6 things you need to know about Danish working culture

There are many useful things worth keeping in mind as a newcomer to the Danish workplace, writes guest columnist Kay Xander Mellish.

6 things you need to know about Danish working culture
Dogs are (unfortunately) not common in Danish offices. File photo: Anders Birger Schjørring/Ritzau Scanpix

More than 200,000 foreigners are now at work in Denmark, according to the Confederation of Danish Industry. But the fine points of Danish business etiquette can be tricky for foreigners. Many of the “rules” are unwritten, and Danes have expectations of their business partners they might not always be aware of themselves.

In my book “How to Work in Denmark: Tips on Finding a Job, Succeeding at Work, and Understanding Your Danish Boss,” I talk about some of these unsaid expectations and unwritten rules of Danish business etiquette. 

Here are a few of them.

Trust is a key factor in both Danish culture and Danish business culture. Having hired you, your Danish boss will assume she can trust you: she will give you a project and expect that you will be able to complete it on time and up to standard. If you are delayed or make a mistake, admit it as soon as possible. Danish bosses and colleagues can accept the occasional error, but they won’t accept a lie or a cover-up. 

Treat your boss with the same respect that you treat the cleaning man – and vice-versa. The Danish culture of equality means that bosses don’t expect bowing and scraping – they prefer to be just part of the team, more of a coach than a general. On the flip side, it’s important to treat administrative staff and service personnel in Denmark in a dignified manner. Being abrupt or dismissive to them is considered extremely rude.

Denmark is an informal culture; formality can be seen as unfriendliness. In your LinkedIn photo or job application photo, you should be smiling and relaxed, like someone it would be enjoyable to share a coffee break with. (Too many foreigners use serious-looking passport-type photos.) Work clothing is informal, too. Whether you’re male or female, you can wear a shirt or sweater and business trousers to most offices. Business suits are rarely required; skirts and dresses never are.

In a Danish business meeting, you are expected to speak up with your opinions, regardless of your place within the corporate hierarchy. Many foreigners are afraid to contradict the boss, but in Denmark this is accepted and expected – the boss will actually be angry if you don’t say something and he ends up making a bad business decision because of it. Arrive at the meeting with a well-researched point of view and express it politely; this will earn you the respect of everyone on your team.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why do Danish leaders seem rude?

Danish humour can be difficult for foreigners to understand. It’s based on the “law of Jante”, an informal concept that nobody can think themselves better than anyone else. At its best, Danish humour involves gentle self-mocking, like the “failure cake” or “failure beer” people buy for friends after making an embarrassing mistake. At its worst, it can be sarcastic and unkind. If you’re not sure about whether something a Danish colleague said was supposed to be joke, ask.

Making friends in Denmark is tricky, because most Danes see friendship as a long-term enterprise and often have their schedules full with extended family and people they have known since childhood. Don’t expect your colleagues to hang around with you outside of working hours or go for a beer after work, particularly if they have children. Instead, find friends through your outside interests – athletic clubs, knitting clubs, volunteer groups, and political parties are all good starting points.

On the other hand, if your colleagues are gathering during the workday for a celebratory piece of cake, it’s important to join in – even if all you consume is a cup of tea. Taking time for a cake break is a good way to show you’re friendly and want to be part of the team; cake is an important part of Danish business etiquette.

Kay Xander Mellish is a keynote speaker about Danish culture and Danish business culture. You can book Kay for a presentation on doing business in Denmark here. Kay blogs at and her How to Live in Denmark podcast is free on iTunes and Spotify.



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What you need to know if you lose your job in Denmark

It's not fun to lose your job, but Danish laws and collective agreements give you a number of rights and there are steps you can take to help insure yourself against the possibility of being out of work.

What you need to know if you lose your job in Denmark

Denmark is currently experiencing a labour shortage and low unemployment. Many companies and sectors are calling for additional foreign labour to meet their recruitment needs, something the government appears to be willing to take steps to accommodate.

Of course, none of these things mean individual companies might not be experiencing headwinds or that the situation can change. There are various kinds of business needs that could be the catalyst for a restructuring, such as financial hardships or pending mergers. This can also mean that some employees will lose their jobs.

If you do lose your job in Denmark, you are covered by certain aspects of the law. It is also a good idea to think about taking the necessary measures — such as A-kasse membership — that can protect your from some of the financial implications of unemployment.

Notice periods 

If you are covered by the Salaried Employees Act (Funktionærloven), then you are entitled to certain notice periods before any significant change happens to the terms of your employment.

You can see in your contract whether you are a salaried employee (funktionær), but generally, the term applies to staff who have been employed for over 1 month and work more than 8 hours weekly, on average.

Sectors in which staff are considered funktionærer include business and administration, purchasing, selling, technical and cleaning services; and management and supervision. In short, people who work in offices, sales or purchasing or certain types of warehouse jobs are likely to be covered.

Areas which may not be covered include factory work or craftsmanship, nor are people hired through temp agencies (vikarbureauer) covered by the act.

The notice periods provided by the Salaried Employees Act cover things like notification of termination of employment or significant changes to your job duties. 

The amount of notice that you are entitled to is determined by how much seniority you have, as follows:

0-6 months of employment

1 month’s notice

6 months to 3 years

3 months

3 years to 6 years

4 months

6 months to 3 years

3 months

6 years to 9 years

5 months

More than 9 years

6 months

When you have worked at the company for 12 or more years, you are also entitled to additional compensation (Danish: fratrædelsesgodtgørelse) if you are let go from your job, per the Danish Salaried Employees Act.  

The compensation is 1 month’s salary after 12 years’ employment and 3 months’ salary after 17 years of employment.

It is possible that your company will also provide other additional payments due to restructuring activities. This varies from company to company and is not part of the Danish Salaried Employees Act. 

Should I join an A-kasse?

Membership of an unemployment insurance service provider, an A-kasse (arbejdsløshedskasse) is the first step to keeping your income steady while you begin the process of finding new employment. Finding a new job is a task the A-kasse itself can assist you with.

It can be difficult to figure out which A-kasse to join and while some are cheaper than others, it’s not just about paying an insurance premium. In the event that you become unemployed, it’s good to have an A-kasse that is an appropriate fit for your background, so that they can better help you with your plan to get back into the workforce.

A-kasser are private associations which have been authorised by the Danish state to administer unemployment benefits. The state regulates the requirements for receiving benefits while the A-kasse administers the benefits.

If you are interested in A-kasse membership, you must apply to the A-kasse of your choice, either as a full-time or part-time insured member. A-kasse members pay a tax-deductible monthly fee, which gives them the right to receive unemployment benefits (dagpenge) should they become unemployed.

There are a lot of rules that you’ll have to familiarise yourself with, including when you will be allowed to apply for benefits and how long you can receive them for. Members must meet certain eligibility requirements to receive unemployment benefits, which include being a member of an A-kasse for at least 12 months.

According to Denmark’s digital self-service website, one must also have earned at least 246,924 kroner (2022) in the past three years for full-time insured and 164,616 kroner (2022) for part-time insured. You also have to have worked for a certain period of time within the last three years, which varies depending on whether you were insured as full-time or part-time.

READ ALSO: A-kasse: Everything foreigners in Denmark need to know about unemployment insurance

What else should I keep in mind?

In general, the Danish labour market system is not primarily based on laws, as you may be used to from other countries, but on agreements and negotiations, primarily collective bargaining agreements or overenskomster between trade unions and employer associations. You may have heard of the concept ‘the Danish model’ (den danske model) referred to in this regard.

A large proportion of people who work in Denmark are therefore trade union members.

Collective bargaining agreements cover many aspects of Denmark’s labour market, from wages to paid parental leave. 

A lesser-known fact about the Danish labour model is that employees covered by collective bargaining agreements won’t have to negotiate general employment terms – regardless of whether they are trade union members.

There are large central agreements in both the public and private sectors. Therefore, employees whose contracts are regulated by a central bargaining agreement won’t individually have to negotiate general terms of employment, like working hours or a minimum salary. 

The particular collective agreement upon which your contract is based may be mentioned in your contract, and if it isn’t, you can ask your employer. 

READ ALSO: What is a Danish collective bargaining agreement?