Words of a German company’s CEO (€100Mn+ revenue) to me
Before we go deeper into my case, consider these 2 situations:
John (remember this name), an expat teammate of mine, and I started in this company on the same day. He was fired with 1 day left in his probation period. He had married less than 3 weeks before being fired.
Reason: sub-par performance. He was being told otherwise by reporting manager (RM) since joining the company.
In an earlier German company where I worked, the head of a customer service team was fired at 4pm on his last probation day.
Reason: he challenged his VP (also his reporting manager) on certain team practices.
My career philosophy
All throughout my career, quality of work has been my focus. Along with my professional growth. While I am hired for a job, taking care of my career advancement is also part of the deal.
A part that I take very seriously.
In Germany and before, I have left companies (read: big brands), where the quality of work did not challenge me.
Root cause: Professionally redundancy is a real fact in today’s workplace.
How did it come to this?
From the start in this company, there were red flags.
First red flag:
While going through on-boarding process in 1st week at this company, I got to know from informal communication (other teams) that the person I was replacing will leave by end of month (2 weeks from my joining).
Let’s call this person — Alex.
Somehow my reporting manager (let’s call him RM) “forgot” to mention Alex’s off-boarding timeline in my on-boarding meetings. Interestingly, RM was crystal clear and elaborate that I was to take over all of Alex’s responsibilities… and more!
With this new piece of information, set in a sense of urgency. I de-prioritized all of the on-boarding activities, sessions and department intros. Shadowing Alex on all of his work topics was the sole focus now.
The “official” language of the company was English.
Part of my work topics would be — A monthly business review, presenting the operational & profit margin analysis to the whole C-Level (CEO, COO, CPO, CSO and some VPs).
The 1st meeting happened while I was still shadowing Alex. Naturally, he lead the meeting. Meeting duration — 90 minutes.
After the initial 10 or so minutes, the language suddenly changed to German. And it remained German for the entire duration of the session.
As a courtesy and being a new face in the round, I stayed in the discussion (virtually). Safe to say, any hope I had of gaining any understanding of the key topics, pain-points, concerns and action items were dashed (this was an industry I had never worked in before. Hence, I was eager to understand what metrics\topics the leadership team focuses on).
Session completed, I reached out to RM asking if German is the language for this review session……
Silence, no reply.
Reminded, followed up with RM.
Silence, no reply.
I raised this topic with the HR.
I informed HR that I will not take responsibility for a topic where I am setup for failure. Only if I own the whole process, including driving management reviews, will I take over this topic.
Doing work is important, showcasing your work is critical
The way the HR rolled her eyes and sighed told me that this is not the first time she got this feedback. She promised to look into it and address this with the management.
A month later
Monthly business review — same situation.
2 other German colleagues led the discussion…. in GERMAN (nothing against the language, just spare me from the task where you do not value my contributions!!)
I escalated this issue to the VP-HR. His reaction being pretty similar to his HR colleague before.
He decided to address this issue in the company’s all hands.
Result: The COO disappeared from business review meetings. In addition, he never attended the monthly OPEX reviews for his departments, which I led for the whole company.
Third and final red-flag:
4 months into my probation with this company, RM makes a request. An expat candidate reached out to him on LinkedIn. RM felt that this person can be ideal for the team. Safe to say this came out of the blue. More so, since the RM wanted this candidate to “support” me.
I was asked to have an initial discussion with her and provide an assessment. Discussion done; feedback provided to RM.
All through this, I was not sure what the background for this whole exercise was. I did not request an additional team-mate, nor complained about my workload.
When asked, the RM gave convoluted replies.
It just reflected what I had been feeling for a while now. There was no plan on how my team was going to develop, how the responsibilities were to be split. Given that I was with the company before this “new candidate”, I asked the RM for my career path and growth plan.
“We are working on it for the finance team”, was the response. RM did act though.
I was abruptly put into 3 other company wide initiatives, while still getting a hold on the work topics Alex was responsible for. I received positive feedback emails from my C-level stakeholders (barring one — can you guess who :) )
Unfortunately, I had had enough.
My gut feeling told me that this is not a company I want to continue with. I was being distracted with more of organizational topics, rather than focusing on work topics at hand. At the same time, the company lacked transparency.
This was not surprising since there was a lack of diversity in top management. Despite being a “startup”, the company worked like a corporate. It still baffles me considering Germany struggles to attract global talent. With whatever expat professionals land here, the country and companies try their best to make it as difficult as possible for these expats to settle in.
End of 5th month of probation, I made up my mind to leave the company. My job search efforts started again. It helps that my CV is always updated.
Within 3 weeks, I had a verbal offer from another company. Right from the start of the interview process, I had made it clear that this is my last month of probation, with 2 weeks notice period. If the process prolonged for more than a month, the notice period shoots up to 3 months (standard notice period in German emloyment market).
Their HR was preparing the offer on priority.
Due to some miscommunication and weekend, the job offer landed in my mail on the last day of probation with the current company.
New offer signed
→ → → Resignation sent (over email. This is critical, so keep this in mind).
This is where, it got interesting. RM forwarded the resignation mail to HR. They came back to me with this feedback:
Your resignation needs to be posted (physically) or handed over to the RM/HR. Email resignation is NOT valid as per German law.
So, signing an offer letter over Docusign is fine. Using email to send a resignation is NOT. I had anticipated a reaction. Though not a point-blank refusal to accept the resignation, something well within my rights as an employee in Germany. This was going to be a long painful process ahead. The issue stretched for 2 weeks, with a complete radio silence from the company for a week.
Eventually, CEO of the company wanted to meet me. This was unprecedented. I was working at least 4 levels below him in the hierarchy. My RM also joined.
As you can guess, it was not a pleasant discussion. I was informed of all that the company had “done” for me.
One sentence from the CEO that really stood out for me was:
It feels like a slap in the face, given the timing of your resignation. Since your resignation did not come through the right channel (by post/HR handover), its not legally binding.
(Again, for context: The job offer happened to arrive on the last day of probation, something beyond my control or influence. I would have been happy to resign a week before the probation period ended, if I had the job offer.)
I was fully expecting it to become a legal issue, with lawyers getting involved. Fortunately, it did not come to that. 2 things helped me keep peace during this situation:
Having legal insurance, and
Maintaining documentation of all my communication with RM and company HR
For him to make it personal was absolutely unfair.
Becasue, the RM fired John (remember I mentioned him in the top of this article!!), 1 day before John’s probation ended. Might I add — with immediate effect. John’s email, slack accounts were deactivated by the IT department by the time he was fired. To top it of, there was no communication of John being let go within the team by RM.
(John and I shared a nice rapport from the start. We were constantly exchanging notes about our experiences during the probation period).
This is my personal experience.
I have shared it for your knowledge and information. More so, for the expats relocating to Germany. They are the most vulnerable in almost all walks of life in a new country, not just in the new job.
While this might not be a common practice in most German companies, my experience is certainly not an exception. I have heard other workplace stories, far worse and disheartening from other expats in Germany.
The only reason those expats usually don’t speak out or share experiences in public forums is because of their German Visa fear.
I am very fortunate to have no such dependency.
Working in finance, I have seen how proactive the German employees are to taking legal recourse, when laid off without cause (When they lose the legal case, companies need to make restitution for the fired employee’s salaries and legal costs. It absolutely stands out in finance, when a “fired” employee suddenly re-appears in the monthly payroll data, with a 5/6 digit payout).
So, own your career and don’t shy away from having difficult conversations with your RM. Just because you are an expat in Germany, does not mean that you need to stay silent in unfair situations, at work or otherwise.