greatest efficiency for all - it is no surprise that group dynamics put listening, discussions, and debates at the forefront of the process. When it comes to German businesses, teamwork is crucial.
#4 Duzen oder Siezen?
Even though they have worked side by side for years in the same office or hallway, German coworkers will often still address each other professionally, as Herr Smith and Frau Meyer. It can be difficult for non-native speakers to gauge the appropriateness of formal versus informal addresses, especially when beginning a new career in a new country. Furthermore, they place a high value on their positions of authority.
This is why when meeting a German for the first time, whether in a workplace or casual setting, it’s always a good idea to ask, “Sollen wir duzen oder Siezen?”. This question sets the tone for whether formal language is preferred or whether the person is fine with informal language. But it’s important not to get offended if the person would rather stick to formal German rules!
An individual with a doctoral degree is more likely to insist on being addressed by that degree and to use it themselves. Even though this is still rather widespread, it is losing popularity among the younger set. However, it is undeniably still a thing in the German public sector and in small and medium-sized businesses.
Technology, design, and hipper industries, along with the vast majority of non-German multinational corporations, have a tendency to implement a much flatter structure, and so the culture of formality is gradually disappearing. It's a tendency that's only going to grow as more and more young Germans who have lived and studied abroad enter the labour sector.
When expanding your business on a worldwide scale, it’s extremely important to be aware of the various workplace cultures that exist in the world. Germans can be a great addition to any company’s workforce, but with that efficiency and hard work comes a lot of things that you need to be aware of in order to maintain compliance when expanding into Germany. Once you understand that German working culture can be different, then you’ll be sure to enjoy the many benefits of global outsourcing that come with it.