If you’re just entering the workforce in Israel, you may find that the company culture here is different from what you are used to in your home country. Not every company in Israel is the same, and there are differences between industries and locations, but a group of working women in Israel who belong to the ImaKadima Facebook group have helped us compile a list of characteristics that you are likely to encounter in the Israeli workplace.
Bear in mind that Jerusalem offices tend to be more toned down than offices in the Tel Aviv area. Jerusalem offices are often more heavily religious and that affects workplace culture as well. Some of the characteristics described below are true across the board, while others are more likely to be experienced in the Merkaz (center of the country).
Formality (or lack thereof)
Israel tends to be less formal in general and this is never more true than in the workforce. It starts with the way people dress and talk and even affects management.
Most companies do not have a dress code and casual dress is the norm. There are very few companies where people wear suits to work and many workplaces where jeans and flip-flops are perfectly acceptable.
Israelis tend to speak at work in the same way they speak to their friends or random strangers on the bus. You might be surprised to hear people speaking loudly, very directly and even sounding like they are having an argument, but none of these things are considered rude in Israel. It’s likely that you will be expected to make your opinions known and not beat around the bush.
There is less deference to hierarchy at Israeli companies. Management tends to be more accessible and more open to socializing with employees. Bosses (or their HR departments) often organize mandatory “fun days,” which can be very informal. Alcohol is often served at company events and people are encouraged to let their hair down a bit.
Vacations and absences
Israeli law requires minimum vacation days, but employers can dictate when those vacation days take place. Some companies have mandatory shutdowns during periods when many employees want to take off or when productivity is low. So you may find that your company is closed on chol hamoed or during the last two weeks of August. In some companies that stay open, there is a much smaller staff since a lot of employees choose to take their vacation days at those times.
A large number of Israelis serve in the military reserves (miluim) until their early forties. So your colleagues might be off of work for an extended period while they are in the IDF.
International travel has become popular in Israel in recent years, and it’s not unheard of for employees to take off for a week or two in order to vacation outside the country.
If you’re used to very strict boundaries between your personal and professional life, aliyah is a good opportunity to let go of them. Coworkers tend to be open about their personal lives, discussing children, spouses and even politics. Colleagues invite each other to family simchas and give each other gifts for events.
Hot topics like politics or religion are not taboo and heated discussions can happen, with everyone still staying on friendly terms. Coworkers may share their feelings and be more free with hugging and kissing. Sometimes personal discussions veer into gray areas, such as asking a woman about her plans regarding getting pregnant. You don’t have to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable or could lead to discriminiation, but it’s best to avoid them elegantly.
In many workplaces, it is acceptable for family and friends to come by to say hello. Even children are welcome in these offices, as long as they aren’t too disruptive.
The Israeli work week is fairly long. A full time job (without overtime) is 42 hours. Many companies work Sunday to Thursday, which translates into nine-hour days. Some companies (and especially governmental institutions) have shorter hours for working mothers.
If you get a job offer with a global salary, this means that you are expected to work overtime. The exact details must be laid out in your contract and adhere to the laws on compensation for overtime.
Some workplaces have electronic time-clocks, where you clock in when you arrive and clock out when you leave. The time clock protects both you and the employer in case of a dispute about work hours. Mas Hachnasa (Israel Tax Authority) requires that hours worked appear on your monthly pay stub.
Salaries and Benefits
Salaries are paid monthly (by law they must be paid by the 9th of the next month). This might be a culture shock if you are used to getting a paycheck every two weeks. Most employers will take your bank account information and pay you by direct deposit.
It is common for employers to give their staff presents before Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. These might be gift baskets, housewares or a gift certificate. Some companies allow their employees to choose a gift from a list of options. Other employers will not give gifts at all or will give something symbolic, like a bottle of wine. Note that gifts from employers are often taxable.
Smoking is ubiquitous in Israel and with it cigarette breaks. Coworkers may use their smoking breaks as a time to socialize or to talk business. Lunchtime is also a social occasion at Israeli workplaces. Colleagues tend to eat together, talking, laughing and getting to know each other. Employees may order in, get takeout from a nearby restaurant or bring their own food.
Some companies (especially in the hi-tech industry) provide their employees with lunch cards such as 10bis and Cibus, which give them free meals at certain establishments. (The amount on the cards is considered taxable income, since, after all, there is no such thing as a free lunch.) There are also workplaces which provide catered lunches for their staff. Some even stock the fridge with breakfast foods and snacks, so employees never have to leave the building during the workday.
Israeli employers are generally respectful of family obligations and events, such as bar mitzvahs, britot, weddings and funerals, and will understand when an employee takes off time to attend them. When there is a death in an employee’s family, this will be announced to all the workers and some of them will make the effort to attend the funeral and/or shiva. An employee sitting shiva is legally entitled to all those days off.
Judaism in the Workplace
Depending on the location and the people who work at the company, the environment might be more or less religious. But even the most secular workplaces are likely to hold holiday parties before major Jewish holidays. Most companies will make arrangements for kosher food at parties and other events if they know that this is important to some of their employees. Even if you are the only kosher-eating person in your office, there’s no need to be shy about asking for consideration of kashrut restrictions. Legally, Jewish holidays on which work is prohibited by Jewish law are considered paid vacation days.
Olim are sometimes surprised to find out that the customer isn’t always right in Israel. This is true as a consumer but also as an employee. You may find that your bosses are working under the impression that they know what’s best, even if customer feedback seems to be saying something different.
Organized methods and deadlines are not always a feature of the Israeli workplace. On the other hand, both management and employees tend to be extremely dedicated to getting the job done, even if it requires working crazy hours or pulling people off other projects to complete a goal.
We already mentioned the lack of formality in speech and this includes using casual army slang and references, swear words and divulging TMI (too much information). Israelis talk fast and interrupt each other and this is not considered rude. They do small talk and Jewish geography, but just as often will cut out the small talk to get to the main point as quickly as possible. Who you know is more important than what you know, so it’s important to establish connections, even if it’s as remote as your niece’s neighbor serving in the army with your colleague’s daughter. And don’t be surprised if your coworker offers to set you up with his best friend’s son.
You may find that your office relies less on email and more on WhatsApp and direct communication. A lot of offices prefer task management apps in order to cut down on email but important information may still be relayed informally. This preference for direct communication leads to meetings which may seem unnecessary to you, but which are considered vital by management.
Adjusting Your Expectations
It will be much easier to get used to the differences in company culture if you come with an open mind and a readiness to learn. Let go of the ideas you brought from your home country and pay attention to how your colleagues behave. Before long, you will find yourself acting like an Israeli and wondering how you ever did business any other way!