HR in the Netherlands

Imagine you’re at a typical suburban yuppie party. Being a yuppy, the first thing that you ask people is not their names, but “what do you do for a living?” There are two answers that strike terror into the heart of the average party guest and have them scanning the room for someone else to talk to.

1. “I work in IT. I recently developed a new architecture for…”. At this point, you’re reaching for the cyanide capsules.

2. “I’m a people person, so I work in HR.”. To which you’ll run to the kitchen and open the fridge, looking for some out-of-date cheese and will gorge on it till you die in excruciating agony, “a HR professional, my lord God, how have I offended thee??????”

man with bare cheat screaming

You work in HR? Noooooooooooooooo

In a previous post, I described a rather typical encounter had by an expat with his HR business partner in the Netherlands. Now many of you have had dealings with this most misunderstood of business professionals. You’ve probably wondered what leads people to go into HR in the first place. What kind of skills are needed to succeed in HR? This brings me to the subject of today’s post, how to succeed in HR in the Netherlands.

So despite the lovely weather, I’ll tell you all you need to know about HR Business Partners. Now, this post might be upsetting to some, and if, as a result, I’m captured by a bunch of angry HR professionals and am forced to sit through fifteen hundred PowerPoint slides on how HR adds value to organisations, I’ll say to my enemies, “you people are just secretaries with a fancy job title, laat me met rust!”.

The things I do for my readers!

1. To be effective at HR in the Netherlands, learn to despise the human race

In the Netherlands, if you despise the human race, only a few career options are open to you.

  1. Join the PVV (Geert Wilders party)
  2. Work as a waiter or waitress in an eetcafe, and roll your eyes with contempt when customers ask for the menu
  3. Become an HR person

The strangest thing about people choosing option three is that they often honestly believe they are good with people. “I’m a people person, so I went into HR”. The reality is that as they have no friends to tell them that they are not good with people, they end up working in that most despised of professions, HR.

2. Learn to swallow

Staff handbooks.  No normal, balanced human being would ever invest the time required to read an entire staff handbook. To succeed in the HR world in the Netherlands, you need to read and memorise the entire bloody thing, which often runs to hundreds of pages, written in an obscure language that only lawyers and people with no social life would ever spend the time to digest. Once you have this, you hold the power to obfuscate, distract, confuse and drive employees crazy by quoting random texts from the handbook as if you’re a preacher, threatening his flock with eternal damnation.

HR in the Netherlands sheep like

Selfie of Lieke, Ida, Anouk and Monique, the HR Business team and their new graduate trainee Noortje

3. Patronise people as often as you can

Learn to talk down to people. Treat your “business partners” as having the brainpower of a jellyfish or a small child. Start every sentence with “wellllllllllll I’d love to you help you, but as it says in the staff handbook section 732a subsection 14, language courses, though included as part of the package, are still at the discretion of senior management. But it’s great that you want to make the effort to learn Dutch, that’s so nice of you, as it’s such a difficult language, but we Dutch speak English better than most people from the UK, so don’t worry about it.”

HR robot

Lieke, the HR bot, always talked down to her business partners

4. Be good at not listening to work in Dutch HR

Listening skills are usually important in most professions, but not in HR. A successful HR person waits until there are gaps in the conversation and repeats exactly what they said at the beginning of the meeting. Refuse to listen to employees, who are poorly informed, and actually are foolish enough to believe that HR departments are there to help!

HR essential skills

The T-shirt handed out to all graduates of HR courses

The Expat Makelaar actually listens to her customers

A HR Business Partner in discussion with an employee

5. Contradict yourself often

Change your advice depending on who is present. So, for example, if you’re meeting with an employee, suggest “according to the staff handbook, the organisation should fund part of your studies”. When a senior manager is present at a follow-up meeting with the same employee, with a straight face, simply say, “the organisation shouldn’t be responsible for funding your studies; this is an extracurricular activity not in line with your position”.

6. Be like a Ninja

Ninja’s perfected the art of concealment. Follow their lead. Never, ever, be available for any meeting with an employee. Hold your head up high and walk at a brisk pace. If you’re stopped by an employee in the corridor, point at your watch and say, “ik heb het druk.” Find a coffee machine in the farthest reaches of the building and spend most of your time there or outside the building smoking. If an employee dares to enter your office, use your Ninja skills to conceal yourself between a coat rack and a filing cabinet.

HR meetings

To get a meeting with the head of HR, you have to get past these ladies

Elusive Dutch HR employees

Meeting request from an employee? Ignore, Ignore, Ignore.

7. Waste the time of employees

A common complaint of employees is that the performance management methodology used to deliver end-of-year ratings is often incredibly inconsistent and difficult to comprehend. Some people end the year with exceptional performance ratings, even though they are hardly ever in the office, and you can set your watch by them as they are out of the door every evening at 5.29 pm on the dot. Others (stupid expats with no life) work long hours and are flexible yet get a lower rating.

To succeed in HR in the Netherlands, you’ll need to spend forty-five minutes explaining the rating system and how it works and even attempting to fake some empathy by pretending to share the employees’ concerns. When they ask if there is anything that can be done to change the rating, look at them as if they have just escaped from a mental institution and say, “we’ll have to discuss this with your line manager, but I don’t think it will help, your rating was decided at the beginning of the year, sorry, I meant recently.”

Dutch HR

“You’d like me to help you change your end-of-year rating? You’re crazy” Dutch HR style empathy

To succeed in HR in the Netherlands

So finally, to summarise

  • Refuse to listen
  • Be patronising
  • Be elusive
  • Contradict yourself as often as possible
  • Keep your empathy for dogs that get shot by the police but not for employees of your organisation
  • Only have lunch with other people from HR

If you do all of the above, you’ll be hiding under your desk to avoid employee complaints in no time.

Remember that the Netherlands is the most tolerant society that ever lived and if you disagree with this, go back to the country of your forefathers, even if they are Dutch.

Till next time, hou je bek!