From an English or American point of view, the Dutch can be considered as the nearest European people, not only it’s geographically close to the UK, also in a manner of (business) culture. Also, from all European national languages, Dutch is the language that is the closest to English, and more than 90% of the public is able to understand and make themselves understood in English. However, don’t let these similarities mislead you, there are certainly points of difference to pay attention to. We selected a few of them.
Remarkably informal at work
The first to point out is that the Dutch can be remarkably informal at work. It’s very natural for management to interact in a friendly manner with all levels of employees, with everyone referred to by their first names. It certainly doesn’t infer a lack of respect by an employee if they refer to their manager or even CEO by first name – it merely reflects a traditional aspect of Dutch culture in which everyone is regarded as an equal. Naturally, upon greeting a new business acquaintance for the very first time, it remains polite to use the appropriate common title (Mr, Ms or Mrs).
Because of this informality of Dutch business culture, it is very common to share opinions. From management to interns, expressing yourself is part of the workplace. Foreigners who are new to the Netherlands can be shocked by such directness, especially if they are used to softening their opinions or just not even start about it, in order to avoid causing offence or conflict. But Dutch society and workplaces are typically consensus-driven, so don’t be offended by the opinions of others and don’t be afraid to speak your mind.
Meetings, a lot of meetings…
A big part of that consensus-driven Dutch workplace is meetings. Lots of meetings. Deals are struck over coffee meetings, lunch meetings and sometimes even regular office meetings. Some meetings are simply held to arrange further meetings. But remember what was mentioned above, after the initial friendly chat, you can be direct and clear. That way all parties will feel satisfied at the end.
The Dutch are known to be forceful, stubborn and tough negotiators. This results that negotiations tend to proceed quick. After any promise, the Dutch have faith in the outcome. A spoken agreement is as trustworthy as one on paper. With that in mind, going back on your word or attempting to renegotiate is likely to severely hinder future business relations.
Small talk and networking
Maintaining the (business) relationship also involves to chat about the weather, food or drink, travel, sport, news, etc., talk about the activities in weekend/evening, and ask how family members are doing. Most companies have a regular “borrel” (after-work social occasion typically with beer and wine), and join if you are invited for informal networking and to chat about non-work matters.
Dress code: smart casual
The dress codes can be very informal. A traditional suit and tie is usually only required in certain professions (e.g. real estate agents and undertakers) and at special occasions (funeral). The “smart casual” style of cloths is to be preferred.
Lunch is seen as a necessity rather than a social event. Dutch employees bring their sandwiches from home, eat them behind their computer, in the canteen or even bring their sandwiches to a meeting. Coffee and tea are generally served, but sandwiches and fruit are seen as a “treats” for special occasions, and is the highest level of Dutch “hospitality” that could be expected. Going out for lunch is not common but winning some popularity in business culture.