My first encounter with the Dutch working culture happened over 20 years ago in Poland. While my Dutch boss and I were waiting for the elevator, we bumped into each other once the doors opened. I assumed that as a woman I can go in first; he assumed we are all equal irrespective of gender, nationality or age, so he decided to walk in first too. This opened my eyes to how different Dutch values and working culture is from my own.

Dutch working culture is uniqueLet’s now dive into what makes Dutch culture unique and different from others. And it is not that single elements make it different but rather the combination of them.

1. Gezelligheid: The Dutch way of creating cosy connectionsThe Dutch word gezelligheid doesn’t even have an exact translation in many languages. So, what is it about? It is about creating a cosy and friendly environment with others. And it is not only reserved for private situations.

Although the Dutch usually do not share their very personal stories at work, being gezellig is still important. You can observe this by seeing how Dutch people celebrate their colleague’s birthdays with taart (cake) or other typical Dutch treats like kroket and patat. Also, coffee corner conversations about weekend plans, the latest Netflix series, or sport activities are common. If you also want to mingle with your co-workers in the Netherlands, go stand at the coffee corner.

2. The famous Dutch directness: Being straightforward is the wayI often have this discussion with many of my clients, who say that Dutch people are often not only direct but simply rude. In some cases, this can be obviously the case, but I really like to dig deeper to understand what lies behind this Dutch directness.

The aim of Dutch directness is not to hurt the other person, but to respect them. They believe that it is respectful to communicate honestly, looking straight into your eyes. The Dutch do not want to say one thing to you and a different thing behind your back.

Personally, I truly appreciate that aspect of Dutch culture. What you see is what you get, no hidden agendas, is always refreshing to me.

3. Employee trust in a Dutch workplaceComing from a post-communist country where, in general, people and employees were not to be trusted but controlled, this rule was a big point for me.

In Dutch working culture, they trust that you are professional and that you will do your work, without being controlled and micromanaged. Trust brings ownership and employees are treated as adults not kids. And that goes for flexibility too, as long as you deliver, it is up to you how and when you do your work.

4. Setting the right boundaries: How work and life can play with one anotherThe Dutch work to live and not live to work. Don’t be surprised when at 5pm sharp your Dutch colleague immediately shuts off their laptop. Family time, hobbies, and sports activities are taken equally serious to work time.

Dutch people are also very efficient with their work. One example of this is that they do not take prolonged lunches like their South European counterparts. Therefore, they do not need to stay longer at work. They respect their own time, starting their lunch sharply at 12 or 1pm and not taking a minute longer than needed. The Dutch value being pragmatic and they believe that time is money.

The Dutch are great at setting the right boundaries at work. This is enabled by their honest and direct communication. They do their work to the best of their abilities but are always ready to say no and push back if they feel it is “too much” and not in line with their own agendas.

5. Challenge your boss: A flat, hierarchical cultureI remember I almost fell off of my chair during one of my first departmental meetings because one of my colleagues said straight to our boss, “I disagree with you.”

I was completely shocked by the fact that you could actually disagree with your boss and even more that you are able to voice it publicly and on top of it, without being punished. Wow! I was even more shocked when I heard my boss saying, after he heard the reasons why he might have been wrong, “Well, actually you are right. Let’s do it the way you proposed.”

The core values of Dutch working cultureThe Dutch working culture continues to evolve. Like the rest of the world, it is adapting to the changing demands of the modern world. Yet, its core values remain steadfast: directness, work-life balance, gezelligheid, equality, and trust.

Which of the Dutch working values do you feel most surprised by? Share it in the comments below.


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