Excerpted from the Switzerland Career Guide
Located in the heart of Europe, landlocked and mountainous Switzerland has succeeded in maintaining neutrality and stability throughout the centuries. This stability allowed Switzerland to prosper, and it is now one of the richest countries in the world. It is also home to four different language communities: French, German, Italian and Romansch. Switzerland is composed of 26 cantons (states), and its capital is the German-speaking city of Bern. The Swiss have a difficult time defining ‘Swissness’ themselves, but overall they are motivated by a desire for unification. ‘Unity, but not uniformity’ is a Swiss motto. Key principles in Swiss society include cleanliness, a strong work ethic and honesty. The Swiss value thrift, tolerance, punctuality and discretion regarding one’s financial situation.
The Swiss value honesty, responsibility and self-discipline. Emotional displays and jokes do not go over well. They strive to be honest and often interpret things literally. One should be careful about teasing or making jokes, as these may be misunderstood. People in Switzerland, particularly in the German regions, tend to be very straightforward. The Swiss may appear reserved, at least initially, and do not appreciate questions about private matters. However, they are attentive listeners.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- The Swiss are extremely law abiding. One should not cross the street on red, litter or make noise on Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings, among other things. In some areas, residents will not hesitate to publicly scold the offender.
- Newcomers are expected to invite neighbors over for coffee – not the other way around. The same holds true for birthday celebrations. The person celebrating his/her birthday is invites others to the party.
Proper office conduct in Switzerland is polite and serious. The Swiss are respectful of co-workers and will listen to their concerns and opinions. The notion of hierarchy is important within Swiss companies, and employees are very respectful to their superiors. Disagreements are dealt with in private. It is very disgraceful to publically criticize one’s colleagues, superiors or work environment.
Businesses in Switzerland strive to be orderly and deliberate. The Swiss do not like to take unnecessary and spur-of-the-moment risks—this is the most heavily-insured nation per capita in the world. The business culture also plays it safe. In fact, managers who are great at putting out fires (which may seem like an admirable trait in other countries) are usually seen as unable to maintain control over their workplace.
The Swiss have a tendency to be excellent negotiators without ever appearing to negotiate. They have a quiet and reserved confidence, and they know their products and services are among the best in the world. They have little need to negotiate. This is a very powerful playing card. Swiss companies can ignore the hard sell, the urgently-rushed decision or other hardball bargaining tactics. These strategies will only backfire when thrown at a Swiss company. Perhaps the only way to negotiate with the Swiss is to offer them something that actually benefits them.
Women in the Workplace
Switzerland is not at the cutting edge of the feminist movement, and by and large, it is not an issue in Swiss politics and society. Women have held the right to vote at the federal level only since 1971, and the last canton to include women for regional election was Appenzell in 1991. Nevertheless, since 1985, there has been at least one woman (recently three) in the seven-member executive Federal Council of Switzerland (the Swiss collective head of state).
This is just a sample of what you'll find in the complete Switzerland guide.