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Danish egalitarianism
October 16, 2018
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colorful  houses of copenhagen

An egalitarian system, strong values …

Working efficiently with the Danish requires some adaptation.

Equality and redistribution, autonomy and personal development are important values for the Danish who are proud of the social and economic system they have put in place.

The Danish way of life is strongly imbued with “Janteloven”, shared by all, meaning everyone is equal. The egalitarianism between the social strata is based in particular on the law which requires, for example, equal pay between men and women (Ligelønsloven).

The income tax rate in Denmark is the highest in the world. And the Danish are satisfied with this, because 33% of tax revenue is redistributed to the education system, infrastructure and social security. In addition, they benefit from free education and medical care.

The school system promotes personal development over the race for success. The concept of elite Universities/Colleges does not exist.

Flexicurity makes it easy to hire and fire while providing job seekers with substantial unemployment benefits over a long period of time. This policy is accompanied by a system of lifelong training.

This egalitarian system translates into professional life in different ways.

Clear communication

The workplace is characterized by a relaxed atmosphere where communication is based on two particularities:

  • An informal tone that facilitates communication: we don’t judge each other, we respect each other.
  • An explicit culture. Confusion, imprecision and ambiguity are excluded. It is important to provide as much detail as possible in your explanations to promote understanding.

Team spirit: a group of autonomous individuals

Traditional Danish teamwork involves an evaluation of the group and a response from the team. Tasks are carried out jointly, objectives are shared, and the end product is the result of a collective effort. At the same time, employees are expected to have a high degree of autonomy and independence. They are free to choose the means to carry out their work in the most efficient way.
The focus is on tasks and responsibilities rather than job titles. Furthermore, each person has the opportunity to influence work regardless of their position.

A culture of consensus

During meetings which are highly organized, everyone can express their opinion and make suggestions in order to find a consensus.

Understanding the decision-making process is a real challenge when you don’t know a company well. The low-hierarchical power structure, the lack of formalism and the search for consensus muddy the waters, and it is sometimes difficult to know who to talk to… a certain amount of time may be necessary to adapt before you feel comfortable.

Feedback culture is very specific in Denmark as well as the way in which orders are given. Danish managers see themselves more as coaches than as managers and expect regular feedback from their teams.

At work « time is money »

In Denmark, punctuality and deadlines are respected, people arrive and leave on time. In general, the Danish make it a point of honour to do their work on time; not completing it on time means poor organization and poor time management.
They don’t like wasting their time or wasting other people’s time; it’s disrespectful. Therefore, it is necessary to respect schedules and deadlines, to manage one’s time well, to conclude with a clearly defined objective and to set a date to meet again.

A good work life balance

The relationship between privacy and time management is paramount in Denmark. It is not uncommon to see Danish employees leaving the office at 4 p.m. because they consider that a successful life depends on the balance between work and family life.
In Denmark, children are considered a National treasure and physical or corporal punishment of a child is punishable by law.

Doing business with the Danish

Do’s

  • Arrive on time.
  • Earn trust by being serious and thorough.
  • Give clear, precise and unambiguous explanations.
  • Become accustomed to a flat hierarchy that makes it difficult to identify the decision-maker.…

Dont’s

  • Don’t send products late.
  • Don’t talk about your success or your qualifications.
  • Don’t ask a Danish person about his or her private life.
  • Don’t kiss them on the cheek and don’t invade their personal space by standing too close.

Pia Abildgaard, Consultant Akteos, leader in intercultural training

About author

Pia Abildgaard

Pia Abildgaard

Danish by birth, French by adoption and European by conviction, Pia has distinguished herself in international development consulting for 25 years. She lives between France, Denmark and England and today trains top managers for successful expatriation or international collaboration in Denmark.

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