5 things you’ll only know if you work in Switzerland

Katherine Price
Katherine Price - [email protected]
5 things you’ll only know if you work in Switzerland
5 things you'll only know if you live in Switzerland. Photo by Israel Andrade on Unsplash

Although it’s hard to make generalisations about Switzerland given the variety in languages and culture across such as small country, there are some aspects of Swiss working culture that you’ve probably come across during your time here.


The concept of ‘Znüni’

Like many countries, the Swiss have the concept of sharing a coffee and a little sweet something with their colleagues in the afternoon. In German-speaking Switzerland, this is at 4pm and is called ‘Zvieri’. However, they also have a mid-morning snack at 9am called ‘Znüni’, which comes from the German ‘zu neun’, meaning ‘at nine’. And yes, 9am will be mid-morning for many Swiss people, as the working day in Switzerland often starts earlier.

The ‘13th month’ paycheck

The 13-month salary system is not part of the Swiss labour law as it is in some countries, it’s more a matter of custom, however nine out of 10 employers pay it this way.

This means that your annual earnings are calculated on, and paid out in, 13 instalments rather than 12. The idea behind this system is that the 13th instalment is paid out in December and is in effect, two months’ salary, and will help pay for Christmas expenses and other end-of-year bills. You can read more about how the 13th month salary is calculated.

How to navigate a polyglot office environment

Although an office will probably have one or even two ‘official’ languages depending on where they are in Switzerland (as some cantons are themselves multilingual), given the country has four official languages, it’s not unusual to hear colleagues speaking various languages depending on who they’re talking to. In fact, more than two-thirds of people over the age of 15 in Switzerland say they regularly use more than one language.


Over 60 percent of the Swiss population speak German as their main language and it’s the most widely used language in the workplace, followed by French.

However, the next most popular language in the workplace is English – which isn’t an official language of Switzerland, beating Italian, which is. A 2016 survey revealed that English was the most commonly spoken non-national language in Switzerland, regularly spoken by 45 percent of the population.

A recently released Swiss film also explored what would happen if Switzerland voted to be monolingual – with disastrous consequences.


Bring your own birthday cake

Some people from other cultures may have been baffled to find that, on their birthdays, they are expected to bring their own birthday cake to share with everyone in the office, when it’s the reverse in some other countries. A birthday celebration spread usually involves pastries, cake, bread and/or chocolate. And also don’t be surprised if an outgoing colleague picks up the bar tab for the drinks at their own leaving party.

Always arrive early

As Switzerland’s public transport system is famously reliable, so too is punctuality very much part of the culture, particularly in a professional setting. 10 to 15 minutes late won’t be received as just slightly and fashionable late by your Swiss colleagues, it’s potentially downright rude – better to arrive 15 minutes early, or, if it’s an extremely important event, even half an hour.



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