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.
Doing business in Denmark can be a pleasure for internationals: the Danish business culture prizes transparency, trustworthiness, and innovation. Yet Danish business manners aren’t always clear if you come from abroad.
Should you bring a gift for your Danish business contact? How much small talk is required before you get down to a business deal in Denmark? Does Danish business etiquette require you to treat men and women differently, or show special respect for the management team versus other employees?
Kay Xander Mellish is a cultural trainer and speaker based in Copenhagen, Denmark who offers tips on working in Denmark for internationals. Kay is a US-Danish dual citizen and the author of “How to Work in Denmark” and “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.”
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.
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.
Amerikansk foredragsholder Kay Xander Mellish leverer informerende og underholdende præsentationer om kulturelle forskelle og dansk arbejdskultur – samt hjælper danskere og udlændinge til at le, lære, omgå og forstå hinanden bedre.
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.
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.
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.
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 Americans, middle management isn’t as necessary.
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.