Why understanding differences between the American and German work ethic includes gender characteristics
When two cultures have to get along with each other in a work environment it helps to know how the colleagues think. In many cases the stereotypes we believe of our counterparts determine the way we approach the cultural divide. Sometimes stereotypes may be quite useful, because the simplification helps us explain and rationalize differences. More often though, stereotypes tend to oversimplify and thus lead us to making inaccurate assumptions.
One of the most popular stereotypes many Europeans (and probably other nationalities, too) associate with Americans is the cliché that Americans are money-driven, that the American society is primarily profit-oriented. The misunderstanding here is that many Germans assume Americans interpret their constitutional right to the “pursuit of happiness” as being more like a “pursuit of profit”.
In the eyes of non-Americans this attitude can be perceived as being ruthless. So much for the stereotype. What most Germans don’t realize is the fact that Americans believe in the liberating effect of money. Financial independence and personal wealth will provide personal security and consequently grant autonomy. Richard D. Lewis wrote in his book “When cultures collide“:
The American and European dreams are, at their core, about two diametrically opposed ideas of freedom and security. For us [Americans], freedom has long been associated with autonomy. If one is autonomous, he or she is not dependent on others or vulnerable to circumstance outside of his or her control. To be autonomous, one needs to be propertied. The more wealth one amasses, the more independent one is in the world. With wealth comes exclusivity, and with exclusivity comes security.
Accross the Atlantic, Europeans think of freedom and security as being embedded and having access to a myriad of interdependent relationships with others rather than autonomy. In “The European Dream“, Jeremy Rifkin writes:
The American Dream puts an emphasis on economic growth, personal wealth, and independence. The new European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and interdependence.
This contrast in mindsets can be described very vividly with a new set of stereotypes: gender-related traits. In trying to define the differences of cultures, Dutch (not German) sociologist Geert Hofstede came up with certain parameters that help visualize the transatlantic gap.
For instance, he defines America as a masculine society. Masculine cultures are dominated by values, such as money, success, assertiveness and competition. Feminine societies, on the other hand, value relationships, care for others, and quality of life.
On that scale, America measures as being a culture that ranks fairly high on the masculinity level. Americans are very much goal-driven and deal-focused. They also feel strong about independence, individual decision making, decisiveness and being tough.
The German culture also registers high on the masculinity scale, but Germany is a masculine culture with strong feminine undertones. To earn a good salary is just as important to Germans as having working relationships and a high quality of life. Some of the goals Germans try to accomplish in their work environment are time off and improved benefits, rather than merely materialistic rewards. This is reflected in the fact that Germans have much longer periods of paid vaction and a wide range of benefits like parental pay leave.
Being more masculine also makes American society more individualistic. People tend to be more concerned for themselves than for others. Tasks often prevail over relationships. Whereas cultures like many in Europe rank higher on collectivism, i.e. people consider cooperation and consensus as being valuable.
Christian is a cultural trainer, coach, and consultant with extensive experience in working with multinational companies and especially in developing global leaders. He is the founder and owner of Höferle Consulting, where he leads a team of dedicated training, destination services, and expat support specialists. Christian works with global organizations (or those who are going global) to help their employees oversome cultural differences. Typically he only uses the word “normal” in quotation marks and he is an advocate for helping people understand the why of behaviors – not just the dos & don’ts. Find out more about Christian and follow him on Twitter. You can also see him, listen to him, and experience his work – just invite him! Or sign up for the Höferle Consulting newsletter.