Why Are 85% of German Employees Disengaged at Work?

I often write about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how being recognized is critical to our sense of fulfillment, hence, our productivity at work.

In cultures across the globe, this need for recognition unites us as humans. We may not recognize others in the same way, but the need for thanks is there nonetheless.

This month, Gallup released findings that 85 percent of German employees are disengaged at work — and it’s costing the country €275 billion a year (about $304 billion U.S.) in lost productivity. That’s almost double the amount two years ago.

Why is this happening? What makes German employees and their workplaces so different?

Engagement is primarily driven by managers. The Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, Germany’s federal ministry of labor and social affairs, acknowledges that people management and management culture is not one of the country’s strengths.

Little value placed on people management

MBA programs in Germany focus on training for financial and process management, with little or no attention to people management. That value is reinforced in the workplace.

Employees are promoted based on technical skill performance rather than people management talent. Gallup asked German managers why they believed they were hired for their current role. About half (51 percent) cited their expertise and tenure in the company or field, while 47 percent believed their managerial status was due to their success in a previous non-managerial role.

Just because an employee has strong technical skills does not mean they have the ability, training, or supportive environment to become effective managers that can contribute to employee willingness to engage.

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Germany’s federal ministry of labor and social affairs recognizes the need for a cultural shift in the workplace.

Four possible solutions

What could some of these solutions look like?

  1. Provide training and mentoring for managers. Create mentorship for managers with their leaders on factors proven to help increase employee engagement – recognition, trust, pride, and camaraderie. Measure, set targets, and hold managers accountable for their engagement.
  2. Make employees feel safe in expressing opinions and ideas. Foster trust by welcoming, listening, acting on employee feedback. Reward people for voicing innovative ideas. Encourage discussion between employees and regular one-on-one meetings between managers and their reports.
  3. Select managers based on leadership skills rather than subject-matter expertise. Identify and promote employees for leadership based on talent for engagement. Reassign managers who fail to understand the importance of facilitating engagement.
  4. Break down silos and hierarchical structures common in the German workplace. Recognize and reward cross-departmental collaboration. Set up communication channels that foster partnerships.

Regardless of the country we live in, our cultures have areas of strengths and weaknesses. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the common work cultures in your country? What kind of culture do you have in your workplace?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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