Managing in Greece

Working in a Complex, Ancient Country

Managing in Greece - Working in a Complex, Ancient Country

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Manage your team successfully in this complex and historic country.

Greece is the cradle of Western civilization and democracy, and it still boasts many ancient cultural riches today. It's a country of outstanding beauty and biodiversity, with stunning coastlines and unspoilt islands. However, it's recently become known for its problems with debt, migrant crises, and political instability.

The country is dealing with complex issues, but Greek people are welcoming, hard working, and sociable. So, invest time in getting to know your Greek colleagues, and you'll enjoy rewarding working relationships and build a productive, successful team as a result.

In this article, we'll explore how you can live and work successfully in Greece, whether you're managing a remote team or working directly with Greek team members.

Note:

This article is intended as a general guide only. Consider each person's unique needs, and use your own judgment when managing a Greek team.

About Greece

Greece is situated in south-east Europe, and it borders Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey, which allows easy access to the rest of Europe, Asia and Africa. It also has a coastline of more than 9,000 miles, with around 3,000 islands.

Greece borders Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Turkey in south-east Europe.

Greece has a population of approximately 11 million people, although it has a relatively low population density. The exception to this is the capital city, Athens, which is Europe's fifth most populous city with four million inhabitants. As part of a wider humanitarian and political crisis in the region over the last few years, Greece has recently experienced a dramatic increase in the number of migrants from Syria, Libya and Eritrea.

Greece is now a parliamentary republic, and a member of the European Union (EU), Eurozone, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), United Nations (UN), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country has been involved in several wars with Turkey, such as the Greco-Turkish Wars in 1897 and 1919, and the two countries remain in political dispute over territory in Cyprus. UN peacekeepers manage the situation day to day.

Tip:

Familiarize yourself with Greece's rich history before you visit. Demonstrating your knowledge and interest in the country will impress your Greek colleagues, but be careful to avoid politically sensitive issues.

Business and the Economy

Around 15 percent of the Greek workforce is employed in industry, another 13 percent in agriculture, and the remaining 72 percent in the service sector. The Greek business community is characterized by small, family-owned companies, which are often traditional and hierarchical. There is also a strong trade union movement in the country.

Since 2009, Greece has experienced a severe financial crisis. Interventions from other EU countries helped it to return to economic growth in early 2014, and it became the Eurozone's fastest-growing economy. However, the migrant crisis has added to Greece's economic problems, and the outlook is now uncertain. There are also high levels of unemployment, and many people have had their wages and pensions frozen or reduced.

Greece's currency is the euro, and payment by debit or credit card is widely accepted. You may not be able to exchange your home currency for euros once you're in the country, so make sure you bring some with you when you arrive. There's a daily restriction on the amount you can withdraw from a Greek bank with your card, but you're free to take unspent euros out of Greece.

Working in Greece

Working Hours

An OECD study shows that, on average, Greeks are the most industrious workers in Europe – only two places behind South Koreans, who top the table. The Greek labor market has a high number of self-employed people, and jobs often demand long working hours. However, a typical working week for office workers is eight hours per day, five days per week.

Annual Leave and Maternity Leave

In the first year of employment, people who work a five-day week are entitled to 20 days' annual leave. This allowance increases to 24 days for a six-day week. After the first year, this can rise to 22 and 26 days respectively, and to 25 and 30 days after 10 years' employment.

Basic maternity leave lasts for 17 weeks (119 days), and starts eight weeks (56 days) before the child's birth. Depending on the mother's insurance, leave with benefit can be extended to six months. Fathers are entitled to two days' paid family leave upon the birth of a child.

How to Get the Best From Your Team

Building positive, long-lasting relationships is important to Greeks, and they are the key to business success. So, make an effort to cultivate trust, loyalty and strong bonds with your personal and business contacts. Developing these types of relationships may open doors and help you deal with problems that might otherwise be tricky to resolve.

Be warm, friendly and personable, and invest time in getting to know your Greek colleagues by showing interest in their lives, lifestyles and families. Greeks enjoy socializing with business associates, so make sure that you accept their invitations when possible. Bear in mind that dinner can take several hours, and will likely be followed by alcoholic drinks.

Punctuality

Your team members likely won't prioritize punctuality. So, while it's important for you to arrive on time for appointments and meetings, don't be offended if they run late.

Business Dress Code

First impressions are important, so dress to impress in a conservative business style. However, it's acceptable to remove your jacket during hot summer weather, once you're past the initial stages of a meeting.

Communication

Both men and women will greet you with a firm handshake. Use formal titles, such as "Mr" and "Mrs," when you first meet someone, and with more senior, respected team members.

Greeks prefer face-to-face interaction, rather than using the telephone or written communication. Maintaining eye contact is also extremely important.

Body language plays a large role in communication, so don't be surprised by how tactile your team members are. However, beware of using common non-verbal signs from the U.S. or U.K., as these will likely confuse or offend them. For example:​

  • Directing your open palm toward someone's face is an insult.
  • Making the "OK" sign with your thumb and index finger is considered obscene.
  • Giving the "thumbs up" sign is highly offensive.

Don't be offended when your colleagues interrupt you while you're speaking, as this is a common cultural trait. Winking is also seen as a friendly gesture.

Tip:

Most Greeks speak English, and younger business people are often fluent. However, older generations may not speak any English, so it's a good idea to ask for an interpreter. You can create a great first impression and help establish closer bonds with your team members by learning a few Greek phrases.

Useful Phrases

English Greek Phonetic
Hello/Goodbye Γειά σου/Γειά σας Υ ia sou (singular)/Υ i`a sas (plural)
Good morning Καλημέρα Kali-mera
Good night Καληνύχτα Kali-nichta
Thank you Ευχαριστώ Efchari-sto
Please/You're welcome/Excuse me? Παρακαλώ Paraka-lo
What is this? Τι είναι αυτό; Tee eenay af-toe
I want this Θέλω αυτό Thelo af-toe
I want to… Θέλω να… Thelo na
How much is this? Πόσο κάνει αυτό; Poso kanee af-toe
I want to go… Θέλω να παω… Thelo na paow
How can I get to… Πώς να παω… Pos na paow
Where is… Πού είναι… Pu eenay…
How are you? Τι κάνεις; Ti kahnees
I don't know Δεν ξέρω Then chzero
What time is it? Τι ώρα είναι; Tee ora eenay
Excuse me, do you speak English? Παρακαλώ, μιλάτε αγγλικά; Paraka-lo, meela-tay angli-ka
What is your name? Πώς σε λένε; Pos se lene
My name is… Με λένε Me lene
I don't speak Greek Δε μιλάω ελληνικά Then mi-laow elleeni-kah
I don't understand Δεν καταλαβαίνω Then kahtahlah-vaeno
Do you have… 'Εχεις…/'Εχετε… Echees… (singular)/Echetay… (plural)
Yes Ναι Nay
No Όχι Ochi
O.K. Εντάξει En`tahxi

Tip:

Pronounce the letter "i" as "ee," the letter "g" as the letter "y," and the letter "d" as you would pronounce the soft "th" in "theology."

Travel Matters

Allow for Disruptions

Strikes are commonplace in Greece, sometimes at short notice, and can disrupt public transport, including air travel and airports. Ensure that your travel ticket allows for changes in schedule, and that you have comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

Safety and Security

According to both the U.K. Foreign Office and the U.S. State Department, there is a general threat in Greece from terrorism and acts of political violence. Check the latest advice before you arrive, and keep up to date with local news while in the country. Be sure to carry identification with you in case of emergency.

Public demonstrations take place frequently in central Athens and in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki, and less often in other towns and cities. Where possible, postpone travel and meetings so that you can avoid demonstrations, follow the advice given by local security authorities, and leave an area if you feel unsafe.

Religion

Ninety eight percent of the population is Greek Orthodox Christian, and Muslims account for 1.3 percent. While most Greeks aren't devout, faith is an important part of their identity and culture, so remain respectful at all times. Many families visit church for baptisms, weddings and annual festivals, and you may be invited to join these lively celebrations.

Tip:

It's common for Greeks to make the sign of the cross when passing a church, and people will ward off evil with a spitting gesture and by saying "ftou ftou ftou!" in conversation.

Holidays

The dates for Greece's public holidays are as follows:

  • New Year's Day – January 1.
  • Kathara Deftera/Clean Monday (first day of Lent) – Date changes each year (February 19 in 2018).
  • Annunciation and Independence Day – March 25.
  • Good Friday – Date changes each year (April 6 in 2018).
  • Easter Sunday – Date changes each year (April 8 in 2018).
  • Easter Monday – Date changes each year (April 9 in 2018).
  • Labor Day – May 1.
  • Assumption of the Virgin Mary – August 15.
  • Ochi Day – October 28.
  • Christmas Day – December 25.
  • Second Day of Christmas – December 26.

Many municipalities have a Saint who they celebrate with a holiday when all schools, offices, banks, and stores are closed. Check your local government website for these dates.

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Tip:

See www.timeanddate.com and www.thetimenow.com for a complete list of regional and national holidays.

Key Points

While concerns about the financial and political problems in Greece are legitimate, the country should not be overlooked or undervalued for its place in the business market. Greek people make rewarding team members, and possess a willingness to work hard while taking a personal approach to business.

To be a successful manager in Greece, you should invest time in getting to know your colleagues, and in building relationships with them.

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Comments (2)
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi Avgoustinos,

    Thank you for verifying the content in this article. It is terrific to get an endorsement from someone who is from Greece and has experienced the work environment.

    Michele
    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago Avgoustinos wrote
    Being Greek and having worked in the country for almost 20 years, I strongly agree with this article.