German work culture may be influencing exodus

Cultural Insights — By on February 9, 2007 at 7:50 am

Interesting story a few days ago about the angst that some in Germany are feeling over an apparent exodus of professionals to other countries.  Many of these emigrants, though, are not leaving for the usual reasons of lack of jobs. Some are attracted to the warmer climes of nearby European Union countries, such as Spain.  But a surprising number of people are moving abroad over frustration with the German work culture.

As Dr. Friedrich Boettner, a German orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, puts it: “I make more money. I’ve got more opportunity. New York was the chance of my lifetime.”

German salaries, he said, are not competitive with those in the United States or Britain, and the hierarchical structure of some professions in Germany discourages ambitious young people from staying. The medical field, in which advancement is controlled by powerful chief doctors, has been hit particularly hard, with 2,300 doctors leaving in 2005 alone.

“In Germany, it is nearly impossible to make a medical career unless you go into a pipeline and wait for your time,” said Helmut Schwarz, vice president of the German Research Foundation. “You’ve got little time to pursue research, and you’re under the thumb of your director.”

In Mr. Thoma’s view, the root of the problem is deeper. Germany, he said, has a “blockage” in its society. “Germans are so complacent,” he said, sitting at the dining table in his neat-as-a-pin home here. “They don’t want to change anything. Everything is discussed endlessly without ever reaching a solution.” …

The same is true for Dr. Boettner, 35, who studied orthopedics in Münster and got a taste of New York when he trained for a year in arthroplasty, or joint replacement, at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Back home in 2001, Dr. Boettner found that Germany did not appreciate that specialty. He also dreaded the formality of the medical system, rooted in a society where people still address their superiors with formal titles like “Herr Professor Doktor.”

When the Hospital for Special Surgery offered Dr. Boettner his own practice last year – at a starting salary three times what he would be earning at home – it was not a tough call. Now ensconced on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with his wife and two daughters, he said he could not imagine going home.

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