A postcard from... Switzerland


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Our 'postcard from' series keeps you updated on key HR areas in different countries

Economic briefing

Switzerland is one of the world’s most stable economies, with the second-highest GDP per capita. Roughly 74% of its GDP is produced by the service industry. While the country is the biggest exporter of watches and is famous for its chocolate, it also relies heavily on manufacturing, metals, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. Switzerland’s openness to foreign trade helps it maintain a resilient economy. The European Union is Switzerland’s main trading area for both imports and exports.


Switzerland has a relatively small population, which has stood at around 8.2 million since 2012. Its population quadrupled between 1800and 1990, and was steepest in the period after the Second World War. It enjoys low unemployment, though the rate rose slightly from 3.1% to 3.3% in 2017. Almost a quarter (24.6%) of Switzerland’s population are foreigners, the majority of whom are from other European countries.

Legal lowdown

Switzerland has relatively liberal and flexible laws regarding recruitment, employment, and dismissal. EU and European Free Trade Association employees can be hired freely, while non-EU workers are subject to quota systems.

Although major corporations and the state have adopted various diversity programmes over the past 20 years, SMEs do not pursue any formal diversity measures.

Employees can legally work for up to 50 hours per week, the longest working week of any Western country.

Employee benefits

There is no minimum wage in Switzerland, after voters rejected the motion in a 2014 referendum. Nevertheless, salaries are generally high and stood at 64,268 francs in 2015, a median salary around 75% higher than in the UK and US.

Switzerland has a generous unemployment system, with most people (including migrants with a valid work permit) receiving 80% of their salary in the first 18 months.

Despite the long maximum working week, Swiss cities are regularly ranked as having the best work/life balance in the world, with lunch breaks strictly adhered to.

From the HR frontline

Claire Ladwa, global HRBP at Zurich Insurance, says: “There is a huge demand for highly technical skills, due in part to Switzerland’s very low unemployment rate and also because the Swiss job market is heavily focused on the financial sector and heavily regulated.

“This makes the job market very competitive and good candidates are snapped up quickly. A strong talent acquisition capability leading into an excellent talent retention strategy is a must for any business operating in the country.”

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