Doing Business in Ireland
Expats planning on doing business in Ireland will find that a welcoming and friendly work environment awaits them.
An active member of the European Union, many foreign companies view Ireland as a gateway to the European market. Numerous multinational firms have offices in Ireland, and particularly in Dublin, the country’s commercial and economic centre.
Most expats work in one of the major industries in Ireland, which include business services, finance, IT, pharmaceuticals and the food industry.
The attractive environment for businesses in Ireland is reflected in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2018. The country was ranked 17th out of 190 economies, scoring especially well when it comes to paying taxes (4th), starting a business (8th) and protecting minority investors (10th).
The workweek in Ireland is Monday to Friday and office hours are generally from 9am to 5.30pm, with an hour-long lunch break. Religious and family holidays are important in Ireland, and arranging meetings over Easter and Christmas should be avoided as most executives take their vacation around these holidays.
Although Irish is the first and official language of Ireland, it isn't commonly spoken. Business is almost always conducted in English – the Gaeltacht regions of Ireland may be one exception to this, but even those whose first language is Irish are usually proficient in English too.
Business dress is modest and conservative, with executives usually wearing suits and ties. Dark, subdued colours are the norm and raincoats may be necessary throughout the year.
Gifts are not usually part of Irish business, but if invited to an Irish associate’s house, flowers, chocolates or a good bottle of wine or spirits is appropriate. However, gifts should not be extravagant and flowers should not be red or white in colour.
While men still dominate the Irish business arena in terms of senior positions, women are treated equally and many women hold high positions in Irish business and political circles.
A firm handshake and direct eye contact is an appropriate greeting with Irish associates.
Business culture in Ireland
Although the business culture in Ireland is generally conservative, the Irish are known for being modest and having a good sense of humour. Jokes and teasing are a part of general conversation, and this can extend to business meetings as a way to build rapport and avoid conflict. Expats may struggle to reconcile Irish humour with the professional environment but should take it in the good spirit in which it is intended.
Business structures in Ireland are hierarchical. Decisions are usually made at the top, but the division between managers and their subordinates can sometimes be blurred. Irish businesspeople are often less formal and more friendly than their European counterparts.
Business meetings can be unstructured and it’s not unusual to conduct business meetings outside of the office – in a coffee shop or even over a pint of Guinness at the pub. Many business interactions also take place on the golf course.
Networking and establishing good rapport is important in Irish business and expats should allow for small talk before negotiations officially begin. Polite conversation can centre on Irish culture and sport, but politics and religion should be avoided. Once negotiations start, the meeting should be focused on business and conversation should be direct and to the point.
Expats should avoid being loud or arrogant in their interactions, as this may be met with suspicion. Professional titles are not prevalent in Irish business culture and titles will not automatically command respect. It’s not unusual to move to first name basis with Irish associates fairly soon, but expats should wait for their Irish colleagues to invite them to do so first.
The Irish have a reputation for being shrewd negotiators with a preference for systematic procedures and a relaxed sense of time, meaning that decision-making can be a slow process. While an expat’s hosts may be late for business or social engagements, they should always be punctual out of respect.
Family and religion
Family forms an integral part of Irish culture. Many businesses are family owned and business in Ireland is often based on who a person knows, making relationships integral to success in the workplace. Religion also plays an important role in Irish culture. Most of the population is Catholic, which has deeply influenced cultural values and social norms in Ireland.
Dos and don’ts of business in Ireland
Don’t speak about politics or refer to the Republic of Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, or Northern Ireland as part of the Republic of Ireland. These are two completely different political entities and this is a sensitive subject.
Don’t talk about religious matters
Do exchange business cards when meeting with Irish associates
Do maintain an arm’s length distance when speaking to Irish counterparts. Personal space should be respected.
Do maintain eye contact when speaking to Irish associates. This is seen as a sign of respect and avoiding eye contact may be viewed with suspicion.