What One Adorable German Word Tells Us About Healthy Work Culture

We can learn a lot from ‘Mahlzeit.’

Photo by Mohammad Saifullah on Unsplash

In lieu of saying “hello,” German workers say Mahlzeit!, which translates directly as “mealtime,” but means so much more.

Germany—one of the most productive societies on Earth, while working some of the fewest hours among wealthy nations—is firm with boundaries around work. This epitomized in how Germans do lunch, Joseph Pearson reports for the BBC. Unlike the Sad Desk Lunches that now populate American offices, Germans fiercely guard lunch from the bosses.

“The act of going to lunch together is still extremely important in Germany,” a middle manager with Volkswagen called “Markus” (he didn’t want to use his last name) told Pearson. Scheduling meetings for lunch time is a no-no: “You are imposing unofficially on their freetime, even if they are getting paid for their lunch hours,” he added. “And Germans care about their free time.”

Mahlzeit may help explain why Germany is Europe’s largest economy, where those productivity levels are coupled with very low unemployment rates. Refreshingly, German workers know how to take breaks: they take more days off, including annual leave and official holidays, than anywhere in Europe.

Pearson also cites a Eurostat report that found Germans are not very satisfied with their jobs, but very satisfied in their lives. That’s an interesting conundrum, which suggests that perhaps the ethos—and emphasis—of demarcating work from not-work has perks in life that don’t translate into the office. It’s hard to say for sure, but we can all take a hint and bring Mahlzeit into our workplaces, wherever we are in the world. The next question is: What’s for lunch?

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