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Business and Workplace Culture

Switzerland - Business and Workplace Culture


The business language of a Swiss company will vary according to whether it is an international organisation or a Swiss company. It is usual for multinational companies to have English as the business language. Even where there is another business language for dealing with clients, English frequently acts as a common language for companies whose staff have a variety of nationalities. However, most companies will use the regional language either as the only business language or in combination with English. Informal spoken business such as team meetings may even be conducted using Swiss German in the German speaking parts of Switzerland.

The Swiss value efficiency and courtesy in the workplace, as in other areas of life. The working culture tends to be business-like, with a focus on carrying out assigned responsibilities and meeting deadlines. Some expats are likely to find it less flexible than the business culture of their home countries. There may be rigid managerial structures and the Swiss remain formal in dealing with clients and with staff. Employees who wish to impress will be orderly, well-prepared, and able to adapt well to the hard-working and somewhat reserved character of the Swiss workplace. Proper observance of business etiquette and an attention to time-keeping are also very important.

Equality remains a goal for Switzerland, rather than an objective that has already been achieved. The male Swiss electorate was slow to give women the vote, maternity pay is only a recent legal right, and there remains in Swiss society traces of an attitude that the role of a woman is as a wife and mother. Practices that may be deemed perfect acceptable by Swiss people can appear discriminatory to expats and may well be illegal in their own country, for example asking women personal interview questions with regard to children and marriage, and rejecting a female applicant on the basis that she may be a future candidate for maternity pay. Photographs are requested with job applications, along with specifying gender on the application form. In spite of national legislation to promote equal rights, positions of power and responsibility continue to be dominated by men, with non-Swiss women filling the few high-status roles not otherwise awarded to men. Pay disparity exists and womens earnings have been placed at between 78 and 80% of those of men. Part-time workers, who are almost exclusively female in Switzerland, are passed over for promotions. Sexual harassment is not uncommon, with some offending behaviours considered normal in Switzerland, and working mothers may face open criticism from both male and female colleagues. Childcare is so expensive that in any case many women with children find they are better off staying home rather than remaining in lower-paid positions. Although women are primarily those disadvantaged by sexism, it does work too against men with regard to parental leave. Paternity leave, as has been mentioned previously, is a concession granted by the employer and not a right by law, and is brief in comparison to European neighbours. Additionally, only men are legally required to do military service in Switzerland, although women can opt to.

There is a common perception of the Swiss as being xenophobic towards all non-Swiss, although those who are visibly different from a typical white Swiss person may bear the brunt of this. Older Swiss people are anecdotally more likely to come across as racist. There is also an undercurrent of politically-incited racism in Switzerland. A controversial anti-immigration poster campaign by the far right claimed that "black sheep" were unwelcome and encouraged a majority vote by the Swiss against the building of minarets. However, this is not to suggest that everyone in Switzerland is racist. As with sexist behaviour, what is defined as acceptable can and does differ in Swiss culture compared with the home countries of expats, which may be more politically correct. This is problematic where on one side it causes offence, and yet on the other is regarded as normal or good-humoured. Muslim and Jewish immigrants, plus black Africans and people from the Balkans are more likely to encounter racism. However, acts of racial hatred are rare.

Article 8 of the Swiss Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, religion, age, disability, and several other points. This aside, there is little in the way of legislation to protect people from racial discrimination in Switzerland.

Switzerland does have some ageism issues, in line with many other European countries, and falls somewhere in the middle in surveys measuring ageism awareness and concern. Certain job advertisements will specify an age range, something which mostly affects people in their mid forties and above, but can also work against applicants in their early twenties. Even within the target age group, women may find that being of childbearing age will work against them.

Unions campaign strongly for employee rights and have even been the driving force between Europe-wide campaigns. Most industrial disputes within Switzerland are settled through peaceful negotiations. There is a much lower incidence of strike action than in neighbouring European countries, although public transport strikes in border countries can have knock-on effects.


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