Managing in Denmark
Making Work-Life Balance a Priority
When you think of Denmark, what springs to mind? Brightly colored houses, huge sky-blue container ships, or perhaps the Little Mermaid?
Denmark boasts all of these things, but this small Scandinavian country is also one of the easiest places in the world to do business. It has a stable democracy, a modern, dynamic economy, and an efficient and flexible working culture.
Denmark is an exceptional country in which to live and work. If you relocate here to do business, you'll soon notice the high standards of living, the low crime rates, and the importance of family and personal time. Danes have mastered the art of living a "balanced" happy life, and are able to pursue rewarding careers while making the most of life away from the office.
In this article, we'll explore how to live and work successfully in Denmark.
This article is intended as a general guide only. Pay attention to how other people behave in different situations, keep an open mind, and use your own best judgment when managing a Danish team.
Danish Life and Culture
Denmark is a small country of around 16,570 square miles. It comprises one large peninsula and several hundred islands, and has a population of only 5.7 million people. It is the southernmost country in Scandinavia – the other two being Norway and Sweden – and it's bordered by Germany in the south. The self-governing, distant territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands are also part of the Danish kingdom.
Denmark is the southernmost country in Scandinavia and it's bordered by Germany in the south.
Denmark is a member state of the European Union, but it's not part of the Eurozone and the krone remains the official currency. The capital city is Copenhagen, and the country's other cities are small (by international standards) but highly developed.
The first thing that strikes many visitors is the Danes' cheerfulness. The country has been ranked first in the United Nations' annual World Happiness Report for two years running, and it's consistently listed in the top three.
Quality family and leisure time is highly valued in Denmark, and "hygge" defines Danish culture. "Hygge" is difficult to translate, but for Danes it conjures up images of happy times spent with family and friends. It can encompass everything from the feeling of being at home by the fire to the fun of being at a party, laughing with friends, eating smørrebrød (open sandwiches), and drinking one of Denmark's famous lagers. Grasp the concept of "hygge," and you'll be well on your way to understanding the Danish people!
Cycling is a big part of Danish culture. Be careful not to mistake cycle lanes for sidewalks, particularly in big cities. Trains are bicycle-friendly, and public transport is generally of a high standard.
In Denmark, more than 98 percent of the population speaks Danish, either as a first or second language. People speak Greenlandic and Faroese in their respective territories, and German is a minority language in the south. English is widely spoken throughout the business community, and many people understand both Norwegian and Swedish.
|How are you?||Hvordan går det?||Vor-dan gore d|
|My name is…||Jeg hedder…||Yay hedhuh|
|Good morning||Godmorgen||Good morgen|
|I'm sorry||Det må du undskylde||Dee m'o doo on'skil'eh|
|Please||Vær så venlig||Ver saw venlee|
The Danish workplace is known for "flexicurity" – a combination of a flexible labor market and a high level of social security protection that promotes productivity. In this "flexicure" country, individual employers and trade unions can agree terms of employment, rather than such terms being dictated by law.
Danes typically work up to 37 hours per week, and can agree to increase this to 48 hours in return for overtime payments. Most Danish employers respect the importance of family life, and they allow their team members some flexibility in their working hours.
People in Denmark enjoy generous vacation allowances. Each person is entitled to 25 days of paid leave per year, as long as he or she has worked for an organization for 12 months before the start of the vacation year (which runs from May 1 to April 30). If not, he can take 2.08 days of paid leave for each full month that he has worked.
Many Danish traditions and festivals are based around the Christian calendar. Danes celebrate the following national holidays:
- New Year's Day – January 1.
- Maundy Thursday – Date changes each year (March 29 in 2018).
- Good Friday – Date changes each year (March 30 in 2018).
- Easter Day – Date changes each year (April 1 in 2018).
- Easter Monday – Date changes each year (April 2 in 2018).
- Great Prayer Day – Date changes each year (April 27 in 2018).
- Ascension Day – Date changes each year (May 10 in 2018).
- Whit Sunday – Date changes each year (May 20 in 2018).
- Whit Monday – Date changes each year (May 21 in 2018).
- Christmas Day – December 25.
- Second Christmas Day – December 26.
See timeanddate.com for an up-to-date list of Denmark's public holidays.
Working parents are entitled to 52 weeks of leave (shared between mother and father) around the birth of a child. Mothers are provided with a maternity allowance, which employers can top up to match a full salary, and four weeks of pregnancy leave before giving birth. They must also take two weeks off after the birth, and are entitled to a further 12 weeks' maternity leave. Fathers can take two consecutive weeks of paternity leave during this time. Parents can then divide the balance – 32 weeks of parental leave – between them, and they may extend it by a further 14 weeks of paid leave.
Remember that employment laws change. So, make sure that you stay up to date with the current legislation in Denmark.
Denmark is well known as a tolerant, informal and liberal country, but it's still possible to offend someone if you don't know what's expected of you. So, treat people with respect, learn Danish etiquette, and make an effort to understand your team members.
- Punctuality: Danes arrive on time for work, business meetings, and social engagements, and they'll expect you to do the same.
- Dress code: Think "smart and professional, but understated" when dressing for work. Danes might generally be relaxed and informal, but consider what you wear and err on the conservative side if you're in doubt.
- Greetings: Greet colleagues with a firm, brief handshake and repeat the gesture when you say goodbye. Make the effort to accompany your handshake with a few Danish words, and you'll make a good first impression.
- Titles: It's appropriate to use titles when you first meet someone. Danes will soon call you by your first name, but wait until someone invites you before you use theirs.
- Behavior: Reserved, low-key behavior is the norm in Denmark. So, moderate your words and actions, and be aware that modesty works better than boastfulness and pretension.
- Personal space: Danes like to have around two arms' length of personal space between one another, which is slightly more than in many cultures. Make an effort to respect this, so that you don't make your Danish team members feel uncomfortable.
- Privacy: Avoid talking about subjects that are too personal. Danes consider topics such as religion, for example, to be a private matter.
- Gifts: Gift giving in business situations isn't common practice, but do take flowers or a good bottle of wine if you're invited to a colleague's home for dinner.
- Watch and learn: Observe the people around you and follow their lead if you're unsure about what to do or how to behave.
How to Get the Best From Your Team
In Denmark, embracing "hygge" is key to getting the best from your team. Always be conscious of the high value that Danes place on family and leisure time. Encourage your team members to achieve a good work-life balance by supporting flexible working and urging people to leave on time.
However, don't mistake the Danish love of "time out" as sloppiness or laziness. In fact, Danes value hard work and productivity, they just expect a clear divide between home and work life. Encourage and facilitate this, and your people will respect you for it.
Make an effort to plan ahead whenever you can. For example, give your team members at least two weeks' notice when you schedule meetings, and bear in mind that most Danes aren't available for weekday meetings after 4 p.m. So, book meetings for mid-morning or early afternoon where possible, and avoid July and August, as many Danes take vacations during these months.
When you attend a meeting, make sure that you come prepared and that you don't run over time. Start with a few minutes of casual conversation, but get down to business quickly. Be direct and encourage everyone to contribute, whatever their status or title. Ensure that everyone on your team has a chance to speak, and that they use the allotted time productively.
Denmark is one of the most equal societies in the world, and hierarchies within workplaces are flat. Managers prefer to be seen as "one of the team" rather than as "the person in charge." Collaboration, trust and informality are valued more than micromanaging and autocracy. So, adopt a proactive, participatory approach and encourage team members to take the initiative, and you'll help them to perform at their best.
Likewise, taking the initiative as the new manager – both at work and in social gatherings – will help you to settle in and make a good first impression. Many Danish employers organize social clubs and events, which can help you bond with your new colleagues.
Read our article on The Seven Dimensions of Culture for more on understanding cultural differences.
Denmark is one of the happiest, most prosperous, and most forward-thinking countries in the world, and the World Bank consistently ranks it as one of the easiest places to do business. The standard of living and work-life balance that most Danes enjoy make the country very attractive to visitors.
Manage your Danish team informally yet professionally by treating people as equals, and by blending in with their understated norms of behavior. Most importantly, respect the value that Danes put on their family and free time. Helping people to maintain their work-life balance will be the key to your success. Follow the Danish approach yourself, and you'll soon be reaping the rewards too.