Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Don’t work when you’re sick, plus dealing with stress

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.

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Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Is learning to speak Danish worth it?

Learning to speak Danish can be difficult, even if you speak its close linguistic cousins, English and German.

While the written language isn’t too tough to figure out, the spoken language is a headache. Danes pronounce only small bits of each word and smash those small bits together.

One foreigner told the story of two boys he saw trading football cards on a train. “Davilik!” “Davilik!” the boys kept crying out.

The foreigner, who was working hard to learn Danish, tried to look up Davilik in his dictionary – without success. There was no such word.

It was only months later that he realized they were saying, “Det vil jeg ikke!” or “I don’t want to make that trade.”

Even the Swedes and Norwegians have trouble understanding spoken Danish.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

How to handle a Danish business meeting

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.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Decoding your Danish pay slip + understanding your Danish taxes

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.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

What to wear to work in Denmark: Quiet colors, quality cut and fabric

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.

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Books, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Get the How to Work in Denmark book

The “How to Work in Denmark” book is now available!

Working in Denmark comes with a lot of benefits – but a lot of unwritten rules, too.


  • Why is it so important to take a break and eat cake with your colleagues?
  • How can you promote your skills in a job interview without breaking “The Jante Law”?
  • Is learning to speak Danish necessary? Can you succeed in your career without it?
  • What’s the secret to understanding Danish humor at the office?

With its high salaries and good work-life balance, Denmark is an attractive place to work for professionals from all over the world. But the Danish workplace, like Danish culture is a whole, is built on unwritten rules and unspoken expectations.

“How to Work in Denmark”, the book, explains some of the rules of the road in the Danish workplace as well as how to find and keep a job in Denmark.

How to buy the book
You can buy the paperback book from Arnold Busck on Strøget in Copenhagen or from Bog og Ide in Frederiksberg Center.

Or order the paperback from our webshop, or from any bookshop using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8.

You can download the “How to Work in Denmark” eBook from Amazon, from Saxo, from iTunes, or from Google Play.

Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Your first day at work in Denmark: Flowers, handshakes, passwords, and several people named Mette

On your first day at work in Denmark, you may find a pretty bouquet of flowers on your desk to welcome you.

(This terrified a Chinese acquaintance of mine, who was accustomed to receiving flowers on her last day at work. She thought she’d been fired before she ever sat down.)

In Denmark, the bouquet is just a way to say “welcome” and to add some sunshine to an arduous day that is sure to include many handshakes and computer passwords.

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Denmark and the USA, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Danish managers and American managers: 5 big differences

As a keynote speaker, I’m often asked to give presentations that help Danish companies understand their American colleagues and vice-versa. One of the biggest cultural clashes between the two countries is the differing role of the boss. Here’s a look at the contrasts between Danish managers and American managers.

1. The motivator vs the consensus-seeker

American bosses see themselves as motivators, cheerleaders, energizing their team to get the best performance out of them. A great boss is inspiring and able to bring employees along on a journey that can boost their own careers. This is why Americans buy books and watch TV shows about charismatic business leaders – from Lee Iacocca to Donald Trump to Jay-Z to millennial “Girlboss” Sophia Amoruso. A boss is a star, and employees revolve around her like planets revolve around the sun.

There are few books about famous Danish bosses. Danes are, in general, suspicious of people who think too highly of themselves and make too much money.

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Events, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Book a “How to Work in Denmark: Some tips from my experience” presentation

Why, foreigners wonder, do Danes introduce themselves by simply stating their name, instead of explaining their position and job function?

Why does the big boss ride a bike to work when he could certainly afford a car?

And why does he help clear the table after our weekly ‘morgenbrød’? Isn’t that the cleaning lady’s job?

After 16 years of working in Danish corporations, Kay Xander Mellish is personally familiar with some of the misunderstandings that can take place when Danes and foreigners work together.

Her presentation How to Work in Denmark: Some tips from my experience, which has been delivered for Novo Nordisk, HOFOR, DTU and other major audiences, helps both sides examine their assumptions and move towards a happier working environment. It contains concrete tips both foreigners and Danes can use to make their working relationships better.

A trained journalist and a former member of the communications staff at Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank, Kay runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the author of the book How to Work in Denmark and How to Live in Denmark, and is the voice behind the podcast series.

Book Kay for your group
If you represent a corporate or community group and would like to have Kay make a presentation about working in Denmark at your location, please get in touch via this site’s contact form for more information. Or read more about Kay’s other events.

How to Work in Denmark book

Get the How to Work in Denmark Book for more tips on finding a job in Denmark, succeeding at work, and understanding your Danish boss. The paperback is available at Arnold Busck on Strøget or Politikens Boghal on Radhuspladsen, at Boghandlern in Frederiksberg Center and Lyngby, and at Academic Books Copenhagen University Søndre Campus. It can also be ordered from any bookstore using the ISBN 978-743-000-80-8 or via Amazon or Saxo.com. Contact Kay to ask about bulk purchases, or visit our books site to find out how to get the eBook.

Return to the How to Live in Denmark events page