In the last couple of weeks, we have looked at school and children’s lives here in The Netherlands, but now it’s time to look at adult lives, mainly worklife.
- As mentioned in another post, there is a pretty important and largely upheld work life balance in The Netherlands. The work week generally consists of about 36-40 hours and it is not uncommon for people to work less than 5 days a week or to be a part time employee (between 12-36 hours per week). In addition, the Dutch are not very likely to put in extra hours above the required hours. Generally speaking, when the day is over, they are out the door and they do not take work home with them. In addition, it is fairly common for the Dutch employee to come in late or leave early if they have a family commitment and unless it is habitual or affecting their work, they will not be questioned. In addition, vacation time is important here and the minimum legally allowed is 4 days of vacation per days worked per week so most Dutch employees receive at least 16 days of vacation though the norm for full time employees is 25 days per year. Employees also receive about 8 public holiday days per year with some variation among years.
- Employment laws in The Netherlands largely exist to protect the employee and not the company. One example of this is the fact that there is no employment at will in The Netherlands, but rather a type of tenure system (and it does not take years to obtain this “tenure”). This means that it is very hard to remove an employee. Another example of the laws protecting employees is that companies of 50 or more employees are encouraged to have a works council (if any employee requests that it be formed, it must be). A works council is a group comprised of employees meant to consult on and provide feedback on the company’s policies, procedures and plans with the effect on employees in mind. There are many other laws and policies designed to protect employees, but the most incomprehensible of these, especially for American workers, is burnout leave. Essentially, if the employee is feeling overworked and stressed because of their work responsibilities and this is affecting their mental health or family life, they can see their doctor for a burnout checkup. If the doctor determines that they are, in fact, suffering from the effects of burnout, then that employee will be put on an indefinite paid leave. Some employees take only a few weeks while others have taken years. During this time, their job must be held for them. This isn’t a rare and isolated phenomenon. Many employees will experience this at some point. Try finding a policy like that in the US!
- And finally, what is the work day actually like? The day is probably like a typical work day in the US with one exception-lunch. In The Netherlands, it is expected that employees will eat lunch together. It is quite common for everyone to pay a monthly fee out of their paycheck that goes toward the purchase of the daily lunch which is laid out in a common area for everyone to gather around to eat. Lunch is quite often bread, deli meats and cheese. Some companies have a canteen where employees gather to eat and can select from a couple of daily options for lunch. And even if they don’t stay at the office, it is common for employees to go get a lunch together though probably not a sit down meal at a restaurant. Once in the mall, I saw a group of young men in business suits all standing together around a small lunch counter during their lunch hour. So, lunch is a pretty social affair during the workday.
- And what about those employed in other industries that don’t work in an office? Well they still stick to maintaining a work life balance by not exceeding normal working hours. People such as repair people, construction workers and gardeners take regular breaks during their work hours. When our movers delivered our boxes, they literally worked for an hour or less, took a 15 minute break and then went back to working, repeating that cycle numerous times. In addition, it is commonly expected here that if someone is working in your home, you will provide them with coffee at a minimum and very likely some snack as well (I have yet to do this without being asked by the worker, so I’m sure some of the workers that have come to our house think I am a real jerk). Those in other jobs that do not take place in your home such as the food industry also receive regular breaks and are paid a salary so tipping is unnecessary; in fact, it is often just given to the restaurant rather than the individual server if it is done. These employees also receive vacation time and it is fairly common for smaller restaurants to close for the month of August.
So, all in all, work life in The Netherlands isn’t too bad and most Dutch employees seem quite content with putting in their time at work and still getting to have plenty of time to participate in family life. Could you get used to it?