generational differences in germany

By in Engagement, O.C. Tanner Institute, and Recognition Strategies
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generational differences in germany

As a researcher, I often get the opportunity to travel around the world and talk to employees about issues like manager relationships, employee recognition, and how they feel about their workplace. Recently, I traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to hear perspectives on what’s going on with HR in companies and what’s really important right now to German employees.

What I heard was surprising. It seems perceptions about the workplace in Germany are shifting with a new generation of employees, and HR must adapt to accommodate this new way of thinking. 

One HR manager mentioned that with things like lower birth rate and more mobility in the marketplace, it’s harder to find young, skilled workers to replace the retiring ones. Leaders are now starting to think more about training and personnel planning. Attracting and retaining employees is another hot topic in Germany.  Now companies start to recruit employees right out of school—stopping by school fairs—especially for those professions that might not be as appealing to the younger workers.

Listening to older workers who have been with their companies for 25-40 years, we heard comments like “all employees are the same” and should be treated the same. They also said people work “from the cradle to the grave” at the same company, and it was sufficient for a supervisor to speak to his employees only once a month (and during an annual performance review). There’s a motto among the more tenured workers – “keep going, things will get better again at some point in time.”

This seemed to resonate with what we heard from Germany employees two years ago when embarking on a similar project. However, it changed when we talked to younger employees. Younger employees understood the idea and importance of employee engagement, and felt a need for the company to show employees it cared about their well-being. They wanted to hear more feedback from their supervisors on how they are doing, and have their work noticed and recognized. In fact, one of the main benefits of recognizing employees for their performance is to show them they are “on the right track.” Things like work/life balance and employee wellness became increasingly important with the younger generation. They find companies that offer these types of environments more attractive, and understand if a company treats employees well, it also benefits customers.

Several younger employees said things like: 

“The working atmosphere must be good. When you go to work and you have a belly ache because you don’t like the colleagues or there is going to be trouble, that’s awful.”

“In my opinion, everything that has to do with money only helps increase motivation for a certain amount of time. More support, responsibility, providing feedback, those are the most important things that can, in my view, encourage motivation long-term.” 

Bottom line—these younger employees want the company to care about them.  Employee engagement, work/life balance, and employee well-being is expected in American companies, and in Germany they are becoming more and more important to attracting and retaining employees.

What have you heard from your German employees/colleagues?

By christina chau
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