Why Lithuanians prefer to work for foreign employers

DELFI / Domantas Pipas

There is a radical divide between how employees are treated by Lithuanian business owners and Western employers, says Jūratė Dobrovolskytė, personnel specialist for CSC Baltic. For the latter, the most valuable thing in a company is people, while the Lithuanian business mentality still prioritises cash and owners. This, she says, influences people’s choice of employers.

The Western attitude

Dobrovolskytė tells VZ.lt that a company’s attitude toward employees begins with the leader. “Our general manager is equal with everyone else in our staff. He works in the same area and thus shows his connection to the entire team. Every employee may freely express their opinions and even lodge a complaint against the manager if he fails to adhere to the ethics code or otherwise causes disorder.”

Justas Janauskas, director of Vinted, notes that the tradition of confidence in employees comes from the culture of large American-type corporations: “The American market is vast. One manager cannot oversee a large company, so corporations emerge. This is what allows for a culture which trusts employees to flourish. Large corporations appeared in Lithuania comparatively recently, perhaps we need more to foster similar traditions. For example, in a 10-employee company, all leadership styles can work. I think that the rules change from the 150 employees up.”

Danas Arlauskas, the president of the Lithuanian Business Employers’ Confederation, says that he believes it is important to first start from semantics. “Our words give away our understanding. For example ‘darbo jėga’ (labour force) is a piece of Soviet terminology expressing an employer’s attitude toward employees as tools, which becomes uninteresting or useless once used up. Meanwhile the English language uses the term ‘resource’ which suggests constant replenishment. I can see that we are also gradually transitioning from the language of labour force to one of human resource.”

Culture dictated by the leader

Still, there are a number of Lithuanian-capital enterprises that have adopted Western principles of management. According to Justas Janauskas, there is no need to suppose there is an unbridgeable gap between foreign and Lithuanian work cultures.

“There is no Lithuanian work culture to speak of as nobody is using the Lithuanian labour market as an example to operate under. I would rather compare the Soviet labour principles, where the individual is not valued at all, and the Western work culture where the individual is of crucial importance. The Soviet work culture can geographically exist in the West and vice versa. In my opinion, company values come down to the owner or the leader, not geographical position,” the director of Vinted assured.

Lithuania still growing

Andrius Francas, director for staffing and recruiting as well as partner and development director at Alliance for Recruitment, believes that a large factor in its work culture is the fact that Lithuania is a young state.

“Until 2000, this was really the Wild West, we were like Indians who were given cell phones, but clueless what to do with them. Now we are like 16-year-olds who already have some thoughts, but are still teenagers. We have some experience and understand what direction we should be heading in,” Francas told VZ.lt.

On the other hand, some international companies are fascinated by Lithuanian culture. For example, the Lithuanian branch manager for the Israeli internet company Wix, Monika Laukaitė, says that her company’s team was so fascinated by Lithuanians that they decided to come to the Lithuanian market within a month.

“After the first visit, they were fascinated by the short June nights and the local culture, the excellent technical knowledge of Lithuanians and the well-developed sense of aesthetics. We, the Lithuanians, were described as ‘German-Brazilians’ by a company shareholder because we apparently work like the Germans, orderly and responsibly, while we celebrate and are creative like the Brazilians,” Laukaitė smiles.

A common point of agreement among all those interviewed is that in order to ensure that potential employees do not emigrate from the country, the work culture has to change, starting with the creation of internal codes and employee associations. There is also a need for social activism in general, which could help change the situation whereby Lithuanian taxes on labour are among the highest in Europe.

Arūnas Pemkus, director of the public relations company Integrity PR, often tells his expatriate friends and acquaintances: “If Lithuanians put in half the work they do abroad into Lithuania, it would be a prospering country as well.”

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