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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 HowtoLiveinDenmark.com and her How to Live in Denmark podcast is free on iTunes and Spotify.

 

 

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WORKING IN DENMARK

Feriepenge: Denmark’s vacation pay rules explained

If you work for a company in Denmark, your yearly time off is likely to be provided for by the 'feriepenge' accrual system for paid annual leave.

If you work in Denmark, a good understanding of 'feriepenge' (holiday allowance) rules will help you plan time off in the summer and around the calendar.
If you work in Denmark, a good understanding of 'feriepenge' (holiday allowance) rules will help you plan time off in the summer and around the calendar. Photo by Felipe Correia on Unsplash

One of the perks of being a full-time employee in the country, Danish holiday usually adds up to five weeks of vacation annually. There are also nine days of public holidays, which everyone benefits from.

The Danish Holiday Act (Ferieloven) provides the basis for paid holiday through accrued feriepenge (‘vacation money’ or ‘vacation allowance’). This covers most salaried employees, although some people, such as independent consultants or freelancers, are not encompassed.

What is feriepenge?

‘Holiday money’ or feriepenge is a monthly contribution paid out of your salary into a special fund, depending on how much you earn.

You can claim back the money once per year, provided you actually take holiday from work. It is earned at the rate of 2.08 vacation days per month.

If you are employed in Denmark, you will be notified when the money can be paid out (this is in May under normal circumstances) and directed to the borger.dk website, from where you claim it back from national administrator Udbetaling Danmark.

Anyone who is an employee of a company registered in Denmark and who pays Danish taxes is likely to receive holiday pay, as this means you will be covered by the Danish Holiday Act (ferieloven). You are not an employee if, for example, you are self-employed, are a board member on the company for which you work or are unemployed.

How do I save up time off using feriepenge?

The law, which covers the five standard weeks or (normally 25 days) of paid vacation, states that you are entitled to take vacation during the vacation year period. You earn paid vacation throughout a calendar year at the rate of 2.08 days per month.

You earn vacation time in the period September 1st-August 31st. You can then use your vacation in the same year that you earn it and up to December 31st the subsequent year – in other words, over a 16-month period.

These rules also mean that holiday earned during a given month can be used from the very next month, in what is referred to as concurrent holiday (samtidighedsferie).

So when can I take time off using this accrued vacation?

The Danish vacation year is further broken down so that there is a “main holiday period” which starts on May 1st and ends on September 30th. During this time, you are entitled to take three weeks’ consecutive vacation out of your five weeks.

A lot of people take three weeks in a row while others break it up – which is why you often hear Danish people who work full time wishing each other a “good summer holiday” as if it’s the end of the school term.

Outside of the main holiday period, the remaining 10 days of vacation can be taken whenever you like. You can take up to five days together but may also use the days individually.

If your employer wants to decide when you should take any of your vacation days, they have to let you know at least three months in advance for main holiday, or one month in advance for remaining holiday (barring exceptional circumstances, such as an unforeseen change to the company’s operations or if the company closes for the summer shortly after you begin employment).

If you have not earned paid vacation, you still have the right to take unpaid holiday.

Public Holidays

In addition to the vacation days, there are also public holidays. These are bunched up mostly in the early part of the year and around Christmas. However, the period between June and Christmas includes the above-mentioned main annual leave, so there’s not usually long to wait until you can take time off.

Denmark has public holidays on:’

  • New Year’s Day  
  • Maundy Thursday
  • Good Friday
  • Easter Monday  
  • Great Prayer Day (Store Bededag)
  • Ascension Day
  • Whit Monday
  • Christmas Day
  • Boxing Day

In addition to the usual public holidays, companies can choose to give extra time off, for example on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. There are also differences regarding Labour Day and Constitution Day, depending on where you work, what kind of work you do, or the collective bargaining agreement under which you are employed.

Sometimes you can get a whole day off for these extra holidays, sometimes just a half day. Check with your employer for details.

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