Ten valuable insights into Dutch business culture

Are you considering moving to the Netherlands? Or do you do business with the Dutch on a regular basis? Then these insights might be of interest to you.

Understanding Dutch culture, values, believes and work etiquette will help you to do business fruitfully and can make your life as an international knowledge worker in The Netherlands a lot easier.

1. Punctuality is a virtue

Punctuality is something that the Dutch value greatly so it is wise to be present for appointments in time. If you know in advance that you are not going to make it in time, you should let your colleagues or business relations know in time. If you do happen to be a bit late apologies will be accepted gently without people making a big deal of it. In general though you should avoid being late, missing appointments, postponing and changing the time of appointments without a good reason. It could cause reservations about commitment and in the end it could ruin relationships.

2. Fixed agenda’s and time keeping

In commercial Dutch companies a fixed agenda generally forms the basis of a meeting. In addition someone will almost always be given the role of chairperson to keep the agenda moving along. The same person or someone else may even be assigned the role of time-keeper. Agreements and quotations will be written down and delivery promises will get a follow-up.

3. Reaching consensus

The Dutch are dedicated to ensure consensus during business meetings. Openness and transparency are highly valued. In Dutch culture mostly everyone is treated as equal. Although rank and title are respected when it comes to final decision making, up to that point everyone is expected to have had input into the conversation. So be patient, don’t expect immediate answers and factor in a longer than usual decision making process. And of course you should feel free to openly share your views and ideas.

4. Business Dress Code

The Dutch tend to dress fairly conservatively in business, though standards and styles vary widely from one industry to another: formal attire is normal in banking, open-neck shirts and jeans in the IT and entertainment sectors. In most Dutch organisations, it is generally normal to wear a jacket, not necessarily a suit, to take the jacket off when working. Colour has no particular significance, and colourful shirt/tie combinations are quite usual in some sectors, such as marketing and service industries.

5. Behaviour that you should avoid

Although the Dutch are known for their tolerance, there are some things you should try to avoid. Especially when you have just met someone. Examples are: breaking agreements, addressing people by their first name initially, talking with your hands in your pockets, yawning or using a toothpick without covering your mouth, chewing gum or spitting in public.

6. Open, transparent and direct

Communication style in the Netherlands is usually linear and very direct. The Dutch don’t mean to be rude or blunt but they are set to get the job done. Emotions and non-verbal communication during meetings and conversations are minimal compared to many countries. The Dutch prefer to ask people what they think instead of waiting for a non-verbal sign. Transparency in communication is important, giving many compliments and communicating too politely make the Dutch suspicious of what your actual goal is.

7. Gift giving on the work floor

The Dutch generally do not expect to give or receive gifts after services that were agreed upon beforehand, are delivered. As a result, gift giving is not a common aspect of business relationships in the Netherlands. If you decide, however, that a gesture is appropriate, for example on finalising an agreement, make the gift a reasonably modest and neutral one. If you receive a gift you should open it on the spot and let your business partner know you appreciate it. Most Dutch companies offer end-of-year gifts and these should of course also be acknowledged.

8. Gift giving during informal dinners

If a colleague invites you to dinner taking a gift for the host or hostess is a normal thing to do. It will be appreciated. Think of flowers (chrysanthemums or carnations are not appropriate) or a houseplant, wine, chocolates, sweets or a toy for the children.

9. Going Dutch at business dinners

The Dutch will make it clear that you are their guest if they intend to pay the bill, otherwise expect to “go Dutch” and pay your fair share. No one will be embarrassed at splitting the bill. Spouses are often included in a business dinner. Ask if your host expects your spouse included in a business function. Business is not generally discussed if spouses are present.

10. Personal life is private

Overall it’s good to be aware that the Dutch are a very private people. They usually prefer to keep their work and personal life separate. Of course there are social activities like team building events, and Friday afternoon drinks but it is less usual to socialise with colleagues outside of the office then it is in other countries. Don’t mix business with the personal. Try not to ask personal questions as this can be considered rude at times. However, when you’ve created a strong relationship, it’s considered polite to show interest.

Pssst… One last thing you would want to know about the people living in the Netherlands…. The Dutch are extremely adept at dealing with foreigners. They have a long history in international trading and are considered the most experienced and most successful traders in Europe. Do you want to read more about what it is like to work and live in the Netherlands? And especially in the South of the Netherlands? Then download the ‘Living in the Brainport Region’ report now.