Managing in Turkey

Finding a Path from Uncertainty to Opportunity

Managing in Turkey - Finding a Path From Uncertainty to Opportunity

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Istanbul at sunset.

Turkey became one of the world’s outstanding economic success stories in the 2000s, by sustaining high levels of growth and offering great business opportunities.

But that story turned sour in 2016, when Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan imposed a state of emergency after a failed military takeover. Since then, Turkey has been the target of attacks by terror groups, and is beset by security issues and political uncertainty.

If you've been asked to lead a team in Turkey, you'll likely feel apprehensive. However, there are some signs that calm is returning to parts of the country. And, after a downturn following the political turmoil, business activity is returning to high levels of economic growth.

In this article, we'll explore some of the most important aspects of Turkish culture, customs and etiquette, so that you can live and work successfully in this challenging country. We’ll also give you some tips on security, as, in the present situation, your safety is a top priority.


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

Country and Culture

Turkey straddles two continents, Asia and Europe, and boasts stunning landscapes that range from sandy beaches to rugged mountain ranges.

The Asian side, Anatolia, makes up 97 percent of the country, while the remaining three percent is the European East Thrace. Much of it is surrounded by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean seas, and it shares borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, and Greece.

Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, is the biggest in Europe and the Middle East, with a population of 14.8 million. The capital, Ankara, is the second-largest city, and it houses the country's democratic, president-led government.

Despite the country having no official religion, about 90 percent of its population are Sunni Muslims.

Turkey has a rich history and breathtaking monuments, and was ranked as the world's tenth most popular tourist destination in 2017. It has 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.


Much of Turkey is surrounded by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean seas, and it shares borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, and Greece.


Many people from all over the world visit Turkey, for both business and pleasure, but there are risks, particularly of terrorist attacks.

A state of emergency is still in place, and the U.S. State Department tells travelers to "carefully consider" whether their trip is necessary. This advice is echoed by the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which recommends against all travel to within 10km of the Syrian border and to the city of Diyarbakir.

The FCO also advises against all but essential travel to Sirnak, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Kilis and Hatay provinces, Siirt, Tunceli, and Hakkari.

Turkish authorities regularly carry out ID checks on members of the public in busy areas, especially Istanbul. Police checkpoints are also common on main roads across the country.

Travellers to Turkey should stay vigilant, keep up to date with developments in the country, and avoid busy tourist spots, until stability takes hold. It is also vital that you avoid any large gatherings or political protests, no matter how innocent their purpose may seem. And visitors should also remember to check in with family and friends regularly.

Employment Practices and Laws

Turkish employees are permitted to work up to 45 hours over six days per week, or 11 hours per day. People who work longer than this are entitled to 1.5 hours' free time per hour worked or a 50 percent premium on their wages, and organizations must pay extra for any weekend work.

Employees are also encouraged to have rest periods, depending on how many hours they work. For example, people may take a 15-minute break for four hours' work, 30 minutes for seven and a half hours, and one hour for more than seven and a half hours.


You will need a work permit and visa before you can take a job in Turkey. Definite-term work permits can be obtained from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, and last for up to one year. You can renew them for up to three years, twice (six years in total). Indefinite work permits are available to people who have lived and worked in Turkey for at least eight years.

Once you have obtained your work permit, you can apply for a visa through Turkey's foreign missions or online – the cost varies depending on your country. You are also required to obtain a residence permit if you plan to stay in Turkey for more than 90 days.

Hiring and Firing

People who have worked for an organization for at least a year are entitled to a severance payment. This is calculated by multiplying the number of years that they have worked for the company by their monthly salary.

And, a person should receive two weeks' notice if he or she has worked for an organization for up to six weeks. This rises to four weeks for people who have been employed between six and 18 months, six weeks for 18 months to three years, and up to eight weeks' notice for more than three years' service.


In Turkey, people are guaranteed 14 days' paid vacation if they've been employed by an organization for at least one year, 20 days' leave for five years' service, and 26 days off for 15 years.

In addition, they are entitled to the following paid public holidays:

  • New Year's Day – January 1.
  • National Sovereignty and Children's Day – April 23.
  • Labor Day – May 1.
  • Youth and Sports Day – May 19.
  • Feast of Ramadan – Date changes each year (July 14-17 in 2018; June 5-8 in 2019)
  • Victory Day – August 30.
  • Feast of Sacrifice – Date changes each year (August 20-24 in 2018; August 11-15 in 2019.)
  • Republic Day – October 28-29.

Some holiday dates change yearly, and Turks often take extended vacations during June, July and August, so make sure that you check with your team members before you set deadlines or schedule meetings.

Although the Muslim day of prayer is Friday, the Turkish government has designated Sunday as the country's day of rest.

Getting the Best From Your Team

Turks will likely have a low tolerance for change and risk in the business environment. So, explain to your team members why generating new ideas and innovation is important, and encourage their cooperation by providing supporting data that reduces any perceived risks.

Turkish organizations tend to be hierarchical, and relationships are generally formal. People here value leadership and rules, and will look to you for guidance. So, give your people clear instructions, and set SMART goals that they can work toward.

Relationship Building

Strong relationships are important in Turkey, and they form the foundation for productive business partnerships and negotiations. At the start of meetings, expect to answer questions about yourself, and talk about your education and background. Responding openly and honestly will help you to build trust with your Turkish team members.

Business negotiations may take longer than you expect, so be prepared to meet people several times before you conclude your discussions. Meetings will often take place over the country's national drink of tea (not coffee, which people consume in the evening).


If you're visiting Turkey for the first time, writing a personal letter of introduction to your colleagues and clients can help you to make a great first impression.

Key Phrases

In 2016, Turkey's population was estimated by the World Bank to be about 79.3 million. Around 70 percent of the country's inhabitants speak Turkish, 24 percent speak Kurdish, and the remainder speak Arabic, Circassian, Greek, Armenian, or Judezmo. Many people also use English, French or German as a second language.

Although foreigners aren't expected to understand Turkish, people will appreciate your attempts. This is an important step in building trust with your Turkish co-workers and customers, and it demonstrates good business etiquette. So, before you begin managing a Turkish team, make an effort to learn some key phrases.

English Turkish Phonetic
Hello Merhaba Mehr-hah-bah
How are you? Nasılsınız? Nhas-suhl-suh-nuhz
My name is... Adım… A-dum…
Good morning Günaydın Geuw-nahy-duhn
I'm sorry Özür dilerim Ouz-ur dill-ear-im
Please Lütfen Lut-fan
Can we have the check, please? Hesap lütfen? Heh saap lut-fan
Thanks Teşekkür ederim Te-sh-qu-err ed-err-im
Yes Evet Ev-et
No Hayır Ha-ear
I don't speak Turkish Türkçe bilmiyorum! Turk-jeh bill-mi-yor-um
Goodbye Allaha ısmarladık Ah-lahs-mahr-lah-duhk


Turkish professionals often greet one another formally. For example, use "beyefendi" ("sir"), pronounced "bay-a-fandy," or "hanımefendi" ("miss"), pronounced "hanny-ma-fandy," when you don't know a person's name. Or add "bey" ("mr"), pronounced "bay," after a man's first name, or "hanım" ("miss"), pronounced "hanny," after a woman's.

Turkish greetings also depend on the recipient's gender and your relationship with one another. For example, use a firm handshake when you meet a man for the first time, and demonstrate respect by shaking hands with the oldest person in a group first.

Keep in mind that many Muslims limit their contact with members of the opposite sex, so men should avoid shaking a woman's hand unless she offers it first.

If you have a close relationship with a Turk, whether a man or a woman, you should expect a warmer greeting, such as a two-handed handshake or a kiss on both cheeks.

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Turks are renowned for their hospitality. Your hosts will likely pick up the check in a restaurant, unless you invited them to dinner.

Don't be surprised if Turks order one course at a time at lunch or dinner. You can expect fast service, but people may take the opportunity to smoke between courses. When you eat, use your knife (in your left hand) to push food onto your fork (in your right hand).

During business meetings or lunches, strong tea is usually served in small glasses. Make sure that you hold your glass by its rim, so you don't burn your fingers! Feel free to dilute your tea with water and sugar, but never with milk. If you order coffee, you'll need to specify how sweet you'd like it.

Finally, Turks love to discuss their country's history, culture and sports, particularly soccer and wrestling. They also enjoy talking about their families, and suggesting places for you to visit. Your hosts will appreciate it if you can participate in meaningful conversation over dinner, but avoid topics to do with political conflicts, especially those involving Armenians, Greeks or Kurds.


Professionals should wear conservative, modest clothes in Turkey. Despite the summer heat, men should wear dark suits and avoid removing their jackets or ties unless their hosts do so first. Women should opt for suits and heeled shoes, and avoid short skirts and low necklines.

For casual outings, avoid wearing shorts unless you are visiting a water resort. Jeans are acceptable, so long as they are in good condition.


You must remove your shoes before entering a person's home or a mosque in Turkey, so your socks should be presentable.

Additional Tips

  • Punctuality is important in Turkey, so make sure that you arrive on time for all meetings and appointments.
  • Be careful when driving and walking around, as traffic is often unpredictable and chaotic, particularly in Ankara and Istanbul. So, give yourself plenty of time to travel.
  • Many Turkish people enjoy smoking, and most public spaces don't have non-smoking areas, so you may experience some discomfort if you don't smoke.
  • You should avoid using certain gestures in Turkey. For instance, never point at anyone, don't pat people on the shoulder or back, and don't show the soles of your feet, even when you sit down. It's also important to keep your hands out of your pockets, and avoid crossing your arms.
  • Turks also have a unique way of saying "no." In Turkey, shaking your head from side to side translates as, "I don't understand." Instead, people raise their eyebrows and make a "tsk" sound, or tilt their head backward slightly while lowering their eyelids.

Key Points

If you've been asked to work in Turkey, or you'll be leading a Turkish team remotely, it's important to develop strong bonds with your people.

You can build rapport by sharing personal information, asking people about their families, and encouraging their trust. And, when appropriate, share positive thoughts about yourself and the country to help you build successful and productive business relationships.

And, finally, if you are visiting Turkey, check with your country’s authorities that it’s safe to travel.