Hungary: “No one wants to work here!”

July 8, 2015


Hungarian magazine Hetek recently published an article which explored job opportunities, or lack thereof, around Hungary. The magazine looked at job listings, called employers looking to hire, spoke to employees, and looked at studies that sized up work-related stress among employees and managers. Working in Hungary, it turns out, is not that easy.

Despite there being around 400,000 individuals actively seeking employment in the countryside, employers are having a hard time finding help because, as one told the magazine, “no one wants to work here”. The problem of matching those seeking employment with employment opportunities is complicated further by the unwillingness of employers to offer sufficient pay, according to studies cited by the magazine.

They started by looking at employment listings and calling potential employers

One employer complains that there is plenty of work to be had, but job seekers either want much higher pay or they simply do not want to engage in menial labor. This employer says he starts employees off at minimum wage (currently HUF 69,000 a month after taxes), but is willing to pay as much as HUF 100-120 thousand (USD 360-435) if he sees an employee is trustworthy and reliable.

One problem, the employer points out, is that many employees would like to take home their entire gross salary, “but no one seems to be concerned with the fact that an employer has to pay just as much in taxes for one employee as the employee’s net salary”.

This particular employer says that one’s desire to work is not connected to how much they earn. There are people, the employer says, who can complete tasks for the same amount of money as others who can’t necessarily do half as much.

Attitude is a big factor

A look at job listings shows that an employer in the agricultural sector is looking for help. The monthly salary would pay HUF 57 thousand. Hetek contacted the employer who said the job requires four hours of work daily, but the employer would negotiate full-time employment with an applicant. The employer also said the business can provide housing and one hot meal per day, but even breakfast is negotiable. If hired, a full-time employee could take home as much as HUF 80 thousand per month. If the employee has family, they too could stay in the provided housing and enjoy the one hot meal per day. The work wouldn’t be hard. The employee would only have to take care of cows and pigs, but vacation is something that would need to be negotiated.

The employer says people have already expressed interest in the job, but none of the individuals were hired because they all thought the pay was far too low. “We have no choice but to do the work ourselves, working 20 hours a day,” says the employer.

Elsewhere: “Numerous applicants arrived but the majority of them were alcoholics and didn’t want to work. I can’t afford to pay simply so that we have one more person amongst us,” says one master mason looking to hire a mason and a mason’s assistant. He says he would pay HUF 550 per hour for the assistant and HUF 700 for the mason. Numerous people tried to work with him but they all left within a matter of weeks. One assistant demanded more than one and a half of his supervisor’s salary. That would have been impossible to pay, says the mason, because they simply don’t earn that much money.

“Unfortunately, those who want to work are already working in other countries or have already started their own businesses. There are only three of us [working together]. An additional two or three people would help but we’ll have to do everything with or without them regardless,” says the mason.

One construction manager tells Hetek that his company doesn’t really have serious staffing problems. “Our experiences indicate that it’s slightly difficult to find good employees in Hungary today. We rarely hire new employees because our employees rarely leave us. We have one worker who has been with us for 20 years,” he says.

The construction manager thinks money is not the primary incentive for someone to work. He says it is much more important for an employee to enjoy what he does and be accepted by his co-workers.

Employees at his construction business make between HUF 150-300 thousand per month and even receive minimal pay during the winter season when construction slows down. In some cases, he says, employees get a 13th-month payment. The company is currently looking to hire, but a new employee would first need to make it through a probationary period and would only be fully hired once they’ve proven they can work and the other employees get along with them.

This employer wants above average performance for above average pay. He says job assignments are not overly difficult, but when the construction season is in full swing, the company expects employees to work Monday through Saturday, from dawn until dusk. These jobs are sometimes in other parts of the country. Employees who drink on the job, show up to work hungover, or are caught stealing are given the boot.

Lots of stress for little pay

Hetek also interviewed people on the other side of the employment coin, the employees.

“For years I worked for a Hungarian business in finance. I would be in the office until late in the evenings and I saved lots of money for the owner through various methods, but I never once received so much as a ‘Thanks’ – let alone some kind of financial reward. I earned only slightly more than minimum wage. This was perfectly acceptable to my employer who thought it was normal for employees to act as robots and constantly make sacrifices for the company. In fact, on a number occasions the owner said that he was providing charity by employing us. The owner then lost lots of money in a certain transaction, no thanks to his own attitude. I used the experiences I gathered there to get a better job at a Scandinavian-owned company where they respected me, where my responsibilities are clearly defined, where I was surrounded by motivated employees, and where I received a much higher manager’s salary,” says 37-year-old Tamás, whose experiences working with Hungarian employers is not unique.

A headhunter told Hetek: “Unfortunately it’s a common and very short-sighted employment practice to employ as few people as possible to accomplish the absolute most while paying them the lowest wages. This leads to employees being burned out and their performance also being affected. This isn’t a problem for the employer because they will simply replace the employee with someone else.”

This particular approach to management also has effects on health, according to the 2013 Hungarostudy Countrywide Health study carried out by the SE Behavioral Science Institute.

The study found that the number of employees who suffer from work-related stress has grown from 18 to 29 percent.

The primary source of work-related stress is employment uncertainty, that is, people are afraid of losing their jobs. In recent years there has also been a rise in this type of stress on employees with high education degrees, whereas in earlier years their levels of education shielded them from such fears.

Work-related stress isn’t limited to only employment uncertainty. Employees are stressed out because of a lack of rewards for increased performance, as well as over-performance. Another factor tied to work-related stress is whether employees are supported by their colleagues, and whether employees themselves have any influence over their work environment. With respect to the latter, employees can be stressed out by seeing that their ability to move up in the business has nothing to do with their own personal performance and that they have no influence over the actual environment they work in.

Work-related stress is detectable through an employee’s prolonged feeling of being burned out, feeling depressed, and continuously diminishing health. The effects of chronic work-related stress are manifested through- and made worse by – smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor dietary choices.

Managers are in trouble

Studies show that Hungarians typically avoid conflicts, risk, and unknown situations. It is difficult for them to make decisions, they are not proactive, they like to blame others, and they are very responsive to strong leadership. Interestingly, they are not likely to see themselves as leaders.

A 2007 study found that 90 percent of Hungarian business executives admitted being divorced but having families. Ágnes Szirmay, an employment psychologist, says that executives are often overworked, burned out, and suffer from having little free time. The primary cause of this, aside from poor time management, is that they are unwilling to realize effective work takes place when there is good teamwork and communication with the company’s team and amongst employees.

Szirmay says she has visited companies where the company couldn’t operate effectively because it lacked effective communication between its employees, despite there being a poster on the wall that clearly explained the company’s hierarchy and the roles and responsibilities of its employees.

“Hungary’s workplaces are slow to work, discussions are not effective, individuals do not know how to act, speak, and decide, in a manner that gets to the point. This ruins a company’s ability to be effective,” she says.

Szirmay says all this leads to further problems in collaboration and eventually results in excessive workloads and exhaustion.

Referenced in this article:

“Itt már senki nem akar dolgozni?” A hazai munkaerőpiac,; 4 July 2015.