Danish Business Culture

The subtle art of understanding Danish business culture

Are you considering doing business in Denmark? Just passing through for a meeting or two? Maybe you plan to start or go into business with a Danish firm? Danish business culture is unique and worth learning a little about before making the jump.

All of Scandinavia ranks high on happiness, safety, innovation and creativity. Reaping the benefits of these incredible countries can be a little tricky if you go in unprepared. But fret not! We’ve got your back!

Here we discuss the varying oddities of the Denmark business etiquette intricacies and how to navigate them.

Informal and non-hierarchical

One of the first things you are bound to notice at the office and during Zoom meetings, is the lack of formality between your colleagues and your boss. 

Businesses in Denmark are proud of their minimal hierarchical structures. Expect that your colleagues and bosses will call you by your first name and speak to you as an equal. 

Your boss is not so much your boss as she is your friend. Sort of. It’s not uncommon for her to go get a drink with you after office hours or expect you to critique her during discussions.

This is complemented with a high degree of self-sufficiency. You are expected to complete tasks effectively and efficiently, but it’s also completely acceptable to get a little drunk with the boss on a weekly basis.

Danish Business Culture

Gender equality exists across businesses in Denmark

Denmark ranks as the 2nd most gender equal country in the EU. Sexual harassment is not tolerated and any report of such is met with kindness and immediate action.

Businesses in Denmark boast of a high number of women on the job market and in high positions. As a woman, you should expect to be treated with just as much respect when speaking as your male counterparts.

Unfortunately, gender inequality exists everywhere, including within Danish business culture. However, if you are coming from the US or UK, you are sure to notice a difference. Copenhagen boasts some of the safest streets in Europe no matter what time of day or night.

Violent crimes are usually isolated to gang communities. It is generally expected that if a violent crime does happen, it makes headline news and is treated as something out of place.

Office culture

So, what’s it like in the office? Well, it’s pretty much what you would expect. People are hard at work, but they aren’t against a little office humor either. 

Don’t sweat it if you don’t understand Danish humor right off the bat. You can definitely get away with witty sarcasm and innocent jokes to start with. 

Everyone is expected to participate in discussions. No matter where you find yourself in the hierarchy, your critique/advice/insight are invaluable in the eyes of your colleagues (including your boss) and you are encouraged to offer your expertise.

Most Danes speak excellent English, especially within the business world. You will probably hear a mix of English and Danish around the office. Learning Danish is not necessary, but most visas offer free Danish language courses and it might come in handy.

Pronouncing subtly different, odd sounding vowels can be a little challenging in the beginning. However, Danish is not a particularly hard language to learn as a native English speaker.

A few months into your Danish language courses and you will probably be able to pick up on the gist of what’s being talked about around the office.

Danish Business Culture

Mixing business and alcohol

No matter where you come from, there is just no way you are going to not notice the unique attitude around alcohol.

Doing business in Denmark means that you will probably have a coworker or two who goes to get an after-work drink. Every day.

Don’t worry! They aren’t the alcoholics you might think. The average Dane might have 1 drink a day. Maybe two if the kids went to sleep early. On a Friday/Saturday evening, the average Dane will probably triple that amount.

Danes drink a lot of Alcohol. But not in the way you think and not in the way you have seen before.

Walking through the streets of Copenhagen, you are bound to notice the influx of drunk people on the weekends. They come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Some in business suits, some no older than 15.

The thing is, Danes have been subjected to the idea of alcohol from a young age, and there is very little taboo about it. They understand when and how it can be used in a way that does not hurt their body, life or job performance.

Most of the time.

You might see Jens Thursday night (aka little Friday) feeling a little more drunk than he intended, but you can bet he will be at the office in the morning ready to work. He might get a few joking slaps on the back for his hangover, but he has tried this before and he won’t let you down.

The world’s most innovative workforce

So, you’re probably thinking, with all this drinking and lack of hierarchy, the Danes must not be very good at what they do, right?

Wrong!

Danes are some of the most sought after creative and innovative minds on the planet.

What is their secret? How do they get to have all this fun and stay attentive to their families and work-life?

The Danish system is ripe with healthy work-life checks and balances. 37 hour work weeks are the norm and most Danes try to leave early on Fridays, if they don’t already have the day off.

All full-time workers are legally entitled to 5 weeks paid vacation every year, no matter what. On top of vacation time, every working Dane (and expat) gets something called ‘vacation money’ around spring time.

That’s extra money on top of your paid vacation. Every year. 

How is all this possible? Well… they are really good at their jobs. All this vacation time has recharged and energized them. So that specialization they have, in that field they are a little too nerdy about, is really easy to do with a healthy work/life balance.

How did they get so good?

Danes are highly educated with a dominating middle class. They are specialists and tend to be very good at the very specific trade they intend to focus on.

Rather than an education system based on memorization and regurgitation, education in Denmark stimulates creativity and cultivates problem solving. You are expected to understand the limits of your academic understanding and argue for your idea of your strengths.

A student in Denmark will not get far without the ability to critique and discuss his work beyond the curriculum.

This creates a naturally innovative and solution driven workforce where critique is respected and appreciated. Danes are team players and welcome new ideas and unique insight. Expect to be encouraged rather than competed with.

Making friends

While all this might sound like the dream, there is a downside.

Danes are notoriously hard to become friends with. This is especially true for Americans, who have a reputation for being “very friendly”.

It’s not that they aren’t nice! Danes are very polite and take friendship very seriously.

Friends are people you have in your life forever and Danes are happy to devote themselves to the people they love.

They are a very busy little bunch of people. They have their families and friends from elementary school (who they still see regularly).

Not to mention they need to plan their next extended vacation, go celebrate their grandma’s 50th birthday, and when they aren’t doing all of this, they need time to recharge or nurse a hangover.

Making friends at the office isn’t impossible. You have plenty of opportunity to socialize and bond over the after-work beer, or the cake Pernille brought in for her birthday. 

After you have been working side-by-side with Danes for a while, you will probably end up landing yourself a rewarding Danish friendship.

Don’t worry. There is another way!

There are lots of expats in Denmark. The fact that Danes can be so hard to get close to means that the expat community is brimming with social activity from all sorts of people around the world.

Make friends with some of the other expats in the office! Join a Facebook group (try Americans in Denmark and Expats in Copenhagen). It’s all about knowing where your resources are.

Doing business in Denmark

Danish business culture is certainly an experience! This odd group of people are brilliant, talented, accepting and full of surprises!

Business culture in Denmark is centered around a relaxed and informal philosophy, where family and fun are just as prioritized as work. Doing business in Denmark means being heard, valued and respected no matter your gender, sexuality or ethnicity.

Becoming accustomed to and/or working side-by-side with people of a different culture is always an exciting and horizon broadening experience. And becoming accustomed to the Denmark business etiquette intricacies is no exception.

Businesses in Denmark offer nothing if not a unique and enjoyable chapter in the lives of those lucky enough to find themselves there.

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