The Guide to Danish Work Culture
Welcome to this 2nd part of the Guide to the Danish Labour Market. This newsletter will focus on the culture of the Danish workplace and will dive into both peculiar and important parts of it. A big part of the Danish labour market culture, is the work/life balance. We have already written an entire newsletter dedicated to this subject - you can read it here. So, this newsletter will focus on the other very important parts of the Danish labour market culture. The working environment specifically and in general.

If you want to read the first part of this Labour market series, click here

The Working Environment
According to the OECD Better Life Index, Denmark performs well in many dimensions of well-being relative to most countries. Denmark outperforms the average in education, health, environmental quality, social connections, civic engagement, and life satisfaction. Denmark does however shine brighter in three other areas – safety, jobs and work/life balance. In terms of the international workforce specifically, the Expat Study of 2020, conducted for Danish Industry, among others, shows that a majority of expats enjoy living and working in Denmark. The same study concludes that expats working in Denmark are generally satisfied with their jobs from a professional and personal point of view, and that they find the Danish work culture appealing. You can read more about the study, by clicking here.

The Danish work culture is of course mostly created in a collaboration between the employer and the employee. However, Denmark has had regulation on worker protection since 1873, and today The Danish Working Environment Authority regulates through the Working Environment Act. This act works as a framework for the workplaces and lays down the general objectives and requirements in relation to the working environment.

Click the button below, to read more about the Working Environment Authority and how it can help internationals.
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The Different Danes
The Danes are notorious for behaving exactly like only Danes do. These will be some of the ways that Danes might surprise you or stand out from what you have tried before in a work environment.
For the love of Coffee
Coffee seems to be the most consumed beverage throughout the workspaces of Denmark. Many months will go by, before you get the chance to see a colleague without a cup of coffee in their hand or in front of them at their work desk.

The love of coffee has even had a linguistic influence on the work culture. The "kaffeaftale", directly translated as "coffee appointment" has been made the common description of an informal business meeting. Asking your colleague for a "kaffeaftale" is thus an easy way of describing what type of meeting you envision having.

The affection for coffee seems to have no boundaries, but why is this? Apart from the taste and energizing effects, there has to be another reason that makes the Danes dive head-first into the coffee cup from they arrive till they leave work. Maybe it has something to do with the high prices of coffee when you drink at cafés or buy it in the supermarket, or maybe the Danish climate invites the consumption of hot beverages. Your guess is as good as ours.
Talking small
The love of the boiling brown liquid may also stem from its faciliatory qualities when it comes to conversation. Although the Danes are not known for being one of the most talkative folk in the world, they do, like most everyone else, need a break during their working hours.

Having a chat over coffee or just taking a quick detour through the offices together is a common occurrence in the Danish workplaces and you should in no way feel ashamed by doing so. Small talking, if you enjoy it or not, is used by many Danes at work, to give both your eyes and fingers a break from screen and keyboard.

Humans are widely recognized to have an attention span of 50 minutes at most. This is also recognized at the Danish workplaces, and so zoning out, small talking with colleagues or simply stretching your legs for a couple of minutes is more than accepted in Denmark.

If you lack conversation topics, there is always one easy way to start. The Danes speak about the weather in such amounts, that even the news broadcasts dedicate at least 10 minutes of their time to describe the outside. A sentence like "dejligt vejr i dag, hva?" (lovely weather today, isn't it?) will surely kickstart a conversation with a colleague.
Humor, sarcasm, and irony
You might have already heard this, but the Danes are rather sarcastic in their humor. Although sarcasm is defined as an ironic expression with the intention to cut or wound, that is NOT how it is used by most Danes. This international understanding of sarcasm and the language barrier which often accompanies it, can lead to misunderstandings between expats and Danes. But know, that often sarcasm in Denmark is used, not to hurt, but to shine a light on a gloomy situation.

Humor in Denmark is part of how we communicate with each other across all social situations. This includes the workplace. You will most definitely encounter sarcasm and irony in your workplace. Being (or at least trying to be) funny and being professional are not mutually exclusive in Denmark.
Danish Workplace Culture - Essentials
The "flat" structure
The flat hierarchical structure of many Danish workplaces places top of the list when internationals are to describe what differentiates Denmark from other countries. Generally, it is described as not only flat, but also invisible. Often you will see the manager or boss of the office situated, not in a designated office, but among the others in the department. This is not indicative of people not knowing who is in charge, the material difference of the working environment is just eliminated. In most workplaces it is okay, and even expected for everyone to contribute with ideas and opinions. Although people are not paid the same, everyone's contribution, experience and opinion is highly valued and seen as an integral part of a successful company.
Informal atmosphere
What came first, the flat structure or the informal atmosphere? A rhetorical question, which is near impossible to answer. However, it serves as an example of the two being inseparable and results of each other. Usually, the Danish workplaces are informal, laidback, and open in their style of communication. Some people might be used to calling their boss or even their co-workers "Ms.", "Mr.", "Sir" etc. This is not necessary whatsoever. In fact, everyone, including managers, is on a first-name basis in a Danish workplace. It might be a bit more formal in e-mail communications, however the classically informal "you" (du) is used almost exclusively when addressing each other.

The informality of the Danish workplaces is also seen through peoples' attire. Work attire is mostly casual, and rarely will you be explicitly required to business suit and tie up. Most workplaces will have both baggy jeans and tight suit pants. What people wear, depends on their own personal styles and the specific occasion. The Danes are however quite fashionable, and many people (especially in younger generations) will look dashing and dapper on a rainy Tuesday. BUT you don't have to, and people certainly will not look at you differently because of it.

You should note that some business environments, such as law, consulting, or finances, might expect you to meet more formal dress codes.
Messing up - At kvaje sig
In Denmark there is a tradition called "kvajebajer" or "kvajekage", which means "failure beer" or "failure cake". This is a play on the expression, "at kvaje sig", which means to mess up.
This tradition might not be something that you meet, and it might not be something that people will indulge in; however, every Dane will know what it is if you ask them.

Although the tradition is not itself ubiquitous, it does tell a story of a ubiquitous culture in the Danish workplace. Most people will work through the mantra of freedom under responsibility. This means that it is expected for everyone to take responsibility and be able to work independently, within their ability. This does not however mean that you should not ask for help, it just means that you are entrusted with handling your responsibilities. Help will be given in Denmark, to those who ask for it. Asking for help is of course a precautionary measure and the possibility still exists that you strike out on luck and mess up. If that is the case, you shouldn't encounter any hard feelings from your colleagues or boss. Owning up to your mistakes is greatly appreciated, however trying to hide or cover up your mistakes, will be received in a contrastingly negative way. It is human to fail, and the "kvajebajer" is a symbol of exactly that.
Work in Denmark have produced a series of free of charge e-learning courses focusing on Danish work, from finding a job to an introduction to Danish workplace culture. Be sure to check them out if this newsletter doesn't quench your thirst. You can find them by clicking the link below.
Making Friends
A big part of settling into a new job, is of course making friends. Or at least getting friendly with colleagues. Becoming acquainted with your Danish colleagues also means that you will become more acquainted with Danish culture. Together, these two form a solid foundation for assimilation, and most importantly - feeling at home.
The (Office) Christmas Party - "Julefrokost"
If you have a job in Denmark, you might have already been invited to this. The (Office) Christmas Party, "julefrokosten". It is by far the biggest yearly non-family social event in Denmark. Both privately and professionally. At your workplace however you might struggle to use 'professional' as an adjective, when describing the phenomenon.

Usually held sometime during the month of December, the "julefrokost" has become tradition at most workplaces nationwide. Although it is of course Christmas-themed, the reason behind its reoccurrence lies in its importance to the spirit of the workplace. The "julefrokost" is first and foremost a social event and is used as a culminating celebration of the professional year. Many companies use it as a way to show gratitude towards their employees, and it is increasingly common to see the "julefrokost" combined with teambuilding to varying extents.

Alcohol will be served in most cases, and especially the "snaps" may not be to your liking. The sometimes wild nature of the "julefrokost" has received wide media coverage in the past, but regardless of how your workplace does it, be sure to only do - and drink - what you are comfortable with.
Become involved in your area - "Foreningsliv"
Denmark has a unique history of sporting communities. Throughout the country you will find small and large sports clubs, run and owned by locals. In Danish, they are called "foreninger".

The key descriptions of these "foreninger" are community, volunteering and room for diversity, and thus they are a perfect way to ingratiate yourself in the culture around you, and a perfect way to make friends. Many workplaces will also have collegial communities which focus on sports. Signing up to these, is of course a tremendous way to get to know your colleagues, but it is also a wonderful way of getting exercise done. A win-win deal, which will most definitely provide you with both mental and physical wellbeing.

If your workplace doesn't have a sporting community, there are surely colleagues, who are either looking for, or are already in, a sporting group, which you can join.
If you want to know more about what your neighborhood has to offer you, be sure to check out the website of DGI, a sports association, which covers the whole country.
The Danish language
Although Danes are generally proficient in English (we are actually top 5 in the world, according to a new index from EF Education), a lot of communication is naturally in Danish.

It is possible to live and make a career in Denmark without speaking Danish. Still, for most internationals, it will strongly enhance and elevate the social and professional experiences if they study the Danish language. The beforementioned humor and sarcasm of the Danes is also deeply imbedded in the language, and it can be hard to differentiate a sarcastic joke from a serious statement, if you don't know the language.

The Danish language is also one of the most important gateways into building relationships at work or in your free-time. Lost in Translation is not only a great movie, but also something that happens often, when two different languages communicate.

The proper integration of both the private and professional parts of life, benefit from learning the language of the country you are in. In Denmark, many internationals have the opportunity to receive free courses in the Danish language. Most internationals are eligible for free courses within the first 5 years of arriving in Denmark.

Click the button below to find the language schools in your area. The website is in Danish, but the different schools are categorized by region, and there is a phone number that you will be able to call.
Upcoming events for you
Click the link above to sign up
Is the Danish tax System an overwhelming experience? It doesn't have to be! Join our free Danish tax webinar this winter!

It's time to review your preliminary income assessment - but don't worry, because we're here to help you out and answer questions you may have about your preliminary income assessment or just in general about taxes.

Prepare for the live Q&A by watching a prerecorded video.

The Danish Tax System online Q&A will be held live on December 6, from 17:00 to 18:30.

The seminar is tailored for internationals who are living and working in Denmark.
click the link above to sign up
This informative and workshop-based event will provide you with an understanding of the unique Danish workplace culture.

Are you familiar with the (un)written rules at your workplace? Do you know your rights and obligations as an employee in Denmark? Have you wondered how to handle conflicts within your team?

This (free of charge) event will give you the chance to discuss your everyday challenges in a workshop-based setting.

This event is a collaboration between International House Copenhagen, the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) and the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) and will take place on the 12th of December, from 17:00 to 19:00, at International House Copenhagen
click the link above to sign up
Families in Aarhus is THE new initiative for all international and Danish families in town!

International Community, Aarhus University, and Dokk1 have joined forces to create a space for families to meet up, socialize, and network while the children play.

This event is for children of all ages (and their parents) and is the perfect opportunity to build local connections, meet future playmates, and compare experiences as families. The area for children at families at Dokk1 offers great opportunities for both small and older children.

The event takes place the last Wednesday of every month. The next event will take place on the 29th of November, from 10:00 to 12:00, at Dokk1, Æsken.
Do you have a story that is relevant to this community? Then we encourage you to email us at; Maybe we can feature you, your story or your ideas in a future edition of the newsletter