There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to business etiquette in Germany. Work culture varies office to office. But in general it’s best to err on the side of formality and then become more casual if that’s tendency among your coworkers.
Here a few tips to help keep you professional and polite in a German workplace:
You’ve heard it before and it’s true—punctuality really does matter in Germany. Showing up even five or ten minutes late to a meeting is considered rude. Meetings generally start on time and stick to a plan. A lot of deviation off the main topic won’t be taken well unless the head of the meeting invites people to share comments on other topics.
Handshakes & eye contact
A short and firm handshake is the most typical greeting. It’s best to shake everyone’s hand upon entering and exiting a meeting and not to shake someone’s hand with one hand still in your pocket. Also, maintain eye contact. This doesn’t mean to have an uncomfortable stare down. It’s just considered friendly and honest to look at someone directly rather than off to the side.
Respect the chain of command
Hierarchy is respected in Germany. The chain of command is closely followed when it comes to workplace decisions. Defer to your direct manager when it comes to decision making. He or she will bring your question up to the next level of management if needed and so on.
When introducing a group of colleagues always start with the most senior coworker.
Slow and steady
Work flow tends to go at a steady pace. Projects are expected to be completed on time and accurately. However, more priority is given to accuracy than speed. If you need to change the deadline, notify coworkers early and provide a good explanation.
Generally, workplace dress is conservative in Germany. This varies in different cities and industries. Start-ups, newsrooms and some environmental firms sometimes use a more casual dress code. Other businesses generally stick to a conservative wardrobe—definitely no trainers or tennis shoes. Banking cities like Frankfurt tend to be a bit more conservative than Berlin with its big creative scene.
Titles are important in Germany. You will usually see people’s qualifications listed on their business cards. For e-mails and in-person communication it’s always good to use a person’s title and surname, as in Herr Schmidt or Frau Schmidt. If someone is a professor or doctor, it’s best to use Dr. Schmidt or Professor Schmidt.
These are just a few basic guidelines. The best plan is to follow the lead of co-workers, watch how they handle the social nuances of the office and not to worry too much.