Unwritten rules of Danish working culture

Danes sometimes need to reach out and help international employees understand the unwritten rules of Danish working culture.

Many Danish managers are surprised to discover the unwritten and unspoken rules they have been expecting the newcomers to follow, without really explaining them.

In my book, “How to Work in Denmark: Tips for Finding a Job, Succeeding at Work, and Understanding your Danish Boss,” I explain how international employees can fit into the Danish workplace.

swedes working with denmark

While outsiders sometimes see the three Scandinavian cultures as “pretty much alike”, there are significant differences when it comes to working styles.

Working with a Danish boss can be a shock for Swedes, with their extreme need for consensus and passion for sticking to whatever has been agreed on by the group.

The Danes’ more free-form, flexible approach can take Swedes by surprise, as can the Danes’ directness and sometimes lack of political correctness.

Here are a few tips for Swedes (or anyone else!) working with a Danish boss.

podcast about Denmark

One of the most popular podcasts about Denmark is the “How to Live in Denmark” podcast, which has been running since 2013.

It focuses on contemporary Danish culture, doing business in Denmark, and living in Denmark for internationals.

Kay Xander Mellish, an American living in Denmark, is the voice behind the podcast and the author of the “How to Live in Denmark” book and blog.

Flat Hierarchy Denmark's Work Culture

If you ask the Danes what they like about their business culture, they’re sure to mention the flat hierarchy.

What they mean is that a management pyramid that might have ten or more layers in a hierarchical country like Japan has only two or three layers in Denmark.

The flat hierarchy is a virtue born of necessity: salaries are high in Denmark, so middle managers are expensive. And because Danes aren’t supervised or monitored as much as many employees elsewhere, middle management isn’t as necessary.

Selling in Denmark

Selling in Denmark isn’t about exaggeration or appeals to the emotional side of buying.

Danish customers want deep product knowledge and a readiness to explain specific benefits, delivered in a calm, steady tone.

Trustworthiness is the most important factor when selling in Denmark, as well as a comprehensive understanding of what the product can offer and how it performs against its competitors in the Danish market.

In general, the Danes believe that a good product sells itself.

Danish working culture vs Swedish working culture

Comparing Danish working culture vs Swedish working culture results in a lot of similarities, but a few significant differences.

Both countries shy away from hierarchy and rarely use job titles. Both place a strong emphasis on job satisfaction and work-life balance.

And both offer extensive benefits to workers, including generous time off to care for children. But Swedes are more consensus-oriented than the Danes, while Danes are more spontaneous and rely more on humor in the workplace.

the danish kvajbager

A kvajebajer, or “failure beer” is a Danish tradition.

You buy one for all your colleagues when they’ve just seen you make a foolish or avoidable mistake.

Another option is a kvajekage, or “failure cake”, which serves pretty much the same purpose without alcohol.

US business culture vs Danish business culture

Americans and Danes both enjoy a good business deal, but there are significant differences between US business culture vs Danish business culture.

The most significant difference is the importance of trust in Danish culture and business culture.

As a small country where people generally know each other, it’s easy for the Danes to trust each other, and in business terms this means less monitoring and less record-keeping. Lawsuits and litigation is much less common in Denmark than they are in the US, so Danes spend less time documenting their activities in case of a lawsuit.

Unwritten rules of Danish working culture

Danish workplace culture is admired all over the world. Its flat hierarchy, participatory management, trust and transparency make for an excellent working environment, and the flexible working hours, extensive paid vacation, and parental leave allow for a good work-life balance.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s national “flexicurity” model allows businesses to hire and fire easily, knowing their workers have the soft pillow of the Danish welfare state to catch them if they fall.

While Denmark’s workplace culture attracts people from all over the world, it’s a good idea to review the basics before your first day of work in Denmark.

move to denmark from the usa

Many Americans ask if it’s possible to move to Denmark from the USA. The answer is: yes, it’s possible, but it isn’t easy. When it comes to immigration, Denmark favors immigrants who will be able to work, pay taxes, and help maintain the welfare state. If you are over retirement age or unable to work for some other reason, it could be difficult to move to Denmark.