Culture – University of Copenhagen

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International Staff Mobility > Language and Culture > Culture

Culture

We have gathered information to help you find your way in Danish culture - with a particular focus on the workplace.

Flat hierarchy

Danish companies are known to have a very flat hierachical structure. The Dutch sociologist Geert Hofstede describes cultures with a low power distance as cultures where people expect and accept power relations that are more consultative and democratic. People relate to one another as equals regardless of job titles and formal positions.

Managers and employees address each other by their first names and most decisions are discussed in forums where all employees have an equal say. At lunch, you will find managers and employees sitting at the same table talking openly about their private lives and pursuits.The conversation often revolves around family life, holidays and what they do in their spare time.

Trust and independence

There is also a high level of trust in Denmark, where when one says “a deal is a deal” and we trust that the other party will accept the mutual agreement. In fact, the flat structure in the work culture is primarily built on trust.

Managers do not micromanage their employees and do not have to ensure that they are doing their job well as they trust that this is the case. Another keyword that can describe the Danish work culture is “independence.”

Danes actually do not like to be led, and prefer to work independently, and employers like the fact that employees are responsible and able to work independently. The relationship between the employer and the employee is built on trust and mutual respect. The employer trusts that the employee will speak up if there is an issue.

Team collaboration

In Denmark there is a long standing tradition where focus at a workplace is geared towards teamwork and team collaboration. This means that as an employee, you are part of a team which includes group evaluations and team discussions. At the same time, you can achieve your responsibilities independently, in the most efficient way.

This way of working together is based on trust. Your team members or your manager will not micromanage you or see how you are coming along with work. They trust that the work will be done within the agreed timelines unless informed otherwise. Some internationals also describe the work culture in Denmark as being very informal compared to what they are used to.

Work-life balance

Usually one of the first things internationals mention about the Danish work culture is the work-life balance. The fact that most employees work from 9 to 5 and are able to return home to their families or take part in activities organised by some of the clubs and associations, is something that many expat families value when moving to Denmark.

Leisure time is important to the Danes and many families make an effort to spend as much time as possible outdoors.

Dress code

Although the workplace culture varies from company to company, the general office dress code is relatively relaxed for both men and women, smart casual being the norm.

At business meetings, Danes will generally introduce themselves by their full name and with a handshake and expect you to do the same.

You should not expect to be introduced to people by others. You should take the initiative (this is also the case at social gatherings).

Asking questions

For some internationals, asking questions can be challenging especially if you come from a culture that is top down driven.

In Denmark, we believe in the saying: “There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.” So do not hesitate to ask your employer if you might have questions regarding work or how to proceed with a task.

Asking questions or giving critical comments is considered showing your commitment and taking responsibility.