The Turkish work culture is complex. The Republic of Türkiye officially changed its name from ‘Turkey’ in June 2022 (as now recognised by the United Nations), but that did not alter its prime geographical location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Its location is a massive bonus for international companies and a major attraction for foreigners wanting to experience job opportunities and the culture.
Türkiye is mainly located in Western Asia, with a small northwest area in the Balkan Peninsula across the inland Sea of Marmara bordering Bulgaria and Greece. Türkiye has a Black Sea north coast and a southern coastline on the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. The nation’s east has borders with Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran; the southern borders are Iraq and Syria.
Türkiye is seen as a bridge between Europe and Asia, within three hours by air of most major European cities and logistically well-placed for expansion into West Asia and further east. Incoming expatriates – who need an employment contract and job offer to apply for work permits and visas – will be entering a nation proud of its history and heritage and virtually 100% Muslim. Three-quarters of the population is Turkish, close to 20% are Kurdish, with the remainder is a mixture of other minorities.
Foreigners also have to accept that the authorities are resistant to foreigners taking positions that could be filled by a national, so the typical employment routes for expatriates are teaching, tourism or with one of the many multi-nationals. Once past these barriers, foreigners will find Turks are friendly, welcoming, polite and hard-working.
Language: Turkish is the official language, and although English is becoming more common among younger generations, do not assume business meetings with senior managers will be in English. Research ahead, play safe and ask if an interpreter will be needed.
Punctuality: Be on time – it is expected. They may not be, so be patient.
Negotiations and Business Relationships: Turks generally like to feel relaxed with business acquaintances, building a trusting, long-term partnership. Let negotiations progress slowly, get to know the opposite number, exchange small talk and avoid rushing or applying pressure. Decisions are most likely to come from the senior and older members of the team. Even in business, bartering is still a feature of negotiations. Once a relationship is established, avoid sending replacements to subsequent meetings, as it may put you back to square one.
Greetings: Shake hands. Make eye contact when greeting and during conversations, which can be animated and feature hand gestures. The Turkish tend not to be precious about personal space and can stand quite close; it will seem unfriendly if you take a step back. Men should wait for female members of the other team to offer their hand first. Men can be greeted by their first name, followed by ‘Bey’; women by their first name, followed by ‘Hanim’. Titles such as Doctor, Professor or Lawyer are often used with the surname as a show of respect.
Gift Giving: Not a typical feature of Turkish business relationships.
Business Cards: Present business cards with a smile and show interest in reading those given to you as a sign of respect. Include educational or professional qualifications on your card.
Dress Code: Conservative and formal, suits and ties for men and smart, reserved combinations for female members of the team. Acceptable to leave jackets aside during the hottest summer months.
Out of Hours: Meals are a chance to relax and continue building personal relationships, so allow the host to lead the conversation in the business direction. The host pays … then you reciprocate with the next meal.
Avoid: Cultural taboos include pointing, showing the soles of your feet or shoes, standing with hands on hips or in pockets, or crossing your arms or, when seated, your legs. Avoid discussing sensitive political issues such as Cyprus and Armenia.