Culture at the workplace

Culture at the workplace

 

 

If you want to work in a neighbouring country, knowing about cultural differences and how to deal with them is one of the most important factors for success. Find out here what makes working with Dutch people different.

 

What cultural differences should I expect – as a manager?

 

In the Netherlands, hierarchies are as flat as the country itself and official channels are short. Dutch employees have an equitable understanding of their roles. They act self-confidently and express their opinion when they don’t like something. As a manager, you do not automatically receive respect because of your position, but you have to earn the respect of your employees through performance, knowledge and behaviour. In the Netherlands, personality counts just as much as position.

Decisions

Managers in the Netherlands have more of a coordinating role. Decisions from above are not welcome, but are preferably made in consultation with the team. Meetings are then also held frequently. It is important for Dutch people to at least feel that they have a say in decisions. You are expected to accommodate this.

Form of address

The pronounced Dutch egalitarianism also means that bosses and colleagues – at all levels – are quickly and equally addressed by their first names. The first name is not explicitly offered, but is more or less expected. People communicate on an equal footing and place great value on uncomplicated interaction.

Language

In a country with an equitable understanding of roles, a friendly request is part of good manners; direct instructions are not well received. The best way to do this is to briefly explain the meaning and purpose of the request and ask nicely. Otherwise, Dutch people are known for being very direct and not mincing their words. To keep things “nice†at the relationship level, they like to use diminutive forms and understatement. You have “a little bit of an idea†about something (but you shouldn’t take that literally!), you have a “small’ cup of coffee with a “little’ biscuit during the break, before you make a “telefoontje†(quick phone call) with a business partner or a “onderonsje†(short private discussion) with a colleague.

Restraint

As a manager, you are “among equals†in the Netherlands. You are expected to behave accordingly. Showing status – e.g. by addressing someone with an academic title or providing luxury equipment for the office – is not part of the Dutch precept of “being normalâ€. The effect of Calvinism, although somewhat mitigated in the meantime, is still palpable.

Flexibility

The Netherlands is a nation of trade. Reacting quickly, improvising when necessary and acting flexibly are highly valued. “Moet kunnenâ€, i.e. “must be possible†is the motto. The main thing is that the result is right. Decisions are not set in stone, but can be changed if necessary. The often countless meetings (called “overlegâ€) are used for this purpose. The insistence on strict planning is experienced as rather restrictive.

Delegating

German managers are often technical specialists, whereas Dutch managers are mostly generalists. Managers with technical expertise therefore get decision-making authority more quickly than in Germany, even in negotiations. As a manager, you are expected to delegate tasks and let employees work independently. Your task is primarily to maintain an overview, develop strategies and keep an eye on the goal.

Meeting and seating arrangements

When it comes to meetings, people in the Netherlands are also usually a little more relaxed than in Germany. Although there is also an agenda in the Netherlands, the way it is handled is a little more flexibly than you are used to. And the seating arrangements do not necessarily reflect hierarchical positions.

Presentations

You won’t impress a Dutch audience with a text-heavy presentation with lots of figures, data, facts and jargon. Instead, convince them with visualisations, storytelling, understandable language and answers to the question “How can it be applied practicallyâ€.

Dealing with time

From a German perspective, Dutch people do not plan as far into the future. Although Dutch people also place a lot of emphasis on keeping deadlines, time is less structured. Sometimes there is even time for a spontaneous appointment or an unannounced visit to a business partner as part of maintaining a relationship.

Separation of work and private life

At work, a pleasant working atmosphere and a good personal relationship definitely play a role in the Netherlands. The separation between work and private life is less strict in the Netherlands. At work, too, you slip less into a professional role than in Germany, but are as much yourself as possible. It is not unusual to go out for a drink together after work or to invite colleagues who are friends to a birthday party.

Humour

Jokes are not only told in private life, but also in the Dutch workplace. Self-irony is important here, people like to make fun of themselves or of people with (alleged) status. This is also part of the typical Dutch understatement.

 

What cultural differences should I expect – as an employee?

 

Flat hierarchies

In the Netherlands, hierarchical structures are much less visible than in Germany. Due to the equitable understanding of roles, the distance between managers and employees is small. Official channels are short and the doors of supervisors’ offices – if they have their own office – are usually open. Supervisors often have a more coordinating role on the team.

Teamwork

Decisions are preferably made in consultation with the team – meetings are then held frequently. You are expected to take the initiative and think for yourself. The boundaries between competences are more fluid on a Dutch team than you are used to in Germany. Taking over the work of team colleagues, e.g. during holidays or illness, is not unusual.

Form of address

The pronounced Dutch egalitarianism also means that bosses and colleagues – at all levels – are quickly and equally addressed by their first names. The first name is not explicitly offered, but is more or less expected. People communicate on an equal footing and place great value on uncomplicated interaction.

Language

It is important for Dutch bosses to at the very least give their employees the feeling that they can make their own decisions. Therefore, direct instructions are often packaged in the form of a friendly question. But be careful: Such a question can certainly be understood as a request for action! Otherwise, Dutch people are known for being very direct and not mincing their words. To keep things “nice†at the relationship level, they like to use diminutive forms and understatement. You have “a little bit of an idea†about something (but you shouldn’t take that literally!), you have a “small’ cup of coffee with a “little’ biscuit during the break, before you make a “telefoontje†(quick phone call) to a team colleague and disappear into the lunch break, where you eat a “small†butter roll with cheese and drink a “little†glass of buttermilk with it.

Restraint

Compared to many a German boss, Dutch superiors show little status consciousness. This applies to external status symbols – clothes, luxury accessories, cars – as well as to the use of academic titles or specialist vocabulary. “Act normal, it’s already crazy enough†is the motto. The effect of Calvinism, although somewhat mitigated in the meantime, is still palpable.

Exterior

In their style of dress, Dutch people often like it more colourful and relaxed than some Germans. Superiors, too, are often almost indistinguishable from their employees in their clothing. At work, people slip less into a professional role, but are as much themselves as possible and show their personality.

Flexibility

The Netherlands is a nation of trade. React quickly, improvise when necessary and act flexibly, in short: “Moet kunnen†(must be possible). The main thing is that the result is right. Decisions are not set in stone, but can be changed if necessary. The often countless meetings (called “overlegâ€) are used for this purpose. The insistence on strict planning is experienced as rather restrictive.

Delegating

Dutch managers are often generalists rather than specialists. Therefore, they will not always know the answer to a technical question – that is the responsibility of their professional colleagues. Conversely, managers with technical expertise get decision-making authority more quickly than in Germany, even in negotiations. Dutch managers delegate more, provide less structure and expect you to work independently and think for yourself.

Separation of work and private life

At work, a pleasant working atmosphere and a good personal relationship definitely play a role in the Netherlands. The separation between work and private life is less strict in the Netherlands. It is not unusual to go out for a drink together after work or to invite colleagues who are friends to a birthday party.

Humour

Jokes are not only told in private life, but also in the Dutch workplace. Self-irony is important here, people like to make fun of themselves or of people with (alleged) status. This is also part of the typical Dutch understatement.

Lunch in the Netherlands

GrensInfoPunkte is also there for you to learn about cultural differences.

Lunch in the Netherlands. GrensInfoPunkte is also there for you to learn about cultural differences.

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