While Wrocław is an international city, home to many international corporations and with English widely spoken by people living and working in the city, it doesn’t mean that English is the language of the workplace. What do I mean? Read on, and see if you can identify with any of these situations…
How many times have you received an e-mail in Polish concerning company policies? All the time, right? Even the biggest companies are guilty of this, with non-Polish speakers hastily resorting to Google Translate, Polish speaking colleagues or even simply deleting the e-mail on sight depending on their position in the company. Of course, the inevitable consequence is an angry e-mail from Human Resources demanding to know why the recipient hasn’t complied with the instructions in the e-mail.
If you work in an international team, this won’t apply to you. But what if you work in a team with Polish people? How often have you been left out of important discussions, or simply weren’t included, even unintentionally? This happens much more than people think, and can often lead to resentment from people that aren’t included in the discussion. Whether it’s during breaks, at the water cooler or even in the corridor, this follows on to…
Meetings in Polish
We’ve all been there. The meeting should be in English, but halfway through, an argument breaks out and the language switches automatically to Polish. Our non-Polish speaking colleague is left out in the cold, wondering what they’re talking about and why they don’t have the decency to use English in this situation. In the worst case scenario, the conclusions are never written down or even made in English, leaving our colleague completely in the dark.
Bad translations are a fact of life, but this can be a particular problem. Official documents (such as contracts) are often poorly translated, and the rights and obligations of employees are poorly communicated. In extreme situations, it can be used as a lever against employees, with managers using the Polish version of the contract against the employee. This is particularly common with B2B relationships, and abuse of non-Polish speaking employees in the startup sector is widespread.
The most difficult situation of all. People fall back into their own language during downtime, and in a Polish company, this means Polish. The company may have international ambitions, but as soon as the beers flow and the party begins, the comments, jokes, and quips begin in Polish. Our foreign worker is left sitting at the edge of the table, awkwardly smiling and feeling out of place as their colleagues struggle to translate the cultural references.
What can be done about this situation? Well, it’s not enough to simply demand that the language in the workplace is English. Most companies simply dictate that the company language is English and leave it at that, but this rarely works in practice. To implement an English language policy, companies should look at the entire system – English should be widely used, with even service employees such as cleaners and security guards also having some knowledge of English. Documents should be produced only in English as far as is legally possible, with even contracts being drafted and agreed in the English language only. If a company professes to use English, then it must use the language as if it was located in London, Dublin or New York.
Of course, the question remains – do we want English to rule? That’s a question for readers to answer, not me, but it’s a question worth asking.