Dutch Language Blog

9 Dutch Phrases that Illustrate Work Culture in the Netherlands Posted by on Dec 29, 2016 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

One of the biggest perks of learning a smaller language like Dutch is opening the door to moving to and working in the country where the language is spoken. In the case of Dutch, the Netherlands’ work culture is reason enough to start studying.

Work culture in the Netherlands is different than in the US and many English speaking countries.

The Nederlandse werkcultuur is something the Dutch are proud of, and rightfully so.

Those who move to the Netherlands to find work are heading into one of the most worker-friendly cultures in the world. With a healthy sense of work-life balance and one of the shortest work weeks in the world, it’s easy to see why learning Dutch is quite literally a good investment.

And like so many other manifestations of culture, we can see this in the Dutch language.

Beyond typically Dutch coinings like the zoekjaar, an orientation year for highly-educated job seekers from abroad to seek employment in the Netherlands, or the strong collectieve arbeidsovereenkomsten, the collective bargaining agreements that ensure workers’ rights and benefits, the way the Dutch talk about work and life gives extra insight into what the Dutch find important at the office and at home.

netherlands work culture

Photo via Pixabay under CC0 Public Domain.

Here are 9 phrases any job-seeker in the Netherlands will inevitably come across, and what they say about work culture and job-seeking in the Netherlands.

  1. solliciteren: The foundation of Dutch work culture is looking for a job, or solliciteren. During the sollicitatieproces you’ll write a sollicitatiebrief to explain your motivation for applying for the vacancy at hand, and if all goes well you’ll be invited for a sollicitatiegesprek to discuss your motivations and qualifications in person.
  2. MBO/HBO/WO werk- en denkniveau: On most job vacancies, you’ll see a line that specifies a particular werk- en denkniveau that corresponds with a particular level of education in the NetherlandsWO stands for wetenschappelijk onderwijs or university, HBO for hoger beroepsonderwijs or professional training, and MBO stands for middelbaar beroepsonderwijs or vocational training. Each of these education levels is associated with a particular werk- en denkniveau, a level of professional and intellectual ability.
  3. uitstekende beheersing van de Nederlandse en/of Engelse taal: The Dutch are language-aware, and many vacancies will specifically ask for candidates with ‘excellent command of the Dutch and/or English language’. This reflects the relative significance of the English language especially in the Netherlands’ highly international work atmosphere, which can be frustrating for learners who just want to get Dutch people to actually speak Dutch with them.
  4. gedreven, innovatief, en oplossingsgericht: Job postings normally share a few qualities they’re looking for in a candidate, and these are some of the most cliché–‘driven, innovative, and solution-oriented’. The Dutch prize work-life balance and worker benefits, but the flip side is a high standard for productivity and problem-solving at the office.
  5. aanpakken: Another phrase to frequently appear in descriptions of ideal candidates: “jij houdt van aanpakken“. It literally means “to take (things) on”, and refers to the go-getter, self-starter attitude that’s expected in the Dutch workplace. In other words, you don’t fall victim to the zesjescultuur.
  6. ondernemen: The Netherlands is a little obsessed with ondernemen and ondernemerschap, making everything more ‘entrepreneurial’. This is central not only to the work culture but also to the government’s growth strategy, investing heavily not only in startups and small businesses but in ushering in an entrepreneurial spirit throughout Dutch workplaces.
  7. overleggen: In any job in the Netherlands, you’ll need to be comfortable with overleggen, or cooperatively discussing and making decisions with colleagues. The verb can simply mean “to consult, discuss”, but it also has a strong connotation of general collaboration and leadership through effective teamwork, typical of the Dutch overlegcultuur.
  8. hiërarchie: In some ways the opposite of overleg and samenwerkinghiërarchie is a word you’ll almost always come across in negative terms as businesses proudly declare their organization to be free of it. The Dutch working culture is notably less hierarchical than that of English-speaking countries like the US–Dutch management style tends to be more egalitarian in style, and workers are expected to disagree with their superiors and offer critical feedback in meetings and daily work activities.
  9. burnout: One facet of the Netherlands’ pragmatic approach to work-life balance is the formal recognition of burnout, the physical or mental exhaustion caused by chronic stress and overworking. The Dutch government has legislation ensuring that workers are able to take paid time off in the case of a burnout, and in general the culture is very aware of the potential of experiencing a burnout, and both employers and employees take conscious careful steps prevent it happening.

Globalization in the Netherlands and the Dutch language means that the job market for skilled and ambitious foreigners will likely only grow in the future. If you want access to one of the most worker-friendly job markets in the world, learning Dutch is a smart place to start.

If you’re thinking about looking for work in the Netherlands, or just want to brush up on your Dutch job-seeker vocabulary, check out helpful sites like Carrieretijger and the Sollicitatiedokter that are aimed at helping you navigate work and job-hunting in the Netherlands.

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About the Author: Jakob Gibbons

I write about language and travel on my blog . I often share my experiences with learning languages on the road, and teaching and learning new speech sounds is my specialty.