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Das Online-Magazin der Angestellten Schweiz

What You Need to Know about Swiss (Business) Mentality

You (want to) work and live happily in Switzerland? Then we recommend that you familiarize yourself with Swiss (business) mentality, culture and attitude to life. Here are useful information and tips.

Switzerland is a very small country, but one of the most successful economies in the world. A great many expats and migrants contribute to this. In scientific professions, the proportion is around a quarter. But although the salaries are high, the mountains beautiful and the chocolate tasty, the Swiss (business) culture is often not easy to understand. This can leave foreigners feeling lost, lonely or even frustrated. According surveys, less than 30 percent of expats feel welcome in Switzerland, let alone at home. But if you know what makes Switzerland and the Swiss tick, you will easily succeed in settling in. Here is what you need to know.

The Land of the Free – in Business, too

Switzerland has a very long tradition of democracy. The Swiss are used to everything being debated and the people being consulted on important political decisions (sometimes even on unimportant ones). There has never been a king or any other absolute ruler; power is finely distributed among many bodies - this ensures checks and balances.

Two important principles of Swiss politics are federalism and the subsidiarity. Federalism is the union of individual groups that have a certain independence and autonomy, but also belong to an overarching whole. Switzerland has been a federal state since 1848. The three political levels are: the confederation, the cantons and the municipalities. The principle of subsidiarity stipulates that state tasks should only be transferred to a higher state level (confederation, cantons) if it can be proven that it fulfills the tasks better than the subordinate state levels (cantons, municipalities).

The consequence of these two political principles is that hierarchies are rather bottom-up than top-down and blind obedience is not the order of the day. Issues and problems are discussed and negotiated. Decisions which are not consensus-driven are considered bad decisions. This tradition also affects the Swiss business culture and social partnership. Dialog plays a more important role than authority. A doctorate or a high position in a company does not automatically ensure a high reputation. People are measured by their performance. In Switzerland, one convinces subordinates or superiors by virtue of good arguments. Formalities, on the other hand, are often dispensed with.

Rules are Rules

While rules in many countries seem to be there to be broken, in Switzerland they are to be followed. The Swiss like to rely on as much as possible – and it is the overall reliability that makes everything, from government to waste management, work smoothly and efficiently. Reliability also applies to people, of course. So be careful what you promise – you will have to deliver.

Another important means of running the country efficiently is punctuality. To guarantee this, the Swiss manufacture the most precise watches in the world. If you are punctual in Switzerland, especially at work, you can never ever go wrong. Only if you are invited to a dinner is it decent to ring the doorbell five to ten minutes late – but never half an hour or more.

Customer is King

The customer is to be treated like a king in Switzerland and (s)he is basically right. So, don't even try to know better than your customer.

If you are a customer yourself and have the feeling that your complaint is not being taken seriously, do not give in to the temptation to ask for the boss. Because the afore mentioned subsidiarity principle applies in Switzerland, the boss most probably doesn’t know any better and is not the right person to solve your problem. He would be careful not to reprimand his subordinate, anyway. So, you will only achieve trouble asking for the boss. Rather try to convince the employee politely but firmly that something is not as it should be.

Don’t shout it out loud

Germans are considered to be very direct. But it is wrong to assume that the German-speaking Swiss are as well (and neither are the French and Italian speaking Swiss). They prefer it when one raises a concern in a polite and reserved manner rather than shouting it out loud – using subjunctive. If you say: "I think there might be a problem with this proposal" your counterpart is much more likely to respond to you than if you say: "You can never do it that way!".

The Swiss in German-speaking Switzerland are proud of their dialect and would prefer to speak it all the time. But that doesn't work with strangers who don't understand it. If a Swiss person tries it with you, politely ask him to speak a language that you understand. This almost always works.

Making Friends Takes some Effort

Yes, the Swiss don’t invite you to dinner when you meet them at the tram stop. Or even when you have been their workmate for a year. They are admittedly not easy to make friends with. That is why expats are so often amongst themselves. But once you are friends with Swiss people you stay friends. For the Swiss, friendship is not superficial, it needs to be well thought out, but then it will last.

Making friends with Swiss people is best done through common interests like sports, hobbies, food, etc. A good way to get in touch with Swiss people is by taking advantage of the opportunities offered by your employee organization or your company. On excursions, you automatically mix with Swiss people in an informal setting. If you win their trust, you win friendship. Often all it takes is a glass of an alcoholic beverage to break the ice, because this gives the opportunity to clink glasses. If you don’t drink alcohol, any drink will do – main thing clink glasses. Good luck!

Hansjörg Schmid

Mittwoch, 26. Jan 2022

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Learn about the Secrets to Your Success in Switzerland

If you know the secrets of Swiss mentality and culture, you will avoid trap doors and nothing will stand in the way of your (professional) success. We offer two courses: an hour-long webinar and a seminar over two half-days.

All useful information about living in Switzerland apart from the cultural aspects can be found on the Expatica website.