Working in Germany

Management culture, salaries and labour regulations

Working in Germany

Many foreigners need some time to adapt to the German attitude to work. People don't tend to work long hours; in many offices, especially in the public sector, the day ends at around 4 pm.

However, there is a strong emphasis on efficiency, people tend to use their working time to be highly productive and there is little or no time spent socializing or chatting. The exception to this is during break periods, which are usually 15 minutes, with 45 minutes for lunch.

Management culture in Germany is usually highly hierarchical. Germans like to work on well-thought-out plans and make factually-based decisions. Orderly and well scheduled meetings form a large part of what tends to be a consensual, group approach to decision-making. Punctuality is expected and lateness is not tolerated, so be careful, especially if you're from a country where this is endemic!


Salaries (Lohn/Gehalt) in Germany are among the highest in the world. As of January 2020, the minimum is €9.35 gross per hour, and most graduate jobs salaries start at €40-45.000 gross per year.

Salaries are usually talked about gross (Brutto), i.e. before deductions for tax and social security. Be aware that taxes, depending on your salary, can be more than 50% of your gross salary, so don't get gross and net figures confused!

Salary is stated monthly in your employment contract, which should also detail special benefits, bonuses and salary reviews. Many employers pay 13 monthly payments a year, which is normally paid out in December for Christmas or split between summer and Christmas. In some management positions, you might even get a 14th salary.

It's difficult to get exact salary data for specific jobs or positions, which can be very useful for negotiating salaries. To get a better idea of of how much your wages should be, check out this salary comparison guide  that takes into account industry, education, work experience and geographic region in Germany.

Labour law

To enter employment, you need a work permit ('Arbeitsgenehmigung' or 'Arbeitserlaubnis') or a residency permit that allows you to work (see our section on work permits). You also require a tax card ('Lohnsteuerkarte') and a social security number ('Sozialversicherungsnummer'). Tax cards are issued by the city/regional authority where you are registered as living. Social security numbers are issued by pension insurance institutions.

When an employee first enters employment, the employer generally makes their registration for them and provides a social security number and identity card. Queries should be directed to your employer, your health insurance company or your state insurance institution.

Labour regulations

Germany has one of the most highly regulated labour markets in the world, with its Labour law designed to protect employees. Whether or not an employment contract exists, all employees have basic rights to:

  • holidays
  • sick pay
  • chose to work part-time
  • receive training
  • receive maternity/paternity leave and related employment protection

Periods of notice are also laid down under law, but companies can agree longer periods of notice under individual or collective labour law agreements. Working conditions which do not reach the legal minimum standard are not permitted and are not legally binding.

Collective Labour Agreements

There is also a collective labour law which stems from the laws protecting collective labour agreements and the framework for the rights of employees at their place of work ('Betriebsverfassungsrecht'). The laws governing collective labour agreements allow both partners (trade unions and employers' federations or individual employers) to make their own labour agreements. Labour agreements regulate wages, working hours, holidays and notice periods. Most employees work under a labour agreement, although in recent years more companies have received exemptions in order to negotiate their own agreements.

Framework for Employee Rights

The Betriebsverfassungsrecht regulates the relationship between employee and employer in the workplace. Employees are represented by the works council ('Betriebsrat') whose members are elected by the workforce. Among other things, it is responsible for protecting employee rights in the workplace. Management must also consult with the Betriebsrat about issues regarding staff or the company. If you have problems in your workplace, you should consult your Betriebsrat for advice and help.

In firms with 2,000 or more employees, the 1976 Codetermination or Worker's Participation Law ('Mitbestimmungsgesetz') applies. This law requires that the company's supervisory board contains a certain number of employee representatives. The principle of Codetermination means that unions and employees have a say in company policy, as well as sharing responsibility for the firm.

Further reading

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Other comments

  • Nina Schmid, 04 February 2011 Reply

    maybe you should revise this article based on facts

    I think your article is a bit too cliche' for the 21st century.
    Job graduates starting on 30000?
    Did you ever work in Germany?

    • martin 30 Oct 2011, 09:01


      Depending in which field you work, this is perfectly right. In engineering it is even higher.

    • Marie Schmidt 22 Nov 2011, 09:45

      Not that much wrong

      Nina is right! Only very very high qualified jobs get a salary of 30,000 per YEAR!
      But most the other things are quite true ....
      EVEN if people think it´s a cliché happy

    • Rish 22 Mar 2012, 10:22

      Can be much higher for CS graduates

      Some computer Science PhD students earn around €2k/month after taxes (Paderborn), and I've heard that for it's even higher. I read some survey that the starting salaries for people who have anything to do with hardcore computer engineering easily get around €55k/annum (before taxes), though bright people can get around €65-70k too (I'm talking about Masters graduates). For the PhD people the figures are much higher.

    • rick 09 Jan 2013, 10:23

      unskilled make 10-15 euro per hour?

      Yeah, you have no idea what your talking about, there is no unskilled worker making 10-15 euro per hour in Germany, this is the land of slave labor, if one is lucky they might get offered 8 or 9 euro per hour.