“What a typical working day in Russia looks like?”
This question expats coming to work in Russia ask very often. It’s difficult to define a “standard” day, since each company, and each job position has its own business specifics. In this article, I will try to outline some patterns common for employees of most Russian companies in Russia.
(Russian company means owned by Russians and operated by Russian management with no international influence on their internal operations)
Let’s consider working day of an ordinary employee, not in a high managerial position.
Russia has 5-day/40-hour working week Monday to Friday. This defines a full-time job type of employment. Each standard working day is nine hours, including one hour lunch break, not paid for. Working day is reduced by one hour if following day is a public holiday. In a very few companies, Friday workday is reduced one hour for female employees. (This practice is of gender roles in Russia, which in many cultures considered as sexism)
Most Russian companies do not have flexible hours. Nor do they have “work from home” type of job arrangement. If you are employed, you have to come to the office and sit at your desk every day during fixed working hours. On contrary, international companies based in Russia use flexible hours and remote work quite often.
Working day for a normal office job starts either at 9am or 10am. Sometimes you spot an employee coming at 8am or even earlier. This does not mean they are hard workers or have different working schedule. In many cases, it means they have got some practical reason to be earlier in the office. This can be something like avoiding morning traffic or family situation or anything else. It is very unusual for Russian company to start business earlier than nine in the morning.
Working hours are fixed in a job contract and company regulations. Ones set, they are hard to change.
Russian management believes strongly in discipline. However, Russians by culture are very unpunctual. The two combined make lateness one of the most critical HR issue. Actual starting time is clocked very meticulously. Each employee uses an electronic keycard to access office and their in/out time is recorded. In some (rare nowadays) cases employees have to keep record of their in/out time in a special handwritten journal.
For Moscow and St.Petersburg, it’s worth mentioning that commute time can be one-two hours, especially if an employee lives outside the city. Employees come to work “refreshed” in endless traffic jams and overcrowded public transportation. Squeezed between millions of other people trying to get to office by nine or ten they sweat and get pushed. Those driving for work sweat in fear of being late because traffic can be very unpredictable.
Lateness is one of very few legitimate reasons for firing an employee. So employees try not to give their management a chance to pick on their lateness. If an employee is late for work, it might be required to write an official explanatory note (“obyasnitelnaya zapiska”).
Ones in the office, employees go to their work places. Majorities of companies have arranged seating in small offices (“kabinet”) for 2-10 people. Open space has become popular just recently and available only at newly developed office buildings.
For male employees, each working day starts with greeting ritual, which I will explain in a separate article. For woman, working day starts fixing haircut and finishing makeup, changing shoes from street ones to office ones. A spare pair (or two) of shoes is always kept somewhere under the table or in the table drawer.
Many people get some coffee or tea starting their workday. In Russian companies amenities like kitchen for employees, free drinks are almost never available. What’s available is water from cooler, electric kettle to boil water. Thus, the only option is to have instant coffee or tea made with teabag.
Depending on relationships between employees there can be some chit-chat first of the day. Chatting subjects are weekends, family affairs, public news, company news, and rumors, whatever has importance for a specific group.
This is an extremely important part of socializing in business. As an expat manager or employee, you have to be mindful of this. If you are coming from a business culture that does not tolerate “wasting time” in personal talks, be aware that Russian business culture is relationship based.
If you, being an expat, notice that people around you, locals, try to engage you in their conversations, asking questions, it’s a good sign. This means they are not afraid of you, have genuine interest in you as a person, and try to build personal connections with you. In the best case scenario, they might be considering you as part of their circle or circle of trust. Those small talks beginning of the day will possibly grow into relationships. Good relationship is what propels business in Russia. Advice here is not to ignore those relationships building attempts even if it’s something you would not normally do. This is a bigger subject that will be addressed in another publication.
Smoking is banned from all offices and office buildings. Smokers go outside to have a smoke. (In Russia most people do smoke) In some companies every minute outside work place is clocked. Even bathroom trips can be counted and later presented to an employee as “absence from work.” This is to put pressure on employees, control them and keep on alert about possibility of being fired. Russian management also believes this way they can raise productivity. What an illusion.
Lunch time is normally between noon and three in the afternoon. It can be fixed or flexible. If affordable canteen or place serving business lunch is available nearby, people go there for lunch. Affordable means 200-400 Rubles (US$3-7). Very often there is nowhere to go or employees can’t afford paying for the lunch. Many people bring their own food. Very few (like almost none) Russian companies have special places to eat in the office. In absence of specially designated eating place most people eat at the office desk. Microwaves usually available in the office, fridges can be available as well, but limited and not everywhere.
Just recently I have read a heated debate on one of internet business forums. HR person of some Russian company asked advice on what to do with employee complaints on smell of food in the office. They had a group of employees on a really small salary, so they could not afford eating at canteen. Those employees had to bring their own food, heat it up and eat at their desks. People complained about the smell of food. HR asked public advice on how to handle this. (Raising salaries or paying their $3 lunches, or organizing designated space for eating were not considered as options)
Sometimes people celebrate their birthdays or other significant events during lunch. It becomes less common, but in a typical Russian company it is expected from a person who has birthday to bring some food (and sometimes even alcohol). Very often you see all office equipment, and papers removed from office desks and replaced with salads, snacks, some sandwiches, and drinks. People would gather around desks to have some food, chat and say congratulations for whoever is having birthday. In Russia people socialize over food and business environment is not an exception. Russian employees of international companies generally do the same. They usually bring cakes or something else to share in the office kitchen.
Workday finishes at 6pm or 7pm. For office jobs it is not unusual to stay overtime. Overtime is not paid in most Russian companies. Overtime happens for many reasons, which again can be a whole separate post. To name just a few: poor organization of working time, lengthy business meeting, practical reasons like avoiding traffic or having to pick up spouse from their job.
On Friday night, a group of employees of one department or business unit might to go out for drinks, dinner and some entertainment. You may also notice that people change their outfits before leaving if they are going to a night club or some event.