Switzerland Work Culture

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Work Culture

To succeed in business in Switzerland, it is vital for both employers and employees to have a strong understanding of the business culture.

As a global PEO (Professional Employment Organization) it is our goal to be familiar and updated with the business culture in the country we work with and in. By sharing our knowledge about Swiss work culture, we want to support your global expansion plans. Therefore, we will address all the aspects of the work culture in Switzerland to start your expansion well-informed.

The Switzerland is among the world’s richest nations. At the sharp end of the employment market the workforce is well educated, highly skilled and commands top salaries to support an enviable but expensive lifestyle.

The Swiss ranked 20th globally with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 810.8 billion US dollars for 2021 and third in the world for GDP per capita at US$93,500.

Switzerland’s traditional business reputation revolves around banking, finance, and insurance. These account for the bulk of the services sector, which comprises over 75% of GDP. Switzerland’s industrial sectors focus on manufacturing machinery, pharmaceutics, chemicals, textiles, precision instruments and tourism. It is home to many of the world’s major multi-nationals, but at the other end of the scale is a hot bed for start-ups, innovative company launches and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Incomers must adjust to a work culture that reflects French, German, and Italian regions, with many employees ‘commuting’ from the surrounding nations. Remember also that although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union it is part of the ‘single market’ and therefore there is free movement to live and work throughout the economic bloc for Swiss and EU citizens. However, in the ‘job search stakes’ the Swiss are always front-runners compared with applicants from other nations.

Ready for the challenge?  Now it is time to get down to business. So here are a few tips on taking the right steps and avoiding the pitfalls!

  • Language: Switzerland has four official languages, the internationally recognized Italian, French and German, plus Romansch
  • Punctuality: Being on time for meetings and appointments is essential as far as the Swiss are concerned, for both business and social life – which they tend to keep entirely separate
  • Attitudes: Despite having three regions that may reflect individual national traits, there are some definite Swiss characteristics – a conservative and formal approach prevails in business culture, while communication is polite, but direct
  • Business Environment: Decisions are reserved for the top levels of management in what remains a generally hierarchical business structure
  • Negotiations: The Swiss expect a focused and well-structured presentation at meetings, which will be carried on in the same vein and stick to the agenda. Be patient, as negotiations will proceed at a cautious pace
  • Greetings: Frau, Madame, Signora … Herr, Monsieur or Signor – match titles to the relevant region for your meeting and use with the surname or family name until invited to be more familiar. Shake hands, maintain eye contact
  • Dress Code: Smart and conservative initially at least … although if the relationship develops to spending time in their workplace, well ‘turned out’ casual is becoming more acceptable
  • Socializing: Although the Swiss do not readily mix work and pleasure, a business lunch or dinner is likely to be part of the developing relationship
  • Gift-giving: Acceptable at the conclusion of the deal but keep it modest and thoughtful. Despite the country’s wealth, the Swiss tend to shy away from ostentatious displays

Switzerland’s Minimum Wage

Switzerland has no ‘national’ minimum wage, with rates varying between the 26 cantons. For example, the hourly minimum in Jura is CHF 20 (€19.30, US$21.80). Rates also depend on the type of work and the employees’ skills. In all regions bar Geneva, for example:

  • Unskilled workers with four years’ experience – CHF 21.10 (€20.34, US$23) per hour
  • Skilled with relevant diploma or three years’ vocational training – CHF 23.20 (€22.36, US$25.26)

Geneva canton, which includes Geneva city, has an hourly basic minimum wage of CHF 23 (€22.17, US$25), which can be upgraded for experience and qualifications – reputedly the highest hourly basic minimum in the world. This equates to a monthly minimum of CHF 3,772 (€3,636, US$4,108). The annual salary would be CHF 45,264 (€43,640, US$49,297).

Probation Periods in Switzerland

The first month of an open-ended contract is deemed to be a trial period. Either party can terminate without reason, giving seven days’ notice. Trial periods can be extended to three months if this is in writing.

Working Hours in Switzerland

Industrial workers, office, technical and sales staff are limited to 45 hours maximum, with 50 hours the upper limit for other employees, and both totals include overtime. Working hours are usually governed by individual contracts and collective agreements, with the average working week actually around 41.5 hours.

Under the Federal Labor Act, employees receive 15 minutes break after working 5.5 hours; 30 minutes for working seven hours and one hour within a daily working stretch of nine hours. These are paid as working time if employees are not allowed to leave the workplace. Employees are entitled to a minimum of 11 hours’ rest per day, although this can be reduced to eight hours provided the 11-hour minimum is averaged over two weeks. The Code of Obligations stipulates at least one day off per week, which generally should be a Sunday. Employees can agree to two half-days instead of a full day.

Overtime in Switzerland

The two categories are overtime and extra hours. ‘Overtime’ applies when working hours exceed the contracted maximum of 45 or 50 per week, according to the sector. Employees receive a premium of 125% of their normal hourly rate, but time off in lieu is another option. Overtime must exceed 60 hours annually to apply to technical, sales staff and those in large retail outlets.

‘Extra hours’ apply when statutory maximum hours of 45 or 50 per week are exceeded, depending on the sector. Extra hours should not be more than two per day, 170 annually for a 45-hour week and 140 per year for a 50-hour week. Employees receive 25% above their normal hourly rate for the extra hours. Time off in lieu can be agreed.