Work-life balance

Germany-flag-140The issues around finding the balance between family life, private life and work are gaining increased attention in political and business circles in Europe and Germany.

A key issue for many workers is flexible working time in order to have a work-life balance. Negotiating a work/life balance can help enable parents (both men and women) to reconcile their work with their family lives and women in particular to participate in the labour market. Finding the right work-life balance can allow workers to take leave from work so that they can participate in education or training or take up an interest, hobby or leisure pursuit. This may mean that employees can reorganise their working lives and hours around shorter days, weeks, months or years.

German families tend to be small with only one or two children. The men are still quite often considered to be the head of the household, even though both the wife and husband work.

At the turn of the century few employees in Germany were given holidays. In 1902, the metal and brewing industries gave three days annual leave to their workers. It was not until 1974 that the old Federal Republic introduced the statutory minimum holiday of 18 working days which has now risen to a minimum of 24 days. Today most collective wage agreements provide for holidays of six weeks or more and most employers give  holiday pay.

For further Information visit:

National holidays

Germany has quite generous holidays in comparison to other European countries. There are more public holidays in Germany than in any other European country. On these days, banks and most shops are closed, including supermarkets. However, many restaurants remain open. Public transportation and other services are also available. Many shops and businesses are also closed on Carnival Rose Monday (Cologne and Rhine region), Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve although these are not official holidays.

Overview of legal holidays:

  • New Year                   01.01
  • Epiphany                    06.01   (celebrated in BW, BY, ST)
  • Good Friday               around March/April
  • Easter Monday                       around March/April
  • Labour Day                01.05
  • Ascension                   May
  • Whit Monday              May
  • Corpus Christi                        May/June (celebrated in  BW, BY, HE, NW, RP, SL)
  • Assumption Day         15.08   (celebrated in  BY, SL)
  • Day of German Unity             03.10
  • Reformation Day        31.10   (celebrated in  BB, MV, SN, ST, TH)
  • All Saints’ Day                        01.11   (celebrated in BW, BY, NW, RP, SL
  • Penance Day               21.11   (celebrated in SN)
  • Christmas                    25.12
  • St. Stephen’s Day        26.12

(Those States where the public holiday applies are shown in brackets; if nothing is indicated the holiday applies to all of Germany.)

Working hours

Opening hours

In Germany, businesses and shops are not legally allowed to stay open as long as they please and there are strict regulations concerning opening and closing hours. The German federal law “Ladenschlussgesetz” (Shop Closing Law) together with individual regulations in different States controls opening hours. Thus supermarkets for example close at 22.00 at the latest and open before 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. On Sundays almost everything is closed with the exception of bakeries and petrol stations.

 Working times

The German Working Time Regulations (“Arbeitszeitgesetz”) regulate working hours on a legal basis. They are based on the European regulation 93/104/EG. In addition, most industries have collective agreements that regulate working hours and holidays. However, it can be said, that a working week of more than 48 hours on average during a  6 month period must not be exceeded. Furthermore, Sundays and national holidays are non-working days.

For further information please visit:

Working culture

Germans see themselves as modern, liberal and cultured, and working practices are formal and professional. The following outlines the working practices that you should be familiar with before investing in Germany:

  • Though long-term relationships are considered very important, friendships are usually not developed too quickly. It may take some time before personal names are used between non-familial parties.
  • German business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments.
  • Professional rank and status in Germany is generally based on an individual’s achievement and expertise in a given field. Academic titles and backgrounds are important, conveying an individual’s expertise and thorough knowledge of their particular area of work.
  • An important aspect is Germany’s work ethic. Employees define themselves as part of the corporation they are working for and quickly identify themselves with its product and/ or services.
  • Rank is very important in business. Never set up a meeting for a lower ranked company employee to meet with a higher ranked person.
  • Notwithstanding what has been said previously, today over half of all university graduates are women. Female students are well represented in the professions; they lead in some fields such as medicine and law. The new availability of qualified female graduates is likely to bring great changes in the German workplace of the future.
  • Pay and power inequalities are still present however. Male employees tend to receive higher wages than their female counterparts. Jobs considered as being “women’s work” typically pay less than those deemed “men’s work”.
  • In more traditional companies, it is still generally true that everything is run by committees, things are discussed in great length and risk taking is not as common as in other countries.
  • There is one philosophy for almost everybody in German business: if someone says he is going to do something, he will do it. The same is expected of others as well. Never make a promise that you cannot keep or offer something that you cannot deliver. Germans dislike and do not trust unreliable people.
  • There is no legislated or administratively determined minimum wage. Collective bargaining agreements set minimum pay rates and are enforceable by law for an estimated 80 to 90 per cent of all wage and salary earners
  • Federal regulations limit the working week to a maximum of 48 hours, but collective bargaining agreements may supersede these. Contracts that directly or indirectly affect 80% of the working population regulate the number of hours of work per week.
  • The average working week is around 40 hours; rest periods for lunch are accepted practice. Provisions for overtime, holidays, and weekend pay vary depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement.
  • An extensive set of laws and regulations govern occupational health and safety. A comprehensive system of worker insurance enforces safety requirements in the workplace.

It is important that these issues are examined and understood before setting up a company and employing a workforce in Germany. These issues differ all over Europe but legal guidelines are set by the European Commission.

Health insurance

Germany’s health care system provides its residents with nearly universal access to comprehensive high-quality medical care and a choice of physicians. Over 90% of the population receives health care through the country’s statutory health care insurance programme. Membership of this programme is compulsory for all those earning less than a periodically revised income ceiling. Nearly all of the remainder of the population receives health care via private for-profit insurance companies. Everyone uses the same health care facilities.

Although the federal government has an important role in specifying national health care policies and although the “Länder” control the hospital sector, the country’s health care system is not government run. Instead, it is administered by national and regional self-governing associations of payers and providers. These associations play key roles in specifying the details of national health policy and negotiate with one another about financing and providing health care. In addition, instead of being paid for by taxes, the system is financed mostly by health care insurance premiums, both compulsory and voluntary.

For further information please see below:

Do you want to learn more about business culture in Germany?