Having a sense of humor about yourself – what the Danes call “self-irony” – is one of the most important elements of fitting into Danish society and the Danish workplace.
This can take a while to get used to for foreigners from countries where power, honor, or “face” is very important.
In Denmark, if you drop the ball at work, drop your lunch entrée down the front of your business shirt, or make a fool of yourself for any other reason, you’re supposed to be able to laugh at your own bumbling.
In fact, the Danes have a tradition called the kvajebajer (failure beer) or kvajekage (failure cake.)
The person who makes a big mistake offers this beer or cake to others as a way of playfully admitting that he or she failed to live up to expectations.
In some countries, such as the US, “working sick” is a badge of honor. You are supposed to be so dedicated to your team or to the assignment that you come to work even if you have a bad cold or a slight fever.
In Denmark, the opposite is true. If you feel you’ve got the beginnings of something that could be contagious, particularly a stomach virus, you are considered a better team member if you stay home that day and care for your health. You are not expected to work from home or answer emails if you are ill.
It’s also considered OK to take a day or two off if you have a sick child at home, although in these cases you may be asked to participate in a phone meeting or some other work-related activity while your little darling sleeps.
Kay Xander Mellish’s TEDx Talk “The Privileged Immigrant” looks at highly-educated immigrants who choose to relocate for professional or personal reasons.
What responsibilities do these privileged immigrants have to the places where they’ve chosen to live?
In the talk, which was delivered April 14, 2018 at TEDx Odense, Kay suggests that immigrants with options need to research the basic values of the place where they intend to move in order to make sure that their own values are in line with the people who already live there.
A Danish business meeting is just one element of the Danish decision-making process – which can be extensive, as the people involved seek consensus on whatever issue is being discussed. There’s an old Danish saying that “A disagreement is a discussion that ended too soon.”
So get to the meeting location precisely on time – or even a couple of minutes early – and be ready to say your piece. On some occasions, you should also be ready to be in it for the long haul.
One thing that sets apart Danish (or Nordic) meetings is that every single person, from the boss down to the student helper, will be having his or her say on the matter at hand.
Denmark’s highest-circulation newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten, published an extensive interview with “How to Work in Denmark” author Kay Xander Mellish about working culture in Denmark.
Accompanied by photos taken at the Copenhagen headquarters of Carlsberg, Kay’s former workplace, the article goes into Kay’s reasons for coming to Denmark and her observations about the Danish workplace.
More than 200,000 foreigners are now at work in Denmark, according to the Confederation of Danish Industry. But the fine points of business etiquette in Denmark can be tricky for non-Danes. Many of the “rules” are unwritten, and Danes have expectations of their business partners they might not always be aware of themselves.
In an article for TheLocal.dk, Kay talks about some of these unsaid expectations and unwritten rules of Danish business etiquette.
When you get your first pay slip from a Danish company, the first thing you’ll probably notice is how small it is. What you thought would be your income in Denmark will have been diminished by Denmark’s world-champion income taxes.
Understanding your Danish taxes can be tricky, however, because they are divided into so many different parts.
Understanding your Danish taxes
The most important two lines on the pay slip are brutto, which is what your employer is paying you, and netto, which is what you’ll actually get to take home. In between will be several lines of taxes you must pay.
Kay Xander Mellish’s new book on Danish working culture, How to Work in Denmark, has received extensive coverage in the Danish media, including an appearance on the nationally-televised “Go’ Morgen Danmark” to publicize the book.
Kay also stopped by the P1 Morgen studios in DR Byen to discuss the book (listen here). She also chatted with Anders Christiansen on Radio 24-7 about the ins and outs of Danish working culture, and appeared with Karen Høgh on her Solopreneur podcast.
There’s no reason to spend a lot on what you wear to work in Denmark. Danes, by nature, are not flashy dressers.
In most Danish business environments, you’ll be perfectly well dressed in a fitted pair of business trousers, dark shoes, and a solid-color sweater or dress shirt. Male or female, you’ll never go wrong with quiet colors like burgundy, dark blue, dark green, brown, or black.
Subtle good taste is the preferred style. Obvious designer labels are considered tacky, but quality cut and fabric are appreciated.