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The German working environment

Below are some general guidelines for doing business in Germany.

These suggestions are for traditional office and business environments, but they could be embarrassingly out of place in, say, an urban start-up. If in doubt, use the golden rule: do as those around you do.

Keep in mind that creating stable personal relationships is an important aspect of conducting business in Germany. As in many countries, Germans want to know and trust the person they are doing business with, but they’re also very practical when it comes to doing business, and are likely to be just as focused on the task at hand.

Communication style

The German language and manner are direct and straight with few frills, and this extends to business dealings, procedures, and communication. In a negotiation setting, Germans are likely to be very frank about what they want out of the deal and will expect you to be equally as direct. When presenting, open with thorough facts, figures, and graphical representations without any window-dressing or hard sell as decision making can be a long process. In a similar vein, when Germans are putting forward a proposal, be prepared for the same straightforward approach.

Non-verbal communication

In a business setting, Germans generally do not enjoy invasion of their personal space. While handshaking is an important part of the meeting environment, avoid any other form of bodily contact such as patting shoulders or arms.

Introductions and forms of address

In line with the wider culture, structure and seniority are important in the German workplace.

Whether hosting a meeting or lunch, be sure to introduce your highest ranking guest first. Take some time to learn names and job titles in advance if possible, and use a formal mode of address (title and surname) when talking to business associates. It is polite to use ‘Sie' for ‘you' and avoid using first names without being invited to. When answering the phone, it’s common to state your last name instead of just saying ‘hello'.


Germans are punctual: being late will cause offence and won’t do your business relationship any favours from the outset. Plan ahead as well as you can for traffic or other delays and if you’re going to be late, phone well in advance and offer a genuine apology on arrival.


If you make plans, be prepared to stick to them as consistency and reliability are valued traits. You may find business associates have full, relatively inflexible calendars, so if you need to schedule a meeting, make it well in advance and stick to it. Changing an appointment at late notice is likely to reflect negatively on you and annoy your German counterparts.

It is normal to shake hands with everyone around the table both at the beginning and at the end of a meeting. If you’re the first to leave, be sure to shake everyone’s hand again, remembering the hierarchy of seniority.

Dress Code

Businesspeople are expected to be smartly dressed: for men, this should be a suit with a tie, for women a suit or a suitable dress.


Breakfast meetings are not common in Germany, but you may find yourself invited to lunch. As a rule, you can expect the person making the invitation to pay for the meal, but it’s obviously worth checking this to avoid any embarrassment. Small talk is acceptable, keeping to light, non-specific topics but it’s best to stay away from potentially difficult topics such as salary. Keep in mind that it’s normal for the host to initiate eating, drinking, and conversation. Socialising rarely involves clients but mixing with colleagues is encouraged. Try to learn a little about toasting culture: the most common toast being ‘Prost’ when drinking beer and ‘Zum Wohl’ when enjoying wine.

Public and private lives

There is a strict separation between public and private life in German culture. This can seem a little cold at first, but when understood in a wider, cultural context it’s easier to work with. As a result, you’re expected to respect your colleagues’ privacy. If an office door is closed, always knock before entering and do not telephone a colleague at home, unless it’s an absolute emergency.

Gift giving

It’s not usual to give gifts in the business environment in Germany, but if you’re invited to someone's home it would be rude not to bring a little something such as a box of chocolates or a good bottle of wine. It is considered acceptable to give small gifts to colleagues.

You may be flying in and out of Germany to set up a deal, or employed to move around the country.  Wherever travel is involved, Aetna's advisors are available to talk you through your options — not only within the country but for expats who are planning vacations away from their ‘second home'.  Our experts will guide from your trip organization to getting a health insurance.

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