At M18 Executive Search, we often work with Dutch companies looking to hire in Belgium. And as a Dutch person with more than 20 years of experience in the Belgian recruitment market, I understand their questions and concerns like no other.

Since we have been able to advise many Dutch companies by now, I thought it was time to share these experiences with a larger audience, namely with you!

So here are our 7 tips & tricks that every Dutch company that is ‘Belgium Virgin’ should consider when hiring in Belgium:

1) Babylonian confusion of speech

  • People usually think that Flemish and Dutch are the same language, but that is not true. Belgians/Flemish and Dutch can usually understand each other, but there are many more differences than one might think at first glance. Not only in terms of the accent/dialect, but also the use of words and sentence structure are different;
  • The average Flemish/Belgian person is more modest and diplomatic in his/her way of communicating while an average Dutch person communicates in a firmer and more direct way. So most Belgians are less explicit and won’t always tell it like it is.

Tip 1 Listen and observe your Belgian candidate carefully during the interview before you start “selling” the job. And once the selected candidate has started, be open to his/her opinion on the Belgian market and mentality instead of imposing the Dutch view (believe me, I had to learn this too,…).

2) Regional differences

  • Belgium is divided into 3 regions: Flanders, the Brussels Capital Region (BCR) and Wallonia (and in addition there is also the German-speaking community). There is a big difference in mentality and language between these regions. This means that when you start your business in the Belgian market, you need to know which region is most important in order to recruit accordingly. For example, if you are looking for someone who will only work in Flanders, look for a candidate who is fluent in Flemish. However, if you choose to target the entire Belgian market, bilingualism (Flemish-French) is a requirement.
  • Even within Flanders, there are great differences between provinces. West Flemish, for example, are entrepreneurs, but may be considered more closeted by persons from other provinces. Antwerp people come across as direct and confident, Limburg people are considered very friendly and easygoing,… I recommend that you take these differences into account when choosing a specific location for your Belgian branch. Again, these personality differences are subtle but can make a difference.

Tip 2 Be very aware of the “cultural fit” within your team. And when hiring salespeople, make sure you take “locals” from the specific region.

3) Mobility/flexibility

  • Belgium is a true transit country so the roads are congested and traffic jams are (unfortunately) the norm. Therefore, the average Belgian does not want to live too far from work. Hence, at M18 Executive Search, before we approach a candidate, we check his/her place of residence. Chances are slim that anyone would want to spend 2-3 hours a day in the car (unless they are allowed to work from home several days a week).
  • ‘Under the steeple’ is a well-known expression in Belgium. Most Belgians are attached to the village or town where they were born and raised. Their family and friends still live there, and this is how they keep up their social life. And also, such social safety net is useful for couples with (young) children. Hence, most do not want to move for work.

Tip 3 Choose the right location when establishing your business in Belgium. Keep in mind not only the region, but also accessibility (i.e. close to train station,…). And give your employees flexible hours and home working facilities. Know that most would rather change jobs than move.

4) Government system

  • Belgium has a federal government that organizes certain things at the national level. This government is headed by the “prime minister. Most business taxes, for example, are regulated at the national level. There are few differences by region in that regard.
  • In addition to the federal government, each of the 3 regions has its own government, each of which has its own cabinet and prime minister. Employment, for example, is organized regionally and therefore social legislation differs from region to region. Each region therefore has its own employment service: VDAB in Flanders, FOREM in Wallonia and ACTIRIS in the Brussels Capital Region.

Tip 4 Before establishing your business, better inform yourself well about the advantages and disadvantages of each of the regions, and then make use of the relevant employment services.

5) Payroll package

  • High income taxes result in high labor costs: Belgium has one of the highest labor costs in Europe. This is partly due to the steep progressivity curve that allows even people with relatively modest salaries to quickly reach the 50% income tax level. The federal government has taken a number of measures in recent years to increase take-home pay and reduce the burden on labor, but Belgium still maintains relatively high labor costs.
  • Complexity: because of high income taxes, the Belgian government has created many additional benefits for workers who are not taxed at 50%. So there are several advantages and they differ from those in the Netherlands.

Tip 5 It is best to be well informed in advance by your (Belgian) accountant/tax advisor. Work with a social secretary who can help you with your payroll management.

6) Working part-time

  • Part-time work is not nearly as established in Belgium as it is in the Netherlands, where both men and women can work 3 days a week and still build a career.
  • In general, Belgians are serious and hardworking; they invest a lot of time in their jobs. The misconception sometimes still exists in Belgium about people who work part-time that they are less committed to their careers.
  • Those who do choose to work part-time experience financial disadvantages such as lower gross wages, less social security (and thus fewer benefits in the event of unemployment), a lower pension, less health insurance (have to pay extra to compensate) and fewer vacation days (these are calculated on an hourly basis).
  • Note that in the tight labor market, this trend is gradually changing.

Tip 6 Apply your Dutch view of part-time work to your business. It’s going to help you differentiate your business and attract talent!

7) Tight labor market

  • In both Belgium and the Netherlands, there is currently a shortage of suitable personnel in the labor market.
  • Between the 1970s and today, the Belgian population grew 18% (from 9.6 million to 11.4 million) while the Dutch population grew 26% (from 13.6 million to 17.2 million). This results in an even greater labor shortage in Belgium.
  • Belgium is a trilingual country and not everyone speaks even two of the three languages. This reduces the chances of finding the most suitable employee.

Tip 7 This one is for any foreign company trying to attract the right employees in Belgium:

Be flexible, give your team challenges and freedom, involve them in your decisions, respect their cultural differences and provide the best possible working conditions. This combined with a correct and optimized salary package ensures motivated employees who are going to help you achieve your business goals.

And our final tip…

Once you find the right candidate, don’t wait too long, there are many other companies ready to hire such talent!

If you would like more information, or if you are looking for Talent of Executives in Belgium, please feel free to contact us (+32 3 242 0900 or

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