It’s been said that Germany is now conquering Europe without firing a shot.
Its economy, despite recent stumbling, is still a powerhouse and a linchpin for the euro. On fiscal, banking and trade policies, what the Germans want, they get.
I’ve always wondered how Germany could have such a prosperous economy along with strong workplace standards and generous social benefits.
The manufacturing and construction sectors are highly unionized. Even non-union white collar and service employees work under a “contract” with their employers. The workweek averages 35 hours. Workers make good pay and get lots of vacation and paid holidays.
Yes, they pay higher taxes. That with along the workplace standards and social benefits stand in sharp contrast to the American way of doing business and our antagonism to welfare statism.
But it’s always fascinating to explore how different countries do things. So when a Facebook friend posted a link to an article headlined, “Why Germans work fewer hours but produce more: A study in culture,” it earned an automatic click.
In short, when Germans are at work, they work.
“Facebook, office gossip with co-workers, trolling Reddit for hours, and pulling up a fake spreadsheet when your boss walks by are socially unacceptable behaviors,” Paul writes. “Obviously, in the United States these behaviors are frowned upon by management. But in Germany, there is zero tolerance for such frivolous activities.”
In actually conducting business, Paul emphasizes, there’s no time wasted. Office communication is focused and direct. There’s no need, as in America, for small talk or worrying about keeping things upbeat. There’s no need to soften directives with polite phrases.
“Whereas an American would say, ‘It would be great if you could get this to me by 3 p.m.,’ a German would say, ‘I need this by 3 p.m.,’” Paul continues.
Americans do seem to think that it’s good to make work seem less like, well, work. But then many of us end up blending work deeply into our personal lives.
In Germany, by contrast, private e-mail is not allowed at work. And the government is even seriously considering a proposal to ban work emails after 6 p.m.
The email restrictions are just one example of how, as a counterbalance to more focused and more formal work time, the Germans do a better job than Americans of keeping work at bay.
In another key cultural difference, many Germans don’t go home after work and just watch TV.
Instead, they join fellow citizens in clubs (Verein) of various kinds. There are sport clubs, music clubs, hiking clubs, animal breeding clubs and collectors clubs. Virtually every possible interest has a club.
“Germans work hard, and play hard,” Paul writes.
And Germans seem to have figured out that strong families and help in child rearing result in happier and more productive workers. “Business respects parenthood,” a subhead in Paul’s article reads.
That’s one reason for those plentiful vacation days — monthlong holidays with families often renting seaside apartments or taking long trips to other cities.
The concern for families and giving the next generations a good start is why German workers also get what Paul says is the “stuff of fantasy for most working American … some of the most extensive parental protection policies in the developed world.”
It’s called elternzeit, or parent time.
Parents who have been employed for the previous 12 months can take up to three years of unpaid leave, but are eligible to work part-time for up to 30 hours a week during that period. And they must be offered full-time employment once they’ve used up their leave. They can also postpone up to a year of leave until their child’s 8th birthday.
Just one parent can take the leave. Most couples decide based on their financial situation.
And get this: The government will pay up to 67 percent of the employee’s salary for 14 months.
Paul does point out a downside, which the Germans are trying to correct. Women more often claim leave benefit, and thus men dominate the top executive ranks moreso than in other countries.
In the end, statistics show that the United States still commands a big lead in productivity. We do produce more per worker than all other countries.
But that’s because we just plain work more hours. No short workweeks, generous vacations or lot of holidays here.
But factor out the longer work hours, and instead compare productivity per worker per hour.
The comparison showed — no surprise if you’re still with me — that Germany ranks No. 1.
The U.S. is No. 3.
And who was No. 2, a result that should challenge the stereotype of a different country and would be worth another fascinating cultural exploration?