Do you know what Nestlé, Logitech, and Novartis all have in common? They are all Swiss founded and based! With a culture of punctuality and efficiency, many top businesses and brands flourish in Switzerland. It’s no surprise that it’s a highly sought after destination for workers around the world. If you’re planning to do business in Switzerland, here are five tips to succeed with your Swiss colleagues:
1. Learn the language(s).
Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, and Italian all have status as official languages on a national level. The fourth language is Romansh, which is spoken by a small minority of the population. While English is widely spoken, local businesses may use German, French, or Italian. If you’re planning to use German, take note: while over 60% of the Swiss population speaks German as their main language, they do not speak standard German. Rather, they speak a collection of Alemannic dialects called Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch). Since Swiss German is also the most widely used language in the workplace, make sure to learn a few phrases! We’ll start you off: use fröit mi (pleased to meet you) to make a great first impression.
2. Know your canton.
Given Switzerland’s linguistic diversity, it may be intimidating to think about learning four national languages. The best approach is to focus on the dominant language of the canton in which you are doing business. But what is a canton? Switzerland is split into 26 cantons which are the federal states of the Swiss confederation. Each canton not only has its own construction, legislature, police, and courts, but also its own official language. For example, when working in Canton Zug, which is home to many international companies, you would want to brush up on your (Swiss) German.
3. Punctuality is everything.
When you think of luxury watches, the brands Rolex, Chopard, and Breitling may come to mind… and they are all Swiss. The importance of time is not limited to luxury watches though; in Switzerland it’s vital to respect people’s time, especially when conducting business. Be sure to arrive on time to all appointments, and by “on time” we mean early. Above all, avoid being late. If you do have to be late, make sure to call ahead of time to show your respect for your colleagues’ schedules. When it comes to meetings, people stick closely to the agenda. So if a topic is not on it, it likely will not be discussed. Lastly, in negotiations, time is the best weapon that the Swiss have. They are good at waiting it out and usually won’t compromise on time or price. To sum up, business culture is punctual, efficient, and organized. So arrive early, come prepared, and stick to the plan.
4. Maintain a strict work/life balance.
While many business cultures are heavily relationship-driven, the Swiss draw a strong line between work and private life. This has a number of implications when it comes to how you interact with your Swiss colleagues. For example, avoid calling your colleagues outside of working hours or at home. In conversations, avoid personal questions on topics like family or religion, and opt for more general small talk such as weather and travels, which Swiss people will talk openly about. However, do not spend too much time on these pleasantries. Remember, Swiss business is efficient and punctual, leaving little time to waste.
5. Be modest.
While it’s easy to make comparisons across cultures (i.e., “In my country we do it this way…”) be mindful of inadvertently appearing arrogant. Instead, be curious about Switzerland and the way that the Swiss do things inside (and outside) the office. In addition to questions, politeness is the best social grease in Switzerland. So, be more polite than you think you need to be at first. For example, apologize in advance for not knowing all the rules. Finally, positive feedback is not lavish and the Swiss are not self-promoting. When you offer praise, provide evidence and examples.