Business ethics in Estonia

Business ethics in Estonia

Photo: Fotolia

Estonian business ethics and Estonian culture in general is a mixture deriving from the country's geopolitical stance as well as from its history. Estonians like to be considered a part of Scandinavia and Northern Europe rather than one of the Baltic countries or, god forbid, a former Soviet republic.

They admit belonging to the Baltic Trio only if it appears to bring along some advantage; for instance, if their partner's ambition is to build a pan-Baltic presence starting from Estonia. Otherwise they prefer to classify their country as Nordic or Scandinavian.

Estonians tend to feel quite strongly about their country. They have a soft spot in their hearts for foreigners who have had the patience to learn a few words in the Estonian language or memorise some facts about Estonia. One must be careful, though, and double-check the facts before using them — messy information, such as "the Estonian capital Riga" (in fact the capital of Latvia) may have an opposite effect.

They are mostly punctual

Estonians honour time — they are mostly punctual — as well as contracts of all kind, oral or written, complex or simple. They tend to keep their word and expect their partner to do the same. In order to avoid spoiling business relationships with misunderstandings, it is good to make sure that both parties have a similar understanding regarding their rights and responsibilities.

While negotiating or conversing with people they haven't met before, Estonians are short with words at first, but eventually warm up. They don't interrupt people when they speak and don't appreciate to be interrupted either. Foreigners, though, should not worry about getting a word in edgewise, as Estonians tend to leave long pauses in their utterances for bystanders to have their say.

When presented with an offer, Estonians usually take time to think the issue through. Because of that, negotiations with Estonians may take longer than the Western-European average. However, as they are polite and dislike saying "no" up front, they might agree to weigh the proposition even when they've actually already decided to refuse.

In general, Estonians are reserved: they inhabit typical Northern-European-sized interpersonal space bubbles — with about an arm's length between people in business situations, whether standing or seated. People touch each other, for instance pat another's shoulder, only if they are already familiar with each other. It is OK to joke — but Estonian jokes are often ironic and partly disguised; the British type of sarcastic and dry humour is appreciated.

Similarly to other tiny nations

As a rule, Estonians — similarly to other tiny nations — speak at least one foreign language. Most Estonians under 40 speak English, while older people and those from the Eastern regions of the country speak Russian. People from Western and Northern Estonia, particularly those from the capital Tallinn, speak, or at least understand, Finnish. Speakers of German are less common. An increasing number of people speak Swedish or some other Scandinavian language.

Estonian work ethics are a mixture of the German-Lutheran tradition and the American self-made mentality. Estonians are mostly dedicated workers, who do not mind doing occasional overtime or double-shifts, if motivated properly. Should the bigger workload mean more money for them, they will happily agree to push harder in order to meet the close deadline. Still, family usually comes on top when compared to the job, so the employer has to make sure the workload is not hampering the Estonian's relationship with his or her closest ones. Family problems also tend to affect the Estonians' work result.

As a rule of thumb, Estonian workers are creative — something a long history under foreign powers has taught them. They will do as told and hardly criticize the work arrangements in front of their superiors — but may also have their own ideas about making the process easier and more effective. So it sometimes pays off to ask them for input.

While two decades have already passed since the 40-year long Soviet rule, some Soviet-time habits may still occasionally arise. In Soviet times, it was commonly accepted to use some of the assets of the employer, including work time, for one's personal ends. Such an issue might pop up with an employee from time to time.

Estonians usually dress in a casual manner, except for weddings, funerals and the theatre. They tend not to use any titles except Mister or Miss/Missis, and even these only in rare occasions.




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