Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dutch Work Culture

The first difference between working in Canada and working in Holland is that 99% of jobs are covered by a union contract. Sometimes the contract is specifically developed for a particular company. The big companies want contracts that cover their situation, such as having branch offices in another country. But if you are the sole employee at a restaurant, then you are covered by the restaurant workers' employment contract.

And when you get a job, you sign a one-year contract. The employer is obliged to keep you until the end of the contract, unless you do something egregious in which case they have the right to fire you. You can leave anytime, with one month's notice.

After the year, you get another contract. Same rules. If the employer isn't going to renew your contract, they let you know a month ahead.

The second difference between Canada and Holland are wages. In Holland you never need to tip, because all those restaurant workers covered under that contract earn enough to live on. The minimum wage here works out to about €8,50/hour. Which is about CDN$11.50/hour. Assuming a 35 hour work week, that's just over $20,000 annually. And while yes, Holland does have high taxes, they are progressive the same way as in Canada. We all get taxed the same on the first $x or €x that we earn, and then as people earn more they get taxed more on the amounts within the next tier. So no one in Holland legally earns less than $20,000/year, pro-rated for part-time workers.

A third difference is illness. When you are hired in Holland you get instructions on how to call in sick. Sometimes you call your boss, sometimes you call another company as well as your boss. In either case, you have to tell them what's wrong. You describe your symptoms and answer any questions they have about what medication you're taking, if you have a cough or a fever, etc. In Canada, your boss isn't allowed to ask you about your medical situation! Most jobs I held in Canada, I had to call in every day I was sick before 8am, and if I was sick more than three days I had to return to work with a doctor's note stating that I had been too ill to work on whatever dates. In Holland, once you've called in sick, you have to call in well again before they let you go back to work. If you're sick for quite a while, your company will send a doctor around to visit you. When you call in sick, you are expected to be at home until at least 2pm, at which time it is understood that you might have to leave the house to pick up your kids from school or get some groceries. Of course a doctor's appointment is an exception.

But the biggest difference is your relationship with your boss. Bosses in Holland care about having happy employees. Their job is to keep people happy and satisfied, and to work with them to find a solution if things aren't going as well as they could. Bosses' primary function is to make sure that the people who are supposed to be getting the work done are doing it well.

During the first year I lived here, I worked as a mail-deliverer. I was shocked when a Dutch friend suggested I talk to my boss when I was getting frustrated with my schedule. I had assumed I would have to just go get another job. I called my boss, who adjusted my contract, reduced my hours, and got me working in another area closer to home. He was happy to do so, and in fact had a couple of other suggestions that made my job easier as well. I just about fell over from the shock!

My next job was a receptionist in a busy gym, offering aerobics and spinning classes, fitness facilities, squash and tennis courts, a large lounge as well as a sauna and steamroom. I expected the language to be a big challenge, but the job itself was certainly not beyond my capabilities. What I have found most interesting is that my boss sees himself as equal to me. If I have a concern, a question, or feedback of any type, he is glad to hear it. He doesn't always agree with me (shock!) but he is absolutely open to how I see things. And this is just how things are in Holland. In talking with my Dutch colleagues, most of whom have work experience elsewhere, I have learned that Dutch bosses value employees who understand the business' priorities. And the best way to get employees to value the business' priorities, is for the business to value the employees.

We get presents at Christmas and we get compliments when things are going well. When things aren't going as well, we are invited to a meeting to figure out how we can do better. All ideas are welcome. I have to tell you, it's a wonderful feeling.

I worked for almost 20 years as a secretary in various positions in several companies in Canada. Twice, for about a year each time, have I had bosses that treated me with respect. That was, by far, the exception.

I was usually treated a bit like the photocopier - there, with a job to do, and very annoying if I broke down or didn't produce as fast as desired. In the course of those 20 years, I had two extremely bad bosses. What they shared in common was the idea that I had been hired to do their bidding. I got jobs such as going to another building to see if a key worked, or making photocopies of a schedule that had been used 30 years previously. Nothing wrong with those tasks, if it was part of something. But I was just told to have it done within the hour.

Good bosses, on the other hand, have treated me like a prized consultant. It was assumed that I could do whatever they asked, so they didn't waste my time or theirs breaking a job down into baby-steps. They told me their goal, and expected me to figure out how to reach it. It was a trusting relationship, and I loved the challenge. And they loved the results.

The two bad bosses? I wasn't the only secretary to leave within 3 months.


  1. Very interesting...The US job system is pretty much the same as Canada....you might have individual bosses/companies that are run more similarly to what you're experiencing in Holland, but on the whole...no....but wow, that's great....US/Canada could definitely stand to learn from the Dutch!!

  2. GG you're so right! It's amazing how much you can enjoy a job when part of what motivates you is a great relationship with your boss and colleagues!