Dutch business culture

A guide to understanding Dutch business culture

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This guide to Dutch business culture explains the Dutch workplace environment, hierarchy, meetings, negotiations, time perception and typical business culture in the Netherlands.

Once you've successfully written a Dutch CV and found a job in the Netherlands, the next step is to adapt your working style to Dutch business culture. Understanding the business cultural differences in the Dutch workplace is necessary to succeed in your career in the Netherlands. Learning Dutch business culture will ease your professional integration and ability to work with and motivate your colleagues, which is particularly important for managerial roles.

These following tips on business culture in the Netherlands will help you understand the social rules at play in your Dutch workpace:

Hierarchy in Dutch business culture

The hierarchy in Dutch business culture 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 Dutch business culture seen in many 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 within the business (or bedrijf: business in Dutch). It is also common for Dutch employees to take initiative and responsibility while working independently. 

Dutch people use an informal yet direct manner of communication in Dutch business culture, although 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). The typical Dutch communication style among colleagues is the informal 'je' and first names.

Dutch business culture – business culture Netherlands

Dutch business strategy and planning

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

In Dutch business culture, 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.

Business decisions

Most decisions, in politics, in Dutch business culture 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.

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, in line with values of Dutch business culture.

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, no matter at which level of the company you are. Foreigners often perceive Dutch meetings as ineffective, yet they are seen as an instrument to make sure that everybody is heard.

Negotiations in Dutch business culture

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 in business culture in the Netherlands.

Dutch business culture – business culture in the Netherlands

Time perception in Dutch business culture

'Time is money' is a catch phrase that works in business culture 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.

Keeping appointments

People in the Netherlands have structured agendas in social life and in Dutch business culture. 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 business greetings

In Dutch business culture, it's typical to 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.

Business dress code

In the Netherlands, dress codes can be amazingly informal in Dutch business culture. A traditional suit and tie is required only in higher circles of business 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 in the Netherlands' work culture.

Dutch business culture – Netherlands work culture

Use of business cards

Cards are usually exchanged after or near the end of a conversation in the Netherlands' work culture. 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.

Business wining and dining

Lunch is seen as a necessity, not a social event in Dutch business culture. Therefore most employees eat a sandwich behind their computer, or bring sandwiches even into a meeting. Business lunches are not uncommon, but not very frequent in Dutch business culture. The tendency to go out for lunch or eat with colleagues in a meeting room, however, is growing.

Taking business partners out for dinner is seen as a private event, consequently it rarely happens in Dutch business culture. 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. Family and hobbies also play an important role in Dutch society.

Click to go to the top of our guide to Dutch business culture.


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. If you want to order the full guide to working in the Netherlands or find more information, see www.labourmobility.com. Updated by Expatica 2017.


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8 Comments To This Article

  • M posted:

    on 23rd January 2017, 00:18:35 - Reply

    First of all if you don't like the Dutch culture that is totally fine. But you don't understand how our culture works. You may had a bad experience but being "blunt" is being direct to the point (we are known for it). The Dutch don't like to be on a loop or around the Bush as many of the USA businesses do. We like a straight answer without any bs what does not have any thing to do with the current situation.
  • 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: polenmeldpunt.nl 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.

  • Visu posted:

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

    Thanks for detailed information on NL Management culture