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Organisational structure

The organisational structure of businesses in the Netherlands is often very flat compared to businesses in your home country.

Managers and high-level staff deal with lower level workers on a daily basis, do not display symbols of rank and it is common to address them by their first names. This does not mean that high-ranking staff members are not respected (they are!). The idea behind the Dutch flat hierarchy is that equality fosters productivity in team decision-making, rather than imposition of decisions by the superiors.

The Dutch are proud people and do not like to be looked down upon, so a smart boss will bear this in mind and act respectfully towards the staff at all levels.

No shaming and blaming

If something goes wrong, personal responsibility is often avoided or rejected, with the blame placed on the situation or a problem with the current set-up.

However, one should not be surprised to be criticised by the boss publicly as it is a part of the Dutch directness.

Meetings and negotiations

Dutch companies revolve around meetings. You will find that there is always at least one meeting in your office every day, even if it only involves a few people.

Because of their frequency, meetings are mostly informal, yet fixed to times and agendas. The Dutch enjoy offering their opinion, and the attitude is that each individual may hold information that is valuable to the company. As a result, meetings can involve staff members of various levels of seniority.

Join the debate

Negotiations are usually lengthy as people seek consensus, with the most senior staff member seen as the strategist of plans, and the general staff as the implementers. Try to prepare yourself, as you will likely be expected to contribute to the discussion at some point.

Coffee breaks, a source of information

A lot of office information is passed on through word of mouth, and once you are a trusted figure among colleagues, you will undoubtedly hear plenty of information at the office coffee machine.

Concept of time

In the Netherlands, time is money. You are expected to be punctual as being late may 'damage' your image.

If you do find yourself running late, you should contact the relevant person and make them aware of this. Frequent lateness will affect your standing with the individual or company concerned, as a lack of time management is considered to be a trait of an unreliable worker.

Small talk

During business meeting, small talk is usually kept short. Avoid controversial topics and getting too personal too quickly. A short exchange about the weather will do just fine!

Planning ahead

The Dutch tend to plan for the long term, so schedules (both social and working) are often set weeks or even months in advance.

Business behaviour

When conducting business in the Netherlands, respectful but relaxed behaviour is the norm.

The Dutch are rarely very formal, but when greeting older business partners and those of a higher business rank, they will use the formal 'u', 'meneer' and 'mevrouw' until the senior person adopts a more informal tone.

Let's shake hands

Handshakes are used in all situations and it is good practice to shake hands with every person in the room (although in a group of more than 20 people, this might become inconvenient!). It is recommended to maintain eye contact when you greet someone as it signals trustworthiness.

Business cards are also exchanged frequently during business meetings, usually with those with whom you have had contact with directly and with whom you have a shared business interest. They are not usually handed out for no reason.

Dress for the occasion

Dress codes can vary greatly between companies: some may require at least semi-formal wear, even for a typical day in the office, while others allow you to ‘dress as you please’ within sensible boundaries. Suits and ties are standard attire in certain business sectors and government agencies.

For interviews, it is best to lean towards a more formal style with a simple dark suit, white shirt/blouse and smart shoes, for both women and men. However, our top tip is to visit the company's website to try and find clues about their dress code.

Communication styles

The stereotypes of Dutch business communication are often those of straight-talking directness, with to-the-point discussions.

This is mostly true; the Dutch do like to know where they stand, and if they have something to say, they will usually say it. This direct way of speaking eliminates the chances of ambiguity; if a Dutch person tells you are doing a good job, then you definitely are!

Global traders

People from the Netherlands also consider themselves to be historically good at doing business around the world, ever since their 'Golden Age' (roughly corresponding with the 17th century). Hence, international experiences and multilingual skills are more than welcome.

A friendly bunch

They are also a friendly bunch and most will try to understand your cultural background. It results in an interesting clash between directness and understanding: each individual will handle this differently.

So when preparing for the Dutch labour market, know that there are individuals who will do their best to understand your cultural differences and assist you, but also people who will strike you with their boldness with little regard for your cultural background.

Source: Expertise in Labour Mobility