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.
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.
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.
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!