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Danish work culture - what to expect

If you are entering the Danish job market for the first time, as an international, then here is a little guide of what you can expect.

Photographs: iStock

Text: Greete Eluri

Flat hierarchy, an open-door policy to the managers’ office, taking initiative, consensus during the meetings, and lots of coffee and cake. It doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Take the initiative and ask questions

Your contract is signed, and you are eagerly waiting for that first day. It’s here – now what? Be ready to go around, shaking the hands of your new colleagues, and getting introduced to all the practicalities. Normally, an introduction plan would be ready for you when you start. This will give you an idea of which trainings you will be part of what you are going to do and who you will meet.

When it comes to work, Danish employers expect people to take the initiative. If you see something which could be done more effectively, have your solution ready, and address it to your manager – this is normally highly appreciated. This also means that when you get a task, your manager will not tell you how you should do it, it is up to you to figure it out. You can ask for guidance, if in doubt, but they trust you to find a solution, which in the end you will discuss together. Your manager won’t ‘hold your hand’ or micromanage you – that isn’t the norm.

"I was told when i got my first job: “Greete, remember that you do not have to eat the cake every time it’s offered to you, because there is a lot, sometimes many times a week."

If in doubt, do not be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. During my first job, I remember feeling annoyed that I had to ask help many times from my colleagues, but guess what – it is completely normal and everyone knows that. It is much worse, if a task which you have to do every day, you still don’t understand after being there three months, because you were afraid to ask. So, ask away!

Often, the organisations in Denmark have a flat hierarchy meaning ‘everyone is equal’ and no matter who you are, from a CEO to a blue-collar worker, you can talk to anyone. Forget titles as “Mr Nielsen ” and “Mrs Jensen” as this will only cause some weird looks and uncomfortableness. “Peter” or “Mette” is just fine. In some cases, the managers and teams are in one office. If they have a separate office, the door is probably open meaning you can go and have a talk to your manager without sending them an email about it.

Cake, cake and more cake

My first manager told me in my first week: “Greete, remember that you do not have to eat the cake every time it’s offered to you, because there is a lot, sometimes many times a week. I gained 5 kg when I started here, so watch out.” And she was right! Many companies have a dedicated day for cake, but it doesn’t stop there. If an employee gets a baby, buys a new house or a car, has an employment anniversary, or something else that just needs celebrating – there will be coffee and cake. In my opinion, it is one of the core principles of Danish companies – no meeting starts without coffee, it just would not happen. It is also a way for the employees to gather, mingle, and catch up with each other. So, go and get social, but watch out for your waistline!

Be curious, ask questions, show initiative, mingle, and eat (some) cake – god arbejdslyst!

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