Poland’s strategic position in the heart of Europe and its strong and growing economy have made it an attractive destination for foreign businesses.
The Polish labour force is generally well-educated and has a strong work ethic, and Polish business culture is largely similar to what expats might experience in other European countries. The commercial centre in Poland is its capital and largest city, Warsaw. Although Poland’s main exports and economy remain largely focused on manufacturing and agriculture, the country’s services sector has grown significantly in recent years.
Poland has a stable business environment which proves attractive to foreign businesspeople, a fact reflected in its ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2020, in which Poland was ranked 40th out of 190 countries surveyed. Poland came first in ease of trading across borders and also scored particularly well in resolving insolvency (25th), getting credit (37th) and dealing with construction permits (39th). The areas in which Poland didn't score as highly include registering a property (92nd) starting a new business (128th).
Working hours are generally between 8am and 4pm, Monday to Friday and many Poles do not usually take a formal lunch break during the working day. If business lunches are held, they take place from around 4pm and may continue into the evening. Most Poles take their summer vacations in July and August, so it is worth bearing this in mind if planning meetings or business trips to Poland during this time.
Polish is the official language of business in Poland, although English may be understood and is often spoken among business circles in larger cities.
Business dress in Poland is formal and conservative. Businesswomen tend to wear suits with skirts or trousers, while businessmen generally wear dark suits and ties.
Business associates greet each other with a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Introductions should include a person’s full name and title.
Gift-giving is an established practice in Polish business. Gifts are usually given at the beginning of a relationship and at the completion of a project.
Women have equal business opportunities to men, although most high-ranking positions are still held by men.
Business culture in Poland
Business culture in Poland is formal. While Poles tend to be reserved, their communication style is direct and eye contact should be maintained at all times as it is seen as a sign of respect and trust. People are expected to say what they think and address matters directly.
Polish is the official language of business in Poland, although expats are likely to encounter many business professionals who are able to communicate in English, particularly in large cities.
Business structures in Poland tend to be hierarchical and the style of management may seem authoritative as decisions are made at the top and authority is highly respected. In line with this, education and personal titles are revered and expats should not move to a first-name basis with their Polish associates until invited to do so.
Rules and regulations are respected and should be adhered to, while trust and honesty are also valued. Poles have a good work ethic, and it’s not unusual to work through the day without a lunch break, something that many expats may take a while to get used to.
Expats doing business in Poland may notice generational differences between older and younger Polish associates. While the younger generation may follow a more open and relaxed Western business style, the older generation may still be influenced by business practices which were prevalent during the old Soviet-style regime.
Importance of family
Family and religion both play a central role in Polish society and culture, and this extends to the business environment. As such, most Poles prioritise their obligations to their family above others.
Personal relationships are important and anyone doing business in Poland should aim to build close and trusting relationships with their Polish associates, as this is a stepping stone to building strong business relationships. As such, business meetings typically begin with some small talk so that trust can be built before any specific business negotiations commence. Topics of discussion usually include sports and family life, but issues such as money and Poland’s history and relations with its European neighbours should be avoided.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Poland
Do arrive on time and prepare fully for a meeting, as this exhibits professionalism which will be respected by Polish associates.
Don't address Polish associates by their first name until invited to do so. Titles are highly respected in Polish society and should be used when making introductions.
Do have business cards printed in both English and Polish. Have titles and qualifications printed on the card, as these are highly respected.
Do try to build personal relationships and trust with Polish associates before trying to forge a business relationship. Especially as Poles tend to only do business with people who they share a trusting relationship with.
Don't refer to Poland as part of Eastern Europe, as some Poles may take offence to this. The country should rather be referred to as being part of Central Europe.