Diversity in the workplace

Understanding Cultural Differences – How Germans and Americans Can Work Together

The offer of an attractive position abroad – either from your own company or through a headhunter – can often lead to significant career progression. Experience abroad can be the key to making that next career step, and the USA is a very popular destination for working professionals. In order for a new position to be a springboard and not a stumbling block, it is important to recognize the cultural differences between the German and American working environments.

Cultural differences

Misunderstandings between colleagues in the workplace can often be attributed to cultural differences.

The hard Germans vs. the diplomatic Americans

Many cultural differences can be found in the communication used in the workplace. In Germany, it is common and encouraged to openly criticise others. Communication is often direct – even when speaking with your boss, there are no exceptions. Staff members are able to openly contradict and point out mistakes. In America, however, no one would contradict a superior in public. And if they do, they may run the risk of losing their job.

Cultural differences can also be found in the way individuals express themselves. Germans communicate honestly with each other, whereas Americans would feel deeply offended in similar situations. The American would never simply say “no”. In fact, everything is formulated positively. For Americans, a “no” reflects a negative attitude. The American never talks about problems at work. Problems don’t exist – instead, there are issues or concerns.

Cultural differences in cooperation

In Germany, the polite term “Sie“, which is a formal way of saying “you“, is standard in the workplace. In addition, people are addressed by their surnames so a professional distance is achieved. Many deliberately do not use the more trusted “Du” between colleagues or superiors and staff. In America, there is no formal way to address someone. And when it comes to addressing people in the USA, people are usually called by their first names.

However, if you think the Americans more relaxed in cultural differences, you would be wrong. The Americans are very sensitive to behaviors that could be considered discriminatory or interpreted as sexual harassment. Despite the relaxed atmosphere, you should never resort to inappropriate jokes or discuss topics such as religion.

The American is the “doer”, the German is the “thinker”

Cultural differences are most prevalent when it comes to working on projects. In Germany, all relevant facts would be collected first to be discussed in order to define a solution. Whilst the Americans would have already defined an aim which is implemented immediately and directly. In the USA, you follow the path that promises the quickest solution to the problem. If the chosen route does not lead to the goal, the American will correct and adjust. Americans are never “out of office”.

A further cultural difference appears in the demands placed on individual members of staff. In the USA, there are high expectations placed on all employees. Everyone must reach goals and is measured on them. This produces a type of permanent pressure. In Germany, things are approached in a more relaxed manner.

Work-life balance

Cultural differences are also apparent in the division of professional and personal life. Emails are always answered, even on weekends or during a holiday. A two-week holiday without checking in with the office – a completely normal occurrence in Germany – is unthinkable for Americans. Here, the lines between private life and the office become blurred. Cultural differences are also found in the working day. Overall, people work much longer in the USA than in Germany. However, some may say the Germans are more productive in a shorter space of time. The Americans mostly show fascination about how focused their German colleagues work, without distractions.

By fostering a better understanding of colleagues from other cultures, you can ensure a positive work environment with fellow colleagues and superiors, as well as a smoother climb up the professional ladder.



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