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 To which you’ll run to the kitchen and open the fridge, looking for some out-of-date cheese and will gorge on it till you die in excruciating agony, “a HR professional, my lord God, how have I offended thee??????”
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.
- Join the PVV (Geert Wilders party)
- Work as a waiter or waitress in an eetcafe, and roll your eyes with contempt when customers ask for the menu
- 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.
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.”
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!
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.
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.”
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!
Share your HR tales of glory or woe with the Shallow Man
Eeeek, that reminds me I have to deal with our HR once again! Spot on about their empathy, willingness to help and you forgot their competence too! Years ago when I came to work in NL, the information and help from HR about the things I needed to sort out before starting to work there was about zero. So I had to crunch the sense in bureaucracy (to get document A, you need B; to get B, you first need A) on my own. Even better, when the next unsuspecting expat started working there, HR, rather than learning by now the requirements for EU-nationals working in NL, sent her for information directly to me.