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"A different language is a different vision of life" (Federico Fellini))

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Office matters

Seat arrangements, buerocracy, applications? All is different … sometimes

What is a Betriebsrat?

A Betriebsrat is often referred to in English as a works council or a workers council, which consists of a group of employees, who are democratically elected by the workforce to officially act as representatives on their behalf on all matters concerning workers’ rights.

Normally the Betriebsrat works very closely with the Human Resources department particularly on employee issues or new company wide policies. In all cases the Betriebsrat has to discuss whether the company has acted lawfully in a matter and ethically. If a decision needs to be made, then the Betriebsrat would normally take a vote.

If you are working at SUSE, you might be interested to know that the SUSE Betriebsrat was formally required to approve your employment before you began at SUSE. Why? You may ask. Well, that’s because the members of the Betriebsrat have to ensure that each person who was interviewed for the job was not unfairly discriminated against. So the fact that you have a job here at SUSE means that you won that job fairly-and-squarely and on your own merit.

The Betriebsrat is also concerned when new software is used inside the company where users are expected to open accounts by giving some of their personal information. In Germany, the data protection policies are probably the most strictest in the world and so the Betriebsrat has to be extremely cautious to allow the use of software that might have the potential of causing personal data to be illegally exploited. This could have a heavy consequence on the company, particularly if the company is seen to condone the use of a software tool, where the data might be stored – let’s say for example – in a large data centre somewhere in the U.S. where data protection laws are quite relaxed.

Sometimes there are no easy solutions to problems, so the Betriebsrat has to work with the local management to come up with the best outcome for the employees without compromising the business too much. This is known as codetermination (that is “co-determination” and *not* “code-termination” if you’re wondering).

What happens if the company runs into financial problems and has to lay workers off. Then the Betriebsrat normally steps in and would initiate  procedures in an attempt to protect as many individuals’ jobs as possible. One such mechanism is Kurzarbeit, where your current salary is partially subsidized by the Bundesagentur für Arbeit (the government’s unemployment office). What’s the advantage of this? For you, getting a new job isn’t always easy once you have been laid off, so it’s good to be able to keep your job, even though you might asked to stop working for a period of time. For the company, they don’t really want to lay anyone off and they certainly don’t want to have to recruit new inexperienced and untrained people at great expense to replace you once business gets better again. So it’s a win-win situation when it works.

There are many other laws that the Betriebsrat has to make sure are upheld in the work place and so the Betriebsrat often act as a think-tank on solving long and short term issues that affect everyone.

If you are interested to know a little more about your own rights in the German workplace, you might want to take a look at the Works Constitutional Act, which has been fortunately translated into English and published online:

https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/englisch_betrvg/index.html

I hope this might help.

Music breaks through all cultural boundaries

One thing that all cultures have in common is music. People might not all have the same musical taste, but most people just want to have a good time and it’s always a good ice breaker when discussing music likes and dislikes.

We at SUSE have realized that we have amongst us several talented musicians and, like an open source project, we have been able to bring several of them together on a regular basis to rehearse songs, make music and to nurture them as a band.

The band started originally as a HackWeek 11 project and has become a prominent entity in its own right by providing the essential icing-on-the-cake for a good party.

SUSE LOUD (as we are now known as) has performed at previous HackWeeks, the Christmas Party in 2015, the OpenSUSE Conference June 2016 and last night at the HackWeek 15 party to the Nürnberg staff and several members of the ELT.

The band is tries to be open to anyone from any culture, provided that they can play an instrument reasonably well or sing. Currently it consists of 4 Germans, 1 Greek, 1 Spaniard and 1 Brit (that’s me).

If you play an instrument and are interested in getting involved, drop us an email to musicians@suse.de.

Which way does this door open?

It will always be the second thing you try. If you pull, it will be a push door (and the inverse). Just like a USB cable.

 

How are you? Wait, why are you telling me this?

In the U.S., “Hi! How are you?” and “Hey! How’s it going?” are commonly used as greetings and pleasantries (for example, when passing by someone in a hallway) so it can be a surprise when the person you are asking in Germany responds with anything besides “fine” or “okay” and start telling you how they are (because of course you just asked them). And it can be awkward (and even rude) if you don’t stop to talk and keep walking past them, because you expected the chat to end there. This habit I still fall into sometimes (even after some months here), but now most times when I ask, I am planning on having a real conversation. (dl)

Don’t Get Upset in Your Office Set-up!

Believe me – I wasn’t aware that even in this subject there are quite a few cultural differences! ‘This subject’ means the physical ‘office layout’. Being German, if I have to share an office with one or more colleagues (which is the standard case in nearly all companies), I definitely prefer to face my office companion. And I definitely hate sitting with the back to the door or to an open space, not seeing what is happening behind me. Face to colleague, back to wall – this is my preferred office set-up. If possible, I’d love to have ‘my stuff’ near me: a shelf or similar with my books and toys within reach – but this is just an ‘add-on benefit’, not a ‘must’.

office-de-2             office-us-2

Well, I just recently learned that there are very different preferences–depending from your  cultural background or geographical origin–on how to set-up your office space. For example, it seems that US Americans prefer not facing the colleague(s), but they don’t mind sitting back-to-back with others, and they also don’t mind not seeing what is happening behind them. Although I heard that, regarding seating arrangement, forward-facing is preferred over wall-facing!

What I also do not like are offices with glass walls to the floor. They make me feel like a giant fish in an aquarium or a monkey in his cage. (*Never feed me after midnight*)gremlin

I had the pleasure to live in such kind of an office several times – and I always “sealed” the glass wall with posters and calendars and whatever kind of large paper I could grab. But in other countries, it is completely normal to have offices where you can watch inside and outside –  and nobody feels strange.

Are you aware of other special physical ‘office layout’ preferences in other countries or cultures? If yes, please share your insight with us. And if you host multicultural teams in your physical office space, you should not hesitate to address this topic with your roomies or team members early in time, and probably take these observations into consideration, to ensure you avoid any unnecessary discord. (mc)

dilbert

No compliment is in fact a compliment

Particularly in the work place, most Europeans expect to be complimented for their good work effort. In Britain, if we didn’t get a compliment when we expected one, we might ask if everything was okay. Some people look at this negatively as “fishing for compliments”, but it’s quite a healthy practice to ensure that you get some peace-of-mind from some on-the-spot feedback about your work performance, so as not to go home on the weekend feeling unloved and unappreciated.

In Germany, don’t expect to get many compliments at work. If you do get a compliment, then it’s likely that your manager was astounded by what you were working on or – maybe – he had spent some time on an inter-cultural training course and learnt how to communicate with you better. In the case of the latter, you should praise him on his commitment in striving to be a better manager.

Just for the record, no comment from your German manager normally implies that everything’s all right and he’s happy with your work. If, however, he’s critical about what you have been working on, then you should perhaps pay attention to what he’s saying. A criticism does not necessarily imply that he’s unhappy with you, but he might expect to see some improvement in certain areas when you embark on your next project.

Don’t say sorry too often!

As an Englishman I have been conditioned to say sorry to everyone.

For example, “I’m sorry to hear that your father died last week.” Or “I’m sorry to disturb you. I need your advice about something.” Or “I’m very sorry. I didn’t quite catch what you said.”

While living here in Germany, I realize that “sorry” is not seen so much as a word to express empathy, but instead a word used as an admission of guilt. So on a couple of occasions, having said “sorry”, I have had the response “why? it’s not your fault.”

And on a few occasions, “are you admitting responsibility?” and that’s when things get unfortunately serious.

Most German people appreciate a “sorry” once in a while, but just don’t overuse it.

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