I arrived in the UK in October 2016. I was heading to Southend-on-Sea in Essex to complete my Bachelor degree at University. Having moved out of my home country Germany was a big step at the time. Now, I am fully involved as a digital marketing manager in our agency Leadcube in the UK and I can reflect on what makes the two countries different.
Many people often asked me about differences between the two cultures and what made me come to the United Kingdom. In fact, I hear that all the time and it is an interesting question indeed. Although the two countries are not located far from each other and are both part of Europe, there are substantial differences in terms of culture, especially in the work environment.
In the article, I aim to breakdown the striking as well as hidden contrasts with regards to the work culture of the two countries. I hope to provide some learning points that can become useful in terms of work culture and cross-cultural communication.
As we know, the typical British workstyle is 9 to 5 which employers and employees seems to follow more or less. In Germany, I remember the typical start of the working day to be at 8 am. Also, in school and high school we hardly start after 8 am.
Does that make any difference? Germans usually work 38-40 hour weeks in fulltime employment, e.g. 8am – 4:30pm with a half hour lunch break. If you think about it, the German industry is already 2 hours ahead due to the adapted office hours and the timezone difference. Statistics proofs that Germany has higher productivity and a higher GDP per capita. In this sense, there might be an advantage for the German work ethic (CIA.gov publication, Independent.co.uk article ).
These standards obviously don’t involve business owners and entrepreneurs who set their own schedules and standards.
Let’s have a look on another factor, different behaviour and manners. The UK in my view is the more easy-going country. The German market favours professionalism and formalism. It is also common to greet your manager or even fellow employees by the surname, like. “Good morning Mr. Mueller”. In Britain, I have experienced the culture to be more down-to-earth and with easier communication. That being said, the UK also has its traditional values and hierarchies in place.
Alongside to a formal and professional environment, Germans tend to overcomplicate things. Everything has to be put into processes and be audited, validated and standardized, etc. While this proves to be helpful to quality standards in the economy, it sometimes appears over-the-top to be dealing with constant paperwork that inhibit independent thinking. The corporate environment in Germany doesn’t have much room for change management driven by employees which was one reason for me to leave. To bring this disparity of different attitudes into a few words: The Brit says “Let’s make some money!”, while the German says “How can we validate this process?”.
With regards to of openness for change, both countries score equally low in my perception. Germany has a conservative nature and people are being taught to follow the system, get a safe and secure job and so on, and so forth. The UK teaches Entrepreneurship at University and seems to be open-minded in that sense, but in reality it is about the same. Few people follow their inclination and rather play it safe which is frustrating to see.
The Start-up culture in London is huge, it’s probably one of the biggest hubs in the world. In Germany, online and digital marketing businesses are being centered around Berlin. The UK has a competitive advantage for access to capital and funding. In London it is much easier to get equity funding and venture capital, while Germany still has a risk-averse mentality. You often hear German entrepreneurs raising this point, but the culture is hard to change. It took a long time before the successful TV format, Dragon’s Den (UK) or Shark Tank (US) for providing start-ups the opportunity to pitch, found its way into Germany, just a few years ago.
Something else must be said: Some Germans sometimes have this strange belief that successful people must have done something dodgy or criminal to get there. Nobody likes to admit it, but the country has some kind of resentment problem. If you park a Ferrari car on the street in Germany, I can happen that you’ll find it being scratched or damaged. I haven’t come across that in Britain so far. Further, let’s have a look into America and you will see, things are a lot different and more relaxed in that sense.
Moving on to another interesting point: The language we use to communicate. In Germany, you will find it very common to be direct and straightforward in personal and professional communication. In the UK, I have got the impression that people sometimes tend to hide what they really think. This can make communication difficult and sales processes hard and long for the business. As an example, one UK-based recruitment consultant told me than he more than doubled the amount of deals he made after he shifted his business to the German market.
To summarize this introduction into cultural differences, both countries are unique and have its own culture. We found some similarities in terms of conservativism and overall strong economies. I think it’s important to accept these disparities and continue to respect each other as much as we should do the same as with other countries. Discussing these cultural anecdotes is important and I hope this article will help you understand both countries in a better way.
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