A balance between work and private life

August 2015

The summer is time for vacations: with the mercury recently hitting 30°C, minds naturally began to wander toward relaxing or enjoying the fresh air by the sea or up in the mountains. A few days or weeks to get away from it all and just leave work be – for many it’s the best time of the year. However, only very few can imagine such a life on a permanent basis. Germans are very attached to their jobs and are prepared to go to great lengths for their work. However, in this instance love is not blind: working Germans are aware of the downsides to the labor market, with the issue of fair pay viewed especially critically.

Fair wages: a distant proposition

Fair wages for good work – most Germans believe they are a long way from achieving this, with just 14% expressing the view that income in Germany is fairly distributed. A total of 77% are of the opinion that certain professions are too well paid, although even more (80%) hold the view that some jobs are too poorly paid for the nature of the work involved. Furthermore, 71% are think that ever more Germans work multiple jobs just in order to get by. Germans believe that huge pay differences have arisen, even within the same industry: 69% say that the pay gap between ordinary employees and management is too great, while 77% believe that the situation will only get worse and the chasm between well and low-paid positions will continue to widen. Many respondents closely correlate job and social status, with 61% of the opinion that losing your job entails a loss of social standing. This has been revealed in the “Importance of work” (Bedeutung der Arbeit) survey, conducted by the GfK Verein and the Bertelsmann Foundation, which interviewed approximately 1,000 working Germans between the ages of 18 and 60 representative of the German population.

Individuals assess their own earning situation less critically. The majority of respondents (64%) feel that they are fairly paid. Respondents from West Germany are generally happier with their pay slips at the end of each month than their eastern counterparts. In the East, 59% rate their income as relatively or perfectly fair, while the corresponding figure for the West is 65%. This difference is certainly related to the differing levels of income in the two regions. It reveals that wage satisfaction rises with increased net pay: in this regard, 90% of employees earning a monthly salary of EUR 3,000 or more believe their income is fair. However, fewer than half as many earning less than EUR 1,250 per month are of the same view.

Taking care of number one: the preferred alternative

Stop going to work. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Or maybe not. Because despite the challenges work presents every day, this is far from a dream scenario for most. More than half of Germans would find a life without work boring. Generous welfare payments would still not represent a viable alternative to making their own living. Even if there were incredibly generous unemployment insurance payments available, three-quarters of respondents would still prefer to get up early each morning and head to work.  Only a quarter of respondents claimed they could be tempted to resign if they came into a significant amount of money. Despite the fact that they would be free of money worries, the majority would continue to work, although not necessarily at the same job. A total of 37% of respondents could well imagine pursuing a career which they consider more exciting if they received a financial windfall. Most respondents are quite content with their current lot: 67% of working Germans are satisfied with their job, and this seems to be relatively unrelated to age and gender.

Germans are quite willing to learn for a lifetime

So, it seems that Germans are attached to their jobs. For the most part, they are quite happy to invest time and effort in their career. This may take the form of intercultural training every couple of years, an online marketing course or perhaps even learning a different language just a few years before retirement. Acquiring new knowledge and skills are viewed by most respondents as an integral part of working life. It is not a question of age, either. Three quarters believe that employees today must always be willing to learn new things. Learning completely new skills is seen as necessary by 68% of respondents. And no wonder, when you consider the how quickly technology evolves. In addition, 60% are confident that regular further training helps them to stay competitive on the labor market.

Work or family: relationships take priority

In general, Germans have no problem with staying late to complete further training – provided of course that it doesn’t get in the way of their social life too much. What about putting the good of your career ahead of family and relationships? Well, this only applies to very few (7%). A total of 80% are against this concept to varying degrees. In fact, one in two respondents claimed that they would be prepared to miss out on a promotion for the sake of their relationship. Respondents were comfortable with the prospect of moving far away for a good job. A total of 27% would sacrifice their preferred place of residence, although location was non-negotiable for 41%. A similar share (39%) would prefer for their job not to get in the way of their hobbies. However, 22% would still be prepared to forgo their favorite free time activity if work beckoned.

Professional and private spheres: a balanced life

As Lucian of Samosata, a renowned satirist from ancient times, is reputed to have said: “Six hours is enough work; the hours say to people: live!” Not many of the respondents in full-time employment could get by on six hours of work per day, but they would be happy for their private and professional lives to be more strictly separated. Nearly two-thirds would like to simply switch off after hours and not (have to) think about their work. However, mobile phones, smartphones and laptop often make it hard to totally escape, with one in four admitting to checking their work email in the evening. One in five respondents even takes a mobile phone on vacation so that work can make contact.

The desire for clearly defined working hours and free time stands in direct contrast to the feeling of responsibility for your career. But how is it possible to strike a balance between being productive and enjoying our downtime? Perhaps we could use the upcoming vacation period to consider this subject. Let’s turn off our smartphones and leave our tablets behind. Warm temperatures are no friend of mobile devices. Their performance is affected and the battery requires more time to recharge. It seems that they aren’t all that different from human beings in that respect!


Data source: Source: “Importance of work” (“Bedeutung der Arbeit”) joint study between GfK Verein and the Bertelsmann institute, April 2015

If you have any queries, please contact Claudia Gaspar (claudia.gaspar@gfk-verein.org) or Claudia Castaldi (claudia.castaldi@gfk-verein.org).


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