Dutch Health And Dutch Work Ethic

I’ve known about this little chestnut for quite sometime, however, I was thankfully working for a very large U.S. IT multinational back then whose Amsterdam based team was made up predominantly of expats, who are naturally presupposed to hard work. The few Dutch that were employed, were either working in Sales (motivated purely on money and bonuses) or in Finance.

The Dutch finance staff, whilst not exactly clock watchers per se, weren’t exactly the ones I would have hired or kept on for very long. They always seemed to gripe about pay and working hours and would NEVER think about answering an email or phone call on their mobile after 6pm. Consequently, their griping about receiving less stock options and a smaller bonus when compared to the expats fell on deaf ears with the foreign minded managers. Afterall, reward is directly linked to performance.

An unusual trait of the Dutch staff was that they would share with one another their salary details, as though to kind of make sure that one wasn’t losing out or being left behind. As an Irishman, this openness towards openly telling everyone who you worked with, how much you were on, never sat well with me. I remember distinctly when I bought my house. A colleague asked how much I paid for it. Knowing full well that if I told her how much I paid, she could back calculate (roughly) how much I was on, I refused to tell her. She just laughed and said if she wanted, she could get the information from the Kadaster (land registry). I was completely taken aback that all this PRIVATE information, was laid bare for all and sundry, Mr. Jan Public, to see.

But one item that the Cloggies are NOT open about is their openness to discuss when they are unhappy with their work/manager/role (insert any other hierarchical issue here) and instead choosing guerilla style Employment Law tactics rather than choosing open and frank dialogue.

Where I worked (in Ireland and elsewhere across the globe) I have always proactively discussed issues and grievances with my management and colleagues, with the ultimate objective being to seek reconciliation and the ability to move on and get the job done. In the Netherlands however, they like to pretend that they have an open and communicative society. The reality is that it’s anything but. Sure, they will happily shoot down any idea that you might have, criticise left, right and centre, if something doesn’t meet with their approval and block anything that would ultimately result in more workload for them. What they never do (never is maybe too strong a word), rarely do, is position an alternative and work towards a consensus. And this is the bit that make me laugh.

They have what they call a “polder model”. The origins of this hark back to the days when they all lived in bogs and swamp and had to work together to drain the land and keep each others feet dry. In order to drain the land, and avoid drowning your neighbour, you would consult with them and agree on an action plan. Sounds idyllic, like something that would make sense in any boardroom or business meeting. Except that you’re dealing with Mr. Modern Dutchman, who is more interested in GETTING and less interested in GIVING. He expects his flashy company car (Audi of course), his two holidays per year, his annual bonus (irrespective of personal or company performance) and his 9 to 5 working hours (never working late or on a weekend….EVER). As soon as any idea conflicts with these core values, he downs tools and sulks in the corner. And if aggravated, he reverts to the guerilla tactics I mentioned earlier.

“What are these guerilla tactics?”, I hear you ask. It’s all to do with STRESS. Well, it really  revolves around the concept that the Dutch government does not want to have to pay anyone Social Welfare. If you consider that the rules here are that you are entitled to 70% of your previous salary (capped at €70k per annum) you can kind of understand the governments position. So they enacted all sorts of laws that make it prohibitively expensive and legally difficult to extricate non-performers from the work place. And it’s made all the more difficult since the Dutch adopted laws governing “stress in the workplace”.

Let’s be honest, stress is not something one can measure. Nor is it something that you can easily compare between one peer and another. One persons aptitude for doing a certain task might be significantly greater or less than a peer doing the exact same task. Thus the peer who has the lesser aptitude finds themself swamped with work, or harassed by other peers for “not pulling their weight”. But the Dutch law is simple. Rather than being able to fire and re-hire someone with the same “increased capacities”, the company must reassign the weaker individual somewhere else in the organisation where their skills are more suited. Even if it means that there IS NO SUCH POSITION. Sounds like pure madness to me.

This is effectively penalising companies who were perhaps duped into hiring a person who lied on a CV, bullshitted his way through the interview process (let’s face it, there ARE some idiotic managers out there too) and got himself hired into a position he was never qualified to perform.

So Jan Dutchman decides that come performance review time, he will ask to see the “Arbo Arts” (company doctor) and proceeds to give them some cock and bull sob story about how they’re stressed etc etc. It might not even be stuff going on at the workplace that’s stressing him out. He could be having a domestic with his wife for all we know, but suffice to say, the Arbo Doctor falls for it hook, line and sinker, and the employee leaves the office with a letter stating that he should only work 50% of his time (whilst receiving 100% of his money)!! Does it sound like madness to you now? Thought so!

It is then the companies responsibility to sit down with this same lazy and conniving SOB and work towards a solution whereby he can continue to perform and work within the organisation. Any attempt by the company to try and “manage him out” of the organisation would be viewed with contempt by a Dutch court, assuming it ends up there (and a lot of cases do). So you are now left with a discontented team who are picking up the slack from the slacker, a manager who’s tearing his hair out because he’s having to deal with the bullshit from HR and the Arbo Doctor over some jumped up little wanker, and God only knows what other ramifications you have across the company in terms of customer satisfaction, production, manufacturing etc etc etc.

In most cases, whenever someone goes to a Dutch doctor, they are prescribed paracetamol (or Biotex, depending on the ailment) and a few days bed rest. In this instance, they prescribe the bed rest for the employee, and frustration and stress for everyone else concerned. Wouldn’t it have been a much simpler solution to just fire the fucker and be done with it?


4 thoughts on “Dutch Health And Dutch Work Ethic

  1. Irish Man – I understand you gripe – but in the early days when those international companies came to Holland for the tax break – the Expats were getting paid more than the Dutchies.

    Plus this is an international (foreign) way of working that has been forced upon the Dutch.

    The Governments created the situation by inviting international companies for the Tax break and should have protected it’s traditions and ínwoners’ I believe that they have done this by allowing the Arbo-Aarts.

    I also don’t see anything wrong with admitting you are stressed who wouldn’t be if you were expected to be constantly interrupted in you all too important personal time.

    You site the Polder-model so you are aware of Dutch culture and tradition – then you should also be aware that the Dutch have close knit families and spend a lot of quality time with them and their families.

    It is absolutely my stance that if Social Corporate Responsibilty was around 10 years ago then international companies would have to do a project on their sould destroying work requirements which conflict with the country that they are working in.

    My point is – don’t complain about people standing up for themselves – international companies have come to Holland and burnt people out – Dutch and Expats.

    We live in a crazy busy world and it’s important that we dont focus purley on the financial aspect of things – but our mental sanity is most important.

    Be kind Irish Man – because this sounds like the sort of rant that would have been heard in Northern Ireland over why Catholic’s couldn’t have certain jobs as well.

    I am an Expat and I have had a burn out and stress out because I was expected to work 60-80 hour weeks and my manager was a B*S-TURD.

    We should encourage people to be open about their stress levels – its’s a healthy way to look at an issue and identify where the problems are.

    Intergration is not an easy job for anyone – but if you were thinking about giving up your Irish passport and voting – I know who you should consider …GW !!!

  2. Hear hear! NL needs to reform the labor market drastically. This is the reason I only work with freelancers and never with employees (if I can help it).
    The left winged politicians as well as the extremistic populists of the PVV should read this and realize they are the reason NL is lagging behind internationally and economically.

    BTW: the 70% unemployment pay lasts maximum 12 months (and is an insurance the employer pays for). After that unemployed recieve minimum welfare, which is unfortunately still high enough not to force someone to go work anywhere, doing anything.

  3. I had always thought that the 70% unemployment was valid for two years? But I agree with you about the social welfare benefits being far too generous. I once had an Iraqi taxi driver in San Diego admit that he was still getting social welfare payments from NL, whilst living and working in San Diego!! Madness.

    I don’t mind paying taxes, just as long as the people USING my taxes put it to good use and make an concerted effort not to waste my hard earned money.

  4. Well you know that our company even has an extra insurance to make up the gap between your salary and the 70%, so you actually get 100% of your salary while being sick for the first YEAR! I do agree that it’s ridiculous, and in some cases you should be able to just get rid of the person. The current law really only hurts the small business owner I think. Our company is big enough that if they want to fire someone, they will just do it. The person can take the company to court, and and the most the judge can do it award the person a compensation factor of 2.0 (2.0 x base salary x 1/2 month salary per year of service to age 35, and 1 month per year of service over 35). If the company is willing to take this risk, no problem.. they can afford it. It’s the small business owner that can’t afford to pay. There is another side, however, where the strict employment law can be good. In many cases, when a company needs to do a workforce reduction, you see that all the idiots who are friends of the senior manager, or director (who is usually Dutch in a Dutch based org), get to stay while the hard working ex-pat who is actually doing the work has to go.. happens all the time.
    BTW: I find it extremely crazy that you can actually take holiday from sick leave!!!! I guess the reasoning being that sick leave in the netherlands doesn’t reduce your accrued holiday, so if you actually want to take holiday, you need to inform the company, so they can reduce your holiday allowance…like that would happen.

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