Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture
Danish business culture is characterized by a strong sense of equality and a low power distance between different layers of the corporate hierarchy.
The boss’s door is usually open and he or she is available for a chat with employees of any job level.
Job titles are rarely used and thought rather pompous.
It’s considered OK to disagree with your boss, even in front of others in a Danish business meeting.
Danish business culture is more relaxed than Swedish business culture or German business culture. In fact, people from those countries can be frustrated by the relaxed Danes.
Even when a conclusion is reached via consensus in Danish business culture, it can be changed the next day if new or better information emerges.
Danish business culture depends on a great deal of openness and trust. If you make a mistake, your Danish business partners will expect that you admit your error immediately and get started fixing the problem.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many Danes meet their future spouses at work. Yet there are also strict laws in Denmark against sexual harassment.
Where do you draw a line between harassment and two adults developing tender feelings for each other?
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.
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
In an anti-authoritarian country like Denmark, being a boss is a precarious (social) position. Danish bosses don’t like to flaunt their authority.
In fact, when you enter a room of Danes, it is often difficult to tell which one is the boss. The social cues that point to a big cheese in other cultures – the flashy watch, the oversize office, the glamorous yet servile executive assistant – are considered poor taste in egalitarian Denmark.
On-the-job benefits in Denmark come in three categories: the kind every Danish worker gets, the kind everyone at your company gets, and the kind only top dogs at your company get.
When you talk with a future employer, there’s not all that much room for negotiation, unless you’re coming in at a very high level or have a highly sought-after specialty.
In most cases, as American kindergarteners say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Fortunately, job benefits in Denmark tend to be generous.
If you’re coming from abroad to work in Denmark, you may be bringing along your spouse. That can be great – it’s nice to have someone to shiver through the Danish summer with.
But unhappy spouses are one of the main reasons that people who come to work in Denmark end up leaving.
Denmark is not an easy place to make friends, given that Danish culture tends toward “respecting your privacy” by not striking up conversations with strangers.
It can also be tough for spouses to get jobs in Denmark, particularly well-educated spouses seeking jobs at their level of expertise.