Understanding work culture in Milan

work culture in Milan
Updated 2023-04-19 20:32

Milan is Italy's city of work par excellence. It was rebuilt after the Second World War to guide the country's economic recovery and has since found its place as the undisputed leader. It is a dynamic and enterprising city where the inhabitants seem to be tireless. The Milanese live a fast-paced life, and the work culture has an important place in their daily lives. And yet, fashion, design and gastronomy still find their place in this hectic life that may seem a little chaotic to some expatriates.

Embracing the work culture in Milan

You will soon realize that the Milanese like to talk about their work even when they are not there. They talk about business, entrepreneurship, investment, and hot topics of national and international news. Milan is no exception to Italy's reputation for debate and verbal confrontation.

So, in your workplace, even if the protocol is important, the Milanese like to "talk it out", usually over a coffee, which helps to relax the atmosphere and make the working relationship more informal. This often takes place in Italian, even if your company is international. It is an essential part of the Milanese and wider Italian work culture. The Milanese like to describe themselves as dynamic, curious, demanding, and even a little snobbish.

Work relationships in Milan are generally more friendly and spontaneous than in northern Europe. Colleagues at work greet each other, shake hands and joke around, an Italian way of making any situation seem less dramatic and more natural.

However, the Milanese are very careful about what they wear, so choose your outfit carefully. Certain types of dress are only worn in the workplace. For example, it is common to see men dressed in suits (often tailor-made), ties and customized shirts with their own initials and twins on the sleeves. For free time, the wardrobe is more casual but still neat.

Good to know:

Networking and professional relationships are very important in Milan. It is not uncommon for the Milanese to take generous lunch breaks in order to "cultivate" their address book. In addition, hierarchy and honorific titles are important. Italians call a person with a university degree and a managerial position "Dottore" (literally Doctor) with deference.

Professional dress code in Milan

Milan has the longest working hours in Italy: the Milanese think and live career-wise, which delays or even hinders family life or marriage. Business is business. That said, fashion is an integral part of Milan's work culture, as dressing is essential to make a good impression at a job interview. To do as the Milanese do, you need to strike the right balance between personal style and the classic, simple but elegant dress code, all worn with a certain nonchalance. Milan is a liberal and cosmopolitan city, but its two spearheads are taste and elegance.

For a successful interview in Milan, here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Assess the work environment: in finance, the approach is more traditional, while in design, you can afford to be creative;
  • Avoid mismatched or too casual outfits, which may give the impression of carelessness;
  • Avoid provocative clothing, as the Milanese style is simple with neutral colors,
  • Avoid very high heels, which do not leave a good impression and are uncomfortable for walking on the city's cobblestones. Clean, classic leather shoes are best because, in Italy, there's nothing like nice shoes to make a good impression,
  • Invest in a smart mackintosh and coat to emphasize your well-groomed appearance.

After work in Milan

In Milan, there is a lot of business talk. However, there is a balance between private and professional life that is not strictly compartmentalized. This allows you to socialize with your colleagues and make friends in Milan. The aperitivo milanese, is a tradition that no Milanese renounces. After a long day at work, rather than going home, they prefer to relax with a drink. Bars offer snacks when you order a drink, usually as a buffet or served at the table. This is a perfect opportunity to chat with colleagues, provided you follow a few rules, as the Milanese are adept at decorum:

  • Don't be overwhelmed by the amount of food: eat just enough
  • Typical Milanese drinks are famous cocktails such as the Spritz Aperol or Campari, the Americano and the Negroni, the latter created at Bar Basso in a "Sbagliato" version and distinguished from the ordinary Negroni by the sparkling wine that replaces the gin;
  • The other favorite place in Milan today to end the working day on a high note is the all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants. Again, it is advisable not to eat too much;
  • The Italian/Milanese does not drink "for the sake of drinking"; they will always prefer to eat something to accompany their drink.

A final aspect that is very important in Milan is sustainability. This theme is discussed at every opportunity, sometimes during an informal aperitif, to the point where it has become a way of life. It is not uncommon to be asked about the ESG or zero waste initiatives of the company you work for. Renewable energy, sustainable clothing and reducing food waste are not only beneficial but also promoted and highly respected in society and the workplace. By understanding this, you will hold the key to successful integration into the work culture and the Milanese and Italian culture in general.

Useful link:

Business etiquette in Italy

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