Business culture in the Netherlands

Business culture in the Netherlands

Comments7 comments

This handy guide from Expertise in Labour Mobility includes information on Dutch management culture, hierarchy, negotiations, and etiquette in the Netherlands.

If you're working in the Netherlands, it's important to understand business cultural differences in the Dutch workplace. Learning the Dutch management culture can ease your professional integration and improve your chances of succeeding in your international career. The following Dutch business cultural tips can ease you into your job in the Netherlands.

Hierarchy in the Dutch workplace
The hierarchy in Dutch businesses life is generally not very rigorous but instead relatively flexible. People will easily ignore authority when they deem it necessary. The egalitarianism and openness characterising Dutch society is reflected in the horizontal structure of most Dutch companies, where both the managing director and the employees are all considered co-workers. Executives do not usually display their power – the boss is part of the group. However, this does not mean that he/she does not have any authority. Taking initiative and responsibility while working independently is common for Dutch employees.  

Dutch people use an informal and pretty direct manner of communication; however a few strict formalities are kept. For instance when there is a notable difference in age or in rank, people will use the formal 'u' and 'meneer' (sir) and 'mevrouw' (madam). Colleagues use the informal 'je' and first names.

Business strategy and planning
Dutch companies are cautious and pragmatic about their strategy, usually involving step-by-step planning. The strategic direction of a company is communicated to a relatively low level in the organisation.

In the Netherlands, managers are not considered omniscient. Rather the manager will know the general strategic outlines, and have specialised employees to take care of the details. Dutch employees will therefore not expect him/her to be so much of an expert, but rather a problem solver or facilitator. A lot of emphasis is put on bringing multiple specialists together in a group, thereby improving the diversity and expertise of a group.

Meetings in the Netherlands
The Dutch – in line with their longing for consensus – are fond of meetings! Meetings are usually informal, although they are generally held on fixed times and protocols and agendas are part of it. The main aim of a meeting is to discuss various options, reach consensus and take decisions.
All members of a meeting are expected to make a contribution, regardless their position in the company. Therefore, it is advisable to prepare yourself well.
Foreigners often perceive Dutch meetings as ineffective, yet they are experienced as an instrument to make sure that everybody is heard.

Dutch negotiations
The Dutch tend to get right down to business and negotiations proceed at a rapid pace. They are known to be forceful, stubborn and tough negotiators, while honesty and reliability are perceived as vitally important.

Business decisions
Most decisions, in politics, in business and even in social life, have to be made on the grounds of consensus. The Dutch egalitarianism is displayed in the fact that suggestions from all workers are welcome. Subsequently, the process of reaching a decision is time consuming. However, once decisions are made, implementation is fast and efficient.

Perception of time
“Time is money,” is a typical catch phrase in the Netherlands. At meetings the Dutch prefer to get right down to business as most small talk is considered a waste of time.  Dutch people tend to keep appointments and are usually on time.

People in the Netherlands have structured agendas. Missing an appointment or being late at a meeting is not only experienced as annoying, but also as unreliable. Due to the crowded situation on the roads a five to maximum 10-minute flexibility is allowed but not taken for granted.

Dutch greetings
Shake hands with everybody present and say your first and last name. During a conversation, the Dutch expect rather intensive eye contact. Looking somebody straight into the eyes is interpreted as trustworthy.

The Dutch kiss each other three times on the cheeks (right, left, right), but this is only done when people know each other well.

Dress code in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, dress codes can be amazingly informal. A traditional suit and tie is required only in higher circles of business and or when working for the government. In general, business suits are worn by people in management positions, at meetings and at special occasions. In the summer, jeans, blouses and t-shirts and even trainers are not uncommon.

Wining and dining
Lunch is seen as a necessity, not a social event Therefore most employees eat a sandwich behind their computer. Or sandwiches are brought into a meeting. Business lunches are not uncommon, but not very frequent. The tendency however, to go out for lunch is growing.

Taking business partners out for dinner is seen as a private event, consequently it rarely happens. During dinner, there will be some small talk, although business will be the main topic of conversation. Good topics to talk about outside of business are your home country or city, cultural events or sports.

Use of business cards
Cards are usually exchanged after or near the end of a conversation. Business cards usually contain somebody’s function and academic title. Some Dutch cards also include peoples’ private address and telephone number. This is, however, not an invitation to phone them after office hours!

Expertise in Labour Mobility / Expatica

Book Cover This information is based on the Looking for work in the Netherlands guide (ISBN 978-90-5896-058-0), written by Expertise in Labour Mobility. This one-pager is one step to making your international career aspirations become reality. The full looking for work in the Netherlands guide tells you everything you need to know. If you want to order or find out more information about our services, have a look at


Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.

If you believe any of the information on this page is incorrect or out-of-date, please let us know. Expatica makes every effort to ensure its articles are as comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date as possible, but we're also grateful for any help! (If you want to contact Expatica for any other reason, please follow the instructions on this website's contact page.)

Captcha Note: Characters are case sensitive
The details you provide on this page will not be used to send any unsolicited e-mail, and will not be sold to a third party. Privacy policy .

Job FairBe Yourself. Be Discovered. Get hired. Don't miss Expatica’s International Job Fair: register at for an access-all pass and online discount.

Expat Fair Join the “i am not a tourist” Expat Fair for Internationals living, working and studying in the Netherlands. Get your FREE tickets here.


7 Comments To This Article

  • weiling posted:

    on 1st December 2013, 16:07:38 - Reply

    Dutch is by far a racist community, if you read following. They make blunt remarks all the times and think it is ok because it falls under 'freedom of speech', even after you take them to court.

    Of course we all know how the dutch targetted almost all etnic groups one after the other (example: was a website to stigmatize foreign LEGAL and tax paying workers which was endorsed by a member of parliament)

    Last week, it was the chinese' turn to be targetted, see link below

    The dutch had such a immoral mind, that they couldn't even sack the guy (Gordon) who made the racist remarks PUBLICLY on tv, which is something the english do right away as a punishment to any racial remarks. Being blunt or 'direct' (as the dutch 'boeren' prefer to disguise their hatred way of talk) is not a valid excuse either.

    Here is an example of how the UK treats racist remarks: tv / wellknown people simply get fired.

    The dutch, sorry to say, to us chinese have proven to be the country with the LOWEST FORM OF civilization on this planet. Even its leaders endorse racism.

    Even their Minister of Foreign affairs endorsed Zwarte Piet (annual celebration in which black people are stigmatized). This tells you everything about the dutch government's stance: they think it is totally ok to make racial comments!!! they actually ENDORSE it. Here is proof.

    We chinese, will not forget this. Your turn will come to 'lose face'.
    and I am sure we will be doing our best to undermine anything dutch from now on, as the true face of the Dutch has become quite clear now.

  • george posted:

    on 27th November 2013, 18:43:08 - Reply

    I completely disagree with Selene, trying to dismiss the managements' lack of cultural diversity to the need for expats to attend a 'course'. Surely, Selene should understand that highly educated expats know precisely how to get up to speed with 'dutch cultural aspects'. The problem addressed by so many is that dutch managers are not willing to hire expats in managerial levels, so an expat who lived here 20years,married a dutch stlll faces the problem of 'not beeing culturally adapted to the local dutch's taste'. This goes for expats who speak dutch fluently. In the UK, you find many expats run large UK companies, like BT. In the Netherlands only dutch native and white males tend to be 'allowed' to run a dutch company. Even dutch 3rd generation minorities never make it to the board, let alone newcomers from say the UK. There is only one exception: expats will only be allowed to get such managerial post if it is an'interim job' (interim cfo etc). The number of non native dutch on top level posts is measurable, has been measured several times by different parties, and the numbers don't lie. There is a problem of acceptance by the dutch.
  • Selene posted:

    on 11th November 2013, 16:41:03 - Reply

    Dear Claire and Susan,

    I believe that once you get the sense of how the Dutch as well as it's business culture works, it would be easier to create your path in a Dutch company. For a non-Dutch, if your capabilities do match the job requirement, an understanding of the culture will definitely be an advantage. I would like to recommend a one-day workshop at Expertise in Labour Mobility, Rotterdam called What Makes the Dutch Dutch. It is aimed at newly arrived expats who would like to quickly grasp the Dutch and its labour market. Cheers!
  • Susan posted:

    on 7th November 2013, 11:48:28 - Reply

    Claire has made an important point. In The Netherlands, the actual chances of promotion are limited for "non-Dutch" personnel. This includes those who are half Dutch, or have acclimatized and learned the language. Of course, the Dutch who somehow consider themselves to be an inclusive society, could never honestly admit this. The UK, compared to the Netherlands, is highly evolved culturally. It is truly a multicultural society, and this clearly extends into the workplace, where minorities, foreigners and second generation British born minorities are fully integrated into higher levels of management. The Dutch management style leaves much to be desired. Of course, if one doesn't like it here, one can always move.......but where to in the crisis?? Cheers Claire!
  • Anne posted:

    on 31st August 2013, 22:41:27 - Reply

    That's not true Claire, there are many international managers in Dutch companies. Dutch are very good at recognizing a need for expertise, and are happy to bring it in from abroad. Additionally, many dutch companies operate on international markets because the domestic market is so small. It's a country that is dependent on international images and they know how to work it well.
  • claire posted:

    on 16th July 2013, 19:41:37 - Reply

    If you are not Dutch born, there is no way, even if you have the right education and speak Dutch that the board will ever consider you for a managerial role, ever. UK is where you will find plenty minorities in middle management jobs. Again, this is not my perception, i encourage you to roam through the blogs as well as the Xenofobe's guides to read the details. [Edited by moderator]
  • Visu posted:

    on 18th April 2013, 08:28:07 - Reply

    Thanks for detailed information on NL Management culture