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 new 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.
The do’s and don’ts of Danish business culture are straightforward. In this country where quality and modesty are some of the most important values, never brag or oversell yourself, or act as if you are more important than any member of the team.
One of the most important of the Danish business culture do’s and don’ts is “do not make any promise you cannot keep.” Trustworthiness is key to Danish culture and Danish business culture.
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.
Business culture in Denmark places a high priority on trustworthiness, efficiency, and quality. The most significant cultural differences in Danish business culture compared to the USA are the differing attitudes towards hierarchy and ambition, and the contrast between Danish trust and the US tendency towards litigation and lawsuits. In addition, Americans like to show off their energy and enthusiasm, which can create conflicts with the calm, reserved, practical Danes.
Culture shock for an American in Denmark might include:
– Long paid vacations, including a minimum of three weeks in the summer
– The high cost of driving – new cars are taxed at up to 150% of their purchase price – and the difficulty of obtaining a drivers’ license
– Alcohol use among children as young as 12, and heavy alcohol use even among well-educated adults
– An emphasis on cooperation over competition, and an occasional dislike of elites and excellence
– A lack of ethnic diversity, and a humor that can seem harsh to outsiders.
Denmark’s workplace culture reflects the flat hierarchy and egalitarianism Danes value so highly. In practice, this can mean skipping over several layers of management to speak directly to the big boss. This is often not well-received by their counterparts in other business cultures.
Guides to business etiquette in Denmark don’t usually focus on arcane points of manners like who sits where and who speaks first: the Danes are too relaxed and egalitarian for that. What’s most important when it comes to business manners in Denmark is showing the appropriate respect to every individual and every level in the company. Just greeting the big boss while forgetting to acknowledge his or her team will get you off on the wrong foot. When you enter a room full of Danish businesspeople, it’s important to introduce yourself individually to each person, making eye contact, and shaking hands if possible.
The cultural differences between the US and Denmark have to do with the countries’ differing histories, differing climates, and different population mixes. As Kay Xander Mellish says in her book “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans”, Danes willingly pay very high taxes in order to support the Danish social welfare state.
“Danes love their cradle-to-grave welfare state. In two decades of living here, I’ve never met a single person who wanted it dismantled, ” writes Mellish, a dual citizen of the US and Denmark. “But it is a commitment, a national commitment. Everyone with the ability to work must work, and must pay substantial taxes, in order to finance the services shared by all. At the same time, everyone accepts that there will be limits on services so there is enough to go around.”
Mellish points out that, for example, annual physicals are unknown in the Danish health system, and that mammograms are given only once every two years starting at age 50, as opposed to every year starting at 40 many places in the US.
While there are plenty of cultural differences between the US and Denmark, the two cultures do have a lot in common.
Both countries have an economic system based on free market capitalism, both have a strong attachment to their constitutions and the idea of freedom of speech and religion, and both have a reputation for business and technological innovation.
The cultural differences between the US and Denmark have more to do with the countries’ differing histories, differing climates, and different population mixes.
The importance of trust, the value placed on competition, and the acceptance of diversity are some of the cultural differences between the US and Denmark.
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.