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Danish cultural norms

Photographs: Pexels

Text: Luke Hannon

So, you want to work in Denmark, huh? Well, you're not alone! There are many reasons why Denmark is an attractive place to work as an expat. An emphasis on work-life balance (more on that later!), an innovative and honest economy and the second happiest nation in the world (damn you, Finland!) have made Denmark one of the most desirable places to work.

Still, working in Denmark can require a significant adjustment to a non-Dane. There are many cultural norms not found outside Denmark. If only someone could write a handy how-to guide on negotiating these cultural norms.

Well, here it is!

Hierarchies? What hierarchies?

I still remember the first time someone strongly disagreed with a manager in Denmark.

It just so happened to be on my first day. I still remember thinking, "This guy is getting fired". It was a big shock to the system, but the Danes pride themselves on having a flat hierarchy in their workplaces. What does this mean? It means that if you see something you disagree with, you're expected to speak up. It means that instead of waiting for orders, you must take responsibility for making decisions. This can be a very scary idea for people coming from a place where top-down hierarchies are the norm, but at the same time, it can be exciting, empowering and liberating.

To thrive in Denmark, you'll need to thrive in flat hierarchies.

Don't be so formal

"You're not interviewing for a bank."

That was my first thought when an interviewee came to their interview wearing a full suit and tie. I was working for a tech startup at the time. The Danish work culture is far more informal than most. Out go the suits and ties (unless you actually do work in a bank). Before interviewing in a Danish company, it's always a good idea to check the dress code to be safe. And it's not just the dress code that is less formal. Managers are almost always addressed by their first names - so instead of "sir" and "madam", it's "Mathias" and "Anne". It can be difficult for many (including myself!) to go from a formal work environment to a more casual one experienced in Denmark but keep with it and a whole new relationship with management. You'll do well to remember this to show you understand the company's culture.

Thriving in Denmark means thriving in a less-formal environment.

"Danish companies prize teamwork as the most desirable characteristic of a potential new employee."

Work-life balance

Danes are fiercely protective of their work-life balance.

As a recruiter, I often find it impossible to book interviews with managers after 3pm. The reason? Hente børn or "pick up kids" in their calendars. At 37 hours per week, Denmark has some of the shortest work hours in the European Union. In Denmark, work is an important part of life but not the most important. Family time, social time and time off are also necessary. If you come from a more work-centric country, remember that the Danes have a different mindset. Don't expect people working until late into the night to finish a project. On the flip side, remember to add some balance to your life.

That's why you wanted to work in Denmark in the first place, right?

Teamwork makes the dream work

The lone genius type only really works in movies.

Danish companies prize teamwork as the most desirable characteristic of a potential new employee. If there are two possible candidates of similar ability, the one who works best in a team is going to get the job every time. If you want to thrive in your job in Denmark, you'll benefit by demonstrating how good you are at working in a team - best of luck!

There you have it! Remember these cultural norms, and you'll thrive in your new job in Denmark.

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