December 14, 2017

Germans prefer fixed working times in a fixed working environment

In a previous blog series, we used international research to highlight how one’s geographic environment and culture affects his or her expectations in the workplace. We reported that Europeans are quite reserved when it comes to work-related changes, whereas employees in the Asia-Pacific region are the most optimistic.

Now it is time to consider those findings in the context of Planon employees throughout the world. Malco Blümel, Project Manager at Planon Central Europe shares his views on this topic in the blog below, which is the third in our series: “The changing work environment.”

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Is there actually a need for change?

In Blumel’s experience, a typical German employee prefers having their own desk, where he or she can display a picture of their family, and a work schedule where they can arrive and leave to go home at the same time every day. That’s how it has been for many years and I presume that is how it will stay. In general, most Germans are quite conservative and not fond of change. The consensus is: why do we need to change when everything is going well? The same mentality applies to new workplace concepts, such as flexible working hours or the introduction of innovative technologies. It is typical that technologies such as contactless payments or paying for lunch with a credit card take a long time to get adopted by the majority.

These are just a few examples of our collective hesitance to change our habits. We are generally, I believe, a bit more conservative than other countries. We hold on to our traditions, beliefs, and values. It took quite some time before the concept of flexible working hours was even discussed here, while in other countries in Europe, they seem to embrace it. According to recent research (in German), German employees also prefer fixed working times.

A clear distinction between working and private time

I believe it’s in the DNA of Germans to work long, strenuous hours. Though employees have the flexibility to take time off, for example, after a busy week at work, it is not a very common practice. Most employees also have the flexibility to work whenever they want, but prefer to work at standard times and leave the office at five every evening, even during busy days. In my observations, I have gathered that Germans tend to do more than they are asked to by their employer and, in the short-term, do not ask for anything in return. However, they do make a clear distinction between working hours and private time. When Germans leave the office in the evening, they are usually unavailable for work outside of the office, high paying jobs or start-ups aside.

German employees prefer fixed working times and fixed working places. When we talk about flexible working places, it’s hard not to think of situations where if you arrive late, you get the worst seat available; think about taking the train or showing up late to the movies.  Some organizations introduced this concept and it resulted in employees showing up at work earlier each day, only to make sure that they could get the best desk in the office. Another example is that of an organization that had a clear workspace policy, which meant that each employee had to clear his or her desk before leaving. It was a policy that almost everyone universally disliked.

Flexible made inflexible again

Some organizations provided flexible working environments, after which the employees simply made them inflexible again. And to be honest: everybody was fine with that result. One of the underlying reasons could be that hierarchy plays a significant role in assigning desks and office space in Germany: the more seniority, the better the workspace. Whenever someone with an established seniority leaves the organization, the next in line will take over the empty space. That happens often, because in my perception it is quite common for Germans to switch employers every two or three years to climb the corporate ladder or to reinvent themselves.

One trend that is gaining traction in Germany is working from home. This started approximately three to five years ago and is increasing in popularity because it affects our life quality very positively. Working from home erases the daily commute to the office. However, it did take some time before Germans embraced the concept of the “home office,” but the evolution is progressing rapidly. We see a shift towards working with our mobile phone and innovative tools.

Regulations are a barrier

One of the main barriers of incorporating new technology at work is German legislation. There are tools to monitor the occupancy of meeting rooms, which provide not only insights about the room itself, but potentially also about the employees using those rooms. This data must be treated anonymously, as German work councils might forbid technology that breaches an employee’s privacy. Therefore, adapting to new technologies means adapting to the regulations as well, which can be time-consuming and result in in major blockage for quick changes.

In conclusion

My viewpoint may seem a bit stereotypical and black and white. But, these thoughts are grounded by the corporate structure and landscape we see in Germany. For instance, the often-praised medium-sized businesses in Germany, which are the backbone of our economy, often have “traditional leadership.” But, as newer technologies develop, it’s the larger corporations that will adapt to introduce them first in order to maximize profit, productivity. It is then that the medium-sized businesses will need to follow suit in order to stay competitive. So in conclusion, while it might take some time for us to embrace change in the workplace, I am confident we'll get there.

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