About two months ago I landed a job as an administrative assistant in a finance firm here in Copenhagen and I have absolutely loved it. While I did enjoy my period of ‘fun-employment’ as I like to call it, I am an extreme extrovert and love being surrounded by other people. Although my job description isn’t exactly related to my education or experience, nothing beats having a place to go to everyday to interact with awesome colleagues. I am having so much fun!
What I didn’t anticipate was the rather large difference in work culture between Australia and Denmark. I think that this stems from a difference in core values, Denmark being very focussed on equality and welfare on the one hand and the Australian capitalists on the other. I don’t think that one way is better, but I did find it a little difficult to shift to a different attitude in the beginning. So, if you’re thinking of relocating to Denmark for work, here are a few things I wish I had known a bit about before walking in on my first day.
Get to the point
The danish language is very direct. You say what you mean straight out in Danish, with little to no room for niceties. That is why Danish people can sometimes come off as a bit a abrupt in conversations when they translate a Danish sentence directly into English. But don’t be alarmed – the Danes aren’t being rude! It is just the way that they talk. But this is usually easily figured out on your own anyway, seeing as everything is done with a smile.
I should have recognised early on that this also translates into work – especially when this comes to e-mail etiquette. In Australia, if someone sends you an email saying that they have done something for you, it is common to respond with a simple ‘Thanks!’ to acknowledge the other person’s effort and so that they know you have read the message. In Denmark this is a big ‘no, no’ – replying in this fashion would be seen as a waste of time – for both you and the recipient. There’s no need to reply to an email unless you have some new information to convey.
Whenever I began composing an email in Australia too, I would often start with something along the lines of, ‘Hi Marc, I hope you are doing well. Could you please send me the completed income statement for 2015.’ You don’t need to add in any statements like the first one in Denmark, unless of course the subject of that email is the person’s health. If you want an income statement, you just ask for it. Nothing else needs to be added – which is much more efficient!
Work/life balance is important
While many young Australians in professional industries, and older Australians for that matter, slave away for hours on end at the office to achieve their target hours, the Danes are out enjoying quality leisure time. It’s not uncommon in Danish workplaces for the office to hit 5pm and for most of the workers to clear out for the day, even if there is still work to be done. There is a much stronger focus on achieving a good work/life balance. Once your 37 working hours for the week are up – you can leave and have the heavy burden of unfinished business sitting on your shoulders over the weekend.
The same sort of attitude is given towards ‘working from home.’ If a colleague from the office has a sick child that they need to care for, there is no issue in them setting up to work from home for the day without needing to seek prior permission. There are also no rigid work hours – so long as you get your work done, it doesn’t matter if you start at 5am and leave at 2pm, or come in late and stay behind a bit longer. At first this sounded as though people might have been lazy, but that’s not the case at all. If anything, the Danes are much more efficient at work – and I actually think that has a lot to do with the fact that workers have a lot more freedom in their schedules. Work smarter, not harder.
You don’t socialise with your colleagues outside of work
During my time working for a law firm in Australia, I made some really great friends at the office. We formed the best bond, because not only did we have similar interests by working in the same industry, but we were also able to talk about the highs and lows of our working environment with someone who also understood first hand. We hung out before and after work by going to the gym together, on Friday nights after the working week was done, over the weekends and we even formed our own social football team! You spend more time with the people you work with than your family, so you might as well get along right?
This isn’t quite the same in Denmark. Your work colleagues are your work colleagues and nothing else. Sure, you can eat lunch together, have a chat around the office or even get a drink at the office party together, but there is no way that your Danish colleagues will be inviting you over for lunch on a Saturday. As someone who moves to Denmark for work, this can be quite tricky to come to terms with. If you’re trying to make connections in a new city, it is often so easy to become friends with the people you interact with everyday. But this simply doesn’t happen here. Instead, you’re kind of forced to look to other avenues to form meaningful relationships – perhaps by joining a social club of some sort of getting to know your neighbours.
Having said that, a lot of people have been saying lately that this changing as the younger Danish generation are entering the workforce – so we’ll have to wait and see if they open up a little more!
Now that I’ve finished my little list… it seems like I’ve only been able to talk about the negatives! But there really is more good than bad, and I assure you I felt extremely comfortable and welcome at my job.
Lunch is provided for you at work in Denmark! Practically every workplace, that isn’t really small, has a canteen where you can purchase a full buffet lunch with soft drinks and everything for as little as $5AUD. This is definitely a plus, because I no longer need to think about packing lunch for myself everyday!
Also, everyone in Denmark speaks English and really good English at that. So you’ll hardly ever be stuck in a situation with an intensive miscommunication. But it does help if you know a little Danish, so you can understand when others are speaking around you.