For companies in post-industrial societies, not only economic aspects, but also cultural and social factors play an important role in management. The early development of organizational culture (OC) theory in Germany (beginning of the 1980s) was restricted
to a descriptive adoption of American concepts of OC, whereas monographs by Deal and Kennedy (1982), and Peters and Waterman (1982) attracted special attention. The original and innovative German concepts were rarely introduced before the late
1980s (Krulis-Randa, 1990, p. 7).
However, already 60 years before that Nicklisch (1924) had discussed the term culture of a company (Kultur im Betrieb) explicitly, underlining the importance of social interaction of people in an organization. The aim of the present article is twofold. Firstly, to examine organizational culture in Germany by surveying previous relevant studies, and secondly, to determine task and relationship orientations of organizational culture in German organizations on the basis of empirical study, to achieve the objectives, the following tasks were set for the research which is to explore and systematize the available theoretical research and empirical studies of organizational culture in Germany. Next, having adapted the Estonian questionnaire on OC to the German context, to collect the necessary body of data and analyse it.
Regardless of intensive discussions about organizational culture in Germany (see works of Beyer, Nutzinger, 1996; Heinen, Frank, 1997; Sackmann, 2002; Schrey?gg, 2000), empirical surveys of the subject are scarce. Thus the present research not only contributes to the needs of Estonian businesses starting cooperation with German companies, but also to German research literature, offering a new perspective to the studies of organizational culture.
The article falls into three parts. The first one deals with the systematization of academic research on organizational culture in German companies, considering theoretical statements and empirical studies. The other two parts of the paper represent an empirical
1.1 Belief system
Although religious and other beliefs should not play any role in employment decisions, there are a significant number of labour court decisions, including of recent date, dealing with employees protection against discrimination for this reason.
During the hiring process, the employer is not allowed to ask about the employees religion or which religious beliefs the employee follows. Should the employer nonetheless ask for such information, the employee is permitted to refuse to answer or lie. If an employer decides not to hire the employee due to his or her religious beliefs or if the employer discriminates against the employee after hiring him or her, the employee may be entitled to monetary compensation according to the German General Equal Treatment Act.
During the employment relationship, various conflicts between the employees religious beliefs and the employers interests may arise, e.g. the employee might refuse to engage in tasks contradicting his or her religious beliefs or insist on wearing religious symbols (e.g. a kippa, turban or headscarf). For example, an employer instructs a Muslim, employed as shop assistant, to fill shelves with alcoholic beverages if the employee is convinced that this is contrary to the rules of his faith?
As so often, the answer is: it depends. Generally speaking, the employer may assign to the employee work which is within the scope and limits of the employment contract and applicable working conditions. Furthermore, the employers instructions need to be given using reasonable discretion. This means that the employer needs to take into account an employees genuine faith-based convictions if disclosed to the employer. The same applies in case of conflicts with other non-religious convictions about the interpretation of the world in general. The conflict then needs to be weighed against the employers interest in smooth business processes. Whether the employee knew from the beginning that he or she would not be able to carry out the required work will also be taken into account.
Assuming the balance of interests falls in favour of the employee, the employee may refuse to carry out the objectionable work assigned to him or her. For such time, generally speaking, the employee is not entitled to wages (no work no wages). However, if the employer could also assign non-objectionable work, the employee is nonetheless entitled to his or her wages.
In a case similar to our example of a Muslim refusing to fill in shelves with alcoholic beverages, the German Federal Labour Court held that the employee was in such a severe moral conflict that the employers instruction was invalid. Therefore, the dismissal given for behavioural reasons based on the refusal to act according to the employers instruction was invalid. However, the German Federal Labour Court also held that the employer may terminate the employment for personal reasons if all of the tasks the employer could assign to the employee would trigger a faith conflict and the employee could therefore not be employed on a reasonable basis anymore.
Generally speaking, these rules also apply in case of a church as employer. However, the churches self-determination is especially protected under German law. Therefore, the balance of interests may more often be in favour of the employer. For example, although the wearing of headscarves has to be tolerated by secular employers (such as shops), a church-run institution (such as a hospital) may prohibit an employee from wearing a symbol of another religion.
In the German understanding, such personally-professional tasks as goal-orientation, assertiveness and persistence in achieving a goal are the characteristics of a professional. When working with German partners you may encounter at every step verbal displays of the German goal orientation concerning work, with such expressions as ‘let’s get down to work’, ‘let’s get back to work’, and ‘don’t get distracted’, etc. This also means that small talk, poetic digressions and ways of strengthening contacts, by extended informal events such as long feasts are often perceived by German counterparts as a waste of time.
These are topics on which anyone can talk for hours at a stretch. They include, for example, the weather, travel, sport or other hobbies. You should try to avoid controversial topics. Among these are politics and religion, as well as questions about your interlocutors salary or income. These are subjects to talk about with closer friends. Moreover, when chatting, keep a physical distance from your interlocutors and adopt an appropriate tone of voice. Embraces or kisses on the cheek are reserved for friends and family and are therefore not usually appropriate for work situations.
In German culture, time is seen as a firmly fixed concept. This leads to linear scheduling, whereby jobs are worked through step-by-step, one after the other and it is extremely rare to do different jobs at the same time. The entire scheduling process is oriented around the job and the primary focus is not on the person doing it but on the outcome. in terms of their perception of time, Germans are less focused on the present than other nations. They are conscious of their past but oriented towards the future. The past plays a major role and people live with a very pronounced awareness of history. Focusing on the future, however, is also of key significance. Looking after the elderly (state pensions, etc.) is perceived by the public as an important topic and companies often plan for and invest into this well in advance. Reinvesting profit is usually preferred to taking short-term financial gain. Holidays are often planned many months in advance.
In cultures with a preference for direct communication, people are expected to take a clear position and openly express their opinion, even if it involves criticism or confrontation. On the other hand, other cultures avoid directly expressing opinions. Germany is one of the so-called “low-context” cultures. All details are transmitted explicitly. This means that Germans tend to pay more attention to the literal meaning of words than to the context surrounding them. Messages are transmitted more by words than nonverbal signals. If in doubt, a German will ask a follow-up question in order to get all of the information, even if this could perhaps have been deduced implicitly.
The type of clothing is dependent on a given person’s position within the company. However, value is undoubtedly attached to dressing correctly and appropriately, without attracting attention. In general, the dress code is quite modest people have a slight fear of appearing bigger than they really are. In terms of choosing discrete forms of dress, for men it is usually expected to display a well-groomed appearance and, depending on their position and the industry they are in, wear either work clothes or a dark suit with an appropriate, inconspicuous tie. The dominant colors at boardroom level are blue, grey, black and brown. A female employee’s outfit should neither be too elegant nor too chic. In general, the rule for women is only to wear skirts or dresses that come down to at least just over the knee. Plunging necklines should also be avoided and very high or spike heels are rarely seen in German offices.
Greetings and address
In Germany, it is customary to greet people by shaking hands (regardless of the gender) and looking the other person directly in the eyes. The common forms of greeting are “Guten Morgen” (up until approx. 10-11am) and “Guten Tag” (after 11am). More casual forms are “Hallo” and “Hi”. You take your leave by saying “Auf Wiedersehen” or, amongst friends, “Tsch?ss”. Only between friends, kisses on the cheeks and hugs are becoming more and more popular, although there are no set rules of etiquette. As a basic rule, people in Germany address each other on a surname-basis and with the formal address of “you”, i.e. “Sie”. Germans, including close colleagues who share an office, often continue using the formal “Sie”. The use of “Du” is generally proposed by the older or more senior of the two people concerned.
Perception of hierarchy
Different cultures have different ways of dealing with the perceived distance between the powerful and the powerless. Although social inequality can be found everywhere, there are significant variations in how people respond to it. Contrary to the widespread stereotype, hierarchical thinking in Germany is relatively unpronounced. Authority is not accepted per se, but is derived from a person’s competence and personality. A manager fulfils a functional role within an organization, generally that of someone who delegates tasks. This is accepted without being questioned as long as the manager shows through his or her ability and commitment that he or she is up to the job. Hierarchies tend to be flat with the boss tending to embody the idealized character of a “primus inter pares”, involving his staff in decisions. It is for this reason that business cards are handed over in a rather relaxed fashion in Germany.
Germans take it for granted that anyone sent out to represent their company is regarded as being authorized to act on its behalf and qualified for the task at hand, regardless of their position in the company according to their business card. Understatement also belongs to the modest power divide in Germany. Pretentious behavior or making a show of power (or wealth) is not welcome, i.e. those in positions of power act as though they are less powerful than they really are.
Germans are regarded as being rather task oriented. All parties concerned should derive clear benefits from working together. The focus is on the deal and, as a rule, personal relationships arise only once business matters have been agreed. Germany shows clear elements of an individualist society. Compared to many other countries, for example, an individual in Germany has a relatively strong position vis-?-vis the group. People tend to be more interested in dealing with their own concerns, giving priority to their personal objectives and being inclined to highlight their own achievements and success. A strong personality and self-assurance are perfectly respectable character traits. Private and business matters are kept separate.
Asking colleagues personal questions is only advisable after you have known them for a long time, as they can very quickly view this as an undue intrusion into their private life. The individualistic orientation of Germans can also be seen in the standard family structure, which is typically a “core family” consisting of just two generations, generally with only a small number of children. Nevertheless, German culture is fairly community oriented due to a more socially oriented state policy. Despite the focus on the individual and his / her performance, there is a well-developed social security system. Clubs and societies, i.e. groups that provide an “us” feeling, have a long tradition in Germany and are very popular.
Do & Dont in work culture in Germany
Introduce yourself when you meet people for the first time and shake hands firmly.
Use recent German history as a topic for small talk.
Information and instructions should be rather extensive, clearly structured and also mostly confirmed in writing, even if an oral transmission has taken place.
Be shy to ask questions, if you do not understand something.
Be always on time, but not way too early. Punctuality is very important, both in private and business life.
Come too late to a meeting. The maximum delay for a quarter of an hour is generally accepted, but can also be perceived as rude.
The type of business attire is dependent on the position in the company. In general, however, you should pay attention to adequate and correct, but rather inconspicuous clothing. Take the German direct way of speaking personally. Criticism is usually expressed bluntly.