Tag Archives: Frustration

The Myth of German Efficiency

If someone were to ask you to name the nationality you thought was the most efficient in the world, you’d probably put the Germans pretty high on your list, right?

Well, you would be wrong, so very WRONG. The reason you might think that is because you’ve never actually lived or worked here. I, too, once held Germany up as a beacon of all that is organised, systematic, logical and good. Ha! What a fool I was!

Listing the failings of state institutions such as the Bürgerämter would require a novel, not a blog post, so I’ll put them to one side. (Frankly, how any of these harridans and jobsworths are even in employment is beyond me.)

The funny thing about the Germans – yeah, another one – is that they actually think they’re hard-working. (Excuse me while I pick myself up off the floor and wipe my eyes.) You see, the EU-standard 4-week holiday is not good enough for our German friends. No, most German workers get 6 weeks, some even more than that. I know one woman, who’s on an old contract with one of the major banks here, who gets a whopping 34 holiday days a year.

Maybe that doesn’t sound so excessive (except to any Americans or Canadians reading), but when you factor in that she’d already taken at least two weeks’ sick leave in the first half of the year and will probably take two more before the end of the year, that’s almost eleven weeks off work – or, if you look at it another way, she’s not in the office one fifth of the time.

One thing Germans are truly excellent at is taking sick leave. They’re so well protected, and the health insurance here is so good, that a trip to the doctor for something vague like a bad night’s sleep and a bit of stress will probably result in a week or two off.

There’s even a programme called “Die Kur” (the cure) where, if your doctor has exhausted every possible avenue of treatment for your imaginary illness, you can apply for “resort therapy”. And yes, it is exactly what it sounds like – an all-expenses-paid trip to a spa for an indefinite amount of time which, of course, doesn’t come out of your annual leave. That just wouldn’t be Germany…

In the unfortunate event that you’re not actually sick and lack the imagination to make something up, fear not! This is where “Kind Krank” comes into play. Kind Krank can be directly translated as “kid sick” and, from what I’ve seen, entitles the parent to as much time off as they like.

A typical email exchange might go a bit like this:

Me: Something incredibly efficient and professional.

German 1: Out of office reply.

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks)

German 1: Oh, sorry for the delay, I was on holidays! But I don’t actually deal with that. That’s German 2 who sits beside me. 

Me: Oh, right. Can I have German 2’s email address? 

German 1: Sure, but she’s off work at the moment. Kind Krank, you know?

Me: Right. 

Me: (Emails German 2. Waits 2-4 weeks.) 

German 2: Oh, sorry for the delay! My kid was sick. But it’s not actually me who deals with that. That’s German 3.

Me: (Emails German 3.)

German 3: Out of office reply. 

Me: (Waits 2 – 4 weeks.)

Anyway, you see where I’m going with this.

The nice thing about being a German in full-time employment is that you pretty much have to murder a colleague to be fired. The laws here are so strongly in the workers’ favour that it’s virtually impossible to get rid of someone.

I have actually heard of people who’ve done zilch for years. Instead of sacking them – far too much trouble – the company will leave that useless lump sitting there filing their nails and hire someone else to do exactly the same job. I doubt it’s a couple of isolated cases either. This basically means that all over Germany, you’ve got thousands (if not millions) of people who are essentially being paid to do nothing.

I recently had a lesson where I got the students to talk about what they do on an average day.

Me: So, Gudrun, what did you do today? 

Gudrun: Well, I checked my emails, forwarded some to other people, collected the mail, distributed it, and set up the conference room for a meeting. Then it was time to go to English. 

Me: Our lesson is at 4.15…

Gudrun: (Chuckling contentedly) Oh my, you’re right! It doesn’t really sound like I did much, does it? 

Me: I could have done that before the kettle boiled for my first cup of tea of the day. Then done the work of everyone in your entire department and possibly the department next door and still have been finished by lunchtime. 

OK, so I didn’t say it out loud – unfortunately, I can be fired.

Even when Germans think they’re being organised, what they’re really doing is over-complicating everything in a sea of graphs, charts, spreadsheets, and documents that often run to several hundred pages. Information that could be delivered in three sentences takes months of meetings, labyrinths of red tape, and possibly a mental breakdown or two. Thank God for “Die Kur”…

Anyway, enough ranting for one evening. Tomorrow and Wednesday, I’ll get up at 6am for the students who probably won’t show up due to holidays, Krankheit, Kind Krank, or the myriad other reasons Germans find not to work. After that, I’m on holidays for a week. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?