The Netherlands is a relatively small country: with a population of just 17 million, it’s considerably smaller than its German neighbour. It might therefore be surprising to hear that the Netherlands has a very distinct work culture. If you’ve ever walked into a meeting with a Dutch person, you might find them wearing jeans and trainers. It’s just one example of the country’s famously informal and laid-back work culture. Interestingly, this has no impact on its productivity: according to the European Commission, the Netherlands is one of the most productive countries in the EU.
There are a number of quirks that companies hiring in the Netherlands for the first time should be aware of. This article provides an introduction to the Dutch way of working.
Work-life balance in The Netherlands
Let’s start with one of the most important points: work-life balance is a priority for people working in the Netherlands. Whilst workers in other countries might be familiar with the idea of showing off to your boss about how many hours you’ve worked this week, Dutch employees are more likely to share stories of everything they’ve got up to in their free time outside of work. Companies looking to hire in the Netherlands should be aware that the Dutch take their private time seriously, and usually shut their laptops at 6pm (and in some cases even earlier), meaning emails will go unread until the morning.
While in some countries it’s expected that managers will be able to contact employees at all hours, this is very much not the case in the Netherlands—and weekends are equally protected. If employees are working outside typical hours for a special event, they’ll usually expect time off in lieu. It’s important that companies hiring in the Netherlands respect the importance of work-life balance, and that they make appropriate adjustments to roles and job description.
The Dutch are known for their direct communication style. They speak frankly, and don’t tend to soften criticism with an array of compliments. For people unused to working with Dutch people, this can sometimes be mistaken as rude, but in the Netherlands, this communication style is considered honest and efficient. For companies hiring in the Netherlands, this relates to meetings and interview situations. Generally speaking, the Dutch avoid small-talk in meetings and interviews, preferring to favour efficiency by getting straight to the point. They are punctual and structured in meetings, and give direct feedback. Dutch applicants expect honest feedback and are less likely to take offence when told they’re not the right fit for a job. This communication style can take some getting used to.
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The Dutch are known for speaking the best English in the world—with many people speaking three or four languages to working standard. It’s said that 93% of Dutch people can hold a conversation in English. It’s no surprise, then, that Amsterdam is one of the world’s most multicultural cities, and is home to people from 180 nationalities. With this in mind, the Dutch workforce is used to working in international environments and with people from different cultures. This is a major benefit if your company has offices in multiple countries: chances are you’ll find many applicants who speak relevant languages, and who are adept at navigating cultural differences.
Flat internal hierarchy
Dutch bosses don’t usually follow the Hollywood stereotype of someone everyone’s afraid of—in fact, it’s quite the opposite. In the Netherlands, companies employ a flat internal hierarchy, reflective of the egalitarian society as a whole. Most Dutch workplaces are informal, and employees feel comfortable enough to approach senior managers directly with questions and concerns. Often, even C-suite executives work in central office spaces alongside colleagues of varying seniority.
While it’s typically accepted that directors will have the final say in business matters, employees’ opinions are uniquely valued, owing to the national love of consensus as a means of problem solving. The idea is that everyone has an opinion worth hearing, and the best solution is one that keeps everyone happy. This is something that companies hiring in the Netherlands for the first time should keep in mind, especially if they plan on bringing in existing managers from other countries’ offices. Employees expect a vast amount of freedom and responsibility, and companies looking for the best talent will need to facilitate this.
- A healthy work-life balance is a priority for many in the Dutch workforce.
- Dutch workplaces tend to be informal. Companies should make dress codes clear if they expect employees to wear suits or avoid jeans and trainers.
- Companies should expect candidates and employees to speak their mind and showcase typical Dutch directness in communication.
- The Netherlands’ corporate culture’ hierarchy is typically flat.
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