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Gallup: Why Only 15% of Germany’s Workers Are Engaged

by Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – 85% of Germany’s workers are not engaged or actively disengaged, costing the EU’s largest economy €275 billion each year.

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% of German employees are disengaged at work—and it’s costing the country €275 billion a year 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.

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. 51% cited their expertise and tenure in the company or field. 47% 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.

Germany's federal ministry of labor and social affairs recognizes the need for a cultural shift in the workplace. What could some of these solutions look like?

  1. Provide training and mentoring for managers: Create mentoring opportunities 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 strong> 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?