How to deal with Dutch culture as an expat? (EN version)

When you’re an expat in the Netherlands, there are numerous new impressions to navigate. You’ve hopefully found your new home, taken care of administrative tasks such as getting a bank card and insurance. You need to discover your new supermarket and get familiar with cycling to everywhere. Last but not least, you’re starting your new job. This could be in an international company, but there’s also a good chance you’ll be working in a Dutch company. In that case, you’ll encounter the Dutch work culture. In this article, we’ll provide you with insights into the characteristics of Dutch work culture and how to best handle them. Finally, we also have some tips for our fellow Dutchies!

Characteristics of Dutch Work Culture

Dutch work culture can significantly differ from other cultures in several aspects. Here are some important characteristics of Dutch companies:

  • Flat organizational structure: Most Dutch companies generally have a flat structure. Hierarchy is almost non-existent. Managers and team leaders are approachable and often have a coaching role rather than a directive and decision-making role. The input of an employee is highly valued and often expected.
  • Direct communication: The Dutch are known for their directness in communication. This also plays a significant role in the workplace. Your Dutch colleagues will often voice their observations and opinions and are tended to find quick solutions. This direct communication occurs among colleagues, in meetings, and even towards management.
  • Short lunches: While other countries may have more elaborate and even warm lunches, this is less common in the Netherlands. Lunch breaks typically last half an hour, and employees often bring their own food.
  • Good work-life balance: In the Netherlands, there’s predominantly a 9-to-5 mentality. Full-time jobs are often 40 hours (or even 38 hours), and people work approximately eight hours per day. The work-life balance is stable, and working overtime is more of an exception than the norm. You don’t have to wait till the boss is leaving, but you can go when your are done for the day.
  • Informal: Most Dutch companies have an informal atmosphere where personal matters are discussed, and colleagues socialize outside of work. This informality can take some getting used to for other cultures and is mainly due to Dutch directness and openness.

How to Navigate as an Expat

The characteristics mentioned above can be overwhelming in real life. Here are some tips on how to best approach these characteristics:

  • Inquire about the hierarchy within the company you’re joining. Ask your colleagues how they address managers and what form of communication they use. Do they ask, email or call for example?
  • Direct communication can feel overwhelming. Understand that you can also be more direct in your communication with your colleagues than you might be accustomed to. And remember that direct communication from your colleagues is never meant as an attack.
  • Simply have lunch the way you prefer! If you enjoy having a warm lunch or bringing/ordering a delicious meal, go ahead and do it! Your Dutch colleagues may even follow your example.
  • If a standard 9-to-5 schedule doesn’t suit you, ask about flexible working options. Perhaps you prefer starting earlier or later. In the Netherlands, as long as you complete those eight hours in a day, managers are generally satisfied.
  • If you’re not accustomed to being very informal, you don’t have to force it. If you prefer to keep your private life more to yourself, that’s perfectly fine too. If you’re surprised by the amount of personal information your colleagues share, ask a question about it and show interest. This way, the other person feels heard, and you also build a connection.

Tips for Dutchies!

Effective collaboration and communication in a work culture naturally require efforts from both sides. When you have a new expat colleague, you also need to make an effort to better understand their culture.

  • Take your new international colleague under your wing. Involve them in your work but also in informal matters such as casual conversations.
  • Make sure your new colleague is well-informed about lunchtime routines. Let them know if you and your colleagues often bring food, cook together, or get a croquette every Friday. This way, your new colleague won’t feel left out.
  • Be mindful of your direct communication style. Perhaps mention in the first few weeks that as a Dutch person, you can be very direct. Observe your colleague and engage in conversations about what you notice. Avoid interrupting your international colleague during meetings or conversations. Observe and learn from their communication style.


As an expat, there are many new impressions and characteristics to deal with when working in a Dutch company. Particularly, the directness and openness among colleagues can take some getting used to. If you want to dive deeper into how different cultures relate to each other, De Groeiclub recommends reading “The Culture Map” for more information. It’s an excellent guide for navigating different cultures and communication styles, including the Dutch culture!

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