The dos and don'ts of Swiss work etiquette

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
The dos and don'ts of Swiss work etiquette
Some offices have strict dress codes. Image by Werner Heiber from Pixabay

If you are going to work in Switzerland (or are already employed here), you should know the rules that prevail in the office environment. Some of them are pretty much the same as elsewhere in Europe, while others differ.


A lot depends, of course, on what kind of job you have and where you work.

If, for instance, you are employed in an artistic or creative field, requirements relating to your ‘business’ attire are probably much more relaxed than, say, if you are a banker.

So ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ listed in this article pertain mostly to employers and businesses that have more traditional expectations.

The dos:

Be punctual

Arguably the most important ‘do’ is arriving at work on time and, better yet, early.

This shows not only respect for your employer and colleagues, but also your eagerness and commitment to your job.

In a country where trains and other public transportation run (mostly) on time, excuses such as ‘my bus didn’t arrive’ will not fly here — especially if used regularly.


Strangely enough though, being late due to encounters with farm animals is considered a reasonable excuse for tardiness.

There is some anecdotal evidence about people driving to work through the countryside and being slowed down by a herd of goats shepherded across the road.

This is considered a valid excuse for tardiness (cows may work as well) because such occurrences are common in Switzerland, whereas late buses are not.

READ ALSO: Only in Switzerland - cow taken on a train ride

Keep your nose out of other people’s business

Workplaces, especially more informal ones, can be hotbeds of gossip, where the office grapevine spews out all kinds of rumours.

It doesn’t matter whether what is being said is true or not; your best bet is not to get involved in listening to and, even more so, spreading the stories.

Psst! Keep it to yourself. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

And this leads to another ‘do’…

Stay professional

What exactly does this mean?

The Swiss value employees who come to work just for that: to work.

Do the job you were hired to do but don’t get too close or personal with your colleagues and, even less so, with your boss.

You may want to be friendly and socialise with your co-workers, and that’s fine. But do this after work or during the weekend, but never, ever, bring your private life into the office.

This is a good advice in whatever country you work, but it is even more relevant in Switzerland, as the Swiss value privacy and reticence — qualities that foreigners often mistake for coldness and aloofness.

Dress for the job

As mentioned above, you should wear the clothes appropriate for your work environment and dress codes, if there are any in place.

Wearing a suit and a tie, or an equivalent business attire if you are woman, is still a must in many workplaces, so obviously you must adopt to this requirement.

Even if your office has a ‘casual Friday’ policy in place, don’t show up dressed as a clown — unless you happen to work in a circus.

If you work in a bank, lose this outfit. Image by annca from Pixabay 

Be polite and courteous

This may sound like a no-brainer — after all, nobody expects to be rude at work — but it is especially true in Switzerland’s more conservative and formal professional circles.

Again, depending on where you work, in the post-Covid office you could again be expected to shake hands with co-workers and bosses, rather than merely bump elbows.

Unless your colleagues and boss tell you otherwise, call them Herr / Frau, Monsieur / Madame, or Signore / Signora, followed by their last name.

It is possible that colleagues in the same rank / position will be on first-name basis, but don’t automatically assume this is so.


And now the ‘don'ts'...

Don’t leave work early

Just as you shouldn’t be late, you mustn’t leave your workplace too early either.

Work ethic is a very important quality in Switzerland, and if you are sneaking out of the office before your time is up, it will not go unnoticed.

Of course, there could be situations that require you to leave early — mostly illnesses or other emergencies — and Swiss employment law allows you to do so, but you should not abuse this right.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are your rights as an employee in Switzerland?

And saying to your boss “I must leave early today because the goats in my village are crossing the road at 5,” will not work either if it becomes a daily excuse.


Don’t ask others how much other people earn

Just as you shouldn’t get too chummy with your co-workers, you should not ask them about their salaries either (or divulge yours, unless you want to).

This information is considered private and personal, though admittedly in some offices it is shared freely, especially among younger employees.

Don’t be disrespectful

This goes under the same heading as ‘politeness and courtesy’.

Abstain from making comments or jokes — especially of an offensive nature — that could potentially hurt your co-workers’ feelings.

What you find funny, others may not and your attitude could spark accusations of harassment or bullying, which are taken very seriously here.

Don’t answer questions that have nothing to do with work

This is actually more a matter of your legal rights than etiquette.

Whether in the office out of it (for instance, in social situations) your employer can’t ask you questions about your personal life, medical history, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity.

If he or she asks, you don’t have to answer those, or any other uncomfortable queries, that are not related to your job.


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