Achieving Success in a Changing Culture
Like many countries in Europe, Poland experienced dramatic changes over the past century, most notably during World War II and in the 1990s after the fall of communism. These events greatly influenced its people, their values and ideologies, and the country itself – its borders have been redrawn numerous times.
Poland has thrived despite these challenges, and many of its traditions have remained. For example, the country has a long history of supporting the arts, including music, painting and literature. As a result, its society and culture are interesting and sophisticated. Poland has also managed to preserve many of its heritage sites, which serve as beautiful reminders of its rich past.
In this article, we’ll look at what you need to know to live and work successfully in Poland, one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
In recent years, Poland has seen an increase in immigration, thanks to a stable economy, higher wages, and the easing of restrictions, and the workforce is becoming more diverse as a result.
Use this article as a general guide only, and base your approach on each person’s unique needs and your own best judgment.
People and Culture
Poland is located in Eastern Europe, and it shares borders with Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Poland shares its borders with Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
It’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Many of Poland’s forests are ancient, and provide shelter for animals such as the brown bear, gray wolf, and Eurasian lynx.
Poland has a temperate climate, characterized by warm summers and cold, snowy winters. If you’re relocating during winter, make sure you research your region beforehand and pack appropriately, because some areas, especially in the north east, are much colder than others.
Since the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, the country has made a concerted effort to improve its citizens’ lives and encourage foreign investment. This has been largely successful: the country joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1999, and the European Union (EU) in 2004.
Today, Poland has one of the stablest and fastest-growing economies in Europe. For example, it was the only member of the EU to avoid the worldwide recession in 2008, and is now Europe’s eleventh-largest economy.
Polish is the country’s official language, but it is notoriously difficult for Westerners to learn. Many of the sounds and phrases are subtle, complex and unfamiliar, so you’ll likely want to secure a translator to help you. However, most Polish businesspeople speak either German or English.
|How are you?||Jak się masz?||Yah-k sheh mahsh?|
|My name is…||Mam na imię…||Mam nah eemyeh…|
|Good morning||Dzień dobry||Jean dough-bree|
|Can we have the check, please?||Rachunek, proszę?||Proshe o rakhooneck?|
|I don’t speak Polish||Nie mowie po polsku||Nye moovyeh poh polskoo|
Poland has worked hard to create an employee-friendly business environment. For example, team members are granted a generous 33 sick days per year, at 80 percent of their salary.
Women are entitled to 20 weeks’ paid maternity leave (which is funded by social security) and an additional six weeks unpaid. Fathers are granted one week off after the birth of their child, or they can share maternity leave if the mother returns to work early.
Working parents can also take unpaid childcare leave, for up to three years after the birth. They can continue to work for their organization on a limited basis during this time, or focus on their education or training, as long as it doesn’t interfere with childcare. After this, organizations must re-hire them in their previous, or an equivalent, position.
For more information on Poland’s employment laws, visit the Polish Information and Foreign Investment website.
Vacations and Holidays
In Poland, people are guaranteed 20 days’ paid vacation if they’ve been employed by an organization for up to 10 years, and 26 days for more than 10 years’ service.
Poles also observe 13 national holidays, in addition to their yearly annual leave. Because 98 percent of Poles are Roman Catholic, many of these are religious. Holidays include:
- New Year’s Day – January 1.
- Epiphany – January 6.
- Easter Sunday – Date changes each year (March 27 in 2016, April 16 in 2017.)
- Easter Monday – Date changes each year (March 28 in 2016, April 17 in 2017.)
- Labor Day – May 1.
- Constitution Day – May 3.
- Whit Sunday – Date changes each year (May 15 in 2016, June 4 in 2017.)
- Corpus Christi – Date changes each year (May 26 in 2016, June 15 in 2017.)
- Assumption of the Virgin – August 15.
- All Saints’ Day – November 1.
- Independence Day – November 11.
- Christmas Day – December 25.
- Boxing Day – December 26.
Keep in mind that the majority of Poles reserve Sundays for religious practices, and for visiting family and friends. Avoid asking people to work on this day.
Getting the Best From Your Team
Strong relationships are incredibly important in Poland. You might find that colleagues and team members seem reserved until they trust you, so don’t be put off by a cold reception. Once people get to know you, they’ll likely be warm, generous and talkative.
- Talk face-to-face – Avoid emailing and instant messaging your team members, at least at first, to build good relationships. Try to have as many face-to-face conversations as possible, and practice Management by Wandering Around to check in with people throughout the day.
- Grant autonomy – Although regular interaction can help you get to know your team members, make sure you don’t micromanage them. Give them the freedom to work on their own, but keep in mind that they need some structure. Always explain any rules or project parameters before you assign a task, and remind them that you’re there to help.
- Ask their opinion – Poles highly respect individuals’ contributions and opinions. Use this to your advantage by making decisions with your team members, and sincerely asking for their input.
- Explain risks – You might find that some people are risk-adverse, due to the social and political changes that have occurred in Poland over the past few decades. Always explain the risks when you pitch a new idea or project to team members or colleagues, and make sure you have a contingency plan to address the most likely of these. This will help everyone feel more comfortable with your proposal.
Read our article on Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s Seven Dimensions of Culture to understand more about your team members’ cultural differences.
Most Poles are very punctual, so make sure you arrive on time for appointments and meetings.
Business entertaining usually takes place in restaurants and clubs. The person who invites you will typically pay the bill, but it’s polite to offer. If you want to pick up the check, tell the waiter beforehand, to avoid any disagreements at the table.
When you socialize with colleagues or team members, expect a late night with plenty of vodka. Avoid leaving early, as this can be seen as an insult, but don’t drink more than you feel comfortable with.
Polish people typically speak quietly. So, demonstrate cultural intelligence and do your best to manage your emotions. Loudness, or obvious displays of anger or frustration (such as hitting the table with your fist, muttering or cursing under your breath, or pounding your keyboard), will cost you respect.
- Poland was a male-dominated society until recently. Because of this, businesswomen might struggle to be taken seriously, particularly at higher levels. So, women should practice patience and stay professional.
- Business lunches take place regularly in Poland, but much later than you might expect. Here, be prepared to eat at the end of the workday, between 4:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Dinner is often served after 8:00 p.m.
- You might find names and titles confusing in Poland. For example, a woman’s surname often has a different last letter from her husband’s. Such as, “Mr Brzezinski,” and Mrs “Brzezinska.”
- Business dress is formal and conservative in Poland, so opt for tailored suits and dresses in muted colors.
Poland has experienced several sweeping and dramatic changes over the past century. However, it is now one of the most stable countries in Europe, with one of the fastest growing economies.
Relationships are important here. When you start working with your Polish team, don’t be surprised if you receive a cold reception. However, Poles are very warm and generous once they get to know you. To build good relationships, opt for face-to-face conversations whenever possible. Ask your team members for their input on decisions, and don’t micromanage their projects.