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Work Culture and Labour Market for Expats in The Netherlands

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: June 2016

Work Culture

Though friendly and quite relaxed, the atmosphere in the Dutch workplace tends to be formal. When greeting new people, for example, the Dutch use meneer or mevrouw plus their surname, especially in offices and more formal workplaces. It normally takes a long time before co-workers become friends enough to use first names.

Handshakes are almost universal in greetings, and you should shake hands when leaving as well. Business cards are usually exchanged on meeting. Ensure your educational qualifications are prominently displayed on a Dutch business card.

At work, the Dutch are cordial but a little reserved. Do whatever you can to be on time for meetings and other appointments, as lateness is always considered rude. Even if you are only running slightly late, you should always phone to explain why. The dress code is smart casual, which means shirts and trousers but no ties.

The Dutch are understated and prefer subtle forms of communication. They are not comfortable with loud voices, expansive gestures or histrionics, but do appreciate a calm and reasonable demeanour. Personal space is also prized; for the Dutch, this means keeping at least half a metre away from other people.

The typical Dutch business structure is more horizontal than strictly hierarchical. The boss is far from autocratic, and ranks and titles do not impress people. Many people are consulted over a decision, which enhance the employees’ sense of involvement but does take more time. This decision-making style based on consensus tends to lead to long meetings. It is important to be patient while you are waiting.

The Dutch are very used to business and trade as it is what built their country. In meetings, there is little time given to small talk, and you should avoid asking too personal questions. Meetings are transactional in nature and usually arranged long in advance, and the agenda is rigidly adhered to. The Dutch are direct rather than diplomatic. They want yes and no answers – the truth, not weasel words or hyperbole. Any exaggerated claims you make may come back to haunt you later.

The Dutch appreciate and expect hard work. Workers often skip their breaks, eating food at their workplace and then going home early. After the day is done, the Dutch value their private lives. They do not like it when they are asked to work longer hours, which impinges on this. In a similar vein, personal relationships are kept quite separate from business ones. Even if you are friends with someone outside work, they may still be rather reserved with you in the workplace. The Dutch generally take holidays in the summer, meaning that meetings are more difficult to organise during this period.


Labour Market

The Dutch economy is in a fair shape at present. The annual GDP growth rate is currently at 1.9%, not particularly high, but it is stable. The labour market remains buoyant. The total work force is 8,900,000, and the number of unemployed is 590,000. This gives an unemployment rate of approximately 6.6%. This rate is lower than the world average of 8% (and considerably lower than the European average) and has been declining for two years.

Though not a serious problem anywhere, unemployment is highest in Rotterdam, Flevoland and the north-eastern provinces of Friesland and Groningen. The youth unemployment rate is at around 11%, which is far less alarming than the rates in some southern European countries.

Naturally, the Randstad area dominates the labour pool, but there are major operations established elsewhere, such as Philips in Eindhoven and oil, gas and petrochemical production in the north-west. There are officially recognised labour shortages in the areas of IT and telecommunications, engineering, finance and marketing. Finding work in these areas is likely to be considerably easier than in others.

Overall, given the number of opportunities available, it is worth considering a move to the Netherlands to find work at present.