A postcard from... Germany

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Our 'postcard from' series keeps your updated on key HR areas in different countries

Economic briefing

Post-Brexit, all eyes have turned to Angela Merkel. The German chancellor is at the helm of Europe’s largest economy and second most populous nation (after Russia). Its economy is also the fifth largest in the world. But it suffers from low levels of investment.

Demographics

Germany faces significant demographic challenges. Low fertility rates and a large increase in net immigration are both increasing pressure on the country’s social welfare system and are necessitating structural reforms.

Legal lowdown

“The relations between German employers and employees are extensively regulated by numerous national laws,” explains Manfred Schmid, head of the HR and employment practice of Pinsent Masons in Germany.

Important features include a statutory 20 working days’ holiday per calendar year for employees who work a five-day week, and a minimum wage of €€8.50 per hour. Women are entitled to full paid maternity leave (starting no later than six weeks before the expected due date and ending eight weeks after childbirth), and all employees are entitled to a maximum of three years’ parental leave per child. During this period the employer is not obliged to pay the employee but may not dismiss them.

Works councils

“In companies with more than five employees the workforce may elect a works council,” reports Schmid. “The works council represents the employees and negotiates, co-operates and consults with the employer in various situations, like hiring of new employees, changes to the place of business, shut down of the business, or mass lay-offs.”

From the HR frontline

“Germany has a far more formal business culture and often emails are still addressed to Mr or Miss rather than just using first names… even for quite senior people,” reports Sarah Sandbrook, head of talent consulting and initiatives at Deutsche Telekom. “When first names are used it’s important to make sure that your colleague understands that that by no means implies lack of respect.”

She adds: “German organisations tend to be more hierarchical than UK ones so for example someone from head office may assume they have a level of authority greater than even a director in a subsidiary. This can lead to a certain level of ‘bristling’ but no offence should be taken.”

Sandbrook adds that German directness shouldn’t be mistaken for rudeness.

“While the British approach tends to be ‘I would be grateful if…’ the German approach tends to be far more ‘I need this done!’ Obviously this can come across as rude to a British person but conversely a German colleague receiving a ‘polite’ email may interpret this as less of a priority and put it to the bottom of the pile.”

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