A guide to understanding Dutch working culture

Each country has its own culture, so it should not come as a surprise that the working culture in one country can greatly differ from the one in another. The Netherlands has their own particular way of doing business and we are sure that once you start working here you will notice the following aspects of the Dutch working culture.

A surprisingly informal place to work

One of the main things people from outside the country usually notice about the Dutch working culture is how informal it is. The Dutch value equality and tolerance of differences, and you can often feel this in the labour culture as well. Compared to other countries, the Dutch organisational structure is often very flat. Higher-ups work closely with lower levels on a daily basis, with everyone referring to one another by their first name.

Dutch companies generally have flexible hierarchy and even a non-hierarchical approach to clients. Therefore it’s normal to see disagreements across ‘hierarchical levels’. These disagreements are not seen as a sign of disrespect, but instead show how open and accepting the Dutch working culture is, with little mind set on rank.

Everybody is supposed to be involved in discussions and decisions that affect the company where they work. Bosses will often ask for their employee’s opinion and value honest critiques. For foreigners who come from hierarchical cultures, this might require some time to adjust- and get used to. But once you do you will see that your working environment becomes a lot more comfortable and flexible.

Leaving work on time

The Dutch have a very good work life balance. The standard working week is 40 hours, but many people work less than this (men included). It’s common for working parents to take some hours or days off each week for time with their children or families. In general, the Dutch prefer to work more efficient and less hours rather than to work very busy schedules for more money. So don’t be surprised if even your childless colleagues only work 4 days a week.

Most Dutch people like to keep their work and personal lives separate.Home time or spending time with loved ones and friends is sacred. Meaning that people almost always will leave work on time. You work till 17.30? No one will judge you if you close your laptop and walk out at exactly 17.30! Also don’t expect anyone to answer work-related calls or emails outside of office hours. That’s what the office is for.

That punctuality also means work time is meant for work and nothing else. The drawback of this is, of course, that there is also little time to socialize with colleagues. Which can be especially difficult for the newer and foreign employees who might need some extra time to be introduced and get their bearings. Luckily there is the VRIJMIBO! Many Dutchies will make an exception to the ‘leaving work on time rule’ on Fridays. This is when the Friday afternoon drinks happen which often continue late into the night or move from the office to the bars. If you’re looking to socialize and get to know your colleagues, then this is the moment to do it!

Dutch working culture is very direct

Anyone who has spoken to a true Dutchie might already know this: the Dutch are very direct people and honest in nature. It should come as no surprise that this extends to the Dutch working culture as well. This, of course, can be a bit shocking to people from other nationalities. Generally speaking, a Dutch person will not beat around the bush in order to tell a colleague or even their boss that he/she is not doing their work properly. No reason to be shocked! Being direct is actually seen as being honest and efficient and you will probably be thanked for your feedback.

This doesn’t mean you can just blurt out whatever you’re thinking. There is a difference between being direct and being disrespectful. Being assertive, direct and respectful in your communication means that you can keep up with the Dutch working culture.

Meetings and time management

One aspect of the dutch working culture that you will probably need to get used to is the amount of meetings. Dutchies love their meetings! They have meetings with big groups, smaller groups, huddles, informal meetings over coffee, a few more formal meetings, meetings in-house, at a cafe or restaurant, meetings to schedule other meetings. You get the point. If you can think of it, they have a meeting for it.

These meetings are often fixed to times and agendas, so the importance of being on time is often stressed. Which brings us to another concept of the Dutch working culture; the concept of time. Here in the Netherlands you are expected to be on time. If at any moment you can not make the agreed upon time, you are expected to call to notify the person you are meeting with that you’re running late. Don’t make it a usual occurrence either, as this will reflect negatively on you and you might be seen as unreliable.

Those are some of the things you need to keep in mind when you’re thinking of working in the Netherlands. Are there any other Dutch habits that you’ve come across during your stay in the Netherlands? We are curious to know!

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