Switzerland is known for its mountains, chocolate, cheese, watches… and now strict work dress code guidelines. According to recent reports, Swiss bank UBS has just issued a 44-page set of guidelines about what employees should and should not wear to work. The guidelines even state that women are only allowed to wear flesh-coloured underwear and a maximum of seven items of jewellery. Only grey, black and navy suits can be worn by any employees and shirt cuffs must show approximately 1.5cm and 2.5cm from under the jacket sleeves.
It is not uncommon for firms operating in the financial industry in the City, New York or elsewhere to set strict dress codes – but is there something more to this?
Is this a unique example or does this represent all Swiss based organisations and values? Anyone doing business in Switzerlandshould know the answer to this question so they can be prepared – whether that means wearing the right clothes or understanding how business is done.
What would happen if your boss or organisation issued clothing guidelines as strict as the ones recently set forth at UBS? Would you have responded the same way as UBS employees in Switzerland who are said to have ‘reacted well’ to the guidelines? Many people in the UK or other cultures may see these rules as an unacceptable breach of their privacy and freedom of choice. Others however may welcome such strict guidelines as they eliminate uncertainty and ensure consistency in the professional image of UBS.
Most people associate Swiss culture with strict punctuality and orderliness. This is not surprising considering the fact that they are the worldwide leaders in producing precise time keeping technology. So being on time, appreciating order and having strict guidelines are the behavioural patterns that we can see when doing business in Switzerland, but where do they come from and what impact do they have on Swiss working practices?
Cross-cultural research suggests that the Swiss are not very comfortable with unknown situations or uncertainty. Having precise rules and a high level of formality helps the Swiss to create a sense of safety and security. By implementing rules and processes, the Swiss are able to ensure that there is always an acceptable or unacceptable way of doing things, therefore limiting any ‘grey areas’ or uncertainty. The recent UBS dress code guidelines aim to “procure interior peace and a feeling of security”, according to the UBS spokesperson, making this case a perfect example of this cultural value.
Despite the reported positive reaction by UBS staff members and bank customers, this rather strict dress code aroused criticisms in Switzerland. A member of the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions said in The Times that the dress code guidelines were both “unreasonable and illegal”. This reaction is a very good example of how our own individual preferences and character traits can sometimes prevail over our national cultural values.
When doing business in Switzerland it is essential to bear in mind that the Swiss business culture is heavily influenced by the country’s cultural values. Assuming that every Swiss person is the same, however, and only relying on Swiss stereotypes is bound to create cultural incidents and misunderstandings. It is therefore necessary for anyone doing business in Switzerland to develop a high level of cultural awareness and understanding of Swiss culture to be effective working there.
Participating in a Doing Business in Switzerlandcross-cultural training course will help you to understand the cultural idiosyncrasies behind certain behavioural patterns in Switzerland and how they impact working practices and communication styles. A Doing Business in Switzerland cross-cultural training course will also help you to identify and harness Swiss values and attitudes around time, structure, risk and uncertainty when working extensively with Swiss counterparts. By adapting to Swiss culture, whether through following strict dress code guidelines like those introduced at UBS or by implementing more detailed policies that will eliminate any uncertainty, you can be sure that you will have a more successful experience doing business in Switzerland.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010