Managing in Russia

Finding Your Way in a Proud and Historic Culture

Russian flag

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Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow is one of Russia’s most iconic buildings.

Russia is a vast and deeply complex country. Its people are famously determined and patient, and are an integral part of its often complicated history.

In this article, we'll explore how you can successfully do business in Russia, whether you're managing a remote team, visiting the country, or working alongside Russian team members every day.

Russia's Heritage and Culture

The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world. It spans 11 time zones across Europe and Asia, from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and covers more than one-eighth of the world's inhabited land mass. Yet, it has a population of fewer than 150 million people.

The vast majority of people living in Russia (78 percent) are ethnic Russian. Tatars make up four percent of the population, and the remaining 18 percent are a mix of Ukrainian, Bashkir, Chuvash, Chechen, and other smaller minorities.

Since the end of communism and the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian Orthodox Christianity has established itself as the country's main religion, although Muslims make up a sizeable minority, at about 10 percent of the population.

Communism, Christianity and Islam all contribute to the country's exceptional art and architecture, and Russians also boast an extremely rich cultural heritage of music, dance and literature.

Russia is an energy superpower, with a huge array of natural resources. It has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal deposits, and the eighth largest reserves of petroleum. It's also one of the largest nuclear power producers and, thanks to a well-developed hydroelectricity industry, the sixth largest provider of renewable energy in the world.

Tip:

Russia's currency is the Ruble. Credit cards may not always be accepted in the country's shops, so ensure that you always have cash to hand. ATMs are commonplace in major cities.

Politically, Russia is classed as a multi-party representative democracy. However, it's receiving increasing international criticism for its allegedly undemocratic political and electoral systems, poor human rights record, and lack of media freedom.

Russia spans 11 time zones from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean

Tip:

Russia is huge, and it's home to many different peoples and cultures, so it's difficult to make generalizations. Perspectives, values and expectations will likely vary depending on your location. So, use this article as a general guide only, and do further research on the particular area in which you'll be working, so that you can better understand your region, work place and colleagues.

Etiquette

By and large, Russians are friendly and warm. However, they often present a different image when in public, or while working, especially when they are in the company of strangers. So think about your body language and how you behave.

Avoid laughing or talking loudly when out and about: a subdued demeanor is usually more appropriate. And pay attention to your posture – it should be straight and strong. Avoid standing casually, with your hands in your pockets, as this is considered rude.

As you get to know your Russian colleagues, they'll open up and welcome you into their inner circles.

Meeting and Greeting

It's an honor to be invited to a Russian's home for a meal . Show your appreciation with a small gift: liquor or flowers are appropriate. And come hungry, as Russian meals are often long and lavish. Vodka is the drink of choice, and you'll likely be offered it when you're socializing.

Tip:

See our article, Gifts in the Workplace , for the dos and don'ts of gift giving. Take care to understand anti-corruption laws both in Russia and in your home country (which may apply even when you're abroad), and to respect your company's policies on this subject. For example, in the U.S. the legal distinction between a gift and a bribe is not completely clear. See the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for more information. And the U.K.'s Bribery Act 2010 explains what constitutes a bribe in Britain, and for any British company operating in any location.

Be sure to address people with the right form of their name. Russians have a first and a last name, just like in the U.S. and U.K., but their middle name is just as important. It's usually patronymic (derived from the father's name) and ends in "-vich" or "-ovich" for men, and "-avna" or "-ovna" for women. For example, the man's name "Ivanovich" would become "Ivanovna" for a woman.

When you meet someone for the first time, use all three of his or her names, especially when you're in a professional situation. Once you've established a relationship, you can use his first and patronymic names once he's invited you to do so. Close friends and family refer to one another by their first names only.

The proper greeting in Russia is a strong handshake with direct eye contact. Russians often greet you by stating your name, rather than asking how you are – respond by stating their name. Women often greet other women (especially acquaintances) with three kisses on alternate cheeks.

Dress

It's important to be clean cut and well dressed. In a business environment, men and women should wear dark and conservative European-style suits.

Russia has some extremely cold weather in the winter. However, buildings are well heated, so wearing layers is often best. Russians consider wearing a coat indoors bad manners . Instead, leave your coat in the cloakroom (called a "garderob").

Getting the Best From Your Team

To gain the trust of your new team , be honest and sincere. Give people time to get to know you, and hold as many face-to-face meetings as possible, as many Russians trust what they hear more than what they read.

Russians have a natural respect for powerful authority figures. Lead with strength and assertiveness, and be clear about what you want people to do. Don't be surprised if your team members are silent and display little body language: Russians often take their time when thinking about new ideas, so don't look for a response immediately. They may be reluctant to provide feedback, so you may have to ask a question in several ways before you get an answer.

Russians are usually extremely patient and persistent. Your team will likely show great strength and resilience if it is faced with problems, and people will work hard to find creative solutions.

Useful Phrases

One of the best ways to make a good impression is to learn some key phrases in your co-workers' own language. Here are a few useful examples of Russian phrases that you could use:

English Russian Phonetic
Good morning Доброе утро Dobraye ootro
Good evening Добрый вечер Dobriy vyecher
Hello Здравствуйте Zdrastvooyte
Hi! Привет! Preevyet
How are you? Как поживаешь? Kak pazhivayesh?
Fine, thanks! Спасибо, прекрасно! Spaseeba preekrasna!
Not so bad Неплохо! Neeploha!
What's your name? Как Вас зовут? Kak vas zavoot?
My name is... Thank you Меня зовут... Спасибо Meenya zavoot... Spaseeba
Thank you very much Большое спасибо Bal'shoye spaseeba
That's all right Не за что Nyezashta
You're welcome Пожалуйста Pazhalooysta
Sorry! Извините Eezveeneete
Excuse me Простите Prasteete
Bye-bye! Пока! Paka
Do you speak English? Вы говорите по-английски? Vi gavareetye pa angleeskee?
My Russian is bad Я плохо говорю по-русски Ya plokha gavaryoo pa rooskee
Could you speak more slowly? Пожалуйста, говорите медленнее Gavareetye pazhalooysta myedleeney
I don't understand Я не понимаю Ya nee paneemayoo

Employment Law

You will likely need a visa and a work permit to work in Russia. And this, in turn, depends on you receiving an invitation from the Russian Federal Migration Service on behalf of your host.

There are different types of work visas, and you must make sure that yours allows you to do the type of business that you are going to Russia to do. For example, a visa that allows you to negotiate, attend conferences, and conduct meetings does not entitle you to work under contract, so please check your visa regulations very carefully.

A useful source of information on Russian employment law is practicallaw.com but regulations change frequently in Russia, so get advice from a local legal professional before taking any action regarding work contracts or possible disciplinary measures.

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Working Hours and Pay

The normal working week is 40 hours. If an employee is working less than that, she is considered to be part-time, though there are some exceptions in hazardous industries, such as the energy or chemical sectors.

The employer is responsible for paying a person's first three days of sick leave. After that, the Social Insurance Fund provides temporary benefits. However, the employee must provide a medical certificate when returning to work to be eligible for these payments.

Women are entitled to at least 70 days' maternity leave, and to benefits both before and after giving birth. They are also protected from dismissal, as are single parents and women with children aged under three.

Vacations/Holidays

Employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 paid vacation days each year, in addition to the following public holidays:

  • New Year's Holiday – January 1-6 (The dates can change each year, but will be the same in 2017).
  • Orthodox Christmas – January 7.
  • Defender's Day – February 23.
  • Women's Day – March 8.
  • May Day – May 1.
  • Victory Day – May 9.
  • Russian Independence Day – June 12.
  • Day of Consent and Reconciliation (Unity Day) – November 4.

There are also several additional public "bridge days" spread throughout the year. These are paid holidays, but people must compensate for them by working a specified weekend day. The dates of these holidays change every year, so check the official public holiday schedule before arranging meetings or appointments.

Tip:

See www.timeanddate.com and www.thetimenow.com for up-to-date lists of Russia's public holidays.

Personal Health and Safety

If you take prescription medicines regularly, you may not be able to legally import them into Russia. Check before you travel.

Russian police do not need probable cause to stop anyone on the street for interrogation, so carry your passport, visa and other important documents with you at all times. Police can fine or arrest you if you don't have proper documentation. However, don't hand over your papers until you see the official's ID, as scams are common.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is both legal and widespread in Russia. Public harassment and acts of violence targeting LGBT individuals are common, and in 2013 the country passed a law banning "the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to minors. Foreign citizens found guilty of contravening the laws face heavy fines, jail and possibly deportation.

There is a distinct and ongoing terrorism threat in Russia, especially in Moscow and the North Caucasus. You should remain vigilant in public places, and avoid all demonstrations and public gatherings. The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office and U.S. Department of State advise against travelling to several regions of Russia, including Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, and the regions bordering Ukraine.

Corruption

Organized crime, corruption, and bribery are enormous problems in Russia, and they can be an overwhelming hindrance to business. Remember that it's illegal, in Russia and in most other countries, to bribe government officials.

Russians also do much business with an expectation of "blat," or favors. Keep in mind that, if someone does you a favor, he will expect you to repay it.

Key Points

Russia is the largest country on earth, so research the area in which you'll be living and working to learn about local customs and expectations.

Lead your team with conviction, and with the expectation that it will take time to build a trusting relationship with people. Eventually, you will find them to be determined and loyal.

However, always be aware of an ever-changing and often hostile legal landscape.

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