By Karolina Stawicka, partner, head of the Employment practice, and Magdalena Zgłobica, junior associate in the Employment practice, Bird & Bird Poland



Searching for talent in Poland in 2023 is like nothing like anything we’ve known before. The post-Covid-19 reality is proving that instant adaptation is more important than ever. Gen Z is entering the labour market with completely new professional priorities. A parallel (meta?) reality exists in social media. We are still enjoying record-low unemployment rates, but at the same time, AI technologies are evolving and seem increasingly poised to step into our professional roles. On top of that, there are a well over a million Ukrainian refugees residing in the country – mostly women and children. The war increased demand for IT specialists. Before, they were also being recruited – from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine – and benefited from special immigration schemes, but now these are available only to Ukrainian citizens. Certain sectors need to attract talent from different directions, and in a different manner, which is a huge challenge, even for the biggest players with the very best know-how.

The main questions that arise in the widespread debate about the labour market are: How can we prepare for the revolution that is coming or already happening? What tools will allow us to attract the best talent? Factors such as salary and attractive branding are playing less and less of a role in successful recruitment. We have to think fast about how we are going to re-invent our tools in this landscape of big unknowns.

Brand new values and grassroots pressure

In the current situation, the best talent is looking for employment that offers stability and a sense of security, not just financial security. The numbers show that, while remuneration rates are increasing, when we also take inflation into account, real wages have declined. Some companies are still able to compete only through money alone, but in general, employers are finding that salary is not what counts most when it comes to attracting talent, for the financial conditions offered on the market are comparable. What they are beginning to offer is additional benefits that promote an employee’s sense of safety, stability and work-life balance.

Candidates are likely to choose an employer that shares these values, creates an inclusive, flexible work environment, and supports their wellbeing. Diversity and inclusion at the workplace are also proving to be beneficial for employers, and important in attracting talent. While monitoring and reporting in this area is very limited in Poland because of the privacy and data protection laws in force, companies can create their own measures. One of the most burning issues is tackling discrimination, including the gender pay gap (Poland has no equivalent of the UK’s Gender Pay Act, and all equal treatment actions stem from very general non-discrimination regulations). Employers should also consider introducing instruments to increase the visibility of minority candidates, who are more likely to be subject to unequal treatment.

Because of the political and social disruption caused by, among other things, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the climate crisis, candidates are also starting to take a close look at employers that are human rights-oriented and engage in pro bono and socially responsible work.

For knowledge work talent, hybrid and remote work are now the norm

As well as attractive compensation, employees now expect to be able to work outside regular working hours or reduce their working time through, for example, the introduction of a four-day work week model. Companies that do not introduce flexible forms of cooperation will see a greater outflow of talent.

The latest regulation of remote work rules, effective in Poland as of 7 April, does not help. The previous Covid regulations were less stringent in setting remote working rules. Now, employers’ hands are tied to a large extent as they face risks related to allowing employees to work from places other than what is specified in their contract, they have to meet a number of occupational health and safety requirements, and have to calculate public dues.

On the other hand, remote or hybrid employees have looser ties with their co-workers. It is easier for them to leave their job because they don’t feel attached to their employer. This means that we should prepare for record-high workforce turnover, and should adjust management tools to this model for good.

EU legislation – obligations on the rise or faster adaptation of the labour market?

EU and national lawmakers are playing a bigger role in pressuring companies to take responsibility for environmental, social and employee wellbeing issues.

A set of EU-level regulations is being implemented that sets a new standard in tackling inequalities in the workplace and supporting professionals to exercise rights that contribute to their psychological wellbeing and family life.

The recently introduced Work-Life Balance Directives, which will come into force in Poland on 26 April, contain a number of requirements that significantly expand employees’ rights in this respect, and constitute some of the biggest changes to date in Polish labour law. Employees will now have more days off for childcare and family matters, and those on fixed-term contracts will have more job stability. They can also expect and request more flexible and transparent working conditions, tailored to their individual needs.

These new entitlements will apply to everyone, so employers should already be looking for new ways to attract the best talent and offering working conditions that are competitive not just in terms of pay.

ESG standards and the labour market

The new values are also reflected in the legislation applicable not only to employees but also to companies. When we think about sustainability on the labour market, the first thing that comes to mind is usually CSR initiatives. Up to now, these strategies have only been initiated by market actors themselves, and have had more to do with image than contributing to significant change in the areas declared. But that won’t last long.

The EU and its Member States are now working to ensure that companies become legally obligated to support public action regarding environmental protection, social responsibility, and ethical conduct. And they will be holding companies accountable. The game-changer in this area is a set of EU regulations, referred to as Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG). It focuses on the quantitative aspects of these activities and on measuring the real impact companies have in these areas. Currently, the regulations only cover players with the highest turnover, but as of 2026 all EU companies will be required to apply and report on ESG metrics.

Since the idea of monitoring companies for ESG has entered the public debate, it will surely play an increasing role on the labour market. Candidates will be much more likely to choose employers and brands with the highest ESG scores.

Not only are ideas about acquiring and keeping talent changing. There is also a need for new managerial skills, for building social connections in the workplace, and for including social, D&I and human rights issues in the set of values considered in job creation.


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