If you are planning on working in a company in Switzerland, you need to understand the work culture of this country. Use this guide to learn about the work culture in Switzerland, including the working hours, socializing, public holidays and vacations, diversity in the workplace, and so on.
Switzerland Work Week
Swiss workers are typically expected to work from Monday to Friday, from 8:00 to 17:30. However, many Swiss companies have been experimenting with reduced working days. They introduced the concept of employees working only four days a week but with longer working hours. Shorter workweeks, in many cases, have been associated with boosted productivity and efficiency. However, some companies believe that a four-day week may not work in large companies since this could increase stress and lead to significant overtime, so most companies stick with the five-day workweek.
Under Swiss employment law, regular working hours should be a maximum of 45 hours per week. However, working hours in Switzerland may vary depending on the employer, position, and the industry in which one works. For instance, people in full-time posts usually work an average of 41 hours per week. On the other hand, industries in the private sector, such as banking, tend to work longer hours, around 42 hours per week. Whereas hospitals, catering, and hotels may work up to 60 hours per week, even though the average is between 45-48.
On a working day, you will also be given lunchtime breaks which are 30 minutes minimum. However, some companies expect a working lunch to be around an hour and a half. So, the amount of time usually depends on the employer.
Swiss workers also tend to work extra hours. Extra hours apply when the contracted maximum working hours are exceeded. And, of course, employers get paid 25% above their standard hourly rate for the extra hours. However, extra hours should not be more than two hours per day.
Public Holidays and Vacation Rules in Switzerland
In Switzerland, there are national and regional public holidays for 26 cantons. Note that if a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the holiday will not be moved to a weekday.
The Swiss respect public holidays, so working on a Sunday or a public holiday is prohibited in Switzerland. But if you want to work on a holiday, your employers must submit a request to the competent cantonal authority, explaining why work is necessary.
Here are some of the holidays celebrated in Switzerland:
- New Year’s Day – January, 1
- Easter Monday (Oster Montag) – April 13
- Ascension Day (Auffahrt) – May 21
- Swiss National Day (Bundesfeier) – August 1
- The Federal Fast (Buß-und Bettag ) – September 20
- Christmas Day (Weihnachten) – December 25
Whereas, some cantons also have some other holidays:
- Berchtold’s Day (Berchtoldstag) – January 2
- Epiphany (Heilige Drei Konige)- January 6
- Republic Day (Neuchatel) – March 1
- St. Joseph’s Day (Josefstag) – March 19
- Näfelser Fahrt – April 2
- Good Friday (Karfreitag) – April 10
- Sechseläuten – April 20
- Labour Day/ May Day (Tag der Arbeit) – May 1
- Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday (Pfingstmontag) – June 1
- Corpus Christi (Fronleichnam) – June 20
- Fete d’Independance – June 23
- St Peter’s and St Paul’s Day – June 29
- Assumption Day – August 15
- Jeûne Genevois – September 10
- Knabenschiessen – September 12-14
- St Niklaus von Flüe – September 25
- All Saints’ Day (Allerheiligen) – November 1
- The Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary (Maria Empfangnis) – December 8
- Boxing Day/ St. Stephen’s Day (Stephenstag) – December 26
- Restoration Day – December 31
As for vacation in Switzerland, all workers are entitled to at least four weeks of paid leave per year, regardless of whether they work full or part-time. Keep in mind that you should talk about your time off with your employer, and discuss what would be the best vacation time for both of you.
But what about sick leave? You are entitled to three weeks of paid sick leave during the first year under your employ. However, you need to provide a medical certificate and ask for your employer’s approval first.
Diversity is used to describe a variety of social and cultural differences between people, including those based on gender and nationality (being Swiss or non-Swiss national). Until recently, many Swiss companies were convinced that a homogeneous workplace would increase employees’ performance and efficiency. These attitudes have started to change, but there is still much work to be done.
The National Center of Competence in Research found that foreigners must submit 30% more applications than Swiss nationals to get a job interview. Furthermore, this study shows that Swiss citizens with non-Swiss parents also face discrimination in the workplace.
As for gender diversity, Swiss companies are increasing the number of women in management. The Schilling Report has been tracking the management board in Switzerland for the last 15 years, and it shows that the proportion of women on the boards of the 100 largest companies is 21% in 2019, 23% in 2020, and 24% in 2021, which means that this trend is increasing to this day.
Work Ethics in Switzerland
First impressions are significant in the Swiss business culture. The Swiss value responsibility, punctuality, and hard work and expect visitors to respect it and act accordingly. Therefore, it is essential to get familiar with the Swiss work ethics before starting a business relationship in Switzerland or with a Swiss client.
In Swiss work culture, you should greet others with a firm handshake and make eye contact. You want to shake hands with everyone present in the meeting. Introduce yourself, then wait for the other person to offer you a seat. And remember, addressing others by their last name and the formal Frau, Madame, or Herr, Monsieur, is considered a sign of respect.
When communicating, Swiss people are very polite and direct, and it is considered disrespectful if you interrupt someone. So, wait until they’re finished, and then you can start talking. As for their personal life, they are very private, so it’s not very common to ask personal questions. Therefore, the conversation should include general topics, and you should limit jokes in a work environment. So, try to avoid asking about a person’s age, marital status, religion, or topics like Switzerland’s role in world wars or the Swiss military. And don’t make excessive hand gestures, use a good posture and don’t slouch or yawn since that can be seen as unprofessional.
The Swiss people are known for their formal dress codes during business hours. The most recommended outfit for both men and women is a suit. However, this rule has not been applied on Fridays in recent years. Many companies implemented casual but modest outfits for a business environment. Remember, the Swiss appreciate clothing that is simple, clean, and in good condition, so try to avoid extravagant and colorful clothes.
Business cards are quite popular in business culture in Switzerland. So make sure you get plenty of them, especially when attending a business meeting. Also, when arriving for an appointment, remember to give your card to the receptionist to keep on file and, then, to everyone that you meet, not just your counterpart or client.
In Swiss business culture, you are not expected to give gifts at the first business meeting; they are usually offered at the end of a negotiation. It is recommended to avoid expensive gifts since they can be seen as a bribe. A bottle of wine or flowers (if you are invited to someone’s home) is considered acceptable. Also, try to avoid sharp items such as knives or scissors.
Business Socializing in Switzerland
Although the Swiss don’t usually mix work with pleasure, a business lunch or dinner is likely part of the developing relationship. You will likely be invited to a restaurant for a business social event or just for lunch or dinner, and when you do, you shouldn’t show up late since that can be considered disrespectful.
Swiss people also value politeness and manners, so here are some of the things to avoid while dining:
- Keep a good posture.
- Don’t put your elbows on the table.
- Don’t use your hands except for breaking bread.
- Don’t use your knife for cutting soft foods or salad. Use a fork instead.
- Don’t wave your hand while signaling the waiter.
In 2020, Transparency International ranked Switzerland as the third least corrupt country globally. But even though the corruption rates in Switzerland are low, there can be some sporadic cases. According to the Tax Justice Network, one of the most corrupt sectors in Switzerland is the banking industry since many people choose Swiss banks for money laundering and hiding corrupted obtained money.
Swiss people are quite strict in their work. They don’t like to socialize much with their coworkers unless it’s a business social event, and even then, they don’t prefer talking about their private lives. Swiss workers like to respect the work culture and they expect others to respect it too, so make sure you act accordingly when working in Switzerland.