Netherlands Business Etiquette: 9 Key Culture Elements

Netherlands Business Etiquette
Business etiquette in Netherlands revolves around honesty and clarity: dutch people are direct and straightforward in their communication and expect the same from you. They do not enforce a strict business hierarchy but highly value punctuality.

1. Importance of punctuality in Netherlands

Punctuality is a vital part of Dutch business culture and is very important to Dutch society.

This refers to both arriving on time and delivering outcomes when promised. If you are late, make sure to call ahead and let whoever you are working with know. Dutch people are good-natured and so will accept reasonable delays kindly.

During meetings with dutch companies, expect there to be a chairperson and potentially a timekeeper assigned. They will ensure the meeting moves forward promptly and doesn’t overrun.

2. Business attire

Dress codes in Holland are similar to the rest of Europe. Conservative and professional is always the go-to if you are unsure.

The exact dress depends on the industry. Banking and politics require formal attire, while IT, entertainment, and hospitality allow for a more relaxed look.

For men, it is customary to wear a jacket (though not necessarily a suit), which can be removed while working.

For women, trousers and trouser suits are as acceptable as dresses and skirts. The Netherlands is a forward-thinking country for women, ranking 3rd in the EU on the Gender Equality Index.

gender equality in dutch businesses
Gender equality in Dutch businesses

Depending on the industry, dress codes can be very relaxed, however. T-shirts and trainers are standard in some companies during the summer months. If you are unsure, feel free to ask your team for guidance.

Dutch culture, especially in places like Amsterdam, is relatively liberal. At social events outside of work, feel free to wear clothes that express who you are. Self-expression is celebrated and encouraged in the Netherlands.

3. What is the Dutch etiquette for business meetings?

Dutch business meetings are often informal but still follow a strict agenda. A large part of the process of doing business in the Netherlands is to reach a consensus – as such, meetings are common and can sometimes be seen as inefficient and time-consuming by expats.

Shake hands with everybody in the room, making eye contact as you do so. If you are meeting anybody for the first time, introduce yourself with your first and last name.

Don’t expect too much small talk at the start of a meeting – the Dutch are known for their directness and will want to get straight into the meat of the matter.

4. Business cards

When business cards are exchanged in the Netherlands, it is usually done at the end of a conversation or meeting.

Business cards may include private phone numbers and addresses alongside formal titles and functions. If this is the case, only use these contact details during business hours – it is not an invitation to get in touch at any random time!

5. Decision & authority equality

The Netherlands is seen worldwide as a place of equality, which is equally present in its business culture and etiquette.

The Dutch value the best idea in the room and do not necessarily care where it comes from. In fact, if you are present at a meeting, you are expected to actively contribute, no matter where you rank in the traditional hierarchy (which is often ignored).

Do not mistake this egalitarian nature as a lack of structure, however. Bosses and executives still hold authority and will exercise it when needed, but they also view themselves as part of the team, not above it.

6. What is Netherlands negotiation style?

When making business relationships with Dutch people, be prepared for the directness and clarity of their communication style. The Dutch are fiercely honest, stubborn and do not beat around the bush.

This can come across as rude to foreigners, especially British and American visitors from countries where politeness is more important than honesty. However, in the Netherlands, the most important part of any negotiation is telling the truth, even when that truth comes across as harsh.

Dutch negotiations tend to get straight to the point. The Dutch are tough negotiators but respond well to honesty and clarity; be clear and upfront about what you want and what you can give and you will see results.

7. Exchanging gifts

Gift-giving and receiving is not a common aspect of business relationships in the Netherlands. They do not like to feel obligated to do more than what is necessary, nor do they expect anything more than the standard repayment for their work.

8. What are the Dutch ways of communicating?

The Dutch use straightforward, blunt language during business communications. Their vocal communication and body language tend to be low-key, and they may not take kindly to visitors who are too loud, expressive, or over the top.

There are two official languages in the Netherlands: Dutch and Frisian, which is a regional dialect spoken in the province of Fryslan.

However, you will rarely need a translator in the Netherlands, as the Dutch are excellent at languages. Most Dutch people speak perfect English.

9. What is the work culture like in Netherlands?

The Netherlands has a solid work ethic: they like to provide a good service and expect the same in return.

However, unlike the American business culture, the Netherlands is known for excellent work-life balance. People like to keep their personal life separate from their job and won’t be pleased if you call them outside of work hours.

Most dutch jobs work on a 38-hour working week, though anything from 36-40 is expected. Many dutch workers will take lunch at their desks rather than going out; business lunches are uncommon.

What are some rules for doing business in Netherlands?

To-Do’s ✅To-Dont’s ❌
Be honest and upfrontDon’t be insulted by the blunt, direct communication style
Be on timeDon’t expect people to work outside of business hours
Be prepared to contribute to every meetingDon’t be overly loud or expressive in public

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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