Working in the Netherlands

Maybe I’m refreshed from my mini-retirement, or maybe working in the Netherlands just agrees with me. I didn't expect to even like being back at work, but I'm feeling really good, inspired even. I think the secret is that companies in the Netherlands tend to treat you, as Brian says, like an adult.

I thought I was "adulting" pretty well before now. But after my experience of working in the Netherlands for just one month, previous thoughts about work generally in Canada seem so - foreign. It's just little things, but it does seem like being given a longer leash makes abuse of the privilege less likely, and investment in the work easier.

In the Netherlands, from your first interview, you are treated like a human being, not just a candidate. Your life story, your experience, your personality and interests make you a better fit for the job.

I have the standard five weeks of vacation to be taken annually, plus an additional four that I can use or sell back to the company. Take a moment to digest that. And yes, it sometimes means that it’s hard to do your job because someone is always on holiday. But, it’s worth it. I already know I have all the time I need to be happy and healthy and do all the things that are important to me. It makes me feel less like I’m working to travel, and more because I want to.

Work hours are flexible. I tend to come in at 8:30 am because that works well for me, but people really come and go as they please. No one is watching the clock. No really, no one is watching the clock. We are free to work from home if we wish, and many, many people do on Wednesdays (I think this is early day for children at school) and Fridays. It's easy to call into meetings with Skype and people do it all the time.

Work spaces are flexible. No one has an assigned desk but teams tend to sit in the same vicinity. We each have a laptop and a cell phone, and we are encouraged to try out different spaces. There are desk spaces, break-out spaces, noise-cancelling couches, quiet rooms and there’s even a public art gallery on the first floor with seating for relaxing, meeting or doing work. We have control of the blinds, lighting and temperature no matter where we sit simply by using an app.

It’s a flatter work culture than in Canada, where peers of the same career level tend to group together. Managers eat lunch with their teams (and teams eat together every day) and talk to everyone on a personal level, and not just out of politeness. Someone has checked in with me almost every day, genuinely concerned that I’m still happy to be working here. It feels nice to know that they feel a similar obligation to meet expectations as I do.

Dutch workplaces are direct, like the Dutch themselves are known to be. I admit I felt intimidated by it before I started working, but having experienced it, I really enjoy it. If I have a bad idea or do something wrong, someone will tell me. If I do something well or have a good idea, someone will tell me that too. It encourages me to be less timid at work and speak up more. We manage to give all of this feedback to each other without hurting anyone’s feelings. It’s just not personal.

I have a lot of control over how I work and what work I do. That’s why I feel like an adult at work.

Of course, not every company is as flexible - this is a very Dutch international company. Still, my colleagues discuss the challenges of making their lives work for them between children, families, schedules, work and career ambitions. I think many Canadians would think the Dutch already have it easy (have you digested that vacation time yet?), but it’s the advocacy that impresses me. The Dutch continue to push back, hard, for a liveable work environment because it’s so important.

This is only a month in; there are challenges here too, of course. I plan to share more as I settle into my new routine, but my first impressions of the Dutch work environment are wildly positive. I think my work life will never be quite the same...

~ Erica