One of the areas of life so vital for all of us to conquer, is our career. Whatever nationality or cultural background we derive from our quest for the almighty dollar is of the highest importance. Since moving to Warsaw it has become evident that some peoples journey through their working lives are harder than others. Having worked and taught in a variety of companies from small, sole trader enterprises to the vast, multinational conglomerate it has become evident that there is a big difference between the working lives of Poles to those of my fellow countrymen in London. Of course the variables of work hardships exist depending on role, gender and type of work that is being carried out. However, there are some obvious patterns that show some real division of mentality, and as a player myself in this rat race, I think it is quite interesting to investigate what these issues are and how they have formed in our great nations. Firstly, the standardization of business is a truism for the whole of the global community. BP may be a ‘British’ company but it is a slight misnomer, for example, you can find BP garages all over the world and they employ more people in the US then they do in Britain. The headquarters may be located in the UK but its new chief executive officer (CEO) is American. Proving that instead of naming it British a more appropriate term would be British originated. Multinational companies have such procedures and hierarchical systems that no person is bigger than the company itself. Therefore they are able to implement great solutions for their employees and provide the opportunities to invest in staff. This then leads to a higher level of contentment and loyalty among members of the team. Certainly, within the multinationals in Poland this is evident. I think that those in these positions definitely have a higher level of happiness and trust in their employer and enjoy a similar standard of treatment to their counterparts in western countries. In my opinion this model of behavior leads to higher success in business and a general feeling of satisfaction in the population as a whole, yes you still have to work hard but surely it is a pleasure to work for an employer who believes in you. All the companies that I worked for in the UK certainly try and use this more pastoral approach than the harder edged ‘carrot and stick’ method of a few decades ago.
Now if we compare these ideas to the Polish methodology, differences in mentality begin to appear. I have taught in businesses in Warsaw for over 5 years and on a few occasions I have had students literally cry in my class, not through the tedium of another lesson, but due to the topic chosen touching a nerve or succumbing to the pressure. The Polish business model certainly adheres more to carrot and stick methods, with a tendency to lean more favorably to the stick than to the rabbit, it seems that in Warsaw, we are not happy bunnies.
I believe a friend of mine coined this attitude best, “Give them permanent contracts! How can I motivate them? I can’t say get me ten clients or your fired then!!!” Indeed it seems that by applying pressure to ordinary workers there is a hope that they will suddenly perform much better and results will increase. This pressure is then doubled by the fact that market forces in Poland is heavily in favor of demand for jobs rather than the supply of them. Also, that young graduates entering the market start working in menial jobs on flimsy short-term contracts just to earn a wage where every worker is disposable or even better on unpaid internships that lead only to disappointment.
An even more interesting idea is the element of divide and conquer. This Machiavellian concept is employed to great effect in the UK as well as in Poland. There is one big difference though that directors in England may be ambitious and looking to gain promotion and know there in direct competition with each other but they also know that working in a team is an essential trait their boss is looking for in a new director or partner. When a training company comes with new, novel methods for improving management everyone comes together to prove they are the best at working in teams. They show their self-confidence and abilities in listening, leadership and communication. In comparison, the same training in Poland would prove incredibly difficult. The average manager is much more distrustful of their colleague and they certainly wouldn’t share their failures with the enemy. This is an inconceivable concept as they would know that the first opportunity their nemesis got they would expose such insecurities and weaknesses. Therefore the same Trainer in Poland would be met with a frosty atmosphere and instead of focusing on managerial skills instead will spend the first half a day trying to open up the group. It seems that Polish business leaders look more for those with a killer instinct and ruthlessness than they do the compassionate and understanding.
Western companies also don’t help these trends subside. They are well aware that Poles are low paid and hard working, a perfect combination compared with the UK mentality of high paid and irregular working. Therefore when they descend on the market some of these companies use the system against the employee and we end up in a state of affairs aforementioned in the previous paragraphs. They use the free intern, pay much less than the job deserves and they don’t pay more for working overtime. I am not sure how long the average Pole will work but for sure the most ambitious will work well into the night if necessary, in England I never worked past 5. Also, when an employer says to his English worker, “were opening an office in Warsaw and we want you to head it up,” this is not a wonderful situation for him. To spend months away from their family in a dirty, strange city in the heart of Europe would not be top of the priority list. Thus, when they arrive in the country their attitude is depressed, irritable and they then treat their colleagues badly, all in an effort to get back to Britain and their family as soon as possible.
These differences in attitudes definitely have their origins in history. The UK has developed at a steady pace over many long years and therefore the evolution of business and capitalism has been pretty even-paced. In Poland after the end of communism there was, it appears, a big bang of entrepreneurialism and 50 years of not being allowed to make there own business or to profit, business sprang to life. This explosion of capitalism has meant that people want to catch up with the rest and this need for quick expansion has surely led to these extreme measures as nobody really knew what the rules were. It boils down to pressure. The pressure to succeed is far greater in Poland than in the UK. Surely this is due to the stressful working conditions and low wages. The pressure to get a job and then the pressure to keep the job followed by the pressure to earn more money. It’s an ever-decreasing circle that finally ends with heart attacks and strokes at an early age. However, it may just prove much simpler in Poland. The UK market is so saturated and inundated with competition that for an honest entrepreneur finding a niche in the market is incredibly difficult. Even if you find that niche a bigger shark will soon gobble you up. In Warsaw you have time to create the business, even the market and essentially any company has the potential to be big and to succeed.
Finally it comes down to what essentially I moan about most, mentality. If only many Polish people became a little bit more considerate and were a little less ruthless then maybe the average Warszawian would be more content in life. Recently Poland was adjudged to have the highest amount of stress of any country in the world, I’m not surprised, to work in Warsaw is a struggle. A raging ball of stress. From the moment you leave the house and travel to work until the moment you arrive home through your front door you are engaged in one long battle. Regardless of where you were born and who bore you, there is a chance that you can earn good money and gain great position, all you have to do is suck up the stress, I suppose those who manage to do this prove most successful. I miss the UK though for this very reason. Life is indeed easier and simpler, maybe I wouldn’t become a great businessman and achieve ultimate power there but I would lead a straight-forward existence. OK, maybe this is a generalization as all capitalist countries have a severe edge to its business practice but why should everybody be forced into playing that game. Sadly, we must all play along or the big bully just might take our ball away.