Doing Business in Switzerland
Its diverse population consists of French, Italian and German speakers, but there is some general advice that expats doing business in Switzerland should keep in mind.
Switzerland ranked 31st out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Survey. As demonstrated in its rankings in the survey, its tax system is easy to navigate (18th), electricity is easy to set up (7th) and the process of registering property is fairly straightforward (16th). However, provisions for protecting minority investors are not extensive (106th) and starting a business can be difficult (71st).
The country is home to several internationally reputable companies and is the European headquarters for numerous others. Switzerland is a global finance capital with a competitive corporate atmosphere, but gaining the trust of detail-oriented associates is important for success in the Swiss business world.
Swiss people are patriotic and known for being quite insular – especially outside of Zurich and Geneva. This might apply to foreigners as well as local people from different language groups. Expats will need to be direct but restrained in their dealings, and navigate local hierarchies with patience.
Monday to Fridays, 8am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm
English is widely spoken but local businesses use German, French or Italian. It is beneficial to speak the dominant language of the canton.
Formal and conservative. Suits are the norm in professional environments. Wear simple jewellery and avoid bright colours.
Rare in Swiss business culture, but flowers or chocolate will suffice if invited to a colleague's home.
Women are treated equally in the workplace and have opportunities for career progression, but generally, men still occupy most senior positions.
It's best to shake hands with associates while maintaining eye contact. One should address colleagues using their title and last name until instructed otherwise.
Business culture in Switzerland
The business culture in Switzerland is broadly formal, but industries and businesses differ. Business practices may also vary slightly, depending on which canton an expat is based in.
Business is conducted formally in Switzerland. Interactions are characterised by directness and restraint, especially with the German Swiss – so expats will have to stay focused and control their emotions. Avoid making too much small talk and asking personal questions in the business environment. These topics can be discussed outside the office instead.
The Swiss are famous for their punctuality. Arriving late to a meeting or being unprepared will be seen as disrespectful and will be judged negatively.
It is always best to arrive early and confirm appointments ahead of time. Make sure all your documents and presentation materials are in order as well and be fully prepared to answer any questions that Swiss business associates may have.
Hierarchy is important and people receive respect based on their rank, education and achievements. Even though executives make the decisions, they look for a broad consensus. Managers are expected to guide their teams, and cooperation is valued.
Business environments in Switzerland tend to be merit-based, but trust is still important to negotiations. The Swiss like dealing with people they know, and often expect long-term commitments from their associates. Negotiations can be prolonged by the trust-building process and the Swiss eye for detail and respect for procedure.
Dos and don'ts of business in Switzerland
Do avoid being loud or overdramatic; the Swiss pride themselves on being reserved and unpretentious
Do come well prepared to meetings. Consider bringing supplementary materials for everyone.
Don't be late – the stereotype is that it's a country of clockmakers. Punctuality is paramount.
Don't integrate humour into the business environment. The line between personal and professional is strictly policed.
Do try to maintain good eye contact and professional posture.