First, I'd like to say this is my first time using German Language SE. I took the tour to learn a bit more about the scope before asking my first question, but if my question is off-topic, please let me know in the comments. I've also never studied German before, so please bear with me if my capitalizations or method of putting German words together is wrong.

I was fascinated that there is barely an article for work-life balance on English Wikipedia but there is a substantial work-life balance article on German Wikipedia, yet the word even in German language seems to be "work-life balance" rather than something like "arbeit-leben gleichgewicht".

I tried to investigate the reason why the German word is composed of English words rather than German words. By translating the German Wikipedia article into English, all I could find was:

"The term work-life balance comes from English: work ( work ), life ( life ), balance ( balance )."

While looking for alternative German words for this, the only related word I learned was "feierabend" in this article but it's described as the time of the day after work ends, which means it's only loosely related, and is not really a word for "work-life balance".

Unfortunately since I don't understand German, it's hard for me to do further research about word etymologies since a lot of the relevant resources are in German! So I'm curious why Germans decided to use the English word rather than translating it into German and using that, since it seems to be a concept more substantial in German culture than English culture?

  • 1
    Perhaps the concept is popular in Germany, but have a look at this. You see that there is a compehensive body of literature in English. Therefore, in my opinion. the concept was imported to German and kept its English name.
    – Paul Frost
    Jun 22, 2021 at 0:09
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    Thanks @PaulFrost . There's no doubt that the concept exists in English, but I don't see why the Germans would use the English phrase rather than turning it into something that sounds German? I understand for food coming from other places we often use the original language to name the food (e.g. "crème brûlée" is what it's called in English, rather than "burned cream"), but in the case of "work/life balance" I'm quite surprised! Jun 22, 2021 at 0:15
  • German also uses a the borrowed word das Baby, which seems even more odd to me because I'm pretty sure German speakers were having babies before they started borrowing words from English. Apparently the "real German" word is der Säugling, but it doesn't seem to be used much in everyday German.
    – RDBury
    Jun 22, 2021 at 4:20
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    Loanwords exist in most (all?) languages. Often loanwords follow the culture. Many languages adopted Greek and Latin words, later French words (because it used to be the language of the European aristocracy and therefore of arts and sciences), then German words (because German used to be the language of science in the 19th and early 20th century), and more recently English words (because it is the language of science and pop culture). English has many loanwords too.
    – user6495
    Jun 22, 2021 at 6:41

3 Answers 3


It's true that German tends to use calques and compose words on the spot from native roots more than other languages. (My favorite example is teilnehmen, a syllable by syllable translation of the Latin participare. English imported it as "participate", though we also have "take part".) But that doesn't mean that German never borrows words from other languages. Jargon tends to use a lot of borrowed words, for example there are many Latinisms in German grammatical terms, as in the verb tenses Präsens, Präteritum, Konjunktiv, Imperativ, Perfekt. The reasons for this probably have a lot to do with why jargon is created in the first place. Not that people seem to need reasons, it seems that any specialized area of knowledge naturally develops its own jargon; Fortnight jargon is used amongst Fortnight players, though I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve many Latinisms. But no jargon is jargonier than business jargon, and I think the phrase "work-life balance" falls into that category. So it seems likely that the reason the phrase was borrowed instead of translated is because it was originally business jargon and it seemed more appropriate to import the phrase with its specialized meaning than to try to convert it to German and lose something in translation.

I tried to find other examples of English business jargon imported into German; using NGrams I found

  • Empowerment in der sozialen Altenarbeit (book title)
  • Im Rahmen des core-competency-approach (Prahalad und Hamel, 1990) wird bestimmten Kombinationen aus Lernprozessen und spezifischen Kenntnissen über Märkte ... from "Wissenschaftsmarketing Grundlagen und Möglichkeiten am Beispiel der Ressortforschung"
  • ... Grundlagen, Kommunikation und Präsentation, Marktrecherche und corporate values, Werbung und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, ... (From Zitty, 2008)

BTW, while the English Wikipedia's article on Work–life balance is little more than a stub, there are more substantial articles under individual countries, Germany, South Korea, the United States, and on other related subjects. It seems to be more a matter of how the material is organized than a lack of material in the English version.

  • "for example there are many Latinisms in German grammatical terms" - I'm not sure this is a very good example, as arguably, grammar is one of the fields where there is a more German-sounding term for most of the loanwords. Jun 22, 2021 at 22:40
  • @O. R. Mapper: Yes, there are probably better examples, but since I'm currently having to wade through German grammatical jargon as a part of learning German, it sprang to mind. Actually, if you're already knowledgeable in a field, having a lot of words borrowed from Latin makes reading a foreign language easier. For example reading scientific French is easier than scientific German for an English speaker; most of the French technical words are just French sounding versions of a word in English. That's assuming you already know the English versions though.
    – RDBury
    Jun 23, 2021 at 5:12

In case „life“ means family life, you can say Gute Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Beruf.

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    Vereinbarkeit bezeichnet aber eine Möglichkeit, während balance einen Zustand beschreibt. Aug 5, 2021 at 14:48
  • That‘s a good point. I added a qualifier.
    – S.Surace
    Aug 6, 2021 at 8:23

In fact, the word "work-life balance" is used in German. There exists no word "Arbeit-Leben-Gleichgewicht" or the like. In sports training/workout, there is a similar phrase "Prinzip von Belastung und Erholung", which however is not used in business.

If you require a direct translation for whatever reason, I'd try "Gleichgewicht von beruflich und privat" or "Gleichgewicht zwischen Beruf und Privatleben". But these phrases are not so commonly used as "work-life balance" is.

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