Leading as an Expat: 5 Tips to Help you Succeed in Western Europe

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”
– Lik Hock Yap Ivan

Western Europe is one of the richest regions in the world with thriving agriculture, manufacturing, banking and transport sectors, to name just a few. No wonder the region is the destination of so many expats! We are all aware of the differences between the individual countries; the languages, the cuisines, the historical heritage and so on.

However, with such geographical proximity, these countries also have overarching commonalities, making it possible for us to give you some general tips ahead of your expat assignment.

1. Direct communication. In Western Europe there’s a clear division between work and leisure when compared to other parts of the world. When it comes to business, Europeans don’t beat around the bush, but tend to get straight to the point. If you’re used to some more social lubricant, what Europeans view as efficiency may feel weird and abrupt, so you’d do well to be prepared.

2. The Protestant work ethic. In Western Europe there is a cultural norm that puts positive moral value on doing a good job. We can trace this back to what is known as “The Protestant work ethic”. As Protestantism took hold in Western Europe, so did the concept that work is morally good and hard work should be held in high regard. What does this mean for you as an expat leader? Well, it makes your job easier! The need for micro-management may not be necessary; some people may, in fact, even take offence.

3. Professionality. Formal arrangements are favoured over personal relationships, although people of course have both. Business people tend to keep a polite and professional distance to their colleagues. After work socialising often takes the form of a drink or two, but it’s good to bear in mind that getting too personal is often considered unprofessional in a culture where there’s a clear division between work and leisure.

4. Tolerance. Western Europe is, in general, very tolerant and there’s great emphasis on human rights and free speech. Expressing negative views about any group of people is considered politically incorrect and will not be well-received. You should also avoid making jokes that may be perceived as racist/ sexist/ homophobic.

5. Be on time! Being punctual is of great importance in Western Europe where everything is thoroughly planned. People are used to punctuality, be it public transport or business meetings. Tardiness is looked down upon and viewed as unprofessional. So, if you want to be respected as a leader in Western Europe, be on time!

Remember, these are only general tips and there are huge cultural differences in Western Europe. English is the commonly spoken language for business and the tips above provide you with some general guidelines, but efforts to speak the local language and learn more about the local culture are always greatly appreciated.

Do you have any country specific tips for Western Europe? What are your expat experiences? Please, contribute to the conversation below.

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