The three official languages of Switzerland are French, German and Italian.  Switzerland’s business culture largely reflects German values of punctuality, orderliness and formality in the word and regional cultural differences reflect those of the countries that border Switzerland. Protection of their country, its political views, and the environment remain are a priority for most citizen regardless of regional culture.

Traditional Swiss Worldview

Balanced Group Orientation
Identity defined largely by family and canton, but individuals expected to make decisions and take responsibility

Balanced Cooperation
Competition is valued along with gaining consensus and agreement

Task Orientation
Focus on accomplishing tasks; punctuality emphasized

Tradition of equal rights; yet some deference to age and seniority occurs

Need for Certainty
Stability desired; managerial guidance expected

Strict application of formal rules

Exact Time  
Time is carefully structured and managed

Cultural Assumptions

  • Strong sense of national pride and Swiss achievements (banking; watches; chocolate; neutrality)
  • Privacy highly valued
  • Family stability
  • Importance of tolerance
  • Tradition of multilingualism and multiculturalism
  • Attention to detail
  • Industriousness and hard work
  • Material success
  • Democratic tradition (direct democracy)
  • Concern for environment

Traditional Swiss Communication Style

Communication is to the point with little attention to non-verbal cues

Low Context 
Focus on words to convey meaning, messages taken more literally

Sensitive to position and age, politeness valued

Emotional displays are avoided

Non-Verbal Dynamics

For the most part, gestures are kept to a minimum, although there will be more in the French and Italian sections of the country.  Handshakes are the common greeting, even with children.  It is considered impolite to speak while one has their hands in their pockets.

Prefer not to be touched, although in the French and Italian areas both men and women may embrace if they know one another.  The French Swiss may also kiss each other twice on the cheek.

There is formal recognition of space and the Swiss prefer boundaries.  They favor the expression, “fences make good neighbors”.  It is important to respect the Swiss sense of privacy.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Problems can be approached directly and explicitly. There is more of a collaborative approach to solving problems.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Respecting and acknowledging people’s opinions. Increased responsibilities as well as personal development opportunities are appreciated.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Strong drive toward quality and continuous improvement. No product or service is “good enough.” High standards for work.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Formal and provide lots of detail. Adopt a neutral tone, without lavish praise or harsh criticism. Use objective criteria.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Focus on group harmony & shared accomplishment; qualitative and subjective; includes social & economic concerns.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Deliberations proceed slowly and formally. Once decisions are made, the conditions become fixed, unlike in China or the Arab world. Deductive analysis and thorough explanations are expected.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Individual contributions to the process are made but important decisions are left to those in senior positions.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are formal and punctual; behavior is reserved; attention to status in the room.
Subordinates are not closely monitored, but managers are expected to provide structure and direction.Leaders may be autocratic, expecting loyalty and respect. To earn that, subordinates expect supervisors to have a high degree of technical competence as well as charismatic leadership skills. Employees may share opinions, but it is difficult to question expertise of a supervisor.
HIRING Hiring and firing based on performance considerations, although Swiss men develop considerable networks and allegiances through their military service.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Relationships with customers is important, making sure they are pleased with quality of products and services.