When in Rome... (Part 2)

Posted by Mark Gilbert on 24 March 2015

Nick Elliott offers more insights on working culture across Europe.

Polish Flag

Welcome to the second of my three daily blogs about differences between the working environments of Britain and other countries. This I hope will help students who are thinking about working abroad, but once again please bear in mind that working practices in different sectors can vary, especially in multinational companies.

Kiedy wpadłeś między wrony, musisz krakać jak i one‎ (which is the Polish equivalent of ‘when in Rome…’).

3 Cultural Differences between British and Polish Workplaces:

Punctuality and Work Breaks

It is really hard to assess whether or not Polish workers are punctual without stereotyping the whole nation. I asked the same question to several Poles and the feedback which I received was that in theory, Polish workers are generally punctual but in reality some people still stick to the pre 1989 culture of “kwadrans akademicki” (15 minutes grace period).

Appropriate Communication and Workplace protocol

A polish workplace is a much more formal setting than its British counterpart. Polish workers will address their superiors as Pan/Pani (Mr/Mrs). Sometimes, this will be extended to their work colleagues but instead of addressing the person by their surname (Pan Nowak), they will address them by their first name (Pan Robert). That is especially applicable where there is a significant age difference between colleagues. Is it perceived as showing respect for their elders.

Regarding appropriate behaviour in the office, Polish workers on the whole don’t like to be touched by other people and value their own personal space.

The ‘after work’ drinks culture doesn’t really exist in Poland but if you are in your twenties and you work with a young team then this can happen from time to time.

Cultural assimilation & awareness

In 2011, just like Spain, Poland adopted new comprehensive legislation to conform to the EC anti-discrimination directives but Poland is still a very much an homogenous country with 93% of the country being Polish, therefore this is reflected in Polish workplaces and ‘banter’ which is seen by the Polish as being light-hearted, and which no longer occurs in British workplaces, can still be heard in the working environment.

Annual Leave

20 working days per year during the first 10 years of employment and 26 working days thereafter.


  • Swierzynka - a new starter
  • Na wczoraj - for yesterday - meaning extra urgent
  • Wrzuta - dropin - a task from the big boss that you didn't expect but must do

In Poland they don’t ‘cross their fingers’ but instead ‘hold their thumbs’ for good luck

Thumbless Emily

  • Spychologia - pushing your tasks onto someone else - from the Polish verb spychac (shift down)
  • Juz ogarniam - I get it now - from the Polish verb ogarnac - to encompass

Photo courtesy of Emily McGrath, Enquiries Officer & Thumb-model.

Flag by Olek Remesz under free Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Topics: networking, employability skills, International Students

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