Working in Italy For Members

'It’s crazy': What to expect when you work for an Italian company

Karli Drinkwater
Karli Drinkwater - [email protected]
'It’s crazy': What to expect when you work for an Italian company
The realities of living and working in Italy can come as a shock. But are things really that difficult? Photo by Tolga Kilinc on Unsplash

Italy is often rated poorly for job satisfaction, but does the reality of working for an Italian company live up to the stereotypes? Karli Drinkwater explores the often "crazy" cultural differences. Share your own experiences below.


I heard plenty of unfortunate reports about working in Italy before I made the jump to move here. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I was warned about Italy’s low employment rate - especially for women - and high taxes. I also spoke to people who’d tried life in Italy and they cautioned, that as I hadn’t learned Italian before moving, the language barrier would also be tricky.

Still, I was determined to do my best to make it work.

Italy has indeed got many perks - the food and scenery is just the start - but the romantic tourist impression is different from the side you see when building a future here.

That seems obvious, but the disparity between a sun-soaked fortnight and the reality of everyday life often comes as a shock.

READ ALSO: Italy ranked one of the worst countries for expats to work in - again

Some of the negative talk around Italian corporate culture is accurate, but I found that the idea of working for an Italian company isn’t to be totally written off either.

Above all, it’s a really good way to integrate. You meet people and make your own connections and friends, which I found to be so important for my mental health and own sense of independence.

You may encounter some major cultural differences when working for an Italian company. Photo: Christina @

Whether you move to Italy alone or with a partner, working for a business gives you a routine and opens up doors for new opportunities.

But, as I found, it can be jaw-clenchingly frustrating.

Who you know is helpful but not essential

I spent around three months job searching when I first arrived. I moved to a town near Bologna almost six months before the pandemic hit, so Covid-19 hadn’t yet impacted the job market even further.

Still, I found it tough to get going. I walked around businesses and schools with my CV, as my background is in both journalism and education.


I eventually found a private school to work for, which was Italian-run but conducted all its lessons in English. It seemed a good place for me to find my feet.

I knew the work culture was different on the first day.

“You might not want to stay here, as it’s crazy,” the office personnel told me as she showed me around. Not quite the usual HR schtick.

I laughed it off politely. I can do crazy, I thought. I spent years dealing with celebrities and divas when I worked in London.

READ ALSO: Not just teaching: The jobs you can do in Italy without speaking Italian

I’d done well to get a job at all, people told me. I’d landed a position despite knowing nobody and this went against the notion that finding employment in Italy is all about having contacts.

On closer inspection, though, it turned out it was very much a family-run business and if you were a relative of the founder, you got a job there.

So nepotism existed, but it didn’t stop me from getting in.

The staff were polite, friendly and wanted to know all about where I came from and what I’d be doing there. The teachers were mainly Italian but could speak English, for the most part, so I could relax and be myself without struggling through my beginner Italian at that time.


But when it came to meetings, everyone largely reverted to Italian. They talked vigorously over each other and I just moved my head back and forth, watching the verbal tennis.

Afterwards, I asked one of them who spoke English to give me a précis of what just happened. Despite thinking I’d found a place where I could work in English, I quickly realised you have to learn Italian - and fast.

Disorganisation is rife but you get lunch

The famous Italian lack of organisation really showed. Departments struggled to communicate with each other and problems cropped up as a result.

Overlapping and doubling up on work, different agendas and changing everything on a whim last-minute were commonplace.

The last point is something that really pushed my buttons. There’s being flexible and there’s a ‘casino’, as Italians say.

READ ALSO: Doing business in Italy: the essential etiquette you need to know

Whether this drives you to the edge depends on your personality. There were times I got annoyed. Other times, I laughed to myself at the utter comedy of the place.

You can sit waiting for a meeting to start, pad and pen at the ready, poised to make stuff happen. Then the person you're expecting arrives 20 minutes late and asks, “Have you eaten?”.

Well, you can’t think on an empty stomach, can you?


You have to surrender and go with it if you decide to get on the Italian payroll. You can’t change the culture single-handedly and you have to make peace with a different pace and customs.

It’s a culture adjustment, but there are upsides too. I mean, a girl’s gotta eat.

Forget eating sandwiches at your desk - lunch is a serious business in Italy. Photo by Keriliwi/Unsplash

Promotion and pay can be poor

There’s also the issue of pay and career mobility.

How much money you make and your career progression are key factors in deciding which company you want to work for in other countries and big cities.

In Italy, though, you quickly learn that your pay packet really is often dismal and it’s hard to move up through the ranks and earn more.


You’re heavily taxed and INPS, or social security contributions, are substantial too - even if the employer pays most of those for you.

READ ALSO: The Italian tax calendar for 2023: Which taxes are due when?

What you take home each month is highly likely to be a massive blow compared to what you’ve earned in the UK or US, for example.

I think that was a big stumbling block for me, because even though there is way more to life than money, you can feel undervalued and disheartened that you’ve worked so hard for your qualifications and experience, to only bring home barely what you’d make part-time back home.

Northern Italian cities are best for finding employment, but also have the highest living costs. Photo: Andrey Andreev/Unsplash

Or you think back to when you last earned a wage so low and I couldn’t. Even my first job after leaving university paid more.

The north of Italy isn’t that cheap a place to live. So as much as you can wholeheartedly believe the ‘money doesn’t buy you happiness’ adage, you still have to pay the bills and likely want enough left over to enjoy your surroundings. 

The Italian quality of life has a value beyond your bank balance

Still, there is a trade-off and a benefit to be found in all this. The work-life balance is definitely better than what I’ve experienced elsewhere.

I’m beyond climbing the greasy pole and want to enjoy more life lived outdoors, spending time with loved ones and taking more downtime for my own health. I once experienced burnout and I couldn’t imagine working for a company that demanded 60-70 hours per week from me anymore.


That’s unlikely in Italy. The love of family time - and eating - ensures a better chance of overall health.

The holy grail for Italian workers is to get hold of a ‘tempo indeterminato’ contract. This is a permanent job contract and means you have security.

They are hard to come by - for both Italians and foreigners. In fact, I’ve met people who have had ‘indeterminato’ parties when they finally get one of these elusive work contracts.

READ ALSO: Why a ‘posto fisso’ work contract is still the Italian dream

I never did get one and my ‘determinato’ (fixed term) contract got rolled on a few times until, in the end, my hours got cut so much that it didn’t justify the travel costs and I couldn’t renew again.

If you manage to bag a permanent job and can focus on the benefits you get from living in Italy, such as the privilege of world-class attractions and cuisine, then it’s absolutely worth going for.

It’s not impossible to achieve and could be an exciting adventure for a few years. You might not save much cash for your next steps in life, but you will live well and just might discover a new, more ‘tranquillo’, side of yourself.

This article has been republished because we'd like to get your own experiences of working for an Italian company. Please leave a comment below and we may use it in a future article.


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Anonymous 2021/05/19 19:24
This was enlightening. It further reinforces my opinion that doing remote work from Italy (and being paid the same as you would in the US or another relatively high-income nation) is the best (if not ideal) solution for those wanting to live in Italy. On the down side, you don't get free lunch.

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