From Benefits to Brainstorming: Business ABC’s

Howdy, and welcome to the Thank-Goodness-It’s-Spring (on the calendar, anyway) edition  of Intercultural Reflections

I will continue A,B,C-ing my way through the American business landscape…today’s blog comes courtesy of the letter „B“, as in…

Benefits: Germans may be surprised to learn that some of the job benefits they take for granted—and are even codified in labor law—are not a requirement (and thus sometimes not on offer) for their American counterparts.

For example, paid maternity and sick leave are not mandated by federal law. Companies of over 50 employees are required to give their workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave provided the employee has worked for that company for 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours during that period.

Up until 2015, employers were not mandated to offer health insurance to employees. The Obama-era Affordable Care Act health legislation changed this; today companies with more than 50 employees face penalties for failing to provide health insurance. This mandate is being fought against in Congress.

Although companies wishing to attract the best and brightest employees are starting to offer paid vacation benefits, no federal law mandating such exists. That’s right…in the USA, there are zero days of paid vacation guaranteed to employees. According to a study by Ohio University, large businesses offer 86% of their employees paid vacation, whereas 69% of small businesses offer such. Also according to the study, full-time workers fare much better than part-time workers, at a rate of 91% and 35%, respectively, receiving paid vacation.

Believe it or not, Americans don’t clamor for mandated paid vacation as vigorously as you would expect. Read more about that here.

Bullying: Throwing this in here because the German term is the English-language-sounding „mobbing“. Though this term also exists with the same meaning in the American workplace, it is much less commonly used than „bullying“, so you might draw some blank stares if you try to use it with Americans.
In any case—bullying or mobbing–is bad, baaaaaad…don’t do it!

Board of Directors: Officially, the term for this category would be „Corporate Governance“. But that wouldn’t fit under „B“ then, would it?

This is a complicated topic that can be explained thoroughly in 70 short pages , but garsh, that would just overextend your and my attention span for this blog’s purposes, wouldn’t it?

Short version: German company boards are governed by a so-called two-tiered system: a management board and a separate supervisory board. This system is focused on maintaining the long-term health of a company and balancing the viewpoints and needs of all its stakeholders.

In the USA, the Board of Directors and the Supervisory Board are most often chaired by the CEO. The main focus of a company is on serving the interests of shareholders. Unlike in the German two-tiered system, there is no federal-level legislation specifically guiding the company’s structure.

Brainstorming: This term was first coined by US advertising executive Alex Osborne and refers to the free flow of ideas as a way to solve problems. The four essential elements of brainstorming are to: „generate as many ideas as possible; defer judgment on all ideas; generate wild ideas; build on each other’s ideas.“

While German employees also practice variations of brainstorming, it is safe to say that „generating wild ideas“ is not—as a rule—part of the German comfort zone. They prefer to look at what has worked in the past and systematically craft a solution from there. Their American counterparts, in contrast, have a less friendly relationship with solutions from bygone eras, even if they were not failures. Newer is better!

So, that’ll „B“ it for today’s post…have a restful weekend and I’ll „C“ you next time!

As always, if you need to zip through the alphabet of cultural differences at a speedier pace, book an intercultural training with yours truly!

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