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First, let’s take a look at Dutch society to place working culture into perspective. Dutch society is relatively egalitarian, and most Dutchies are highly tolerant of individual differences. All of this translates to the workplace. Most companies have a horizontal hierarchy and informal workplace culture. It’s not uncommon for employees to regularly knock on their manager’s door when having questions worth discussing - assuming these managers even have a door. A lot of offices consist of one open space, where everyone works side by side. Ranks and job titles are happily disregarded.
The Dutch are fond of open and honest conversation. After you’ve been working at a Dutch office for a couple of days, you’ll undoubtedly notice that voicing opinions is common practice. Your colleagues will expect you to have an opinion about all the work-related topics- small talk at the coffee machine or lunch table is often about the latest politics, soccer games, and weekend activities.
While the managers and director may be the final decision-makers, they will typically value their coworker’s input and strive for consensus. When going to the Friday drinks at the end of the workweek - de vrijdagmiddagborrel - you’ll see that also there it doesn’t matter if the boss is around or not. Every single person expresses himself freely while enjoying a beer and typical Dutch ‘bitterballen’.
But, don’t fall into the trap of wanting too much, too quickly. Although it may seem like us Dutchies are willing to discuss everything, we are actually more private and task oriented than we seem to be on forehand. We first have to get to know you better before fully opening up, and this might take some time. When you ask a question that we don’t want to answer, we’ll simply and honestly reply we’d rather not. Ouch. Rude much? Maybe, but hey: honesty first.
A Dutch workweek
A standard Dutch workweek consists of 36, 38, or 40 hours. We commonly work five days a week, seven to eight hours a day. Lunch breaks are usually 30 to 60 minutes (and unpaid, bummer), in which we like to go outside for a walk and a chat with colleagues - yes, walking equals talking!
Over the last years, more and more Dutchies started working part-time. When working between 12 to 36 hours a week, you’re classified as having a part-time job - called ‘deeltijd’ in Dutch. When kids come into the picture, some parents like to have an extra day off to have a mummy or daddy day. In your out-of-office email message, you can bluntly mention you’re not in the office because changing your newborn’s diapers is your highest priority that day. Again, your colleagues will applaud this type of honesty.
We value a decent work-life balance
Although Dutch people are anything but lazy and most of them like to work, we’re steadily shifting towards ‘a healthy working life'. With that, we value a good balance between private- and working life, and clear boundaries are preferred. Meaning laptops are not opened anymore after 6 PM and the weekend remains yours alone: private time to relax and recharge in which the boss is not in the picture. When emailing your colleagues during weekends, you’ll often get a reply by Monday - at the soonest.
A final piece of advice to end with: just go with the flow, enjoy working in the Netherlands, but also make the most of your time off. Share whatever you want to share during walks or lunches with your colleagues, but don’t go overboard. As always, balance is key.