Working as an expat in Brussels is a rewarding experience. The city is home to many international organisations, including the European Union and NATO, and has a thriving economy. Expats who come here will find themselves immersed in a thriving multicultural environment.
If you are considering building a career in Brussels and in need to get insights into the business culture and etiquette in Brussels in order to make your stay as enjoyable as possible, then this article is for you!
of Brussels Working Culture
The working culture in Brussels is different from the rest of Europe. It is important to understand the local culture so that you can adapt yourself and fit in easily. Here are a few characteristics of the general working culture in Brussels:
The management style
The management style in Belgium is more hierarchical compared to other European countries.
There is a clear chain of command, and people tend to follow their superiors’ instructions without questioning them.
The hierarchy at work is also reflected in terms of benefits and salary.
You will find that they have a very clear pay scale where every employee knows exactly how much each person in the company earns and what benefits he or she gets. This makes it difficult for an outsider to break into this system because he would have to compete with someone who has worked there for years already.
The average workweek in Brussels is 37.5 hours, with many employees working a five-day week, Monday through Friday. The number of hours worked per week and on weekends is not as important as the fact that people tend to take their time in getting things done. The culture here is one of prioritising quality over quantity and making sure that everything is done well before moving on to the next project or task.
The working culture in Brussels can be described as very international and open-minded. In general, Belgians are rather reserved compared to other Europeans but when talking about work they can be very open-minded and direct about what they want from their colleagues (and vice versa).
As an expat working in Brussels you'll notice that most people don't mind having an informal atmosphere during working hours but still expect everyone to do their job properly without having any personal issues affecting their performance at work.
Working culture in international companies
International companies tend to recruit people from all over the world, so they often have a diverse workforce with varying expectations and experiences. This can lead to some interesting situations when it comes to working styles, management styles, communication styles and more. However, some commonalities do exist within international companies in Brussels such as:
Supportive environment - when you join an international company, they will support you through every step of your new life as an expat – from finding accommodation to helping you navigate local customs. This can be extremely helpful as it means that they understand what it’s like being new in town and will want to make your transition as smooth as possible. They may also have established networks that can help you settle into life in Belgium or find somewhere suitable for your family members or pets if needed.
of Brussels business etiquette
In general, Belgians in Brussels are known for being friendly and outgoing people. They do not hesitate to approach someone they don't know and strike up a conversation, even if it's just about the weather. It's also common for them to use first names when addressing others in their company or at work, even if they've only just met each other.
Moreover, Belgians are also known for being efficient and punctual — they don't like wasting time by being late or wasting words when communicating with each other or customers/clients.
Business etiquette in Belgium is generally much more formal than what you might find in other parts of Europe. Belgians take their time to get to know people before they become friends – even if they work together every day. Business meetings are often held over lunch or dinner so that you can get to know each other better before getting down to business. It's important not to rush into things too quickly or try to be too friendly – Belgian culture doesn't allow for this kind of behaviour unless you've known someone for many years!
Business cards are very important in Brussels, so make sure you have a good supply on hand. They should be printed on thick card stock and include your name, company name and title. If you don't have business cards with you, write your name on a piece of paper or even your hand if necessary.
Greetings are generally formal but can vary depending on who you're meeting with. Men shake hands when greeting each other and women often give each other two kisses on the cheeks (like in France). When greeting someone older than yourself or someone who outranks you at work, it's important to use their last name followed by "Monsieur" or "Madame" as appropriate. For example: "Bonjour Monsieur Dupont."
Business Dress Code
In Brussels, the standard business dress code is conservative and formal. Men wear a suit and tie, while women wear a suit or a blouse and skirt. The most common colours for men's suits are grey or navy blue, though brown suits are also acceptable at some businesses. Women should also wear dark-coloured suits, though white blouses may be worn instead of shirts with ties if necessary.
It’s important to be aware of the business dress code in Brussels. But this doesn’t mean that you need to spend a fortune on clothes. You don’t need to wear a suit every day or even a shirt and tie. The office environment is very relaxed, but you should still be smartly dressed.
If you're thinking about moving to Brussels, you should familiarise yourself with the business culture and etiquette in this cosmopolitan city.
We've put together a short list of tips to help you settle into life as an expat in Brussels:
Learn French or Dutch if you don't speak either language fluently – communication in Brussels can be difficult if you can't speak either language!
Don't be afraid to ask questions – Belgians are very helpful people and will go out of their way to help if they can.
Be prepared for some cultural differences – Belgians place importance on personal space, so don't expect everyone to greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks when meeting for the first time.