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Avoiding Business Mistakes: Swiss Management Culture

Business culture in Switzerland tends to be conservative and to the point. Although many Swiss businesses are international, business etiquette is rooted in the country’s modest values. Make sure you understand what to expect in your new Swiss workplace with this guide.

At a Glance:

  • Swiss business meetings are brief and to the point; make a list of important topics that need to be discussed prior to the meeting.
    • In a business environment in Switzerland, it is not appropriate to kiss on the cheek, unless it is your close friend or relative. Instead, a firm handshake is common practice.
    • Your CV should be a summary of your skills, work experience, and any other information that could benefit potential employers.

What to Expect In Your Office Environment?

In Switzerland, employers and employees appreciate organization, punctuality, and tolerance in the workplace. As such, office culture is traditionally conservative with a defined hierarchy where important decisions are usually made by the top management, then implemented throughout the company. Although this is the case with most Swiss companies, there are many international organizations in the country, and company culture will differ between organizations.

Business meetings are generally brief and to the point. Make sure you have a precise list of topics that need to be discussed. At the start of most meetings, there are a few minutes of general discussion for both parties to familiarize themselves, but after this it’s time to get down to business! Swiss business meetings tend to be impersonal and task oriented. However, this may vary from company to company.

Acceptable Presents for Co-workers and Office Entertainment

Presents are usually not exchanged during business meetings, but small gifts may be given at the end of the meeting — it’s better not to be empty handed! A small office gift such as a notebook, coffee mug, or pen with your company’s logo is perfectly fine for these situations. If you are invited to a friend, coworker, or manager’s house, you should always accept their invitation. Additionally, it’s polite to give a small gift such as wine, cognac, or chocolate to the hostess.

Business entertainment nearly always takes place in restaurants. Spouses and long-term partners are generally welcome at holiday events and business dinners. However, it’s important to know that family and business are separate in Switzerland:  unless it’s an emergency, it is not acceptable to take a work call or discuss a coworker after hours. 

To Kiss or Not To Kiss? Swiss Appearance and Business Body Language

In Switzerland it is not acceptable to kiss in a business environment. The only exception would be if your business partner was a close friend or family member, but this is not normally the case. For a standard interview or meeting, a simple handshake will do.

Eye contact is very important in Swiss business culture. Make sure to greet business associates with a firm handshake combined with eye contact and a smile. When addressing coworkers and others, first names are normally not used: it’s better to call someone by their title and last name unless they say otherwise. In addition, if you are working in one of the Swiss languages, always use the formal articles when addressing your coworkers and managers.

Dress for Success

Business dress in Switzerland is formal, particularly for important meetings and job interviews. In a business atmosphere, modest clothing is a necessity. During meetings and interviews, women should wear either a suit or dress and men should be dressed in a suit and tie. The typical colors for clothing articles in a business setting are white and black and dark shades of blue, gray, maroon, and green — make sure your clothing is not too flashy or distracting if you want to fit in to your new office!

First Impressions: Your Professional CV

The most crucial part of your application is your CV. It should summarize your skills, past education, work experience, and any other information that could benefit a potential employer. In addition, you should include a business-style picture of yourself with your CV. Don’t use a normal passport photograph, and if possible, use a professional photograph.

In addition to your cover letter and CV, Swiss employers will ask for a copy of your university diploma(s), signed reference letters, and any language course certificates. In Switzerland, it is normal for employers to give their employees official certificates at the end of their work period to prove that they held the position stated on their CV, so be prepared to provide any relevant work certificates.

Due to the four recognized national languages — and widely spoken English — the job application process in Switzerland can be quite time-consuming. Always send your application in the language specific in the job listing, but don’t translate your documents into German, French, Italian, or Romansch yourself if you do not speak the language fluently. There are no official laws in place to mandate translation of diplomas and certificates. However, if your documents are not in English or one of the national languages, it’s helpful to have a certified translation.