Life has to be so beautiful in this world of new companies, in which young employees in well-worn sneakers and with three-day beards program the app for the checking account. There is food from paper plates in the sofa lounge. And every now and then a fluffy dog drops by in the office. At least this is the feeling conveyed by the pictures with which the Berlin online bank N26 presents its team on its own website. "Together we are working on our vision of fundamentally changing banking," it says.
Of course, it doesn't fit in with the fact that a number of employees are now dissatisfied with their cool Fintec company. The employees want to set up something terribly backward like a works council. And then you have the thick-eyed clerk in front of your eyes with a leather vest and mobile phone holder on his belt. No, you don't want to see something like that at N26 and therefore the initiators of the committee have to fight with all kinds of resistance.
An injunction from the court recently came to the employees because they had invited to a meeting at which the executive board was to be determined for a works council election. This is usually the first formal step in establishing such a body for codetermination in a company. The electoral boards elected there organize the works council election and are therefore legally protected against dismissal. But under the circumstances, the management preferred to prevent this meeting.
"Granting Rights to a Small Number of People"
There was "no health or safety concept for such a large gathering," said N26 spokesman Lars Müller on the phone. The Berlin labor court saw it that way and therefore granted the order. The meeting should take place in the Berlin Hofbräuhaus at Alexanderplatz. The management did not forbid this meeting of its own accord, "and he is not entitled to do so," said Müller. If some employees felt the need to organize the feedback culture differently, then this would "of course be fully respected and supported". The company will not take action against any form of employee representation.
On August 9th, however, three board members, including the two founders, sent an email to all employees that reflected a completely different spirit. The letter and other emails are available to ZEIT ONLINE. "We think first and foremost that a German works council is against almost all values that we believe in at N26," it says in English. A works council "slows us down and makes us more hierarchical," write the board members. In a "hyper competitive environment", however, "speed is the key to success".
In addition, the board members have at least a dubious understanding of democracy. A works council "gives rights to a small number of people for a long time," the email said. Once elected, they would represent the majority for four years. Attentive readers should be familiar with this principle; after all, it does not only apply to corporate co-determination in Germany, but also to larger democratic contexts, say for example the Bundestag.
Problems in the company seem to exist primarily in customer service, for which a large proportion of the employees in the online bank work. An employee who does not want to be named reports that the workload is too high and that several consultations at the same time have to be held online. There are also difficulties in assigning the shifts. But people in other departments are "frustrated and dissatisfied," says the employee. Many worked hard for a very low salary and career prospects were extremely limited.