Living and working in Denmark – a subjective story
When I moved to Denmark back in 2018, I didn’t really have any expectations. I just packed my things, booked a flight from Warsaw and went, all by myself. I didn’t have Copenhagen on my travel list nor on my list of countries I would like to move to. I think this is why the city made such an impression on me from the first day and that continues to this very day. I joke that my relationship with Denmark is a bit like a marriage – we made a mutual decision to be together knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. One of these strengths is definitely the working culture here.
⚒️ So, what’s it like to work in Denmark
Work constitutes 37 hours of our week and whilst we often say that perhaps a job doesn’t matter so much, this is still a lot of our time! Luckily, the work life balance in Denmark is very strong.
This is not a joke. Danes care deeply about their private life. I was shocked to see that almost none of my colleagues stayed at work past 5pm. In Poland, it tends to be quite normal to work after hours and generally take all your other commitments outside of the work hours. Here, in Denmark, your doctor appointments happen during the day and your colleagues will support you in that regard. 25 days of holiday and good parental leave policies are quite similar to both countries I lived in, but I can definitely see a lot of my international network appreciating how big the paid leave allowance is. There is also a lot of focus on resting – if you are on holiday, you don’t work. If you take a sick day, you are told to switch off.
👌 Trust is the group mind
The whole educational system in Poland focuses a lot on individuality, individual results and praise, and this kind of approach, of course, has its good sides. In contrast, in Denmark, both the schooling system and the workplace put a huge focus on how you cooperate as a part of the team. You will see people being very transparent, sharing knowledge with you and genuinely supporting your growth. As a person who loves sharing ideas with others I could never go back to the individualized way of thinking about my job.
🧑💼 Micromanagement is rare
The same goes for your manager and the leadership of your company. People leaders in Denmark aim at trust, collaboration and partnership. You will receive a lot of autonomy which can sometimes seem surprising! (Do they really trust me to do it, all by myself?!)
Your leads also expect you to come to them with your challenges and feedback, rather than micromanage and check on you every other hour.
You are the one to track your own results and progress, and they are there to help you and support you when you need them to jump in. Do not be afraid to challenge your lead. They will appreciate your opinion on things and this will not be treated as a lack of respect for their authority, as it might come across in other countries.
💰 The salaries are not “high” – they are equal
This is a point I really wanted to mention here as it often gets misunderstood. Denmark puts a lot of focus on equality. There is a common perception that salaries here (or in Scandinavia in general) are high. I don’t think that’s the way it works. The salaries here are well regulated and therefore the majority of people – no matter their profession – can afford a sustainable, good quality life. I only have the other perspective of Poland, where the compensation gap between the IT/tech sector compared to other fields is huge. That then leads to inequality which is of course for the benefit of the high earners, but perhaps not so much for the people working in other areas. I would say that all in all, moving to Denmark solely for the financial upgrade or gain does not make much sense – I would recommend it only if you are passionate about the country, culture and a great standard of life based on equality. The taxes are high but thanks to them you can enjoy many great investments, like a robust bicycle infrastructure, and not to mention the free healthcare and free education 🙌
✅ The system just works!
I must admit I was positively surprised (in my individual case) about how well the public healthcare system works. I haven’t had a chance to try this myself, but I can see from my network that there is also a big safety net for job seekers, which makes people go for jobs that actually make them happy. If one is affected by layoffs, there is quite a lot of resources to support them, including their union. The salaries are paid out for a longer period of time and if you have also insured yourself with the unemployment benefit, you can receive support for even longer. The education is free which makes it accessible for most and universities work a lot with employers to ensure employability after graduation. If you are a member of a union you can count on help in regards to, for example, reading your contract before you sign it, brainstorming about your offer or getting tips and tricks on how to plan a successful parental leave.
💗 It can be hard to make friends, but inclusion is important
It is true that it is hard to make friends in Denmark. There are more and more international groups and initiatives to be involved in though. Signing up for classes or activities is always a good idea. The one thing that I always appreciated besides that is that inclusion is very important. There are heaps of initiatives in terms of DEIB in Denmark. The good thing about people overall is the general feeling of safety that for me as a woman moving countries alone was extremely important. I feel safe on my commutes and at social gatherings and that means a lot!
♻️ Sustainability and the environment
Denmark is a global leader in sustainable development. The country invests heavily in renewable energy, green technologies, and environmental initiatives. You can feel it in your day to day. Companies recycle and try to cook green for their employees. There are a lot of ways in which as an employee you can feel like you’re contributing to saving the planet.
If you’re curious about learning more about life in Denmark, here’s a few more resources you can look through 👇