We bring together
the best players in the world

Estonian work world has changed completely in the last 20 years. Employees had to arrive on the clock, but productivity was low, people dreamed about a mobile phone, long vacation and the 13th salary instead of work flexibility. The day-to-day of that time is being recalled by employees of Manpower, a recruitment company that began operating in Estonia 20 years ago.


Freshly having joined the European Union, the average salary in Estonia was 466 euros, 550 in Harjumaa. The average salary now is approximately four times higher, but the purchase power with the average salary is about two times higher than in 2004. Envelope salary was rather usual, everyone knew someone with no tax salary. Based on a study by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research, 14% of the salaried employees, that is every seventh employee, was being paid under the table. Envelope salary was most frequently asked and offered in construction, agriculture and the horeca sector.


The peak of sales work


The first half of the 2000s was clearly the peak of sales work in Estonia. Sales Representative, Sales Assistant and Sales Manager job ads usually received about a hundred CVs, but if the employer was a big and reputable company, the number of candidates could amount to several hundreds. Bank teller, manager’s assistant, programmer and network specialist jobs were also popular. The most attractive employers were big companies like Hansapank, Ühispank, EMT, Kalev, Saku Õlletehas, Eesti Energia, Playtech and Tallinna Kaubamaja. Employer branding was quite unknown, so people preferred employers who were known. Already then, large international groups captivated people, but there were not a lot of them yet. At the same time, a small firm called Vain ja Partnerid was chosen as the most family friendly company in 2004.


Although there were a lot of candidates for popular positions, the unemployment was low and already 20 years ago it was complicated to fill simpler positions, especially in manufacturing, commerce and agriculture. The changing of jobs in low-paying sectors was possible even for some cents in the salary. At the same time, people were more settled in their jobs than today and changing jobs was less frequent than in Scandinavia. In a lot of places, the CVs of people who alternated jobs often were disregarded, because that was seen as a sign of instability or another problem. It was presumed while recruiting that a person should have worked in a managing position for 5 years or more and at least 3 years when it came to specialists.


Laptop and mobile phone were regarded as a bonus for the privileged


Although the salary has been the most important motivator through the ages, the expectations for other benefits have changed quite a bit. The most alluring bonus in 2004 was definitely a company car, but also a laptop and a mobile phone, that were not at all elementary yet. The decision was influenced also by the 13th salary, additional vacation and even a bonus when returning to work from a holiday. Currently the completely elementary performance pay system and free coffee were not that common, as well like soft bonuses like sports compensation or work lunch.


The workplace and the work culture were considerably different. Nowadays ordinary open offices were scarce, a lot of offices had a cabinet system, one cabinet could accommodate 1 or 2 employees, in some places more. By and large, a personal office came with a managing position. There were laptops in the computer park, but it definitely wasn’t prevailing and they were mostly given to managers and employees with moving jobs. Work calls were in general made with landline phones because it was expensive to use a mobile phone. Mostly employees on managing positions received mobile phones from the employer, it was also common that they had to pay a part of the mobile bill.


Probably the most different was the work culture, with a decent amount of Soviet legacy, the current work ethic and customs were unknown at the time. The power dynamics were distinctly in the favour of the employer, but that changed quickly in the 2000s because the scarcity of labour brought about the overbuying of employees and overbidding on the candidates. Overtime was not compensated, the employees were not included in decisions, there was practically no flexibility in choosing the work time or place. It was usual that the workday started at 8 and if the employee was not on-site at 8:03, they received a proper scolding later on. Although in contrast with today the rules were strict, there were other issues: alcohol was consumed in the workplace and during working hours, thefts occurred behind the employer and even if everyone was at the office at the right time, the working time was used for everything else than work, which was one cause for low productivity.


Side glance

Fredrik Karlsson, country manager of Manpower Finland at the time


Before and after joining the European Union, several western companies came to Estonia and needed services that they were accustomed to, so enlisting Estonia to Manpower’s global family was a natural and a logical step. The local legislation was halfway complete, especially regarding European standards and in particular when it came to labour laws. The attitudes and values of employees were very distinct in the beginning, but they have changed a lot with the time. After the adherence to EU, a lot of educated and smart people moved to other countries, but that was natural because the benefits of Europe were tempting. It was surprising in Estonia that the employees were willing to change jobs even for a small change in the salary or for a modest benefit.


Good job seeker,

If you are interested in exciting job offers in the future, give us some information about yourself.

Submit your details here