Belgians combine being among the most productive workforces globally while enjoying a work-life balance that would envy the rest of the world. Employers are introducing more flexi-time options. New labour law amendments propose allowing four-day weeks and making it illegal for employers to contact their staff after office hours for work-related issues.
The highest standards of education and skills have attracted countless multinationals from around the globe into a business and commercial environment where many are multi-lingual. The latter quality is not such a surprise. Belgium has three regions, each with its language, Dutch Flanders in the north, French-speaking Walloon in the south, and a small German-speaking area in the east. The Brussels-Capital Region is bi-lingual with Dutch and French, while English is widely spoken among the business community.
Belgium is one of the leading business and commercial centres in Europe, with world-class infrastructure underpinning its role as a ‘gateway to Europe’ on the northwest coastline of the continent. Belgium has more than 140 million consumers within a 500km radius. Its international status is underlined by Brussels being considered the ‘capital’ of the European Union and hosting the headquarters of NATO. Other memberships include the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Belgium is a wealthy nation, with its per capita world ranking jumping to 18th with a GDP of USD 50,413. Belgium’s nominal Gross Domestic Product was EUR 507.2 billion, 25th globally and 11th among fellow European Union (EU) members in 2021. The strength of Belgium’s economy is a strong attraction for foreign companies, their staff and job-seeking individuals. However, adjustments will have to be made to the Belgian work culture, not least because of the cultural and language differences between the three regions.
Language: Even if advised, the business meeting will be conducted in English, learn appropriate phrases in Dutch, French and German according to the region.
Punctuality: Be on time for the appointment and call if unavoidably late.
Business Relationships: Belgians usually prefer doing business with people they know, so building trust is critical. Regional differences may also come into play. In the Dutch-speaking Flanders, the consensus approach prevails, whereas in French Wallonia, the authority may come down from the top in a hierarchical structure.
Negotiations: Receptive to ideas, Belgians expect to be presented with clear arguments and logical presentations backed by statistics – and expect tough negotiations. Walloons may be more formal than their straightforward Flemish neighbours.
Greetings: Handshakes, smiles and eye contact are the starting point, with titles generally used at the first introductions until first-name terms are suggested. Respect personal space, and do not assume small talk will stretch to personal details as Belgians like to separate personal life from the professional.
Gift Giving: Not expected, but something modest, tasteful and from the home country will be appreciated.
Business Cards: In Dutch, French or German on the reverse side, as relevant to the location, giving your complete information, including academic titles if they apply.
Dress Code: Don’t be too fashionable – elegant and smart are best. Dark suits and ties for men, dresses, or separates for women.
Business Meals: Belgians enjoy combining business meetings with lunch or dinner, usually at a restaurant; office meetings are typically mid-morning or mid-afternoon.