Discussing Danish dress code
Navigating the do's and don'ts of an office wardrobe in Denmark. Our cultural detective Jane gives us some tips and hints.
Text: Jane Elgård Petersen
When you first arrive in Denmark, you might observe that we (the Danes) are relatively relaxed regarding the dress code during business hours compared to many other countries. But you might not know that it differs depending on your business type and job position.
In some Danish companies, the dress code is relatively conservative - meaning wearing a suit and a tie, even in daily office work. So, for example, ladies might not be able to wear trousers unless it's a suit. This is often found at the head offices of banks and international companies operating in Denmark. Fortunately, the dress code has evolved and is not as rigid anymore.
My personal experience is that wearing a conservative outfit from time to time only meets the employees' expectations and not necessarily the company's official dress code. So do yourself a favour - check your company's official dress code before you start your new job.
Have you been invited to a business gathering after work? The invitation might say dress business/casual. That could mean well-pressed jeans, a blazer, a cardigan, a polo shirt, or a shirt with no tie will be acceptable for men. Women could wear an informal dress, smart jeans, and comfortable shoes.
If the invitation is for a formal dinner, it usually states what dress code is acceptable. It can depend on the other guests, whether they are internationals, or it might also depend on where the dinner is located. If it's been held in a fancy, well-renowned restaurant, the dress code could also be quite formal, so if you have any doubts, ask your colleagues and avoid any embarrassment. They might also have the same questions if it is their first invitation to such an event.
A few years ago, I heard a story from a new manager at a Danish bank who shared her first-hand experience with a group of underperforming IT employees.
She was the manager of several departments in the bank, and the official dress code was the same for every employee. Each section had its individual KPIs and job descriptions. All sections performed very well apart from the IT department.
This concerned her greatly, but how would she ensure a better performance from the IT department? She knew they all had the best qualifications, and several had years of experience. So what was wrong?
She observed how the group acted in their daily work for a period, and what she discovered interested her. IT people are often introverts and uncomfortable speaking to new people besides their closest colleagues. They tend to keep to themselves, do their work, upscale their creative ideas, and find suitable solutions to IT problems.
The manager accepted that she needed specific and individual rules for this department and staff. Based on her observations, she created a unique set of rules, including the dress code. First, she allowed flexible working hours as long as their deadlines were met. This meant they could go to the canteen when it wasn't as busy so they wouldn't have to interact with too many people. Finally, they were allowed to dress in what was comfortable for them. This would be acceptable if they wanted to wear loose-fit jeans, t-shirts, or shorts during the summer.
Making these new changes also meant informing the rest of the company that this new dress code was acceptable and exclusively for the IT department. This also meant she had to be prepared for many questions and why this was unavailable to all employees.
The results of this experiment were pleasantly surprising. From the day this new structure was made official to the whole company, the IT department began enjoying their daily work much more, resulting in better performance.