working in the Netherlands

Working in the Netherlands

How is it to work in the Netherlands?

Maybe you had one phone interview and two or three face-to-face interviews (let’s say of max. 1 hour). You have a kind of idea how it is to work for your new employer. But, I think everybody can agree with me that the perspective you have from the company while your interviewing and when actually working is never a 100% match. I am not saying your job will always be better or worse, just different.

Starting at a new employer is already exciting, and now you are also starting in a new country with a different work culture. I help you to survive and finally hopefully learn to enjoy it!

5 tips to make sure you fit in at your new job:

1. Working from 9-5 (work-life balance)  

Depending on the field of work you are in. It is really normal to stick to the 9-5, or actually 8.30 till 5 since your lunch time is your own time. The work-life balance in the Netherlands is very good. Depending on the industry you are in people don’t make that many hours in addition to their working hours (eg. In Singapore it was quite normal to work 10 hours a day).

According to the OECD Better Life Index: “The Netherlands ranks top in work-life balance and above the average in income and wealth, jobs and earnings.”  

2. Lunchtime

In general, your lunch break will be 30 minutes and is between 12.00-13.00. Depending on your company you have to bring your own cheese sandwich (or salad) or the company provides lunch. At some companies, employees go for a short walk after lunch. Don’t forget 'hagelslag' is a must on everything.

3. Dutch Directness

The Dutch directness is also present at work. Did you screw up? They will tell you. Of course in a polite way and we will tell you separately, so not in front of all your colleagues. Saving face in the Netherlands is definitely not as big, or not even close to, saving face in Asia. But of course, we are human and we all still have an ego. I can imagine that this may seem very direct if you have a different cultural background. But please keep in mind that our directness is always with ‘positive intent’. We want you to succeed in your (new) role, which is why we give you constructive (but direct) feedback. Try not to take it personally, and see it that you know exactly where you stand, as opposed to some countries approach where they want something but are too reserved to tell you that easily.    

4. Punctuality - be on time for your meetings

In some cultures, it might be okay to show up 30 minutes late for a meeting. In the Netherlands definitely not. If you have internal meetings (so meetings with your colleagues) they can get delayed (for instance because another meeting overruns) more often. This really depends on your company culture as well.
If you have an external meeting (eg. with a client or prospect) it is really unacceptable to be too late. Of course, it can happen (eg. because of a traffic jam) but always make sure that you notify the person you are going to meet.

5. Dutch decision making

Some people might find this very annoying (probably Americans who are used to work in a very hierarchical company)...A lot of people often have influence on a decision that has to be made. In this way everyone can have an option and the decision to be made will be made in a well-considered way.  This creates support for the (for instance) change that will be made (since several people had an influence on the decision to be made). On the other hand, this way of decision making is often (very) time-consuming.

Other things you should know about working in the Netherlands:

Working part-time

It is very normal to work part-time in the Netherlands. For instance, when you get children it is normal to work fewer days. It is still very common to see that women work less after they got children (for instance they work 3 days) compared to men (they often work 4 days or full-time). There are also a lot of employees who don’t have kids, which work less than full-time (eg. 36 hours a week). They have every Friday afternoon off, or they have every other Friday a whole day off.

Working part-time is pretty common, also because childcare is pretty expensive in the Netherlands.

Cycling to work

Especially people who live and work in the city will cycle to work. There are no traffic jams and you will have your daily portion of exercise as well. You can read more about cycling in the Netherlands in my ‘cycling survival guide’.


Too busy to read? Follow me on Instagram: expat_help_nl_ri_direction! Easy to digest info & tips for expats in the Netherlands.

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