At M18 Executive Search we often work with Dutch companies that want to recruit in Belgium. And as a Dutch native with more than 20 years of experience on the Belgian recruitment market, I very much understand their questions and concerns. Since we’ve been advising many Dutch companies, I thought it was about time to share these experiences with a larger audience: you!
So here are our 7 tips & tricks that every Dutch company that is “Belgium Virgin” should take into account when recruiting in Belgium:
1) Babylonian confusion of speech
- Most people think that Flemish and Dutch are equal, but they are not. The Belgians and Dutch are mostly able to understand each other, but there are many more differences than you would think. Not only in terms of accent / dialect but even in the use of words, sentence structure …
- The average Flemish/Belgian person is more low key and diplomatic in his/her communication whilst an average Dutch person communicates in a more firm and direct way. So Belgians are less explicit and will not always immediately say what’s on their mind.
Tip 1 Observe your Belgian candidate well when recruiting rather than only trying to “sell” the job. Once that person is on board, make sure to listen to their vision on the Belgian market and mentality, rather than impose the Dutch view (trust me, I’ve ‘been there, done that’).
2) Regional differences
- Belgium is divided into 3 regions: Flanders, Brussels-Capital and Wallonia (and there is also the German-speaking community). There is a big difference in both mentality and use of language between those regions. This means that when you start your business in the Belgian market you should know which region is the most important and recruit based on that. For example, if you are looking for someone that will only operate in Flanders, then look for native Flemish-speaking candidate. But if you choose to address the entire Belgian market, then bilingualism (Flemish-French) is key.
- Even within Flanders there are major differences in personality between the provinces. For example, West Flemish people are entrepreneurs but can be seen as more closed by persons from other provinces, people from Antwerp are seen as direct and self-certain, people from Limburg are perceived to be very friendly and easy going,… Try to 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 so find the right ‘culture fit’.
Tip 2 Be extremely aware of the cultural fit within your team. And if you recruit sales people, make sure that you take locals from the specific region.
3) Mobility / flexibility
- Belgium is a true transit country which causes the roads to be full and unfortunately traffic jams are the norm. That is why the average Belgian does not want to live too far away from his/her work. Therefore, prior to approaching candidates we check the candidate’s residence location. The chance is small that someone wants to spend 2-3 hours a day in the car (unless there’s the option to work from home).
- ‘Onder de kerktoren’ (living near the village church) is a well-known expression. Most Belgians are attached to the village/city/region where they were born and raised. Their family and friends still live there, which helps them maintain their social life, and which is especially useful once couples have children. Most Belgians therefore do not want to relocate for their work.
Tip 3 When you set up a company in Belgium, choose the right location. Not only regarding the region, but also take reachability into account (i.e. close to train station,…). And give your employees flexible hours and home working facilities. Keep in mind that most rather change jobs than move.
4) Government system
- Belgium has a Federal government that organizes certain matters at country level. This government is led by the Prime Minister (‘Premier’). For example, most taxes are organized at national level so there are no differences in those taxes per region.
- Next to the Federal government each of the 3 regions has its own government that all have their own cabinet and Prime Minister (Minister-President). Employment is one of the areas that is regulated at regional level and therefore social laws may be different from region to region.
- Each region also has its own employment service: VDAB in Flanders, FOREM in Wallonia and ACTIRIS in Brussels-Capital.
Tip 4 Learn about the pros and cons of establishing your company in either one of the regions, and make use of the relevant employment services.
5) Salary package
- High income taxes lead to high labour costs: Belgium has one of the highest labour costs in Europe. This is partly due to the steep progressivity curve that causes even people with a relatively modest salary to soon reach 50%. The Federal government has taken a number of measures in recent years to raise net wages and reduce these burdens, but Belgium still continues to have high labour costs;
- Complexity: due to the high tax system the Belgian government has created many extra benefits for employees to increase their net income without having to pay 50% taxes on such advantages. More benefits, and these are different than in the Netherlands.
Tip 5 Inform yourself well with your (Belgian) accountant/tax advisor and hire a good payroll firm (sociaal secretariaat / secrétariat social).
6) Part-time working
- Part-time work is not nearly as established in Belgium as it is in the Netherlands where someone can work 3 days/week (both male and female) and still be able to build a career.
- In general the Belgians are serious and hardworking, they are ready to invest themselves in their work. As such part-time work is less accepted in Belgium due to the misperception that part-time workers are less dedicated when it comes to building their career.
- Those that choose to work part-time are financially impacted in terms of reduced gross salary, social security and pension (less benefits in case of unemployment), healthcare insurance (have to pay extra to compensate) and vacation days (calculated based on hours worked);
- Do note that this trend is gradually changing.
Tip 6 Apply your Dutch vision on part-time employment to your company. It helps you differentiate yourself and attract talent!
7) Tight labour market
- Both in Belgium and in The Netherlands there is currently a shortage in the labour market;
- Between the 1970’s and today the Belgian population grew by 18% (from 9.6M to 11.4M) whilst the Dutch population grew by 26% (from 13.6M to 17.2M). This results in an even bigger labour shortage in Belgium;
- Belgium is a 3-language country and not all working people speak all languages. This reduces the chance in finding your best possible employee.
Tip 7 This one is for any foreign company that is trying to attract the right workforce:
Be flexible, give your team challenges and freedom, involve them in decisions, respect their cultural difference and ensure great work conditions. Combine this with a fair and optimised compensation package, and you can achieve your corporate goals.
And our final tip…
When you find the right candidate, don’t wait because other companies are quick to recruit such talent!
For more information, or if you are looking to recruit Talent or Executive Leaders in Belgium, do give us a call on +32 3 242 0900 or contact us on [email protected]