The 5 biggest differences between Dutch and Swedish work culture

There’s not that much distance between Sweden and the Netherlands, but there is a big difference in the way these two countries do business.

When moving to Sweden from the Netherlands for work or vice versa, it’s important to understand the differences between these two business cultures to ensure you’re observing the traditions—and not making any missteps, which is especially important in the first few weeks or months in a new position.

This blog, written by our friends of Expatica, explains the biggest differences between Dutch and Swedish work culture.

Food and drink is sacred in Swedish business culture

In Sweden, coffee breaks are taken very seriously. Called fika, these coffee breaks comprise more than simply drinking a cup of coffee at your desk to recharge. In Sweden, fika is about socialising, relaxing and enjoying life. Coffee (or tea) is always paired with something sweet, such as the famous Swedish cinnamon buns. Don’t skip on fika when moving to Sweden for work—it’s a part of life!

Lunch in Sweden is also different than lunch in the Netherlands. In Dutch business culture, lunch is viewed primarily as a necessity—just a simple sandwich at your desk. In Sweden, lunch is something of an event, with a hot meal such as pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays, which is its own tradition, and the company of colleagues or business partners. In fact, some of the best deals are made over lunch, though it’s often the result of multiple friendly meetings.


Family comes first in Sweden

Sweden has been hailed as a pioneer in parental leave, offering some of the most generous policies in the world. Parents receive 480 days of leave total, often divided evenly between the two parents, though one of the parents must take at least 90 days. The country also offers temporary parental benefits in the form of care of sick children (VAB), in which one parent can stay home with a child and receive compensation for up to 120 days per year.

The Netherlands does have emergency leave that can be used when a child is sick. The length of time you can take emergency leave is generally a few hours or of a few days; any longer and it is deemed short-term care leave, which lasts no more than twice the number of hours you work weekly in a 12-month period. For example, if you work 40 hours per week, you may take 80 hours of short-term leave in one year.

Labour law in Sweden vs. Netherlands

Employment law in the Netherlands states that if an employee receives three consecutive temporary contracts, he automatically receives a fixed contract. If an employee receives more than one temporary contract over two years, he also receives an automatic fixed contract, provided there is a gap of no longer than six months.

Though Dutch labour law does protect the employers, employees are a little more protected in Sweden. After just a six-month probation period, employees are given a permanent contract, or regular contract of indefinite duration. For employers, this makes it particularly difficult to fire employees under Swedish work contracts.

Unions, unlike in the Netherlands, also play a major role in Swedish employment—in fact, Sweden is one of the most unionised countries in the world, with a trade union density of nearly 70 percent in 2013 compared to the Netherlands’ 17 percent. Unions in Sweden operate with employers and the government, not against them; the result is more and often better representation for employees.

Working hours in Sweden and the Netherlands

The Dutch are more likely to linger in hallways and chat with colleagues, while the Swedish workforce is more likely to get things done efficiently and leave the office at around 15:00. In fact, the country recently performed an experiment in Gothenburg, where workers worked six-hour days instead of the traditional eight. The results showed that the workers were happier and healthier, but the experiment may prove too costly to implement nationally.

OECD data does show that the average Dutch worker spends 1,419 hours working annually, compared to Sweden’s 1,612; both, however, are far below the OECD average of 1,766 hours. The Dutch are more likely to spend evenings at work or agree to overtime; Swedish employees would rather go home. In fact, in July in Sweden, many businesses completely shut down for the entire month for their annual five-week-long holiday.

Sweden: a little less international

The Netherlands has battled with various Scandinavian countries to be the European leader in English proficiency, at least according to the EF English Proficiency Index. In 2016, the Netherlands won the title, wresting the crown from Sweden’s grasp. Sweden landed in third, bumped two spots since 2015 when it reigned as No. 1.

Both countries offer a high level of English, but there are far more English-speaking companies in the Netherlands than in Sweden, with many global companies choosing Dutch cities for their headquarters. Swedish darling IKEA, for example, is headquartered in Delft. Expats looking for a truly international experience may thrive in the Netherlands, but those who enjoy the traditions of Sweden and a more relaxing business culture may find Sweden the best fit for business.

Undutchables / Expatica

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