The Danes 5 – Working hours and work ethics

Danes at work 

So here we are again. While the rest of Europe is witnessing heavy storms and even snow in certain parts (in the middle of May I might add) good old Vikingia is witnessing ‘extremely’ good weather with 20 C temperatures and only partly cloudy skies.

This also means that the average Dane’s work drive  decreases proportionately with the rise of temperatures. But I guess that goes for everyone.

So when do Danes work, how much and most of all how do they work? Given that I work in the public sector, in academia, my observations might be one sided. However, some general observations can still be made by talking to other people and looking around in town.

When and how much do Danes work?

There used to be a saying when I was interning in Brussels ‘Nothing happens in Brussels before 10 o’clock’. And boy it was true. Most of the people started working or arriving to work at half past 9 am, staying in the office till 6 pm. It might sound like 8 and a half hours but one forgets the 1.5 hour long lunch break. Brussels followed the more French way of beginning work late, leaving work in the evening with a nice lunch/siesta in the middle.

The Danes are more used to the 8 am – 16 pm set-up. However, it is sometimes rare to find someone in the office at 8 am. Most of the people arrive around half past 8 and by 4 pm they are long gone. There is also a half an hour lunch break which unlike in Brussels, is kept really short. While in Brussels this is the time to pig out, and eat well, in Denmark most Danes eat a sandwich (or rye bread with lever paté, rugbrød med leverpostej) and keep the lunch break as short as possible.

leverpostej på rugbrød

If there is a meeting, Danes are quite punctual but I would not say that they are as punctual as Swiss. There is a general sense of being a bit laid back.

Like all around Western Europe the average working hours per week are decreasing. The average Dane works 35-37 h/week and unlike the workaholic Americans, they do quit the office before 4 pm (on Fridays before 3 pm). Also, Danes have a considerable amount of paid holidays as well as a lot of useless small public work-free days, such as Constitution Day (Grundlovsdag), Pentecost, Prayer Day (really???) and so on. If such a day falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, you bet that someone will have a nice long weekend taking Friday or Monday off as well. Also, given that a lot of jobs require a laptop, many Danes sometimes don’t even show up, as they are ‘working’ from home. Let’s believe that they do so.

One might ask how they can work so few hours but have such high wages. Well several explanations exist. The first one is that Danes are really efficient and they do the same work in less amount of time. Ammm…..Neeeaaahhhhh… The second explanation might be that most of the work has been done by their forefathers who set down a well-functioning system in the 60s and 70s and this generation is enjoying the benefits of a system where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A third explanation has to do with modern globalized economies. Many Western economies are the heads of economic octopuses that stretch their tentacles to many other countries. Let’s think of major/global Danish companies such as Tuborg, Carlsberg, Grundfos, Vestas etc. If as a company you manage to outsource the shitty work to low paying countries but keep the office jobs in your country, then you can afford to have well-paid office jobs in the home country and the taxes paid by these companies will produce great revenue in the home state.

I think the answer is all the above three combined, with the last two explanations being the key factors for high wages and low working hours. From what I have seen, I can say that there are people with way better working efficiency. Tough luck for us Eastern Europeans who have a 50 year old communist draw back and a 20 year old ‘transition’ period filled with Western privatizations and corrupt politicians.

Also, speaking at least from my experience as an inhabitant of the second biggest Danish city, the city dies after 6 pm. Yes, you got me right. After 6 o’clock it is muerto! The buses all of a sudden come as often as the Halley’s comet. Most supermarkets close by 8 pm and boutiques, stores close by 5 pm. Oh, and good luck finding a bank or public office open after 4 pm. This is extremely frustrating (plus a lot of shops are closed on Sundays) if you come from a place where you are used to non-stop shops, late opening hours etc.

How do Danes work?

If you ask an international person, the questions can vary but most will ask you. ‘What? Danes work?’. Like I said, the laid back attitude and the low amount of working hours and early closing times create the impression, that well, Danes don’t work. What I can say is that they have the best free-time/work ratio in the world; meaning that every Dane has enough time to go to work and has enough time for family, friends and hobbies. And I must admit, I do respect them for this, as you also have time to enjoy life.


But I think you can do this once your society has reached a point where the roads are built, the universities are well functioning, the hospitals are clean, the politicians are less/least corrupt. Once you have this stability, then you can work less and enjoy life. But try explaining this to a guy in India or a guy from Eastern Europe, that chillax dude. Life is good! Quite simply, a society can afford to be laid back, after some previous generations have busted their asses to reach that stage.

Another good thing in the work mentality is that any type of work is respected. Back home, you are a respectable citizen if you are a lawyer, doctor, architect. Here it is different. As long as it is honest work, it is accepted and not looked down upon. Also, the hierarchical relationship is latently present, but the boss-employee relationship is a lot more horizontal.

A thing, which I find weird and probably not as good for the individual, is the lack of support given to excellence. Due to the overly egalitarian Danish society, sometimes people who are more talented than others don’t receive any recognition for this. It is considered quite impolite, almost bragging, if you talk about a good result you’ve achieved at work. Sometimes it is more important to attend the common ‘group’ social activities than one’s ‘individual achievements’. I do personally feel that the Danes are not the most competitive of people and in general are not used to the more competitive and ‘let me climb up the ladder’ attitude of most foreign employees.

So there you have it, the Danish working hours and work mentality with its ups and downs. Would you like working like this?


2 responses to “The Danes 5 – Working hours and work ethics

  1. Danes efficient? Are you kidding? One of the ladies I am working with is always complaining that she is so busy at work that she doesnt go to lunch, just munch something at ther desk. But in the meantime she check her email, chat with colleagues, etc. I am observing her job and learning it. It takes her 7 hours. I dare to say I can do the same job in 6h with a lunch break included.

  2. gashicsavargo

    did I say that they are efficient ;)?

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